Andrew Ference has again ripped into the party atmosphere and lack of work ethic of the 2013-15 Edmonton Oilers.
This time Ference was talking to Elliotte Friedman on the excellent 31 Thoughts podcast, and why things went wrong with the Oilers at that time.
It was a combination of problems, Ference said, including hardcore pressure from fans and media. "That aspect of feeling, uh, like more so scared to make a mistake and be the whipping boy rather than being bold and taking your chances and having that confidence to try the play. I think some guys might get into that role of just being scared to be the whipping boys … You take less risks. Your urge to win and be bold is less than your urge not to be the whipping boy or stand out. I think that is one aspect. I think that the fastness that radio or newspaper or fans jump and attack their own guys is horrible. I think that the quickness to defend players within the organization. I remember Jeff Petry or Schultz getting raked over the coals and nobody coming to defend them and just trading them after they've beaten them down for months, then trading them. It's like, 'God.' It's not just for those guys but it's for other guys in the team, you're looking at and saying, 'They do not have his back. Are they going to have me when it's my turn to be the whipping boy? ""
Then Ference got into a second issue, the lack of commitment of some of the younger Oilers players. "I think the most frustrating part for me as a player – I went there straight from Boston – was that talk is cheap. I went in and Dallas Eakins is a fantastic coach. There's another whipping boy who got raked over the coals. There's a fantastic coach who was just a pure crap hand in a team that would actually listen.
"You had a group of players who talked about how they wanted to make the playoffs, and talked about how sick they were of losing, and then by Game Three after losing 6-1, they're straight out to the bar to three in the morning, lighting up the night life scene in Edmonton. Like, come on, give me a break. It was the point where it was ridiculous where the lifestyle was way more important than actually playing the game and making the playoffs. As I said, talk is cheap.
"Even in practice, I came from a group where you are practicing against guys like Bergeron or Chara, and you're going to each other, like game intensity and that's how you get better. That's how you're a playoff contender. That's how you're a champion. And you try to instil some of those values. We had some of the other guys who had been on the playoff teams and they had the same frustration. They would come and practice hard and there was a group of guys there that was like, it was too cool to try hard. Derogatory terms for trying too hard in practice. That's the culture, right. How do you break that? You come in and try to break and so I think that over the years there have been attempts to break, whether it was Eakins or I came in there, or Pronger, or whoever it was, different people come in and break but I know personally it was really hard for me. You come in as an older guy but far from being one of the better players on the team. So you can be a leader with experience but I'm not a game change. I'm like a # 4 or # 5 defenceman. So your voice only goes so far with people that only respect how good your toe drag is and whether or not you're out partying. So your voice does not carry much weight with people who do not put value on those aspects I was bringing from Boston, or that Dallas was trying to instil in the team. So it was not just frustrating, but it really pissed me off because it was a waste of years of your NHL career and you never get those back, and you see a coach like Dallas get really so unfairly treated. Like I said, was he perfect? No. And he would be the first to admit that. He would rather make some of those things different. But taking the blame? What are you supposed to do with a culture like that. "
His knock-put parting shot?
"You could have any kind of defense or any kind of system, if you go on a Western swing and your guys are out every single night until 5 am, you will not win too many games."
We take it
- Ference has said similar things in the past. In February 2017, when Edmonton Oilers was on a strong run of play, he mentioned that he sometimes visited the Oilers dressing room. "To see guys smiling, and just kind of that atmosphere of positivity, it's really good. The atmosphere in the room had to change – beyond just losing. The vibe and just the attitude towards being a professional had to change, and that did. And Peter (Chiarelli) did that in Boston. He moved the guys around that he did not buy in the atmosphere that he wanted to create which he knows as a winner. And he did the same thing here … This year you're obviously seeing a step in the right direction with the professionalism of the team, the battle, the way they're playing on the ice, the way they're acting in the city or down in the room … Just that culture, I can not empathize it enough, how important it is to come into a room and know that everyone has bought in and everyone is going to be there for each other. "
- These comments from Ference will be a bitter pill for many Oilers fans who believe that the youngsters of that era on the Oilers were blameless in the poor performance of the team. But it's worth remembering that after a tough first season in New Jersey, there was talk about how the organization had reached out to Taylor Hall to raise the level of his game and commitment. In February 2018, halfway through Hall's MVP season, he talked to the media about how much he listens to New Jersey coach John Hynes as opposed to how much he listened to his Oilers coaches: "He's probably given me the most accountability that any coach I snake in Edmonton. I really think that's good for me personally. Just in Edmonton, I really did not want to talk to coaches. I did not really want to talk with coaches. I just wanted to play. And lots of guys are like that. "
- This is not a case of Ference being all the mouth and no action. He was one of the few Oilers in 2013-15 who would regularly go to war for a teammate. And he also spoke out when he was a team captain about the lack of leadership on the squad, blasting the team's power play when they gave up two goals against a December 2014 game against Arizona. "You come in here, you are a goal and I do not think (Arizona) had a good period," Ference told reporters at the time. "Guys are letting their guard down, and we're in no position to be doing that – to take a rest and relaxing. We start the time with a power play and we are looking for some jump. You're looking for some momentum and it's a matter of falling into old habits, floating around and expecting the other team to lie down because you're so great. It does not happen, we made the same mistakes, it cost us games and it definitely puts you in a hole again. We allow two on the same power play, it's a joke. "
- Some will downplay Ference's characterization but I put a lot of weight in it. There was really something wrong with the spirit of those Oilers teams. They had so little fight and so little stick-to-it-iveness in the face of adversity. They never got better. Of course terrible management was to blame, but the young leaders on that team also shared that failure.
- Ference's words on how toxic the environment can be in Edmonton for a player when fans turn on him are also worth thinking hard about. I'm no stranger to blasting the play of some Oilers. It would do us all well to try to keep our own bias and disgust in check when we comment on the Oilers and to most certainly avoid any personal comments about the players. Critique the play, not the player. And try to be balanced. If you find you can not see any good about a player, that's a signal you've lost the plot.
At the Cult of Hockey
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