You don’t need to look very far to find gloom and doom surrounding the Edmonton Oilers these days.
Things are bad enough when you look at the standings, with the Oilers second-to-last in the West with 18 points in 23 games played. It’s not like the NHL’s goofy points system really does them any favors, either; the Anaheim Ducks are far ahead of the Oilers with 23 points in 22 games as the next team up the ladder.
Naturally, a letdown of this magnitude opens the door for criticism. PHT has gone in-depth on how this Oilers team went wrong, and how it’s as much about a faulty vision for successful hockey as it is about a run of bad luck. You could kill a chunk of today just reading about GM Peter Chiarelli’s many perceived trade failures.
Honestly, you almost get a little queasy just noticing the Oilers grasping at straws after losing to the struggling – but not quite as dire? – Buffalo Sabres last night. The Mike Cammalleri trade seemed like an opportunity to diversify the Oilers’ lines, but it still seems … less than optimal to use him with Connor McDavid in this fashion:
Still, a lot of these issues come down to mistakes made in assessing value and talent. They’re troubling, but things only get worse when it seems like there’s a toxic environment involved, on top of all of that.
Now, some of this is inevitable; when a team loses, the knives come out. And while there are cases in which a player requests a trade and thus feels refreshed, most of the time there will be hard feelings. Some of this fallout feels as natural as a columnist insulting a player on his way out with hot dog shaming.
In Taylor Hall‘s case, his time with the Oilers clearly stung, and it took him some time to recover. Jordan Eberle is going through a similar confidence rehab with the New York Islanders one season after Hall began his with the New Jersey Devils, and Eberle provided some remarkably candid insight to Sportsnet’s Tim Panaccio about his experiences.
To be more specific, Eberle admitted that he lost confidence in no small part to criticisms he’d read from the Edmonton media.
That full piece is absolutely worth your time, as Eberle shows that he understands part of the reason he was traded: a rough 2016-17 season, including some playoff struggles.
If it really did come down to the Oilers essentially panicking with Eberle, then they’ve been burned by a remarkably obvious case of a mere off year. At 27, Eberle remains in his prime range, and last season was the only time his shooting percentage has been an issue (9.6 percent last season vs. his 13.5 career average).
So far with the Islanders, Eberle’s finding splendid chemistry with emerging talent Mathew Barzal, and he’s scored eight goals (and 16 points) on 51 shots on goal. That’s (wait for it) a shooting percentage of 15.7 percent.
The comparisons only get more uncomfortable when you consider Ryan Strome‘s ups and mostly downs in Edmonton:
About the only real solace is if you try/strain to make the money argument, as Strome certainly is dramatically cheaper this season.
It seems strange to advance such a stance when the Oilers are clearly going for a Stanley Cup and might not have planned to have an estimated $8.67 million in cap space just lying around. (Hey, at least TSN’s Dustin Nielson is sticking up for a player, if nothing else.)
Things become more uncomfortable if you ponder a lousy combination for this franchise: inept management and, in Eberle’s words, media that can be “pretty brutal.” Moments like these explain why people rushed to Connor McDavid’s defense even as he legitimately struggled, as the worry was that blame was being passed from the front office to the superstar often carrying his team:
Really, it’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument; if you made a living assessing a team, wouldn’t you be critical of the Oilers? Of course, the debate gets more complicated if you believe that blame is being placed on the wrong shoulders.
It’s not a new phenomenon for the Oil. Hall was often a scapegoat in Edmonton, especially in times when there really was little talent beyond him. Sometimes it got a little weird when stories seemingly trumpeted Adam Larsson‘s superiority.
Tyler Dellow, formerly of the Oilers organization, wondered if the media in Edmonton is actually tougher than in Toronto in an interesting podcast with The Athletic’s Craig Custance. Dellow’s logic is reasonable: with the Oilers being an even bigger focal point of daily life in a smaller city, perhaps the spotlight burns even brighter than in Toronto, where the media apparatus is larger but there are more distractions?
That’s a debate for another day, really, but it’s worth noting that the Maple Leafs eventually turned things around by learning from their mistakes.
Part of that process comes down to realizing that change is needed. In the case of the Edmonton Oilers, it’s possible that there’s still a long way to go. Even with Connor McDavid around.
Update: At least one member of the Edmonton media provided his take, as Sportsnet’s Mark Spector responded on Twitter:
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.