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Oilers' core feels responsible for Eakins' firing

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. Taylor Hall is barely 23 years old, but the Edmonton Oilers forward is a veteran when it comes to seeing coaches come and go from the dressing room.

When he first arrived it was Tom Renney, and then Ralph Krueger. Now Dallas Eakins, who was fired after just 113 games with the Oilers having lost 15 of 16 games and coming nowhere near the promise that their roster, stocked with high draft picks and budding stars, were expected to fulfill.

Todd Nelson becomes the sixth coach in six years tasked with the duty of turning a once-proud franchise into a winner again. But Hall was quick to admit that the chances have to come along the bench and not just behind it.

"There has been almost zero success since I've been here as an Oiler," said Hall, the first of three consecutive No. 1 overall selections for Edmonton back in 2010. "And after one coach maybe you think 'OK, maybe the next one is going to be the one who's going to bring us there.' But after a while you start looking in the mirror and start wondering what you're doing and how much you're bringing to the team and what you need to do better. Certainly this year I haven't been at my best and I'm looking forward to getting my game back.

"We all feel pretty bad about the way things ended and everyone in this room feels a good share of responsibility for what happened. At the same time we have to come together and unify and gain some respectability back in this season."

Forward Jordan Eberle made no bones about the fact that the players are responsible for the 7-19-5 record that cost Eakins his job.

"Dallas had to take the brunt of it, but this is about on-ice performance and winning and losing," Eberle said. "As a team you feel responsible … We still feel like we have a strong team here. We've played well at moments and showed how well we can play. It's about bringing that to a consistent level.

"We've been in most games and we're beating ourselves. We have made progress even if it's tough for fans to see. We all want it to be quicker. Trust me."

General manager Craig MacTavish was one of six coaches on the ice Thursday. And his message to the team over the last 24 hours has been clear: It's time to produce.

"For a collection of players with the skill level they came into the league with, there's not a level of execution that is commensurate with that skill. We've got to get that," MacTavish said, with an Oiler track suit replacing his normal suit and tie.

"We want more competitiveness. We want a higher level of commitment to get to the tough areas of the ice. We have to find the chemistry we haven't been able to find up to this point and we're still looking for it."

That search began Tuesday and was evident from the first time he stepped on the ice. MacTavish will coach for a few games, beginning Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes, before handing off to Nelson and the evaluation process has begun.

"You can tell he's been a coach before and a savvy coach," Hall said of MacTavish. "It was just a morning skate and we weren't being put through the paces by any means, but you could tell everyone was on edge and wanting to impress.

"It's about winning. A winning team and a winning season would completely change the way people view it from the outside. I completely understand the fan's frustration because I'm 10 times as frustrated sometimes."

Nelson will get his chance to finally produce the results expected of this roster. But the core of the team understands that the next big change might not be a coach.

"It would be a shame to leave the group now if that were the case," Hall said when asked about his own future in Edmonton. "It wouldn't feel right. We want to get to the final step and be a contending team in this league. There wouldn't be a better team or a better city to do it for.

"I think it's fair to say this season, it's going to be extremely hard to make the playoffs. But I'm 23. [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] is 21 and there is still a lot of growth to be had not only on the ice but off the ice as well. I'm still growing and so are other guys in this room."

Eberle wants the core of the team to fight through the adversity together.

"All this losing is going to make it all the better when we start winning," he said. "I'm not going to lie, this has been very tough. I'm a professional and competitive guy and the people in this room are here for a reason and it's not because they've been losing all their lives. We want to win. But no one can make that happen but us."

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