First things first: I’m not here to absolve the players Ference is talking about of their mistakes. Guys make huge gaffes (like giving up two shorthanded goals to the same player in a minute or so) over and over again, they deserve to be called out for it. But I feel Ference is missing a fundamental point.
He says that guys who come in from outside teams “know the difference between what works and what doesn’t and what’s positive and what’s not”. Well, bully for you guys, Andy. You’ve all had the chance to play on teams that know how to win. How about you try to teach that to your teammates who have never had that opportunity, rather than slamming them in the media for something outside their control?
Here’s an important thing to remember: Andrew Ference may have the “C” on his chest, but he’s never actually been the guy that Edmonton media or management is looking to when they want someone to turn a season around, or turn the team around. Time and time again, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle have heard the same spiel about “playing as a team”, and how “this isn’t juniors anymore”. Yet every time the Oilers go belly-up, those three are the ones who get the burden of turning things around dropped on their shoulders.
Ference has had the opportunity to play on a team that was built by his general manager to have a chance of repeat playoff appearances. The guys he’s calling out have never had that, and it’s certainly not through their own doing. That Oilers “core” have never been put in a position to succeed anywhere but individually. They’ve never been on a team with support players who gave that team a real shot winning consistently enough to make the playoffs. Yet many in the media seemed, for a while at least, to expect them to drag the team there kicking and screaming, all that dead weight be damned. Given the moves higher-level management made, and moves that they didn’t, it’s not a stretch to assume they felt that way as well.
Basically, there’s a fundamental disconnect in Edmonton between what is being said to these players, and what the actions of their organization are telling them.
Those three get looked to more than anyone else on the team to “fix things”. Put this pressure on kids over and over again, from the very first moment of their NHL careers when they were set up as faces of the franchise, and yeah—they’re gonna develop bad habits, including thinking that if they want to win (something they’re being told they have to do, something they’re being taught that if they don’t do, they’re going to get their coach fired, again) then they just have to do it all themselves.
Ference calls their play “a joke”, says he’s called them out for “moping” around the locker room.
I call everything that has happened in Edmonton this season the inevitable result of the environment upper management has created over the past eight years. You want a joke, Andrew? Look at your front office.