After about half a dozen doom-and-gloom questions about the dire state of the Edmonton Oilers union, Connor McDavid rolled his eyes at the vultures picking away at the fresh carcasses of 5-2 and 7-4 losses to Calgary and Carolina.
“You guys are acting like the sky is falling,” the Oilers captain told reporters after a team meeting Monday morning at Rogers Place. “Guys aren’t happy with how they’ve been playing, obviously. It wasn’t a good weekend, but you keep moving forward.”
That brief exchange sums up the two very different perspectives on the Oilers’ situation, which is either a minor hiccup or a death sentence depending on what side of the dressing room door you happen to be standing.
The way the Oilers see it, there are areas that need to be addressed, yes, but they are 5-5 in their last 10 and three points out of a playoff spot, so there is no need to be answering questions about how desperately bad it is.
To almost everyone else, the Oilers have looked lifeless and disinterested too many times in too many games, like being outshot 15-3 early in the first period against Carolina, for instance.
They’ve seen enough to know that it’s only a matter of time until their inconsistency and lack of depth bury them for good. Otherwise, everyone is pretty much on the same page.
“We can hear it,” McDavid said of the disgruntled market. “We hear the boos and the stuff that’s going on. We understand the fans are frustrated, we expect better out of ourselves and they obviously expect better out of us. We need to be better.
“But the only people who seem to believe in us are the guys in the locker-room and we need to rally behind that.”
They have to, because there is no help coming. Other than their core players, who would leave behind even bigger holes in their absence, there are no pieces to trade that would bring back anything substantial. And all of their top young prospects are already here, struggling under the weight of responsibility and defeat.
Firing the general manager? Canning Peter Chiarelli two months after firing Todd McLellan as coach will accomplish nothing in the short-term, other than giving fans another taste of blood. Anyone who thinks a new guy can come in and deliver a quick fix should re-read the previous paragraph. When you’re painted into a corner, changing brushes doesn’t help.
This is it. This is the team that’s either going to fix its issues and make a charge, or crash and burn.
Asked if the roster simply isn’t good enough and can’t succeed without some kind of help, McDavid bristled again.
“If there are guys who believe that, they should get out of the room,” he said. “If you don’t believe in this group, and you’re in the locker-room, you need to leave. But I don’t get that sense. I think everyone in here believes in each other.”
That’s what teams do. Stick together and believe. Meanwhile, people in Edmonton are doing what they do: Freak out and assume the worst. And, to be fair, a certain amount of pessimism is understandable when you’ve missed the playoffs 11 of the last 12 years.
“They deserve to be angry,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock (Edmonton’s seventh in the last 10 years, if you’re scoring at home). “Other than about seven minutes, we played a heck of a hockey game against Calgary and lost to a good team. But last game was not acceptable, and that’s on us.”
Yes it is. So, as the dark cloud begins to form over the city, all the Oilers can do is try their best to shut it out long enough to put a win together and calm things down.
They have one game left before a much-needed bye week relieves the pressure.
“We have to find a way as a group to get out of this,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s played here long enough to understand the mood better than anyone. “There is going to be outside pressure and negativity, expectations. There is always stuff coming from the outside, but as a group we need to find a way to block that stuff and play as a team, stay positive.
“We have to stay positive We can’t get down on ourselves or each other or on us as a team.”
Ultimately, no matter what lens they are viewing this from, Lucic says the fans and players are all in this together.
“You can’t lose hope, you can’t lose faith,” he said. “We need them (the fans) at a time like this to rally around us. We need their good energy and their positive energy. We feel that. We hear it. We feel it when they have our back and we also feel when they’re frustrated. We need them more than ever to give us a positive push.”