Today, the Oilers dealt with the fallout.
First, head coach Todd McLellan stood up for Nugent-Hopkins, less than 48 hours after indirectly calling him out for an underwhelming effort on the club’s recently completed road trip.
“I think he’s a real valuable player to our team,” McLellan said today, per the Oilers website. “He uses what he has, night in and night out. He had a tough trip.
“Nuge is also the guy that’s been moved around. He’s lost his linemates. He’s been moved around to different power plays. Am I defending Nuge? Absolutely, because I believe in him one-hundred percent.”
Not long after, Eberle touched on the rumors regarding his future with the club:
At this stage, it’s worth bringing up the “soft skill” term that’s been making the rounds in conjunction with the Oilers and, specifically, Eberle and Nuge.
It’s been suggested new GM Peter Chiarelli wants to reshape the Oilers into a beefier and brawnier team, not unlike Stanley Cup-winning side he built in Boston. That idea was further pushed by McLellan following Monday’s listless 3-0 defeat in Toronto.
“We’re not where we need to be,” he said. “We’ve got work to do as a team, work to do as an organization to get bigger, stronger, harder, and physically win more battles than we lose.”
You can probably see where this is going.
Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are unlikely to ever be known as strong, powerful forwards. Part of that comes from DNA — Eberle’s 5-foot-11, 181 pounds while RNH is 6-foot, 189 — and part of that comes from the perception (fair or not) that both prefer to do their work from the perimeter.
But to focus on buzz terms like “soft skill” undermines several other, bigger issues with this team.
The defense is still poor. The goaltending hasn’t been good enough. There have been five different head coach in five years. Injuries have discombobulated the team at forward — tonight, the club will be without its entire second line as Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot are out injured — and, as McLellan has stated on a number of occasions, this whole thing is still a work in progress.
So maybe “soft skill” isn’t the problem.