That Culture Thing

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 year ago
If I can slip into my Captain Obvious outfit for a moment, I’m here to tell you that nothing builds a winning culture for a team like the Edmonton Oilers than actually winning hockey games. You can’t build it by talking. Slogans won’t get the job done. Remember chopping wood and carrying water? Sure you do.
At the bottom line, building a winning culture begins with winning games. Mix in doing likewise in a post-season series or two and then, if you keep putting in the work that got you started in the first place, pay attention to detail and get buy-in from everybody in the line-up, you have a chance to take another step.
That’s where I see the Oilers now as they prepare for their 2022 training camp after a season in which they went 49-22-7 for 104 points – their highest point total since 1986-87 when they had 106 points. Points aside, they made it to the Western Conference final for the first time since 2006 before getting swept by Colorado.
The Oilers haven’t won anything they need an engraver for, but this is a team that to me looks better to start this season – from having Jay Woodcroft calling the shots behind the bench to Evander Kane and Jack Campbell in the line-up – than the group that started 2021-22, a season that was all over the place. Connor McDavid talked about what comes next in an availability with the media yesterday. 


Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche in game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
“There are lots of expectations this year, both outside and in the locker room,” he said. “Obviously, last year was a step forward, but we have to come in here and start all over again building on what we accomplished last year. Nothing’s for free in this league, we certainly know that, so I’m just excited to get things going.
“It’s great to see everybody and having just a little bit of time before the season just to be out there with the guys. Camp is quick this year, so having everybody up right away is important. Starts are always important, we talk about it every year, so we really emphasize the start of the season. You see that commitment just with guys showing up.”
There is obviously more work to do, but this team has taken steps forward since Ken Holland took over as general manager. Holland talked to Jason Gregor about culture back in May of 2019. The full interview is here, but one snippet sticks out for me.
“At the end of the day, what is culture? It is work ethic, it’s competing every day,” Holland said. “The league is so hard to win you have to compete, your scouts have to compete, your managers have to compete, your coaches have to compete. You’re competing with 30 other organizations which are the best in the world, and you need to grind.”
Holland has been grinding since his first day here, even when he had next-to-no budget. He made the decision to fire Dave Tippett and promote Woodcroft from the AHL. Holland brought in Zach Hyman, which has been a master stroke. He took a shot on Kane, who was better than anybody expected, and then managed to re-sign him. Now, Campbell arrives. Here we are.


“We really only won one more game than we did in 2017,” said McDavid, who was on the course at the Edmonton Golf and Country Club today for the team’s media tournament. “Obviously, it feels like we were closer last year than the previous year, but it’s just one win. We still have a long way to go, we know that.
“It takes everybody, and it takes all-season long. I think it’s turning more into a culture. It’s the same core guys each and every year that are setting the tempo, setting the pace, and kind of leading the way. I think that’s probably the biggest difference.”


  • When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
  • Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
  • What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
  • How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy) 
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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