|Amid a tough stretch, Jones has still collected 14 goals & 11 assists this season (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
is a pretty jovial character. As a guy who has experienced everything from playing Junior B hockey while moonlighting as the Taco Bell drive-thru guy, to being pushed out the door and waived by an NHL team, he's one that appreciates every day in the NHL. In the couple of years that I've known Ryan, I can't say I've seen him too sour or upset about anything away from what happens in a game. Until now.
We had a chat on Monday morning before the Oilers hit the ice to play the Sharks and I asked him what he thought of the spoiler role, whether the team was able to take any enjoyment out of hindering the playoff run of another group. His response was pretty clear.
"I absolutely hate that word," Jones sneered. "I never thought much about it until I got here and heard people call us that, and now that word is probably in the top five in the dictionary that I dislike. The way that the outside hockey world uses the word for us has gotten a little annoying. It's overused."
Overused? Sure. The problem, of course, is that the team has been in a position for people to use it. Nobody's calling San Jose a spoiler, or Detroit, or Colorado. They're in the race. So, when these matches come around, it's reasonable to assume that the hockey world is going to make it more about the run of the potentially playoff-bound team than about whatever it is the Oilers might be accomplishing with their final stretch.
Jones and the rest of the team know that it's not the pundits that use the word who are to blame, but it doesn't change their disdain for the role. "Missing the playoffs one year is miserable and when you continue to do it and people continue to call you the spoilers, it finds its way into the hate category," Jones says.
So, if not the spoiler role, what motivates a group through the remainder of the season when they already know that their fate in the standings is sealed?
"We're professional athletes and we're all because of one reason: we're all extremely competitive," Jones explains."If weren't, we wouldn't be here. The motivation for us is the competition and the want to win. The pride of the logo that we are blessed to put on and the organization that treats us so well, we owe it to them and to our fans to go out and continue to play good hockey."
There's a good debate to be had about whether or not anything in the final 14 games will carry over to next year. Last season, the Ducks and Flames finished red hot but both started atrociously this season. If Ryan Jones
scores 10 goals in 14 games, will that carry over? If the team wins them all, does it automatically make them a threat next year? Jones says the most important thing that can be accomplished, aside from the demonstrations of pride, is the team chemistry. If nothing else, it's a stretch of hockey against desperate teams where players and lines can form chemistry and gain experience playing with each other, a valuable commodity to a young team.
The future is important to these players, but Jones wasn't kidding earlier when he talked about how competitive they are. With very, very few exceptions, you can't make it as one of the 600 players in the best league in the world without demonstrating elite ability in a lot of areas, and that includes competitive drive. Jones is the perfect example of a player who, at least partially, is where he is because he wanted it more and worked harder than a lot of guys who might be similarly talented. They want to win for them, because the want for that comes naturally, and the want is strong.
And, while they certainly want you to know about their commitment level, they also want you to know that they see yours. They want to win for them, but they also want to win for you.
"We want to give the city and the fans something to cheer for and to look forward to in the future," Jones told me. "These are our fans and, if anything, we have to win hockey games for them."You can listen to Dan on Inside Sports weeknights from 6 to 9 on 630 CHED. Follow Dan on Twitter | @dantencer