Less optimism is more for MacTavish

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

On this day last year the town was getting giddy, the populace pumped up with the idea that the young talent which had such a sensational stretch run the year before was about to take the team back to the promised position in the playoffs.

There was even the famed quote from coach Craig MacTavish: "Normally I'm trying to generate optimism. This year I'm more interested in quelling it."

A year later, it's not like that.

With the Edmonton Oilers opening training camp yesterday with medicals and fitness testing prior to today's on-ice sessions and a string of pre-season games starting Tuesday, it's gone from being a turned on town to a turned down town.

It's almost exactly the same team other than a goalie and new coaching staff. But the fans in Edmonton aren't trying to quell any optimism because they don't have much higher hopes than Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens or Ottawa Senators fans.

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If you want to find optimism, it's in having less optimism around town.

"There just isn't the sense of entitlement there was here last year with people patting us on the back and telling us how good we're going to be," said Sheldon Souray.

"That's a good thing."

Like all the positives they took from the end of the previous season, Edmonton fans are taking the negatives forward from the end of last year - negatives which weren't turned into positives during the off-season.

The Oilers still haven't found somebody to play with Ales Hemsky, still don't have anybody other than Shawn Horcoff to win a faceoff and have even more jockey-sized forwards to get pushed around and be easy to play against than they had before.

Any optimism is in the fresh start and new voice the players have been provided in Pat Quinn.

But Quinn is planning to play a puck-possession game, which isn't going to be an easy thing when you can't win faceoffs and don't have the forwards who won't or can't go get the puck back when they lose it.

So let's start there.

"The concern about faceoffs is a legitimate one," said Quinn yesterday when all the fitness testing was done.

"I don't know if it's mechanical, strength or determination. I don't have all the answers."

Quinn is also not going in blindfolded about the getting-the-puck-back aspect of the game he wants to play.

"Our forwards need to compete better in getting the puck back. I am a puck-possession guy."

NEW VOICE

One thing that was obvious yesterday is that Quinn has a lineup of Oilers who have convinced themselves that having a new voice and a new direction will make all the difference in essentially the same team being better.

And if you don't believe everybody is getting a new start ...

"It's going to be like a hockey school. I'll need them to tape their names on their helmet," laughed the 66-year-old coach, who is the most giddy guy in town being back behind the bench again.

Quinn is well aware of the unbridled enthusiasm which was here last year.

"Everybody felt that way. Everybody! The fans, the media, the management, the players, everybody. And it wasn't as good a team as everybody felt."

Quinn is going to be the one trying to generate the optimism instead of keeping it quelled.

"I love optimism. I'm going to be as positive as I can for this group as we assess what we really are capable of doing. I'll tap it down if we get a little too full of ourselves," he added.

That's not a problem going to camp.

"We've had five months to think about what happened last year and to take our lumps from the media," said Souray.

Other than the coaching change, these guys like the idea they're back with essentially the same team.

"We have the skill. No question about that. Now we have to find whatever else goes with it," said Souray.

"We want to have success together. Nobody feels good about last year," says captain Ethan Moreau.

"There was a lot of negativity about the way the season ended but we were four points up on a playoff position with 10 games to go. Had we finished 7-3 like we have almost every year and we would have been in. Not making changes is a good thing. We don't have to change all that much just finish better," said Horcoff.

But there's nothing anybody is going to say to re-fire the fans who are now from Missouri and definitely in a show me state.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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