Ryan Whitney’s days as an Edmonton Oiler over
‘Tough ending’ for veteran defenceman; turning point in career was ankle injury in December 2010
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney in action against the St. Louis Blues last month.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
Ryan Whitney met the media at Rexall Place on Sunday wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball cap, not Edmonton Oilers headgear.
The embattled 30-year-old defenceman whose time in Edmonton started on an incredible high in 2009-10, reach the lowest of lows as a healthy scratch this season.
Whitney had 38 points and was plus-20 in his first 54 games as an Oiler after they acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks for fellow blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky three years ago. But he wrecked his ankle stepping in a rut at Rexall Place just after Christmas in the 2010-11 season and was never the same after that as he tried to rehab from surgery.
This season, with his ankle healthy, at least in Whitney’s eyes, he found himself either in the third defensive pairing or a press box sitter 11 times. He finished up this season with a pulled muscle in his leg the last three games — his final three games in an Oilers jersey.
Whitney had the ‘A’ on his jersey, but team brass removed it and gave the responsibility to Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle this season.
There was no move during the season to negotiate a new deal for the unrestricted free agent.
They could have traded the Boston product at the deadline, but former Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini chose to keep him rather than take a second-round draft pick, for example. That’s the going rate for UFA trades like Douglas Murray, Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold.
In the final 10 days of this season, Whitney sat for three games, played against Anaheim on April 22, but got hurt and that was it.
During his last season as an Oiler, he became the fans’ whipping boy. He shrugged that off as an occupational hazard, but couldn’t have fathomed the roller-coaster ride he had here.
“I never would have thought I wouldn’t be playing (after his incandescent start to his time as an Oiler). I’ve been through a lot ... a tough ending,” he said.
“This year, I was pegged in a spot as a fifth or sixth defenceman, battling to stay there ... at some point it didn’t matter because I knew I wasn’t getting higher,” said Whitney. “First meeting with Ralph (head coach Kreuger) before the season, I was told I was in the bottom pair. It was set in stone. I got scratched a game against Vancouver, came back and played against Colorado and Ralph talked about a new start for me. I was with Jeff Petry, but for one period. I’d never mention a player’s name, but there were other players who could have been scratched at times, but never were.”
Whitney tried to keep his frustration to himself.
“I’d like to think I’m a professional. You have to eat ... once in a while. When your boss tells you things, that’s how life works. I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of it, but that was there decision.
“I’m looking to prove them wrong.
“I still believe in myself and I’m hoping for a fresh new start. It’s not about making money. I’ve made lots of money. I think I can still play. Obviously, there were games I didn’t play well, but there stretches where I thought I did,” said Whitney, who did average 18-1/2 minutes of ice time a game when he did dress.
Krueger went with four defencemen — the Schultzes, Justin and Nick, and Petry and Ladislav Smid — for all 48 games. Mark Fistric, Corey Potter and Whitney rotated, with Theo Peckham the eighth guy only getting in four games.
“We made a decision that these four guys were the top-four defencemen and he couldn’t break into that,” Krueger said. “He ended up in a challenging situation. It was a difficult role for Ryan to accept, but I thought he did an excellent job on the power play when asked.
“But he never quite reached the potential we saw in him my first year with the Oilers (as Tom Renney’s associate coach) when he came out of the gate (27 points in 35 games and plus-13 in 2010-11).
“I believe it was because of the injury. I believe with another summer of training Ryan has the potential to be a better player again.”
Krueger thought Whitney handled his demotion the best he could.
“He was not a problem for us. I kept communicating with Ryan. He did the best he could with a difficult role, for somebody as proud as he is and who expected to be a top four defenceman in the NHL,” Krueger said.
The Oilers are going to need another puck-moving defenceman to help Justin Schultz get the puck to the young stars, but Whitney figures the Oilers are on the right track.
“Obviously, I’ve had some differences with the coaching staff, but I really do respect Ralph a lot. He’s a really good person, but the guys on the team I wish them the best.
“The new GM (Craig MacTavish) has a thought process on what he wants to do. He knows they need a puck-mover, several puck-movers on a lot of good teams,” Whitney said. “I don’t know what they’ll do to become a really good team, but they’re close. They do need pieces.”
He didn’t mind losing the assistant captain’s role.
“It’s not the best thing but it didn’t bother me. That’s more a compliment to Hallsy (Hall) and Ebs (Eberle). That was something that was going to happen. One of those kids will be wearing the C at some point,” said Whitney.
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