As this season slowly circles the toilet bowl and eventually finds its way into the gutter, comments have emerged from players and MSM members regarding a particular rift in the locker room. Some might call it an attitude problem, others may refer to it as a textbook case of "Tyler Seguin."
Whatever it is, could it have manifested itself in the lacklustre on-ice play of this professional hockey team?
First, we'll look at a bit of insight from Andrew Ference. Say what you will about the veteran defender's fleeting ability to play the game at the NHL level, he is still, by all accounts, a professional athlete in terms of lifestyle and preparedness.
The following is from an interview the captain did with Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail.
"It takes individuals to take care of their own backyard and do everything they can on that checklist of what other people are doing around the league – whether that’s nutrition, sleep, recovery, habits. Other people are doing it, and if you’re not, you’re behind – and you always will be until you decide it’s important to do those things as well."
Well. Ever been in a room full of people when an authority figure was saying the words to everyone but really talking to you? I have been and it’s a pretty damn effective tool. That’s a very specific message to a young person who is screwing the pooch. No doubt.
A friend of mine runs track and field at the CIS level, and we got to talking about the issue of preparedness in professional sports. He told me that he and his teammates will rarely go out and party—if ever—during the racing season, because every time they do it, it'll show up in their times. During the offseason, if they go out the night before a practice or a scheduled run, they can feel it. It shows in their performance.
One would hope that each and every member of the Oilers takes this aspect of his profession very seriously, as those sorts of lifestyle choices—the kinds that you and I probably make on a regular basis—have different consequences for athletes competing at the highest level. Even if an individual is already meeting performance expectations—surpassing them, even—you would think he/she would want to do everything in his/her power to be the best he/she can be. Even if a season is lost, future contract values are in large part determined by on-ice performance.
Let's move on to a quote from an interview Nail Yakupov did with Alessandro Seren Rosso for The Hockey Writers (emphasis added).
In the locker room there is a good working environment. But I can’t call anyone of them a true friend. The mentality is very different and there are a few things which I wouldn’t discuss with them. We have our interests, they have theirs, and everyone lives according to them. I’m not judging anyone, I’m simply very careful with people and I try avoiding doing bad things. The ties are good, but not deep.
In the above, Nail is being Nail. He's always come off as a candid and enthusiastic individual—a good quote, he is—so the portion I've bolded above worries me as a supporter of this team. I don't think Nail would have mentioned anything like that, unless, in his mind, it directly related to an individual or group in the room. What are these "bad things" he's referring to? Even the last sentence, "The ties are good, but not deep," is concerning.
The quotes from Ference and Yakupov do not mesh well with these bits from Dreger from an interview he did on TSN Radio in Toronto. The quotes are pulled from a Puck Daddy summary.
It’s not one player. It’s the collection of players that make up the sagging work ethic and lack of culture. But if you had to put a face on it, or a name to it, that name would be Taylor Hall.
Taylor Hall, at least from a culture standpoint, in the room not on the ice, hasn’t been what they hoped he would be.
I think it speaks from a willingness to adapt. I’m choosing my words carefully in saying that. I’m not in the room, so we gather information from the sources that we have, and my sense is that Taylor Hall has a pretty specific vision on how he sees he needs to play and maybe how he thinks the team should play, and he really isn’t open to change, and that’s a problem.
I'm not saying that Taylor Hall is, without a doubt, a problem in the dressing room, the muse to both Ference's and Yakupov's lamenting. I can't make that statement with a high enough degree of certainty. I can't speak to the accuracy in Dreger's comments, but he's an established member of the MSM, and, for the most part, they go about making statements like this carefully and with due diligence, because when they make them they're putting their credibility on the line. All that said, if one were to connect all of the dots above, the picture is a little damning.
We know what happened with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards in the infamous "Dry Island" case with the Philadelhpia Flyers, and Tyler Seguin's scandalous departure from the Boston Bruins is fresh in our collective memory. And with all of these Taylor Hall trade rumours beginning to circulate...
It should be noted: What is most certainly missing from this "case" that was present in both the above is a slew of online evidence emerging in the form of pictures and social media outbursts.
Times are tough—tough as ever—and these are the kinds of stories that surface as a result. I remain optimistic that this locker room thing will get sorted out.