Winding up the season

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

It was 30 below as the soon-to-be 30th place team returned to the ice for practice Monday to contemplate the 33 games which remain in their NHL season.

The All-Star break is supposed to be the hockey equivalent of hitting the refresh button. But how do you refresh this season?

The restart of the season signals the beginning of the stretch drive and playoff push to most teams. But the Edmonton Oilers would likely have to go 27-3-3 to make that happen now.

And this is a team which has gone 2-13-3 since head coach Tom Renney, in an admirable although ill-fated attempt to inspire belief and confidence, offered the quote-unquote of the season: “It won’t surprise me when we make the playoffs. It won’t. The biggest surprise of all might be if we don’t.”

Last year’s dysfunctional team finished up by mopping up a miserable season. Are you going to have to go through watching something like that again?

If nothing else, it appears some of these Oilers have given the subject serious thought during the break.

“We’ve got guys here now who are going to be around for a while,” said Tom Gilbert of the core group which added Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Jeff Petry this year.

“I think we have to use the rest of the season to establish our identity to carry on to next year and into the future. I think the No. 1 thing is to be working on our team identity.”

Sam Gagner offers a different perspective.

“I think a big thing going down the stretch is to make sure we’re accountable to each other.

“We don’t want to be coming to the rink every day with a negative attitude but with a commitment to each other to make ourselves better and better.

“I’ve been here long enough to know losing can become a habit. With all the guys in their first year here, we need them to see the rest of us are committed to make winning become the habit. The last thing we want them to think is that losing is OK. We want to begin making winning part of our culture next year and I think our goal should be to take that kind of culture forward to next year.”

Renney says he thinks his team could have an enjoyable finish to the season with the idea of “throwing a monkey wrench into the Western Conference — play hard and make a mess of things.”

But he says essentially it’s about two things.

“We want to complete the season with a very solid foundation to take forward to our future. And we want to develop enough diversity to extract different things when required. We want to put a little more in our tool box.”

Translation: Expect experimentation.

Other than that, he said, the idea will be to keep on developing the young players as he’s attempted to do to this point.

“We intend to continue to grow people, be creative enough to extract the very best out of those guys and help them find out more about themselves while trying to play hockey a certain way, a way we hope will become the Oilers way,” said Renney.

When it comes to coaching, he says the biggest battle right now is to teach them not to beat themselves. He admits to be failing on that front.

Renney said the standings suggest nothing but negative but the feel around the team to this point has been positive. To keep it that way is the challenge.

“There is a terrific disposition in there,” he said of his players in the dressing room.

With the NHLPA poll of 318 NHL players which ranked Edmonton the second least favorite place to play in the league with a whopping 20% of the players ranking it dead last,

Renney said it fits the discussion.

“We’re going to fix that. We’re going to create a culture here that people want to be part of. We’re going to win.

“You fix it by creating a culture of winning and of being able to offer the complete hockey experience.”

Eventually, he suggests, the young players on this team will play the kind of hockey to inspire one NHL star to decide that Edmonton would be a great place to play going forward.

“We’re going to need one free agent guy to push us over the top,” said Renney looking down the road.

Right now, the reality is, they’re on the bottom. And it’s highly unlikely the next 33 games are going to change that.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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