Sunday, November 23, 2014

Norris



I disagree with the perception that he’s weaker on the defensive side of things. He showed me at the end of last year that he was managing the decisions on when to go, when to probe offensively, when to get back. I know he’s going to be a player that can be counted on in both ends. I think that Justin has Norris Trophy potential and I don’t think there are too many people who disagree with me in that regard.

 Craig MacTavish is an articulate guy and, in my opinion, a pretty smart guy. The statement above may have been spin but it's a statement that is haunting him now and will haunt him until Justin Schultz figures out how to play NHL defence.

 So it may haunt him forever.

 Norris, as he is now called, has done something that very few Oiler players can do. He has united the fan base. Those who think that Tom Gilbert was marshmallow soft and those who think that Gilbert was a legitimate top pairing NHL defenceman. Those who loved Ryan Jones as a heart and soul guy and those who thought his act was all fly the zone and fake hustle. The fans who thought Ales Hemsky was a perimeter playing coward and those who remembered him playing six weeks with a broken foot in a faint hope playoff drive and the countless times he was mugged by Robyn Reghyr and kept coming back at him.

 The fans who hate Petry and those who love him. The fans who think Eberle is Mr Clutch, on a par with Hall and Ted and those who think he's an overrated complimentary player who should have been traded a couple of years back at his peak value. Those who think Luke Gazdic is useful and those who think he is wasting a roster spot. The see em gooders and the fancy statters and everyone in between.

 Everyone may love Raymond but like poor Chris, everyone hates Norris.

 Why?

 Well Justin Schultz personifies everything that is wrong with an Oilers' team that is hitting rock bottom, again. Then again the reality is the team has bottomed out so many times since they traded Ryan Smyth away that this particular stretch is probably only in the top ten of awful death marches. The coach awaiting execution, the players, blank faced and frustrated, the bad goaltending, the popgun offence, the massive defensive breakdowns, the angry fans, the silent owner and, as has been the case since the beginning of this historic awfulness, the one constant, Kevin Lowe in management. We've seen it so many times before. The only difference this time is that the team is so much better, on paper at least, than all of the earlier versions and the possession stats tell us that progress is being made, finally, but the results are not there and after all of these years everyone is sick of the losing. Hell, we were sick of it in 2009.

 Back to Schultz. If you were to take everything that is wrong with the Edmonton Oilers, everything that has gone wrong over the last near decade (!!!!!!), and were to mold that clay into a player, that player would be young Norris himself.

Management's Failings

 Management is the reason why the Oilers are where they are. The entire roster has turned over. Eakins is the fifth coach to oversee this mess. The team has changed owners, general managers, assistant general managers, directors of scouting, scouts, assistant coaches, minor league coaches, even the training staff (remember that!). When you are awful for nine years you can say it's on the players or the coaching but management puts the team together. The fact that Craig MacTavish was willing to give Norris the contract that he did, the fact that they see him as part of the core, the fact that they even mention his name as a Norris winner. That speaks to a lack of judgement when it comes to talent. And the fact that Norris is playing more than any other defenceman, well I have no doubt that this is management's call too. And it's going to cost Dallas Eakins his job.

 Losing Losers Who Lose

 Losing losers who lose go through coaches every year or so and so soon the Oilers will be on their sixth head coach in seven years. I don't think Eakins gets canned until the end of this awful stretch in front of them although I am not as sure as I once was of this. I figured the Oilers would not want a new coach to come in and get his ass handed to him right away but the crowd is starting to look for blood.

 And so there will be another coach and it will be Nelson or Messier I think. Dan Bylsma is out there but he will have his pick and if I were him I would be looking for a contender looking for a change after an early playoff exit - San Jose, Anaheim, Montreal - rather than a perennial doormat. No, it will be another rookie NHLer or a desperate retread and so another new system, another new voice for the players and have you ever noticed that good organizations don't swap out their coaches annually? As the old joke goes though Scotty Bowman and the ghost of Toe Blake wouldn't be able to make a winner out of this club.

 Is Eakins a good NHL coach? I don't know. His record is shit as his detractors point out but the record of every Oilers' coach since 2006 has been awful and like every Oilers' coach since Chris Pronger hit the road he has been given an incomplete roster to work with. I do know that he is a smart hockey man and a good man and it's a shame that his first NHL job is going to end up like this. Results matter and they aren't there but I don't see a new man coming in and things being any different unless the new man is allowed to play Justin Schultz behind Mark Fayne and Jeff Petry. The fact that Norris, like last year, leads the D in TOI is absolutely unacceptable and I have no doubt at all that this is a directive from management. I am not a betting man, never have been. I would lay a lot of money that Schultz's icetime is a MacT mandate. The results have been as expected and so we will see a new coach.

