I don’t know if you heard what Allan Mitchell had to say about the Edmonton Oilers during his radio show on TSN 1260 yesterday, but if you haven’t, you should have a listen. It’s right here. What makes Mitchell’s seven-minute, straight-from-the-heart rant money is that it rings true.
At least it did for me. I’m guessing it did likewise with legions of fans, given the action it generated on social media, in the wake of the Oilers’ heartless, effortless and utterly emotionless 5-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday. Mitchell’s take, simply put, resonated with me because it spoke to some basic values that likely had a lot of listeners saying, “Damn right.”
Teams can’t always win, but they can always try. Teams can’t always execute — the reality is that happens — but when what’s been drawn up on the whiteboard goes sideways as it will from time to time, players can always work hard to mitigate what the hands or the brain or the talent might be lacking on any given night. They can always give a damn.
Win or lose, can players look in the mirror confident that they put in an honest day’s work? That’s the very least, as Mitchell said so well, Oiler fans should expect from the team they invest so much money and so much time in. Well, fans got shortchanged big-time against the Sabres as the Oilers dropped to 21-24-23. It’s not the first time that’s happened this season.
HEARD IT BEFORE
The timing of Mitchell’s righteous rip job was perfect, if not overdue, and that was particularly true for me. I heard it, fittingly, while on my way to the Oilers Entertainment Group offices at Rogers Place for a meeting that included former Oiler coach Ron Low. Nobody, and I mean nobody, delivered a better dressing-down of his team than Low when he finally decided he was sick of what he was seeing.
On the record, off the record, it didn’t matter. When Low decided enough was enough — that happened more than once with some of the teams he coached here in the 1990s — you had better have your notepad ready because it was epic. As often as not, what made Low seethe was the same stuff Mitchell talked about, At the absolute minimum, players owe fans who pay their salaries and drive in from all over Alberta an honest effort.
All that said, I want to be clear here. I’m not for a second suggesting that trying hard and doing your best is the end game for the Oilers or that actually winning games is somehow secondary. At the NHL level, where those on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office are paid handsomely, it’s about results. Win games. Win divisions. Win conferences. Win Stanley Cups. That’s the bottom line.
If it’s about lack of talent or having enough depth or the right mix of players, that falls to GM Pete Chiarelli, or whoever is doing his job down the road. If structure and process or game-planning and use of personnel isn’t what it should be, that’s on Todd McLellan and his coaching staff. If it’s about failure to execute, to work and hustle and battle, as was the case against the Sabres in what was essentially a collective shoulder shrug of indifference, that’s on the players. That’ll make fans crazy, and it should.
Here and now, while Chiarelli works the phones, while McLellan and his coaching staff search for special teams clues with a map and a flashlight, the absolute least the players can do when the Calgary Flames come calling tonight is put in the sweat and honest effort that shows — win or lose — they care as much as their fans do. Same for the next game and the game after that and the game after that. It’s not too much to ask.