The day was September 11th, 2015 and the Oilers were playing the Canucks in the Young Stars Tournament when Jake Virtanen laid the clean hit heard around the world against none other than Connor McDavid.
For those who seem to have forgot, hockey is a physical game where players get hit night in and night out. Call me short sighted, but I see no issue with Connor getting hit or Connor hitting someone. Hockey is a physical game.
The fact that people are up in arms expecting the four other Oilers to suddenly jump Virtanen is archaic. Derek Van Diest from the Edmonton Sun wants the Oilers to play old school, and that Virtanen is now a marked man. Sorry Derek, this isn’t 1985 and we can’t expect Dave Semenko (or in this case, Luke Gazdic) to be stapled to Connor’s left hip this season. The proof is in the pudding and there is no way that the Oilers, or any NHL club can afford to have a bodyguard on the ice protecting a star player.
This isn’t the first time young Oilers have been ran before or forced into situations they shouldn’t be in:
- On November 26th, 2011, Ryan Wilson laid a big hit on Taylor Hall that sent him into the boards as he injured his shoulder. Hall missed seven games and nobody stood up for Hall.
- On March 16th, 2012, Cory Sarich took a run at Taylor Hall as he was going down on the ice and effectively gave him a concussion that forced him to miss the last 9 games of the 2011-2012 season. Ladislav Smid stepped in and had words for Sarich, but no punches were thrown.
- When Eric Gryba was still an Ottawa Senator before the Oilers traded for him this past offseason, he went knee-on-knee with Taylor on October 19th, 2013. Visibly upset, Hall turned around immediately and slashed Gryba. Hall missed seven games.
- Taylor Hall’s first NHL fight came against Derek Dorsett in March of 2011 and Hall ended up falling awkwardly in a fight he should never be in in the first place and missed the remaining 15 games that year.
Where were the players jumping in to protect Hall after he was exposed many over and over, just like I listed above? For heaven’s sake he fought Derek Dorsett guys. There should never be an instance where your team’s Taylor Hall is fighting another team’s Derek Dorsett. Since the Oilers drafted Hall and started another random phase of the rebuilding era, the liberties taken on the young players have been extensive and that has never changed.
For the Edmonton Oilers to quintessentially “protect” McDavid, or any of the Oilers stars from the rigours of an NHL season, the entire team needs to be tougher.
Chiarelli has had one thing on his mind ever since he joined the Edmonton Oilers, and that is improving the Oilers in order to make them a bigger, heavier team amongst making them a Stanley Cup champion.
“I’ve seen the progression here in past years and talking to MacT, they’ve been trying to get bigger and heavier,” Chiarelli said, “That’s certainly an area where I’d like to improve.” – Josh Cooper, Puck Daddy. April 24th, 2015
That was April, this is September and since then, Chiarelli made a move to bring in the likes of Eric Gryba. Now, many people have been highly critical of this deal with due reason. Gryba isn’t exactly the lights out, number one pairing guy that we do need but what Gryba brings is something that the Oilers have been sorely lacking for some time and that is a strong, tough defensive game. On top of that, him being a right-handed shot and a great penalty killer. The determining factor on him making this team will be how he performs at training camp over the next two weeks, and whether or not he is outperformed by others competing for his spot like Darnell Nurse. Senator fans surely seem to miss him already.
Although he took a hit from his previous grade, Eric Gryba met most expectations placed upon him this season. That being said, none of us really expected much from him. He plays the role of third-line defenseman pretty well, although he doesn’t offer anything special in terms of offense and is not as brutally physical as many hoped he would be at one point. But he can deliver a big hit from time to time.
He can effectively clear the puck in his own end, especially on the penalty kill. More often than not this season, he was silently effective and just didn’t get a lot of recognition because of the role he plays as a shut-down defenseman. Whether or not he is the kind of depth D-man that wins championships is another story, but he served his purpose well for the Sens this season.
Looking at the groups Todd McLellan has coached in the past, and the players that Peter Chiarelli has GM’d, the teams were always known as teams that was tough to play against, and teams that would stand up for each other; again, something the Oilers have sorely lacked.
At the end of the day, the Edmonton Oilers will need to provide a team effort in keeping the young guys on this team safe and allow them to feel comfortable.