The Oilers Fanbase has an Insatiable Desire to be Negative

Patrick Maroon had quite the appearance on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast with Paul Bissonette and former Oiler Ryan Whitney last week. He expressed that he loved it in Edmonton and that he didn’t want to be traded. He had nothing but praise for the group of guys on the team. He also said the fans were great.

This wouldn’t be an interesting story if that was all that Maroon had to say though.

Whitney asked Maroon what it’s like being in a Canadian city where the expectations are so high and then having a losing season.

“It sucks.”

Maroon told the story of a time near the trade deadline last season when an old man approached him and his fiancée while they were at the grocery store. The man said “you Pat Maroon?”, and Maroon said “Yeah”. The man then said “You’re not having a good year like you did last year.”

“Yeah, you’re right; I’m not” Maroon said. The man then went on a rant about what the team should do. Maroon’s fiancée finally had to step in and say “Alright, I think your time’s up.”

“It’s a hard city to live in.”

Whitney then said that “if you’re on a good team in Edmonton, its incredible. When you’re good, I’m sure that year it was buzzing. You go to Cactus Club, everything’s free, people love you… but then when you’re bad, you’re trying to park your car and you’re getting chirped for how you parallel park. You can’t even shut your door the right way; its like every single thing you do just gets shit on your face, it’s like a complete disaster.”

Maroon agreed saying that people were loving him and he was getting free meals during his first year in Edmonton. Things were different last season though.

“The following year, things are going bad, I’m getting chirped everywhere we go. People are coming up to me at dinner, we go to West Ed Mall just to shop whatever; people are just chirping you the entire time, and you’re just like ‘what the hell is going on, what happened from the year before that I’m doing this year. Just because your team sucks, does that mean I suck too?’”

This is starting to become a noticeable trend in Edmonton. Last season, Connor McDavid was heckled as he and his parents were leaving a restaurant.

“You better start winning games man. You’re going to get traded. You need better players man. You’re not doing well” the moronic fan said as his idiotic friends giggled in the background.

The take-home point from these stories is that the fans in Edmonton can be BRUTAL.

This fanbase has a seemingly insatiable desire to be negative. There has been this negative aura around the team since the Stanley Cup Finals loss in 2006. Chris Pronger led the parade of players that left the team via trade or free agency that summer. From then until 2010, the team chased veteran players that either were good players at one time or that had been failed prospects elsewhere. Names like Joffrey Lupul, Patrick O’Sullivan, Petr Sykora, Geoff Sanderson, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ales Kotalik, Gilbert Brule, Denis Grebeshkov, Erik Cole, and Ryan Whitney were all brought in with high hopes that they could bring the Oilers back to the Cup Finals in short order.

The team was chasing something that it could never re-capture because it was not fundamentally good enough. That was the negative narrative of the time.

Then the Oilers decided to go young in 2010 after the team drafted Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, who were drafted in each of the two years before Hall, were poised to join him as the biggest pieces of the new young core. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov were drafted in each of the next two years. Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner rounded out the core of the forward group that was young, fast, and skilled.

The fanbase was excited about the young core briefly. That excitement died year by year as the team continued to struggle. That brief bit of excitement was quickly exchanged for negativity about the idea that they were too small to compete in the Western Conference. Not to mention that the defence was terrible and the goaltending was shoddy… and that the team was awful. There was a lot to be negative about. Patience is the name of the game when dealing with a young core, and Oilers fans had no patience to spare.

Now, the fanbase wishes that the team would get more small, skilled forwards again. It’s funny how some things change, and the negativity towards the team stays the same.

When Chiarelli was hired, the fanbase believed that the team needed to trade one of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, or Eberle for a top right-handed defenceman. These were trades that the GMs that came before Chiarelli were unable to make, and they were blasted for it.

Chiarelli pulled the trigger. He traded Hall for Adam Larsson. That only pissed people off more. The fanbase blasted previous GMs for not making the trade, and they blasted Chiarelli for doing it because they didn’t like the return.

He signed Milan Lucic just days after trading Hall. I distinctly remember Oilers fan clamouring for Lucic because he would be the answer to the team’s problem with size. Lucic would hit people, and he would be the solution to all that ailed the team. Fast forward to July 2018, and most people lament Chiarelli for signing him because he’s too expensive, he’s too slow, and he didn’t produce in the second half last year. The fanbase was pissy without Lucic, and now it’s pissy with him.

