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The Progress Report: Leadership

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Without warning, Sean Avery engages with Ladislav Smid during the third period of last Sunday's game in New York (Getty Images).

What we saw in Sunday’s 8-2 loss was disappointing, but we may have also seen the defined shift in leadership that started just before the season began back in early October.

On October 6th, Shawn Horcoff was named captain, while Ales Hemsky and Ryan Whitney were named alternates.

We didn't realize at the time, but this may end up being one of the most important parts of the early rebuilding process.

Not to suggest that the leadership in past seasons was lacking, but there were a few events over the past week that have exemplified the new direction of the Edmonton Oilers.

As Sean Avery was being escorted off the ice following his sucker-punch on Ladislav Smid, Whitney was the first to engage. It started with verbal jawing but quickly escalated to physical jousting with the assistance of Theo Peckham.

While the melee was just getting underway, more players began to involve themselves. Unprovoked, Hemsky entered the fray and started throwing punches on whichever Ranger he could find. He then found his way to the Rangers bench where he defended teammate Colin Fraser, who was being worked over by several players – some that were throwing punches from the safe confines of the players bench.

Score two for the lettered men that weren't previously known for a meanstreak or extroverted physical play.

The Oilers went on to lose the game, but followed up their disappointing trip by getting back to business. Only 24 hours after the loss, the Oilers practiced at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park where much of the post-practice discussion centred around Avery and the ensuing brawl.

The captain chose a different dialect.

The bulk of the latest trip was played without 11-season veteran and captain Shawn Horcoff, who suffered a leg injury midway through the excursion. What we learned in very short order is that Horcoff’s importance to the team goes well beyond on-ice production and his newly acquired mentorship role with some of the young rookies.

While Horcoff’s return came on a day where the Oilers were on the losing end of an 8-2 drubbing, the two-way centerman was back in fine offensive form as he scored his fifth of the season and helped to procure an early second period lead.

What happened afterward is likely a blur for most fans, but the captain answered the call Monday morning when the Oilers practiced back home. It was a fine display of leadership that expressed honesty, an understanding of the situation, and a true indication of how the team feels about their recent run.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things right now,” said a passionate Horcoff.

“We’re not mentally in games right now and doing the things we need to do to be successful. We had a 2-1 lead in the second period on the road in a pretty tough building and we immediately go out in the next four-five shifts and play like we’re down by two goals.”

“We’re taking chances at the lines, giving up odd-man rushes and we’re not physical enough in our own zone, and we’re not physical enough in the offensive zone either; going to the tough areas to get goals, and that’s where all the goals are being scored around the league.”

While the team returned home with a 1-3-1 road trip record, the Oilers seem to have a different identity than when they left. A new and unique brand of anger and togetherness seem to coincide, making the young Oilers a different animal based purely on the emotional aspect.

The rebuilding process needs direction: Leadership, a strong identity and a core willing to not only adhere, but actively involve themselves in the family brand.

It was a disappointing road trip – of that there's no question. But perhaps we can take some positives out of the underlying moments that could potentially help shape the future of this team.

What we now know is that the team is willing to go to war with each other and fight until the end. Let them stick together, grow as a family, and see where the chips fall.



The Oilers have given up the most goals in the league by a fair margin; a number astronomically high after surrendering 25 goals in the final four games of the road trip. In a short sequence where Edmonton was only able to put up eight of their own, the Oilers are ranked 30th in the NHL with an average team goals-against average of 4.00.


When the team sits in the basement of the NHL’s overall standings, you would expect most of the statistical numbers to be hover around that point as well.

Interestingly enough, however, the Oilers’ powerplay is one of the bright spots so far this season. As it currently operates at a 14.9% efficiency rate, the Oilers are ranked 19th in the league and are keeping pace with some of the more talented offensive teams in the league.

Unfortunately for Edmonton, the bright spot of an average-ranked powerplay isn’t enough to overcome the deficiencies of a poor penalty kill.


One of the most disappointing areas of the Oilers’ game so far took another hit as the road trip came to a close. Over the past week, the Oilers lost three times and twice in blowout situations, which only contributed to the declining PK efficiency. Last week, the Oilers were operating at a 69.4% clip.


Ryan Whitney has been an extremely important part of the Oilers’ offensive attack early in 2010-11. The unflappable puck-moving defenceman has put up an impressive 14 assists in 16 games, which is good enough for the second-best assist total among NHL defencemen.

While Whitney is still in search of his first goal of the season, the blueliner’s passing and playmaking ability has been the most integral and consistent part of the Oilers’ game so far this season.

Author: Ryan Dittrick |

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