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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Hellfire

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

Jan 8, 2017; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan follows the action in the third period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Oilers 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • ubermiguel

    Ron Low was a beauty. Lowetide really spoke for me and many fans yesterday. I don’t have a lot of disposable income but I try to get to a few games a year, and each one of those games is a significant dollar amount to me. Throughout the 90s I never went expecting a win, but always expected an honest effort. For the last decade I cant even reasonably expect an honest effort and it’s killing my love for this team. Losing is the culture of this team now and I’m not sure how much longer I can support it.

    • Rhettzky

      Same boat. Not a lot of extra money at my house, but still manage to take my wife and son (future fan) a couple times a year. And the $400 + ( tickets, parking, a pizza and drink for each of us) is a car payment. To watch the team go through the motions. It’s frustrating and makes us doubt if it’s worth saving for a month to take the family to a turd game like the other night.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      “The worst penalty kill in 100 year league history with a team that does not echo that statement” they are much better than this… coach, please start benching… make them sit in the stands with a spotlight on them…

  • Jordan88

    I hate losing it sucks. But show up to play… there is no excuse. There is no tomorrow. If you can’t atleast show up with the attitude to give a honest effort, you might as well stay home.

    I hope that was played at a player meeting. We used to say “Just Win”

    Now we say “Just show up” Unacceptable to even make that statement.

    • That's My Point

      It all starts in school; can’t fail kids for any reason anymore. They just show up and get rewarded.
      Then it’s in sports; everyone gets a participation medal.
      Everyone has to be politically correct so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings but in the NHL you have to hurt others, and put yourself first and be better than your competition or you sit in last place every year. (even here the worst team gets the best draft picks available so they can squander the most talented players with the rest of the team’s losing mentality)

      • wiseguy

        That’s a good theory…. except why is it all the underserving “participation medal” kids who would otherwise have failed all ended up playing hockey on the Oilers? The other entitled, underserving kids seem to figure it out and succeed on all the other teams.

      • GK1980

        That’s a whole topic all together. Participation awards are nice but kids still need to feel a little humility once in a while. Without being challenged or embarrassed, they will never learn to push themselves to be better.

  • Hemmercules

    When you know you cant/wont win (i.e. make the playoffs) its human nature to let off a bit. We have been seeing if for years with the Oilers. Their money is guaranteed and already in the bank. Why go to war when you can hit the perimeter and stay safe? Why block that shot when it doesn’t really matter? Why take that hit when you can just dump it in?? Its a bad mentality but it happens and we see it. Losing breeds losers.

    • Dr

      What about pride? Work ethic? Professionalism? What about honing your craft and improving your weaknesses? What about developing and maintaining good game habits so that they don’t repeat this debacle next game, or next season? These are professional athletes, and they should be giving it all they have each game. Like Mark Messier said, “What are you saving it for?”

      • Hemmercules

        I’m not denying any of that, just saying with some players it happens. Notice how Nurse is playing awesome all year? Needs a contract. Notice how Lucic gives up on plays? Signed to a guaranteed 6 mil a year for many more years. I’m sure guys like mcdavid and russel still go full effort but it’s evident when the going gets tough that some guys give up for the night.

      • Big Nuggets

        I think it comes when the team has an identity and feel pride in the Oilers and each other. I think Vegas is doing so well because all the players on the team had something to prove to the teams that didnt protect them. Thats good motivation to prove people wrong and play with pride. Edmonton has no identity, the players aren’t playing for the right reasons. We need a coach thay can change the mindset of these players. We have the skill just not the execution to win games.