The popular opinion in Edmonton is that Chiarelli is a horrible manager, just like Craig MacTavish, Steve Tambellini, and Kevin Lowe before him. People seem to think that these men are essentially idiots. These are intelligent men. The amount of people that are deemed to be qualified to run an NHL team is incredibly small. Chiarelli has a law degree for f’s sake. He has won a Stanley Cup, and he built the core of the Bruins that still exists today and that has been competitive for the better part of a decade. He’s not an idiot because you don’t like some of the trades that he has made. He’s smarter than the vast majority of us fans will ever be.

I could go on about the negativity towards Chiarelli and the current team, but people that are reading this at the end of July are likely already aware of the other things that Oilers fans are negative about.

My observation about the negativity of the fanbase isn’t restricted to the aura around the team. Maroon’s comments were about how Oilers fans treat players. Oilers fans always seem to have to have a lightning rod for their negativity.

Last season, it was Lucic. He simply did not play well from Christmas onwards. Oilers fans have acted as if Lucic is a washed-up hack. They say he’s too slow to play today’s game and that he will never produce at a level that his $6 million contract dictates that he should. Here we are in July, and there are rumours that he requested a trade, and that his preference would be to play in an American market where the spotlight isn’t as bright.

Gee, I wonder why THAT would be. I’m sure it has nothing to do with how Oilers fans shit all over him for the majority of the season. The guy was on pace for 59 points before Christmas, and he’s only 30 years old. I’m not saying it’s a great contract, but it’s not as bad as Oilers fans make it out to be.

We all know that the Oilers have only made the playoffs once since 2006. They’ve picked 1st overall four times in that span. It’s been frustrating, and it would be easy to blame this negativity I’m talking about on the fact that the team has been a loser for so long.

I call bull shit on that idea.

Two years ago, in the one season where the Oilers did make the playoffs, Oilers fans spent the year hating on Jordan Eberle. McDavid was dominating the league, Draisaitl was having a breakout year, Talbot was spectacular, Klefbom was healthy and playing well, Maroon was great… but Oilers fans couldn’t shut up about how awful Jordan Eberle was!

Eberle can’t defend. Eberle isn’t scoring. Eberle is soft.

Eberle scored 51 points that year… I’d like to see anybody who commented about him on social media score 51 points in the NHL.

Eberle ended up being lowered in the line-up at the end of the year, and he didn’t score a goal in 13 playoff games. He was traded that off-season for Ryan Strome, and yet again, the fanbase was pissed off that Chiarelli traded him because they didn’t like the return. He clearly didn’t have much value to a lot of fans during the season, and then they started crying when he was traded because they thought his value was higher than it actually was. Oilers fans certainly didn’t do anything to help his trade value when they were shitting on him all year long.

Before Eberle, the lightning rod was Justin Schultz. Schultz was a kid that was thrust into too big of a role on a horrible team far too soon. Oilers fans complained that he was too risky with his play. They rode him hard every time he made a mistake. Part of the reason that Chiarelli traded him was because he felt that Schultz needed a change of scenery. He won the next two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, and he played a large role on their team when Kris Letang was injured.

It’s funny how he suddenly became the player we thought he could be after he left Edmonton.

Before Schultz, Devan Dubnyk was the lightning rod. He had some great moments as an Oiler, but he was the last line of defence on a team that really didn’t have any defence. He had to be perfect if the team was going to win, and he was far from perfect. He wasn’t in a position where he had a fighting chance. I’m not absolving him of any blame for his performance. He did let in a lot of ugly goals when he was here; but he emerged as a quality starter in Arizona, and he has become one of the best goaltenders in the game in Minnesota.

Strange.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the media in this rant as well. Last season, Eberle made these comments about the media in Edmonton:

“The Edmonton media can be pretty brutal and your confidence goes, and this is a game you can’t play if you don’t have confidence. It’s that simple. It’s the Edmonton Oilers and everything around it. When you read articles everyday about how much you suck, it’s tough.”

Taylor Hall echoed Eberle’s sentiments after that interview.

