Oilers: 'We want to win'

Feb. 28: Ladislav Smid takes part in an Edmonton Oilers' team practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton,...

Feb. 28: Ladislav Smid takes part in an Edmonton Oilers' team practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton, prior to the NHL trade deadline. (DAVID BLOOM/QMI AGENCY)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:45 PM ET

Every guy in the Edmonton Oilers dressing room, young or old, injured or healthy, signed on for next season or not, has had it up to his chinstrap with being a loser.

So forgive them if they tell the NHL, and everyone who's cheering for them to finish 30th, to shove that lottery pick where the stats don't shine.

They'd rather pick second than finish last.

"We're not a bunch of quitters," said defiant defenceman Ladislav Smid. "We're not going to give up. The pick doesn't matter to us. We want to win. We don't want to finish 30th again."

If there's a balance to be found between the benefits of last place and the stigma that comes with being a floormat, they don't see it — all they know is that 30th is for losers.

And they don't consider themselves losers.

"We're not going to give up on the season," said Ryan Jones. "We have too much pride to think about finishing 30th two years in a row. That's just something that we don't want to do.

"You look around and everybody says you're the last-place team in the entire league. The number doesn't hurt as much as the words, ‘last place.' "

With no clear-cut first overall pick anyway, there's even less emphasis on winning the lottery.

Or, as Jones puts it, what lottery?

"I honestly haven't thought about it at all," he said. "The position that we're in right now, we're going to get a good hockey player no matter what, whether it's first or sixth, you're going to get a very good hockey player.

"With a pick like that, you're going to get a kid who's going to contribute to your future."

Sam Gagner is out for the season, so he wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of a winless stretch drive himself, only reap the rewards next fall if Edmonton picks No. 1, and even he is crossing his fingers (at least on the hand that hasn't been surgically repaired) that Edmonton's rag-tag, injury-ravaged roster is rewarded for its efforts down the stretch.

With Ottawa and Saturday's opponent, Colorado, still within striking distance, he has a message for his teammates: Go for it.

"As far as I'm concerned we have enough young players here, enough good players here, to go forward," said the 21-year-old centre. "We went through our pains last year when we got our first pick. You want your teammates to be successful."

These are his friends, after all, and he doesn't want to see them take 11 more beatings so Edmonton can take one 18-year-old instead of another.

"It has to be hard for those guys," said Gagner. "I know when I was in the lineup and a couple of guys went down, there was that adversity. Then I go down, and three more guys go down, it seems like it's never-ending but the guys in the lineup, you see how hard they're working.

"Today, they come off a tough loss and they're back in the gym getting prepared for the next game. You want them to win."

When the roster is comprised of veterans who are tired of losing and youngsters trying to impress the brass, it makes for a pretty hungry group.

"There's a lot of guys who want to give everything they have," said Jones. "A telltale sign is how many guys we've had getting hurt blocking shots. You look around the ice you see guys diving around trying to block shots, going into the corners crashing around. I'm not sure that was here last year."

They've fought to the bitter end so far, a good sign moving forward, and they have no intention of stopping now.

"Everybody is going to keep fighting. There's lots of energy in the lockerroom," said Smid. "Everybody has been so supportive of us this year, we want to win some games for them, for the fans, for the coaches. We're trying to return the favour and work hard for them."

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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