Ken Holland, Jay Woodcroft urge Oilers to take playoff disappointment as learning experience
Photo credit:Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
By Cam Lewis6 months ago
When Ken Holland joined the Edmonton Oilers in the spring of 2019, he spoke to a room full of players who had missed out on the playoffs for the second year in a row about the path to becoming a Stanley Cup Champion.
It would be a long, winding road loaded with obstacles and challenges, but, with each loss and each disappointment, the team would come back smarter, stronger, and more motivated to win. The key is to reach a point in which the team is strong enough to be in the mix year after year and, eventually, they’d break through.
The message following this year’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round remains the same — take the loss, learn from it, and try again.
“I want you to know, I want our fans to know, we’re trying,” Holland said on Wednesday during his end-of-season media availability. “My players are devastated, both for themselves and the fans. We’re going to get up off the mat here and we’re going to try again.“It’s being in those situations over and over and over. You have to be in there year after year after year. In Detroit, we were a Cup contender for 15 or 16 years and we won four. It’s hard to win. You have to be in there year after year.”
Many might roll their eyes at the Detroit reference because of how much the game and the league have changed over the past couple of decades, but the lesson that Holland brings from his Red Wings days to Edmonton is the value of consistency.
Their back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998 came after losses in the Cup Final and the Western Conference Final in 1995 and 1996. Their Stanley Cup in 2002 came after a shocking first-round loss to the L.A. Kings and their Stanley Cup in 2008 came two years after another upset in the first round to the Oilers.
None of those letdowns resulted in Holland slamming the panic button and doing an overhaul of Detroit’s roster. The Red Wings just came back each fall and tried again.
The quick success of teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks in the 2000s has ultimately raised the expectations for young superstars to break into the league and win immediately. The Penguins won their first Stanley Cup in Sidney Crosby’s fourth season and the Blackhawks won their first while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were still on entry-level contracts. But for each one of these teams, we have multiple who took years to break through, like Steven Stamkos’ Tampa Bay Lightning and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.
Take Steve Yzerman, for example. He was selected No. 4 overall in the 1984 draft and helped the Red Wings end a five-year playoff drought in his rookie season. Detroit spent the next half-decade going back and forth from a playoff team to missing out before they became a consistent contender in the 1990s. Their first Stanley Cup Final appearance came in Yzerman’s 12th season. Their first championship came in his 14th.
Again, the game and the league are different in the 2020s than they were in the 1990s. The salary cap makes it challenging for a team to keep all of their best players around forever and some difficult decisions will ultimately have to be made down the road. But the Oilers have their core locked up for two more seasons, so this same group should have two more kicks at the can before any major changes are made.
Jay Woodcroft was in his first season as the video coach of the Red Wings when that 124-point team lost to the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs in 2006 and he saw first-hand what happened in the subsequent two years between that loss and their Stanley Cup.
The key, Woodcroft said, is taking the disappointment and using it as fuel to improve.
“You go through stages,” Woodcroft said on Wednesday. “The first is feeling that way. The next is learning how to repurpose that disappointment. The way you do that is learning some lessons. You use that experience to serve as your motivational fuel.“The message that our players carry forward is the message that our leader, Ken Holland, walked into the room with from his personal experiences having won four Stanley Cups himself… How some of the disappointments along the way served as learning experiences to set the group up moving forward. I think everybody here is disappointed we aren’t playing but it has to go further. It has to result in learning valuable lessons along the way.”
It’s taken four years to build the Oilers up from a team unable to make the playoffs to one that has the ability to win the Stanley Cup. They didn’t get the job done this year, but the window is open.
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