Edmonton Oilers ‘play a little bit like a junior team’? ‘Loudmouth Lars’ got it right, in part
Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers skates away from Lars Eller of the Montreal Canadiens at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2013. Eller incurred the wrath of the Oilers for Tuesday's pre-game comment about them playing 'a little bit like a junior team' sometimes.
Photograph by: Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
VANCOUVER — Look, we sports people are just not that smart.
Fans, reporters, players, coaches, general managers ... you know the drill: we are either statistical pinheads or opinionated blowhards or blind/rabid devotees or spoiled-rotten athletes or over-indulged bench jockeys or arrogant faux-masterminds.
So you’ll have to forgive us, in our gullibility, for following the trail of breadcrumbs and dutifully getting our shorts in a knot over what Lars Eller said about the Edmonton Oilers and what the Oilers did about it and what Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said after the game.
It’s what we do. We are well trained. We buy the baloney, swallow the cliche, and move on to the next melodrama.
Don’t get me wrong. When the Canadiens’ young Danish forward answered a question that was probably something like “What do you think of the Oilers’ game?” at Tuesday’s morning skate, his forthright response — and the brouhaha that ensued — made for great pre-game, post-game conversation in Montreal and Edmonton and pretty much everywhere else in the National Hockey League.
This is because most NHL players are conditioned from baptism to speak as blandly as possible about the opposition and Eller was ... well, not bland. Then again, he’s European. Maybe he didn’t get the memo.
"It can be anything, you know? They play a little bit like a junior team, I think, sometimes," Eller said. "They take a lot risks, a lot of chances. They’re a little all over the place. There’s not a lot of structure always in their game. It can really be anything. You don’t know. I prefer a little more structured game. Then again, I don’t mind high-scoring games, too.”
“You can’t say that about us!” the Oilers (according to the legend) evidently cried, in unison, then proceeded to play the first period a little bit like a junior team, taking a lot of risks, kind of all over the place, without a lot of structure in their game, and went into the period break down 2-0.
Only then did the bulletin-board material kick in. It was a classic delayed reaction. Like Joey on Friends finally getting the joke, the Oilers — insulted to the core, umbrage fairly seeping from their every pore — proceeded to show the Habs who’s who and what’s what, winning the game 4-3, silencing the crowd at the Bell Centre and, more importantly, Loudmouth Lars, who didn’t appear for interviews after the game.
And then Eakins, the rookie NHL coach whose team, prior to Eller’s inspirational cattle-prod to the goolies, was off to a rousing 2-6-1 start under his direction — fully three points removed from dead-last in the 30-team league — mounted the soapbox and delivered a withering rebuke of the Habs’ not-so-great Dane.
You’ve seen the video, you’ve read the quotes, but here they were anyway.
"It's games like that you don't even really need to go play them," Eakins said. "When you have a player like Lars Eller running his mouth before the game, it makes for great banter in our dressing room, and great motivation. So we thank Lars Eller for his comments before the game. Awesome.
"You've got some young player who is trying to get his feet wet calling an organization a junior team, people take notice. I knew it was going to turn. It's just one of those things, it's a total hockey god thing and I'm sure that young man has learned his lesson.
"They might as well have sent me over a fruit basket and a bottle of wine. I was like, ‘Man, that is just perfect.’ That was a really great present that Mr. Eller laid on us today."
Now maybe it’s just me, the opinionated blowhard, but if I’m scoring on a one-to-10 scale of class, with one being, say, Sean Avery and 10 being Jean Beliveau, I’d have to rank both Eller’s quotes and Eakins’s in the lower-middle range, and I’m not sure who gets the edge.
I will say in Eakins’s defence that he didn’t dispute the substance of Eller’s comments. He never said: “It’s not true that we play like a junior team.” So, full marks there for not muddying the waters.
Admit it: the Oilers do play like that, a fair amount. Plenty of young stallions, straining at the bit, and a frequent absence of control. Mistakes abound. The team that has had every advantage of star-calibre talent from the draft for several years now has done, so far, next to nothing with it.
Maybe that will change — no doubt the team will improve over time — but for the moment, they ought to just take the slings and arrows people toss at them and say: “You know what? We should play better.”
Most damning, to me, was when Eakins was asked if bulletin-board material is still used in the NHL, and he said, "Absolutely."
So, you coach and coach and preach and cajole to little effect, but 18 skaters and a goalie earning an average of $2.45 million per person, per annum, need to have an opponent call them names in order to spur them on to a high enough level to win a hockey game. And that’s “professional” sport?
I’m not sure that’s an admission a coach ought to make.
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