Each and Every Oilers Player Needs to Be Accountable

No more hiding in the bowels of the dressing room
Mattias Ekholm and Zach Hyman
Mattias Ekholm and Zach Hyman at the podium during the Heritage Classic.

When I first started covering the Oilers in the 1990s, when the dressing room opened to the media after games, pretty well every player would be at or near their stalls. They were ready to face the press, if need be — or to be available to that one outlier reporter who was working on some weird angle.

Now, when reporters walk into the room, it’s empty. Two or three players are requested by the media, and they’re brought out one by one. The rest get to escape the cameras and notepads.

Some of it reflects the changing nature of the media landscape. There’s fewer reporters on the beat. Teams and players fear negative social media blowback. The NHL and its teams have their own news services, so everything the independent reporters do is filmed and used by the league itself. And, there’s been a rise in bloggers and even newspaper columnists who don’t go to the games — they watch the games and those press availabilities from home.

And, yes, practices are more open when it comes to access.

But, after losses, the same guys, night after night, are selected to be the fall guys for an Oilers team that’s slipped to 2-9-1 and found a way to lose to the San Jose Sharks, a team filled with guys who make kids groan if they find them in their packs of hockey cards.

It would be refreshing to see someone in the Oilers vaunted leadership group demand that, after a loss like the one in San Jose, the entire team be ready to face the music. Each and every player would have to be at his stall, ready to answer. No one gets to hide after a bad game.

The guys who the media walk by would at least see how uncomfortable it is for teammates who have to answer for collectively poor efforts.

With the way it is now, you really have to sift through a lot of cliches and one-word answers to find anything that’s not… filler. Over the last week, there were a couple of things I heard that made me go… hmm.

The first came from Zach Hyman, who too often is thrown to the media. After Saturday’s loss at home to Nashville, he said the team is well aware of what’s killing them, but the players just can’t find a way to stop it.

“Those are key moments we talk about; the shift after a goal, the shift to start a period, the shift to start a game,” Hyman said. “We’re saying all the right things, those are the things you talk about, and what the coach talks about, but we have to go out there and do it. There’s no other answer, we’re not doing it right now.

“It sounds like a silly answer — but it’s the honest truth. We know what we have to do, we’re not currently doing it, but we know we can do it.”

After Thursday’s loss to the Sharks, Leon Draisaitl said this:

“There’s not too many guys in this room who have confidence, right now. I am part of that group. You just keep trying to get better every day.”

“We say the right words, we go into every game with the same mindset. We outchance and outshoot a lot of teams. It seems like we’re not deserving of bounces right now. You can’t rely on bounces, I’m aware of that. We’re not scoring enough and obviously giving up too much.”

Both of these comments illustrate the same point — that this team knows what has to be done in order to turn its fortunes around. It goes into games with clear plans. Yet, once the puck drops, the same old happens.

Yes, the Oilers are regularly outshooting opponents. They deserved a better fate in Vancouver on Monday. But, Thursday in San Jose, it took until late in the second period for the Oilers to create real, high-danger chances. Sure, they had a lot of shots before that, but a lot of it was from the perimeter. There were a lot of one-and-done shots. Any team in the NHL will gladly give up 14-15 shots a period, if they’re all from the outside.

Like last week’s home loss to Dallas, which saw the Oilers unleash more than half of their 49 shots in the third period, the attack is inconsistent. The push comes when the team is already in a hole.

Sure, we all have our theories about what’s dreadfully wrong here — the lack of cap flexibility leasing to a tight roster, that Connor McDavid and Mattias Ekholm may not be at 100 per cent health, the goaltending issues. All of them at least have a hint of truth.

The fact is, this is a team that knows what it needs to change, yet hasn’t been able to do it. If a change behind the bench is made, and Jay Woodcroft is sent packing, it wouldn’t be unfair if the term “coach killer” gets applied to this core group.

It may already be too late.