“You get booed by fans, the media is all over you, everyone’s human. You can’t help but take that home with you… I think that if the media in Edmonton think that they don’t impact players, just a little bit, then they’re crazy. Everyone’s human. No one wants to read crappy stuff about them, no matter how good of a player you are… I never felt the media was unfair in Edmonton, but when you do read constant negative stuff about yourself, you can’t help but lose confidence.”

Eberle scored 8 more points in New York this past season than he did in his last season in Edmonton. Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy this season, only two years after being traded away from Edmonton.

Weird.

In response to Eberle’s comments, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector had this to say on Twitter:

“If I am a GM and I have a player whose game is ruined because of a few articles – none of which come remotely close to being as critical as what those same writers face here on Twitter – I move him. Can’t win with those players. Mentally weak.”

People aren’t going to sympathize with guys who gets paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living. They say that the athletes need to ignore the criticism. I for one had the assumption that the vast majority of athletes don’t read the things that are written about them because that’s the usual response that athletes give in interviews when they are asked about it.

I thought that the comments from Eberle and Hall were refreshing because they showed that athletes are real people too. Even if players aren’t reading articles, I would assume that the players can piece together the angle that the media might take with their stories based on the situation the team is in, the questions that the media members ask them, and the answers that they give. How can you ignore the media when the media is asking you questions every day during the season?

Spector also said that “players create the angle. We just turn them into words.”

He’s not wrong. The media can’t spin the situation to be positive when the team is losing all of the time. They need to tell the story that unfolds in front of them. Let’s be honest though… the media controls the words that are being reported. They don’t lie, but they do certainly need to add drama to the story to create intrigue, especially in a losing environment like Eberle and Hall played in.

Remember how I said that this story wouldn’t be interesting if Maroon only had good things to say about playing in Edmonton? You probably wouldn’t have gotten this far into the article if you weren’t interested in the story.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the team struggle because the media is tough, or is the media tough because the team struggles? Are the fans negative because the media is negative, or is the media negative because the fans are negative?

Blaming the fans and the media for the team or a single player struggling is a poor excuse. My intent in writing this article is not to blame the fans or the media for the team’s failures. The team has been poor because of the performance of the players and management.

However, when you have three prominent ex-Oilers that have been moved within the last two years that have claimed publically that the fans and media are tough on players and that it affected their confidence as well as their level of play, it’s not up for debate anymore. The fact is that negative comments from the fans and media do affect the players, whether we think they should or not.

What do you think the odds are that players will want to play in Edmonton after hearing these types of stories from ex-players? We’re naïve if we don’t think that players talk. The hockey world is a small community. Guys have pre-existing relationships whether they played together in junior, on international teams, or on NHL teams. Some train together in the off-season. If someone is thinking about where they want to play hockey for the next chapter of their life, they will ask questions of guys who have played in the cities that they are considering playing in. I wouldn’t blame a guy for not wanting to come here because he doesn’t want to put up with the shit that our fans throw at players.

Whether you think they should or not, your actions can impact the success of the team in the present and in the future.

I don’t care what your stance is on how much the players make or how horrible they are: Nothing gives you the right to approach a player in public and to start telling them how horrible they are.

Boo the team at Rogers Place if they’re sucking. Criticize a player on social media if he is struggling… but don’t insult the guy or start assuming he’s a horrible hockey player. Be smarter than that. These guys are all better hockey players than you or I will ever be.

The next time you have the urge to stop a player in public to go on a rant or that you feel the need to heckle a player when you see him on the street, just do everyone a favour and SHUT YOUR MOUTH.

The negativity within this fanbase has always driven me nuts. That being said, I understand that the negativity that Oilers fans display is rooted in their passion for the team. We all want the team to succeed. This is a smart hockey city (95% of the time). That is what makes Edmonton such a great hockey city.

I for one am excited about the promise that this team has for the future, regardless of whether it’s realized this coming year or a few years down the road. I hope more fans start to see that instead of being frustrated about the past.

I’m a blogger. I love talking about the team. I just wish the conversation didn’t have be so negative all of the time. I’ll call a player out if he is struggling, but I try to take a step back and look at the situation objectively before commenting.

I wish Oilers fans would take their negativity and channel it in a different way. Go to the gym, do yoga, start painting, get a puppy… just stop making Edmonton such a hard city for players to play in!

We should simply be thankful that we all get to watch McDavid do his thing at least 82 nights a year.

Rant over.

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