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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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  • Kaplan

    I’m sorry, you’re telling me Oilers season ticket holders aren’t rich? No, they’re not Katz-level rich, but they’re comfortably above the poverty line by a couple miles.

    • Remarkably dim take, “Kaplan.” Fans who invest their time and money in a team deserve, at the very least, an honest effort for that investment — regardless of their economic situation. Is this a challenging concept for you?

      • SourGrapes

        I absolutely agree! And as investors, we need to take our money elsewhere when we don’t get the returns we expect. So far, there have been no consequences for this club – they make money despite the product on the ice, not because of it.

    • 3rdTierFan

      How can you possibly know that? I’m sure plenty of season ticket holders are well off, but you can’t truly believe that some don’t spend pretty much all their disposable income on season tickets and going to the games. I can say I know this because I split season tickets with friends for three seasons back in the mid-nineties when they needed to sell enough season tickets to get the equalization payments, which helped prevent them from leaving town. My friends and I were not even making average incomes, and almost all our disposable income went to the Oilers. We felt like it was our duty to help support the team and keep them here. So for you to group over 10,000 people together and label them as wealthy is a bit presumptuous. And what does it matter if they have money anyway? Does that mean they forfeit the right to getting their money’s worth for their purchase and for their investment in our team?

      • ubermiguel

        Most season ticket holders I know are like that. Not impoverished but not well off by any stretch. Sharing seats, selling a bunch of prime games (Leafs, Habs, Pens), selling playoff tickets, going to boring Tuesday night games against the Wild, all for the love of the team.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Been saying this since about, oh, mid-November and I’ll repeat it. The story of the 2017-18 will be about a lack of effort, execution and energy on behalf of the players.

    It’s not all on the GM. It’s not all on the coaches. It’s not all on Paul Coffey or Wayne Gretzky or Kevin Lowe or Daryl Katz or Bob Nicholson.

    But it is 100-percent on the players. They are the most responsible for what’s happened and hasn’t happened this season. Remember that if/when GMs and coaches end up being railroaded out of town this summer. This was a 103-point team that moved out three players – one of whom could be reasonably labelled as having some impact. There was enough personnel here to get the job done again.

    But the job wasn’t done. Tuesday was the perfect microcosm of that.

    It’s the players’ fault.

  • Gravis82

    If we had a few more good players, perhaps there would be some to carry the load when everyone else takes the night off. Then, we wouldn’t have noticed any of this laziness, as it would have been masked by a few ok performances. The more good players you have, the less you will notice the players who will inevitably take a night off. Randomly, they will all take a night off together.

    Add three more top 6 wingers in this group and nights like this wouldn’t be so obvious.

      • Ginbaby

        I think fans take this way harder than most players. Is Pat Maroon that worried the team is losing? My guess is his only concern is his next contract. Lucic has been awful and yet he stands to pull in more than 10M w bonuses this year and my guess, he is sleeping just fine at night. This season and the last game have been a huge gut punch and while I only get a chance at two oilers games a year, it means taking a ferry to Vancouver. I don’t know what happens with this team moving forward but these fans deserve a better organisation from top to bottom and I hope that is not lost on Bob Nicholson and co.

  • Consultant

    The PK is horrible and the coaching staff can’t seem to find any answers but again it falls on Chia. How can you get rid of proven PKer’s such as Pouliot and Lander, not replace them and just expect things to work out. The failure of Chia over the past year is mind boggling. Sure players need to give 100% but if your Letestu and you only have so much reach and speed you simply won’t be a top PK’er. Not his fault. I have decided not to invest anymore money into the team until Chia is gone. I also will only watch when I have time instead of making time to watch. It’s a minor thing but it’s the best I can do. In my mind Chia is the primary problem.

    • ubermiguel

      Pouliot’s a frequent healthy scratch with Buffalo and Lander is no longer an NHL player; those were far from Chia’s worst moves. All the current players are capable of getting sticks and bodies in lanes and not being a pylon, but they’re simply not doing it.

      • Gravis82

        both of those players are better on the PK than what we have now. Heck, Magnus Pääjärvi is as well and is on waivers. This is how bad our penalty killers are on this team

      • Consultant

        Lander is having a really good year over in the KHL. He can win faceoffs, hates losing, sort of player I would be calling right now to ask how he likes the KHL if I were Chia. I’d give him a two-way contract with a rich AHL salary.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      I’m not sure I would build a case on firing Chia by citing his decision to get rid of Pouliot and Lander. The latter isn’t even an NHL player … and there are 31 teams in the NHL right now.

    • Green Meanie

      The only way for the fans to force major change is to stop going to the games. If Rogers Place is empty maybe then it will get the attention of Katz. Until his pocket is affected nothing will happen

      • winteriscoming

        Nothing happened in the DOD for people not going to the games why do you think the lambs will stop now?? I have stopped watching the games as I can tell I have stopped the insanity and the s$$t shows have continued.