Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we ask the Globe's team of hockey writers to weigh in on a question from the world of puck. Today we look west to the struggling Oilers.
We know Edmonton is in a rebuilding mode, but the Oilers are coming off a week that saw it drop four games on an Eastern road trip by a combined score of 25-8.
Does this much losing hurt the development of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi?
How can it possibly hurt them? Didn't hurt Vincent Lecavalier to lose in Tampa. Didn't hurt Steve Yzerman to lose for most of his life in Detroit, it seemed.
This ridiculous notion of "being unable to win the big one" stands up only until the big one is won. If Luongo wins in Vancouver, they will shut up, just as they did after Yzerman finally won, and then again and again, in Detroit. Yzerman, bizarrely, went from being someone viewed as too young, too inexperienced, not forceful enough, not leadership quality to the definition of great leadership. Did he change? Not much. Just our perception did. So you have these three kids in Edmonton getting all the best ice time with only fools thinking they should be winning. They are playing top minutes against top players, and they aren't sinking out of sight or sucking their thumbs on the bench. I say this is actually good for the Oilers, as they are headed for another fine draft pick and are 2-3-4 years away from being the team they will be, and then we will all look back and someone will probably say that Hall and the other two actually benefited from being thrown into the fires right away. The notion that today's young players need to be brought along slowly and developed in the lesser leagues is balderdash in 2010.
Whether it's good or bad for them, this is just the beginning. So they better be able to tolerate it, and it better strengthen their resolve to not let it happen when they become fully-grown NHL players. Many excellent NHL players have developed just fine on losing outfits early in their careers. Ls don't necessarily stunt development. Healthy scratches do.
I had a brief chat with Tom Renney when the Oilers were last through Calgary and he said it was important for the team to stay close to the playoff pack; not be too far out of things by Christmas. That's going to be difficult - just like trading defenceman Sheldon Souray for some blueline help, which the Oilers badly need. That said, even though the kids are taking their lumps, they're playing. They're learning what it takes to compete night after night at this level and that's important. The rewards outweigh the disappointments.
Agree with all of the above. The problem in Edmonton was that they had a brief two-game flirtation with respectability at the start of the season and everybody thought they could bypass the process. Sorry, but improvement doesn't happen overnight and the only reason you get to draft a Taylor Hall in the first place is that you finish 30th overall. Remember, Pittsburgh didn't win right away with Sidney Crosby. Nor did Washington with Alex Ovechkin; nor did Chicago with Patrick Kane. But they did eventually - Pittsburgh and Chicago anyway - and they won because they gave their kids a chance to play at the NHL level in a trial by fire. Now, if they're showing signs of being in far over their heads, that's a different matter. If they're paralyzed on the ice, or getting beat up physically, or not able to keep up to the speed of the game, then they need to play at a lower level for a while. But that doesn't seem to be the case with Edmonton's trio of kids. So they need to keep playing and learning and absorbing a few bruises along the way and eventually, it'll all come together.
Like Eric, I agree with what's been said so far by the wisest collection of hockey writers this side of Magnitogorsk.
One thing the Oilers need to be careful about is the makeup of the veterans on the team. Losing teams can breed sour old guys and you don't want any of them influencing the enthusiastic youngsters. For an extreme example, think back to when Duhatschek's favourite all-time NHL player, Phil Housley, and Theo Fleury, who still had not conquered his demons, went to a Columbus strip club back in January, 2003 with their young teammate on the Chicago Blackhawks, Tyler Arnason. They all wound up as media sensations for a week when Fleury was slapped around by the bouncers.
I'm not saying the Oilers have any problems like this, just that they need to pick their veterans as much for their personalities as their hockey skills.