Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Talk is Cheap

The saying is that talk is cheap, but that hasn’t stopped NHL coaches from going off on their teams over the decades in an effort to grab their attention when things are upside down and on fire. I’ve been party to a few rants covering the Edmonton Oilers over the years and there have been some beauties – Ron Low was the king of the dress-down, although there’s been some other memorable rants and tirades. Non-repeatable, most of them.

By that standard, Todd McLellan stopping practice Thursday when he didn’t like the intensity, or the lack of same, he saw from his players – no stick rack was emptied, no players were called out by name – was relatively tame. Frankly, it was akin to choir practice compared to the days when Low would publicly lose his poop and let the boys have it by flinging it at the fan with great flair.

Still, with the consistently inconsistent Oilers coming off yet another uninspired defeat, this time in a 4-2 sleepwalk against the struggling Philadelphia Flyers at Rogers Place on Wednesday, McLellan called out his team. The Oilers are 11-15-2 going into games on the road against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets.

“We’re looking to impose our will on teams,” McLellan said after letting loose at practice. “It’s like we’re waiting for an individual catalyst or a situation to poke or prod our team to get going. Today’s practice was a prime example. It was designed to get going and we needed a little bit of barking to activate people and once we barked at them, they responded extremely well.”

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Oct 10, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan talks with the referee after a disallowed goal during the third period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The thing about calling out your players publicly, like bag skates or early morning practices – various types of attention-getters that have been employed over the years when things have gone sideways – is that’s a card a coach can only play so often. Pull it out of the deck one time too many as a motivational tool and you get push-back. Worse yet, indifference. There is a point of no return where a coach can yell until he’s blue in the face or skate his players into piles of puking pulp and it doesn’t work.

McLellan isn’t there, yet, not even close, but the reality for him, and for any coach, is that old axiom – talk is cheap. Whether a coach calls out his players publicly or behind closed doors, in the end, results on the ice always come down to the players. The rest is blah-blah-blah. Scotty Bowman never once talked his way to a Stanley Cup. No coach ever has. All the coach can do is deliver the message as he sees fit. The players respond or they don’t.

If a coach has lost the room – I don’t believe that’s the case here with the Oilers coming off a 103-point season under McLellan – then the message gets lost in a hurry. At the opposite end of the spectrum, even if a coach has everybody’s attention, “buy-in” if you want to call it that, it’s the players who have to hit the ice ready to play with passion, gusto and with the ability to execute systems and a game plan.

Even with some duly noted holes in the line-up, I think the Oilers have the ability and enough talent to execute systems and a game plan on any given night, so the question for me is do they have the will? If the answer is no, then the Oilers have a problem that’s not going to be worked out in time to make any kind of run toward a post-season spot most fans thought was a given.

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Games like the non-effort against Philadelphia have me puzzled and there have been other games, or segments of them, that have left me scratching my head. I’m guessing it’s the same for you. At times, indifference is the problem. Other times, execution is the issue. Too often, it’s both. How do you explain a historically bad penalty kill? Is Jimmy Johnson drawing it up wrong? There’s plenty of blame to go around.

No matter how a coach delivers his message, it’s up to the core players to take it to heart and play the game. It helps, however, if there are enough veterans in the room to reinforce what’s being said and lead the way when the puck drops. Is that lacking? Does McLellan have enough of those guys around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Is that a fatal flaw in how GM Pete Chiarelli has built this roster? I don’t know the answer because I’m not behind those closed doors. I think it’s a fair question, given what we’ve seen.

So, McLellan had his say Thursday. Players responded as you expected they would, but their real say comes when the gate swings open against the Canadiens. That, as has been the case since the first time a coach peeled paint and let his players have it, will be the real measure. Talk, from both sides, is cheap. Actions always speak louder than words. Get to it, men. Get to it.


        • GK1980

          Absolutely, swapping coaches every 2 years didn’t exactly bring positive results the past 12 years. Everyone is together on this one and they all need to figure this out.

      • Jordan88

        I can name several great coaches who have not won the Stanley cup and I can name several great players that never won a cup.

        The Stanley cup is the hardest championship to win in pro sports. The season is a grind you need skill heart and luck.

        Judging McClellan using the cup as a litmus test on his worth is fool hardy.

        You might be new here but we’ve tried the revolving door of coaches. It failed miserably.

