SUN Hockey Pool

Lost leadership leads to losses

JOHN SHORT, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 11:38 AM ET

All the right things are being said by the Oilers these days. What else is new?

Night after night, post-game cliches start with "We're all in this together," and end with, "We have to work together to get out of it."

Players all talk about trusting each other and supporting each other, but the downward spiral continues. With games this week against Nashville, Pittsburgh and San Jose, it takes a cockeyed optimist to see any quick end to the misery.

GOOD NEWS

The only good news is that Pat Quinn has made it clear that he sees the real problem.

When the Oilers coach let some juicy quotes escape his lips last week, he dropped strong hints that the biggest lack in the dressing room is leadership.

His discovery shouldn't surprise anybody who's watched them for awhile.

It isn't that the veterans don't want to win, just that they don't know how.

Look wherever you want on the roster and it's hard to find any player who has ever earned a championship medal in the adult hockey universe.

First you have to learn to lose, the experts say. Then you have a chance to win.

If so, these guys must be halfway to the objective. They know all that's necessary about losing.

Leadership takes many forms, of course.

When respected veteran Lee Fogolin was captain in Edmonton's early NHL days, he spoke little but led by example. One day, he told Glen Sather it was time to shift the "C" to Wayne Gretzky because "this is Wayne's team."

No fuss. No muss. No lack of responsibility.

When Doug Weight was captain, I once heard him tell two players, defenceman Dan McGillis and forward Kirk Maltby, they should all leave a downtown publicity event; there was a game tomorrow.

The young guys suggested they'd rather stay around, go for a wobbly pop or whatever. Weight ended the debate quickly: "I'm leaving right now. It's time to go home and you guys are going with me."

All three walked away together.

This happened years after the almost-forgotten Oilers' heyday but nobody doubted who was boss.

Kevin Lowe, the president of hockey operations who can't possibly avoid blame for much that has gone wrong, has been around since Day 1 of this community's term in hockey's biggest league.

His career in Good Old Ourtown has been a majestic story of peaks and valleys.

After arriving from Quebec as the team's first-ever NHL draft choice and watching Sather build something special, Lowe took his leadership skills to New York and became a Ranger before the wheels fell off here.

LOWE'S WATCH

Soon, he returned as coach and quickly became general manager. On Lowe's watch, Chris Pronger became an Oiler and led a marginally-talented team to the Stanley Cup final.

After Pronger left, the wheels not only fell off, but they disappeared. They're still missing.

The best hope now is that Quinn, assistant coach Tom Renney and general manager Steve Tambellini -- they have not ridden the Oilers' roller-coaster for long -- can figure out where to start looking.

JCSHORT@SHAW.


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