There have been a lot of elements of the Oilers recent actions which have bothered me. Now, I freely admit that my upstairs neighbours had a party until late last night because apparently, unlike me, they didn’t have to work this morning. As a result, I may be a little bit less forgiving than normal. Blame the sleep deprivation.
First, I literally don’t understand the trades. Peter Chiarelli traded both roster players and future considerations to from a statistical point of view downgrade his roster. Now, I also understand that Chiarelli has a particular affection for bigger players that he sees as gritty or tough. The players he traded for could certainly be described using those metrics. However, I didn’t think the Oilers were struggles were due to a lack of “toughness.” Rather, I thought it was that the team was inconsistent, lacks in secondary scoring, and has a laughable defense.
Second, while I understand Chiarelli’s continual characterization of the players he trades for as not playing “sexy hockey” it’s completely disingenuous and designed to invalidate criticisms of his rather questionable acquisitions.
Now, you might be saying, Shona how does the term “sexy hockey” stop us from calling Chiarelli stupid. And you’re right it doesn’t, but the choice of word seems to me to be chosen for two or three very specific reasons.
Let me explain…
When Chiarelli talks about “sexy hockey” it’s effective at cutting off questions. Because really who even knows what the fuck “sexy” hockey is. Is sexy hockey scoring goals and winning games? Is sexy hockey being an actual contender to make a deep playoff run? Is sexy hockey fantastic goals and smart defensive plays? While he’s been using the term for several years, Chiarelli has yet to actually define “sexy hockey.” It then becomes a moving target which is harder to criticize because when he is called to the carpet, Chiarelli simply tells people that we don’t understand his vision. And since no one wants to seem like they don’t understand what Chiarelli means, no one actually point blank asks him to define “sexy hockey.” Instead, everyone cobbles together some understanding of what they think Chiarelli means by the term.
Also the term sexy is used specifically… I’ve been thinking about this for a couple days and I’m pretty sure of that. Terms like flashy or showy would probably fit Chiarelli’s needs when he talks about the type of players he trades for, but he doesn’t use them. The reason for that, as far as I can tell, is because there’s a certain societal uncomfortableness with the ideas around sex. It seems less likely he’s going to be asked to expand on the idea of “sexy hockey” because we’re all so busy trying to separate the concepts of Peter Chiarelli and sex in our brains.
Also, it’s much easier to discredit criticisms when using terms like sexy. They aren’t value neutral. They come with values attached. And in the case of sexy, it’s generally negative. People who like sexy hockey generally aren’t seen to value the type of hockey Chiarelli is selling… tough, gritty, and full of big hits and confrontations.
However, it’s also safe to say that the Edmonton Oilers have a history of sexy hockey. Between Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid, their rosters hold two players who epitomise the concept of sexy hockey. So, we Chairelli says the players he trades for don’t play sexy hockey, he’s basically saying the players he trades for won’t play a type of hockey that excites fans, creates highlights, and goes down in team history. But he’s not going to say that so he substitutes in the word sexy.
I guess, at the heart of it, my problem is that Chairelli is trying to convince everyone that he still knows what he’s doing. That he has a plan and that it will work. He’s covering up a mountain of failures with words that no one wants to question because they don’t want to seem stupid or they’re too uncomfortable or they want to believe the Oilers have a chance. And because of that, we get a continually downgraded team and no accountability.
So, it’s not that the players Chiarelli trades for don’t play sexy hockey, it’s that the players Chiarelli trades for don’t play a style of hockey that fits with the few core pieces of the Oilers continual rebuild that Chiarelli hasn’t managed to squander. They don’t play a style of hockey which will benefit the Oilers in the longer term and Chiarelli’s vision, whatever it is, is positioning the team and its fans for more deeply disappointing and uninspiring hockey. And maybe some therapy if I have to keep associating Chiarelli with the word sex.