  • Oiler Al

    This team has had the flu since the start of the season.Lets find another excuse!There is zero …zip…. to their game.Bad soft passes., too many to no mans land.Loosing battles on the boards, and most are allergic to the blue paint.A lot of guys chasing the wooden rabbit, without catching it.Special teams will tell you there very is little focus to detail on this team.In fact they dont play like a coordinated team.
    Talent and skill without effort is a waste of time.
    If McLellan and company dont turn this around in the next 5 games they should be ..FIRED.

  • Total Points

    There is something wrong with the team it isn’t their skill level. Thy didn’t all lose their skills over the summer. Drai, Maroon, Kassian, Kag, and more

    Either the players are not playing for each other or they are not playing for the coach.

    Something is going on.

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      They have a shiny new arena, a passionate fan base, and the reigning Hart Trophy and and Art Ross winner. The desire damn well better be there. Argh.

    • ed from edmonton

      Skill and desire are not always that easy to tell apart. If player doesn’t get back fast enough on a back check, is because he was not trying hard enough or maybe he can’t skate as well as the other team or maybe he’s at the end of a long shift and is tired. Not easy to tell apart. Having said that, consistency of performance is an issue, especially at home.

    • Dean S

      Goaltending, worst SV % in the NHL. Hard to win without a decent NHL goaltender.
      1-7 record vs Eastern Conf teams. Don’t skate well enough, usually get beat on the fore check and along the boards.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    I agree with indifference. Watching their games when they lose, their passing is shoddy, they don’t have that up-tempo attitude at all. It’s the strangest thing to see, after a game where they pound a good team for 60 minutes. These are professional athletes, millionaires. This is not only their Job, but their Life, their Heart. Seeing them lackadaisical over and over baffles me.

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      Especially when fans in Edmonton care and shell out way too much money to watch a team with the best young player in the game. Baffling is right. Where is the leadership? Team needs a Messier.

  • morsecode89

    If talk is cheap, does having veterans in the room to reinforce a message not defeat itself? I’m looking a team with a bad record and a team that’s worse than last season, with a special teams system that’s falling all over itself, and the last thing I’m thinking is – do we need more of a veteran presence to help the coach and team figure it out.

    This isn’t even a particularly young team by modern NHL standards.

    • GK1980

      Ralph was much better then Craig gave him credit for. But, I think Todd is also a good coach. Most coaches haven’t won much. He has NHL experience and I think this year the players need to figure this out. The guys with the “C” and the “A”‘s need to motivate their team mates as well. McDavid is a good player but he doesn’t come off as a “ra! ra!” type of captain.

  • Cauliflower McPugg

    Todd can yell all he wants, this group is fractured beyond the point of repair.
    The malignancy has taken over the body.
    As the amount of empty seats continues to grow…. the intervention will be forced on Chia.
    Won’t that be fun.

  • bcoil

    Maybe it is time for McDavid to take the next step in his captaincy by standing up and reading the riot act to the team .Maybe he is being too quiet .It may be time for him to make this “his” team .

  • The Greaser

    Most good coaches / managers realize that if you want to change things up or introduce something new to the pack, you need to get your group leaders on board first. Getting their buy-in goes along ways. These aren’t necessarily the leaders chosen by management. I’m talking the informal leaders who co-workers look up to and rally around, on and off the worksite. I wonder who these leaders are in Todd’s room.

  • ziyan94

    The special teams need to be completely re-vamped. That falls on the assistant coaches. I nearly threw my remote at the TV when Giroux made yet ANOTHER cross-seam pass that led to a goal against us.

  • Serious Gord

    I think the in public dressing down was a desparate act. We shall see whether robin is right and that tmc hasn’t lost the room. I think he is already on the downward slope that is rarely ever recovered from.

  • Dexter Morgan

    I dont know how else to explain the Oilers indifference other than they are trying to get Mclellan fired. I dont know the reason but this team has every mark of a team trying to get their coach fired. It reminds me of the 2008-2009 Penguins who stunk on purpose to get rid of Michel Therrien.

  • camdog

    The entire stripping the captaincy of Marleau and Thornton always left me with a sour taste in my mouth and I am not a Sharks fan. Don’t know what happened in both situations, but when your claim to fame as a coach is being involved in the stripping of Hall of Famers it doesn’t look good on you. It’s not just the GM that has a questionable past in respect to their performance.