Thoughts on the Oilers: Culture, gossip and trade speculation

pimg003I’ve never understood the infatuation with having a “winning culture” in hockey, as if it’s something you can just instill in your club. Really, the only way to obtain the elusive “winning culture” is by, you guessed it, winning. Not by dumping players (i.e., Souray, Horcoff, Gilbert, etc), naming captains, replacing photos in the locker room, or coming up with team mottos.

But culture remains one of those topics that people tend to gossip about when a team isn’t performing. It’s a vague, subjective concept, that suddenly becomes the basis for trade rumors and speculation.

Of course, when your team is dead last, you can expect a jump in these kinds of topics like culture. Teams that struggle are discussed more (see Oilers, Edmonton). Fans have opinions, losing teams clearly need lots of help, so the discussion will naturally center around the culture of the team, why the team is bad and how to improve the team.

This leads us to the rumors about Taylor Hall being a problem in the Oilers locker room and how the Oilers might deal him. It’s frustrating to hear about as an Oilers fan, but the majority of us get the whole rumor cycle and how the machine works.

The source of the rumor is, of course, unnamed. Why would Dreger or any insider give that up and risk their relationships and lose out on future material? It’s his job to inform, but we know, or at least should know, that his messaging is influenced by his employer, team managers and of course player agents. These sources have their own interests and agendas that we know nothing about. Instead, we get tidbits here and there through hockey reporters and are left to discuss and spread the information across our networks.

If the Oilers had an interest in dealing Hall, why would they diminish his value by leaking that he might be “uncoachable”? Add to the fact that Hall has been very productive for the club, providing good value for a very reasonable contract, and you can begin to see where the holes are in this rumor.

It’s obvious that whoever leaked this to Dreger is either trying to motivate Hall, who is mired in a slump right now, or is just trying to get other general managers talking and releasing information on who they might be looking to offload in a trade.

One former Oilers GM put it best in 2000:

Glen Sather, general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, recognizes the value of rumours.

“It is part of selling the game,” he says. “I think rumours are good for the game because they create interest.”

“A player reads a rumour in the paper that he is going to be traded, so all of a sudden his game picks up,” he says.

Sather points to Vaclav Prospal of the Ottawa Senators as an example.

“He was brutal until the stories came out that he was going to be traded, and all of a sudden he is playing a lot better.” (National Post, January 2000)

Now of course, there is always the possibility that a  player gets dealt. The Oilers have a lot of holes to fill, and Hall could get you a decent return. I just don’t see how leaking negative information about your player to a reporter would help facilitate any trade process.

Related: Oil City Speculation (2009)

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