 Potential and Development

 When Norris was snatched up by the Oilers we were excited and we had good reason to be. He was a prize UFA and he had the numbers to back him up. Since then we have seen no progression, no progression at all. Whereas Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin stepped into the NHL and showed immediately that they got it, Schultz shows no idea at all that he can play defence in this league. He makes glaring errors time and time again, jumping into the play at the worst times, making ridiculous pinches (the one the other night was the absolute worst play I have seen by an Oiler defender ever) and letting opposing forwards get behind him constantly. Throw in his lollygagging and that he gets outmuscled constantly and you wonder how he is playing at all because based on his defensive play he is probably about ninth or tenth on the club's depth chart. Which leads us to accountability.

 The Golden Boys

 Eakins loves to talk accountability but when David Perron spoke up the other night (and now suddenly he is being shopped pretty actively - these guys are unreal) it was pretty clear that he was calling out the coach and some of his teammates and that Norris was one of those teammates. There are always different rules for the stars, that's the way it is, but the Oilers have taken it to a different level. Marincin gets sent down and then when he comes up he sits in the pressbox. Jeff Petry gets scratched. Nail Yakupov gets scratched and sees his icetime cut constantly. Magnus Paajarvi could never get his sideburns right either. Meanwhile Hall, Ted and Eberle skate whatever happens and you can add Norris to that group.

 I remember that years ago there were rumours of a rift between the Oiler veterans and the kids. Back then the kids were Gagner and Nilsson and Cogliano and I surmised that guys like Moreau and Staios, who had busted their asses forever, were pissed that these kids came in, had a couple of good years (or in Nilsson's case a few good weeks) and then got paid more money than they ever saw. Back then Gagner was the golden boy. The result was a guy who last year, after seven years in the league, still was making the same mistakes he was as a rookie. Defence takes some smarts and a lot of effort. Gagner, a smart player, never figured it out and I would bet one of the main reasons is that he never got called on it.

 What do you think Mark Fayne and Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin think when they see Schultz get beat time and time again and get sent over the boards regardless? What do you think Benoit Pouliot and Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks think? And Ryan Nugent Hopkins?

 We know what David Perron thinks. And he's the guy getting traded apparently.

------------------------------

 So thank you Justin Schultz. You demonstrate for us management's falings and the franchise's inability to develop young players and to hold them accountable. You, more than anyone, are going to be responsible for another coach coming into this mess and the reality is it is very likely that Jeff Petry, supplanted by you despite being a better defenceman than you will ever be, will also be gone by the spring.

 Bravo Norris. Bravo.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post. Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from your mistakes. Once you have identified your mistake, you can think about how you can improve your approach, adjust, and when faced with a similar problem in the future - try a new approach.

A huge issue with the Oilers is that they can't even identify the mistake. Instead of providing constructive feedback, they're have chosen to praise the player and ignore the mistakes.

The problem with the Oilers will always start from the top. If Katz, Lowe, MacTavish and company throw out terms of accountability, it needs to start with them. They have not lived up to their end of this deal...so why would the players ever have to?

Fans should not blame the players. The players follow the direction of the coaches. The coaches either aren't doing their jobs or upper management have handcuffed them. If the defensive lapses are fine with the coaches, why would Jultz ever change the way he plays. Besides, he's been told he's a Norris candidate and can expect a big contract this offseason.

Black Dog said...

Great commment!

Gord S said...

Very well written.

I don't blame Schultz; I blame those who decided to make him the 2nd highest paid defenseman. Then gave him ice time accordingly.

As you pointed out; a lot of strange decisions are being made & have been made almost forever.

Kevin Lowe was promoted to General Manager in June, 2000 & continued to get promoted. Yet we are presently going to out of the playoffs for 9 straight season; there is no mention of firing him.

No wonder the players are giving up; there is NO accountability starting from the top and filtering down to ice level.

Bare Hare said...

Great post. Can honestly say I love you blog. Love the style of personal sharing and a very honest assessment of what you see and believe.

To comment on accountability, one just has to look south down the QE2 to see what happens when you hold players accountable.

Hartley scratched Weidman after a lack luster game, Scratched Johnny Hockey. No one is immune to it in Calgary, and that Dallas Eakins is how you create accountability.

Black Dog said...

Gord - you hit the nail on the head there re: Lowe and Schultz. Schultz has never been healthy scratched despite the repeated mistakes. That comes from above

Bare Hare - thanks. And yes exactly what you said regarding the Flames.