Defenceman Whitney scratched for third time in five games
Smyth asks to defer questions about his status for a day or two
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk makes the saves while Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney tries to stop Dallas Stars’ Eric Nystrom during an NHL game at Rexall Place on Feb. 6.
Photograph by: JASON FRANSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON - When rookie head coach Ralph Krueger pulled veteran defenceman Ryan Whitney from the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup on Feb. 4, he was serving notice that he was not going to be swayed by salaries or seniority.
He re-emphasized that point on Tuesday when he sat veteran Ryan Smyth for the game against the Dallas Stars.
Smyth was pulled from the lineup to make room for call-up Chris VandeVelde, who took over as the centre on the fourth line between Ben Eager and Lennart Petrell.
Whitney was also benched, making it two straight games for the defenceman in the final year of a $5.5-million contract. In fact, he has played just two of the Oilers’ last five games, and said on Tuesday he had been a healthy scratch only three times in his career, and all three have been this season.
Smyth, meanwhile, has long been revered in Edmonton for his work ethic and commitment to the team, but in the end, that didn’t deter Krueger.
The head coach will not publicly criticize his players or discuss what shortcomings he has seen, but Smyth has had some ill-timed hooking and slashing penalties of late. He had also been moved from wing to centre when injuries decimated that position, but did not get any power-play time against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Sunday’s 3-1 win.
“We can sit here ... and speak about what it means when you look at the past of a player like Ryan Smyth, but for us right now, it’s a day-to-day job to make sure we have a lineup that we feel is the one that gives us the best chance to win,” said Krueger. “There’s no room for feelings in a season like this. Whether people like (my decisions) or not, or whether I’m popular or not is not the driving force.”
Smyth, who was re-signed this off-season for $4.5 million over two years, asked if he could defer any questions about his status for a day or two.
Whitney, meanwhile, spoke after the morning skate.
“I thought after the last game I’d be in the lineup, but I’m not,” said the defenceman, who hadn’t had a conversation with Krueger but wanted to know what it was going to take to get back on the ice.
“I’m very frustrated. I want to play,” he said. “We got outshot 40-14 and I’m not playing, so I think that shows where their thoughts are. I don’t think (Krueger) cares who you are. He wants to win. Whatever he thinks is the best lineup is the one he’s going to play.”
Krueger said despite the disparity on the shot clock in Sunday’s game at Columbus, there were more breakdowns with the forward group, which is why the defensive group deserved another look.
Whitney is not prepared to ask for a trade, but isn’t sure where he fits into the picture, given his current status.
“They’re paying me a lot of money and I’m not playing, (but) I like it here a lot. I really like the guys in here, but I don’t think they necessarily like me right now, and I’d like to play. I’m just frustrated.
“I believe I can help a lot of teams ... I hope it’s here.”
Whitney dismissed the notion that his game was affected because he’s one of the players who didn’t play during lockout. He also said it may be tough to get a foothold when he does get in, given he played just two games before he was benched again. He played just 15:16 against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
“It’s tough to play hockey when you know if you make a mistake, you’re basically out of the lineup. That along with playing 15 minutes and sitting there for extended periods. I’m not used to that. I have to get used to it, I guess.”
Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner said the message in the dressingroom was loud and clear, that everyone’s ice time can be yanked if the coaching staff decide a change needs to be made.
“It’s with a lot of respect I’m allowed to coach a player like Ryan Smyth and my job is to make him the best possible player he can be,” said Krueger. “We are trying to get the best out of him on a daily basis.
“It’s not an easy process (and) I don’t expect players to be happy with the decision ... now we will move forward. We’re expecting a very gritty, very aggressive reaction, which will bring out the best of Ryan Smyth.”
OIL DROPS: Darcy Hordichuk cleared waivers on Tuesday and was assigned to the Oklahoma City Barons.
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