Oilers adjusting to learning curve

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

EDMONTON - For a city this accustomed to losing, some people are sure freaking out over how Edmontonians might react to a losing season.

The Oilers very own radio show, deciding it’s never too early to start spinning, spent banks of time yesterday wondering if fans are patient enough for the growing pains that come with a young, rebuilding hockey team.

Like the complete and utter shock of missing the playoffs will be too much for people here to bear.

Hey, the Oilers missed the post-season six of the last eight years without a plan nor the talent to carry it through — and sold out every game. Now that they finally have high-end prospects and a vision, yeah, people are going to abandon ship.

The fans will be fine. It’s the players and coaches who’ve got the juggling problem.

Where do they place the line between giving a team full of rookies time and space to find their way in the NHL and making it known that they’re not OK with losing?

When does sparing the rod begin to spoil the child?

“You want to minimize the pain and you want to grow quick, but you have to go through it,” head coach Tom Renney said of the inevitable stumbles when 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds are put into impact positions long before they’re impact players.

“I have to remind myself of that, too. I have to keep myself in check. It’s not productive to blow a gasket and go kind of cuckoo, coaching this team under these circumstances right now.

“There is a time, and it’s coming, where the demands become greater and I’m looking forward to that, but my cue will be them and the mental state of this team.”

It’s been framed in some circles (maybe even here), that 12th place is fine, so long as Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi are significantly better in April than they were in October.

That’s not how they see it in the room. Two straight losses are not OK.

“That’s how it was framed by you guys, I wouldn’t say by us,” said captain Shawn Horcoff. “Not by me, by no means. This is our job, we take it seriously, we’re proud people. We’ve been through enough here in the last few years. We want to win.

“There’s no reason why you can’t win and still make huge strides forward. To me that’s the biggest stride to make, learning how to win important games. If you’re losing you’re not necessarily getting everything you can.”

That’s an important concept, that you don’t learn how to become a winner by losing. But it’s also important to put Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi out in the last minute with the goalie pulled in Calgary, even if Penner, Hemsky and somebody else might give Edmonton a better shot at the W.

“That’s the assimilation that we’re prepared to work with in a year where we can afford to do that,” said Renney. “And quite honestly, we may need to, in order that this lasts a long time beyond this year.”

Watching them walk that fine line for 78 more games will be interesting.

“As players you definitely don’t want to use it as an excuse, the youth,” said Horcoff. “You want to win as many games as possible. We want to be competitive. We want to make the playoffs.

“But there’s also a balance where if you’re constantly saying things to them day in and day out, how much are they taking in? The coaches will teach and they have to say their piece but at the same time, you have to let them figure it out for themselves.”


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