The question was put to Edmonton Oilers’ coach Ralph Krueger at the tail-end of his media scrum Saturday afternoon.
"How do you think Ryan Whitney’s playing?"
Krueger, usually voluble on any subject–the man fills many a notebook and his comments are never 15-second sound bytes–didn’t say a word. There was no attempt from Krueger, who believes in positive reinforcement, at putting a fake spin on a player who is clearly struggling.
When I read the opening paragraph, I immediately though of this exchange in Tommy Boy:
Zalinsky: Went a little heavy on the pine tree perfume there, kid?
Tommy: Sir, it's an taxicab air freshener.
Zalinsky: Good, you've pinpointed it. Step two is washing it out.
As far as I know Krueger's silence is the first public instance of an Oilers' employee who didn't heap piles of praise on Whitney's on-ice performance. It's also the first time the Edmonton media has mentioned Whitney in any other capacity other than "returning to form", "rounding into shape", "great leader", "100%", etc.
Matheson, of course, can't allow Whitney's performance to speak for itself, so he attempts to explain it away:
Whitney is a a good player...
He’s way better than he’s looking through the first eight games of this season where 48 games are sardined into 98 days.
I like his ability to normally get the puck up ice on the tape with a crisp pass, I like it that he’s had the ability to play big minutes, and he’s always worked the point on the powerplay.
Maybe there’s rust there, but it’s a short NHL season and guys have to get up to speed, quickly.
But he says he’s healthy. If so, he should be way better than he’s playing now.
Matheson never once brings up that Whitney's injuries are such that he isn't going to get up to speed. His lack of mobility isn't about being in shape, it's about injured ankles that aren't going to recover. Whitney's physical abilities are as good as they will ever be. When he was healthy, he was a very talented defenseman, and that's why, even after seeing his play since injuring his ankles, Oilers fans still wonder if they could sign Whitney on the cheap for next season.
But I digress. Now that Krueger's silence has publicly acknowledged Whitney's problems, it's time to fix this situation. Whitney is not an NHL defenseman anymore (keep an eye on #6 in this clip)...
...and regardless of the amount of money the Oilers owe him, he can't be on the ice. The Western Conference is a mess right now -- there are only five teams that are definitely better than the Oilers right now -- and the Oilers should be doing all they can to make the playoffs.
In this new Western Conference, the Oilers would be legitimate contenders if they could add another legitimate defenseman, a legitmate penalty killing centre who can win faceoffs and a backup goaltender. I suggested trading for a pair of guys like Andrej Sekera and Luke Adam from Buffalo would go a long way towards that end, but who knows if either player is currently available or what sort of return the Sabres would need in that situation. If it's not a deal with the Sabres, Steve Tambellini will need to find a willing trade partner as soon as possible, to ensure the Oilers aren't giving away points that might mean home ice in the first round.
The Oilers have a real opportunity to make a run in a shortened season and have publicly acknowledged one of their key shortcomings. Now it's up to management to make it right.