Much of what I'm going to talk about in this column comes from discussions that have taken place at mc79hockey, Oilersnation, HF Boards, on Oilers' Lunch, and on Twitter. If fan sentiment is markedly different outside of those sources, I apologize in advance, though I doubt it is any different considering those last four are frequented by the average rabid Oilers' fan.
Tyler has written a superfecta of posts and various writers at Oilersnation have responded, making mc79hockey and OilersNation ground zero for debate centered around sending Taylor Hall back to Junior and Magnus Paajarvi back to the AHL. Bob Stauffer of Oilers' Lunch followed up with some arguments that weren't well thought out, but he decided that he needed to enter the fray regardless. One of the central arguments of the group arguing in favor of keeping Hall and Paajarvi on the big club has been "...the Oilers must keep the players that have proved they belong in the NHL by out-playing their competition in training camp." After the jump, we'll look at why the vast majority of fans making this argument are hypocrites.
First off, let's start by saying this: If I were running the Edmonton Oilers, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi would not be playing in Edmonton. I'd try to have both of them playing in Timra, though that's a topic of discussion for another time. My reasoning is simple: by starting the clock on their contracts now, the Oilers will not be able to afford to re-sign one of Ales Hemsky or Dustin Penner, or any comparable replacement, after the end of of the 2011-2012 season. This isn't up for debate, this is a simple extrapolation of the best-case/worst-case scenario for the upcoming contracts combined with the existing signed contracts. Holding each of them back for one season opens up a larger period of time where the Oilers won't have maximum cap pressure.
Now that we've got my stance on the Hall and Paajarvi situation out of the way, let's talk about why the "...best training camp players should play" argument is creating hypocrites throughout Edmonton. It's one thing for a proponent of seeing Hall and Paajarvi with the big club this season to make certain specific arguments as to why that should be the case, but it's quite another to apply a certain standard to a player in one case but not in others. And for large swath of Oilers' fans, the duplicitous nature of their argument is telling.
The team's best goaltender during Training Camp and preseason, both by the numbers and to the eye, was Martin Gerber. There is little argument here, virtually everyone agrees. Yet when he was sent to Oklahoma City last week, no one batted an eye. I mentioned it on Twitter and Tyler took that up in his latest post, but other than that it went unchallenged. Where were all of the people supporting the players that outplayed their competition in training camp? Where were the posts and threads supporting Gerber staying on the roster? They didn't exist.
Yesterday, the Oilers waived Liam Reddox and optioned Linus Omark to the Oklahoma City Barons after both of them outplayed their competition in training camp. In most cases, even though Omark was playing with Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre, opinion was that he outplayed Taylor Hall. There was a bit more support for Omark when compared to Gerber, but even that support was muted compared to the crowd that believes Hall and Paajarvi should stay in Edmonton. When Omark was cut, he reacted quickly and honestly. He called the process political and unfair. And he's right. He never had a chance of sticking with the big club, not while the Oilers were selling mini-packs with vignettes and ads featuring Hall, Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle. Yet when he spoke his mind, the fan reaction was to go against Omark for speaking out. Omark said what fans have been saying all along - the people that proved themselves in training camp should play. Omark didn't get a fair shake, and he still outplayed his competition. The words come from the fans, it's fine. The words come from the player, he's a jerk. Interesting.
All Liam Reddox did was blow the doors off of every forward in camp not named Paajarvi. He had everyone's attention through the second half of training camp and was a sure bet to make the squad. Yet when cut-down day arrived, he was waived, because Omark was right - there was never a real competition in camp - just look at the balance remaining in the Training Camp scrimmage teams. The fan reaction? Non-existent.
Jeff Petry and Alex Plante also clearly outplayed Theo Peckham and Jason Strudwick, but Peckham is waiver eligible, and there was no way the Oilers were going to waive him. Strudwick is a team favorite, so despite his on-ice performance, his presence in the room guaranteed him a roster spot. Where was the fan reaction to Petry and Plante being waived to make room for players that were outclassed in camp? Again, non-existent.
I'm happy to say that the commenters here have taken a different tack. The fellows that supported Hall staying because he played to a level deserving an NHL position are also livid that Reddox and Omark were sent down. But the commenters here are not the norm.
It's possible that Training Camp shouldn't matter. I've got no problems with ignoring Camp when making roster decisions, and I don't care that Edmonton did. However, when a fan hangs his hat on the idea that the best players deserve to make the roster like so many did with the Taylor Hall debate, they'd better damn well back that viewpoint up when it comes to other parts of the roster. They didn't. And for that, they are hypocrites.