Eakins went on to say that everybody on the team is capable of being that leader, because if you made it to the NHL, you had to be a go-to player somewhere along the way.
“When things are going badly like this, you’ve got to remember that you’ve been the guy and it’s time to stand up. It can start with one guy, but it has to be everybody … it has got to be the whole group. None of us are as strong as all of us. We have to be strong together. I’ve got to find a way to give this group some confidence. They’re dying. They’re hurting. I believe they’re trying, but we’re playing scared right now and you can’t play scared in this league. You’re going to get killed.”
It’s such a contrast with what’s happening in Colorado. The Avalanche and Oilers are linked because, until this season, they played together in the NHL’s Northwest Division and roughly followed similar paths. Colorado missed the playoffs in five of the past seven years and, like Edmonton, reaped the benefit of some high draft choices.
It was only last April when backup goaltender J.S. Giguere aired out his young teammates, claiming that some of them were far more concerned with planning their post-season Las Vegas vacations than playing out another poor year in which they finished dead last in the west. Giguere’s words seemed to resonate, if not in the dressing room, then in the ownership suite, where a couple of major changes were made – Joe Sakic was hired as executive VP of hockey operations and Patrick Roy as head coach and VP of hockey operations.
It was an unorthodox managerial structure because Greg Sherman retained his title as general manager, but the culture changed almost at once. Colorado won its sixth in a row Saturday night, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, a sweet victory for Roy, if only because of his previous history with the Habs.
The Avalanche is only the fifth team in NHL history to start a season 12-1 and the other four all easily made the playoffs. So if Colorado qualifies and the two top teams in the Central, the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues, do their part, then there is virtually no chance for any of Edmonton, Calgary or for that matter, the Winnipeg Jets, to make the playoffs again this year.
Colorado has one lingering issue – what happens with goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was accused of domestic violence this past week by his girlfriend – but otherwise, they have bulled through the first month, Roy’s personality reflected in how the team is performing on the ice.
Roy is an unpopular figure in some circles because he is so supremely confident and still can show flashes of that legendary temper. But, so far anyway, his team has taken most of the good things from him and none of the bad.
Mostly, they’ve developed an identity. Edmonton? After five coaching changes in five years, they’re still searching for theirs.
SABRES SEND KALETA TO ROCHESTER: The Buffalo Sabres have sent Patrick Kaleta down to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, in the hopes that he can rehabilitate his game in the minors and ultimately return as a changed man, a la Matt Cooke or Steve Downie, or any of the serial offenders who’ve cleaned up their acts in recent years. The Sabres offered Kaleta around the NHL, but there were no takers. Kaleta’s 10-game suspension – for a hit to the head of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson – is over.
It remains to be seen if he’ll ever see the light of day in the NHL again. The fact that he cleared waivers is an indication that 29 other teams have no interest in him, his problems, or the distraction that he would inevitably bring. It is reminiscent of how Sean Avery’s career eventually ground to a halt after even the New York Rangers’ patience with him ran out. Kaleta is at a crossroads, and presumably, he knows that now.
“When we looked at where the league is … and where Patrick’s game is currently, I think there is a significant amount of work that he will have to do to redesign his game in order to give him an opportunity to play,” general manager Darcy Regier told the Buffalo News. “In fairness to him, he has made some changes. I think the changes that are going faster are at the league level. The league is really making a serious attempt to roll back. I think there’s an obvious focus on concussions and I think you’re going to see an additional focus on fighting.”