Is it Fair to Call the Oilers Chokers?

Oilers go out in 4. Gretzky to joining TNT. Chara's future. Quinn to Columbus?


I consider it the dirtiest word in hockey if not all major sports.

Which explains why I cringed when I noticed that a Canadian hockey writer hung the "Choke" label on the Oilers and they still hadn't lost their opening round test to Winnipeg.

This was after Game Three during which The McDavid-Draisaitl duet made the mistake of blowing the -- you know the name by now -- "Dreaded Three Goal Lead" before bowing in overtime.

This so unnerved Mister Hockey Writer that -- without awaiting an Edmonton four straight comeback -- he skewered coach Dave Tippett's team with his choke machine.

And since Canada still is a democracy, the rap was perfectly within the laws of the land which includes Alberta and Manitoba.

Ah, but was it a bum rap? That's my question.

It's easy to affix goat horns to the Connor and Leon vaudevillians. I mean they're the headliners; we all know that. 

But by my figuring the real culprit was coach Tippy who should have the perceived disaster that was fast approaching and reacted to it.


Perhaps a strategic time out. Perhaps a tighter defensive blueprint.

Surely there must have been something the headmaster could have done before Oilers 101 became a failing grade.

That said, the Bottom Line is just one word: Whatever!

Stan’s Java Jive


THE JIVE: Commenting for TSN, Ryan Rishaug describes Edmonton's favorite hockey team as an "abject failure." Yeah, we all know that but why-why-why? 


1. NEW BLACKHAWKS. In the early 1960s, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were the Connor-Leon of the league. But during the period, 1962-1967, when Toronto was winning four straight Cups, Chi got zilch. The Blackhawks were top-heavy with two guys who had only a vague idea about defense. Ditto for McDavid-Draisaitl.

2. COCKY OVERDOGS: Too many headlines went to their heads. The Oilers were about two guys not about the team. Somewhere along the line they must have imbibed that dangerous nectar called "overconfidence," or, if you're from Brooklyn -- as I am -- just plain cockiness. You don't think Dave Tippett can dictate to his stars, do you?

3. GOALTENDING: Any Albertan who remembers Grant Fuhr could tell you that good puck-stopping is a good idea if your team has designs on Stanley. The Hockey News figured that out before the season even started. THN's warning to g.m. Ken Holland went like this: "Goaltending is a concern after both Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith were barely average in the qualifying series." And you want to go a whole season with these guys? Gimme a break. They sure didn't.


THE JIVE: Our expert among experts, Gus Vic takes a very dim view of anyone -- Canadian or American -- who dares charge that the Oilers choked. Take cover because Gus is exploding with facts. To wit: "The Oilers lost three overtime games, the doom coming with Josh Archibald’s idiotic hit with nine minutes left in Game 3. Stupidity put the ball in motion. Seventeen other Oilers put themselves in perfect position to pull to within 2-1 for 51 minutes.  Can the argument be made that Edmonton fell apart after the 4-2 goal? Yes.  However, the catalyst was a selfish play. Last night, Edmonton was the better team for good portions of the game. Mike Smith was terrific again but, in playoff hockey, there is no greater X-factor than goaltending and Connor Hellebuyck was a save better. That’s how thin the margin is.”

“I will note one observation as I did make it to the end of the at 2:00 AM. Connor McDavid appeared as if his tank was on empty in the overtime. Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had considerably more jump as did several bottom six forwards.  In addition, Darnell Nurse was an absolute beast logging 62:07. McDavid made the offensive zone turnover which enabled Neal Pionk to spring Kyle Connor for the winner. It reminded me of Ovechkin in Game 7 overtime against Carolina two seasons back.  When a guy has great jump…and then doesn’t have jump, you notice.”

“In the end, the Oilers simply lack depth and Ken Holland has a lot of work to do.  A team can get away with shortcomings over the course of a regular season.  Once you get into the playoffs and draw the wrong opponent, you get exposed. Holland doesn’t have a lot of pieces to acquire needed assets and, for UFA’s looking for the big payday, here’s some new math: does playing with 97 and 29 offset 40-below in January?”


THE JIVE; Why should he? The franchise has treated him magnificently and -- apart from his early golf games -- the vice was versa. But there has to a be a "but" and that starts with Wayne Gretzky's resignation from the Oilers hierarchy. That's ostensibly for The Great One to move over to the TNT cameras. But let's not forget that -- once upon a time -- Gretz left Edmonton for greener pa$ture$ in Los Angeles and then all over the continent. At some point down the line, it would not surprise me if Canny Connor does a latter-day version of Wayne's World.


THE JIVE: Lightning coach Jon Cooper referred to the rough stuff in the Panthers-Lightning series as “passion” – an understatement.  This series has been downright ugly, and the fans love it. The cross state rivalry has been dormant for years but has been awakened by the heavy hits, scrums and coaches’ rhetoric.

The Bolts’ Ryan McDonagh and Patrick Maroon have already been assessed fines for a cross check to the head of Mason Marchment and a deliberate pre-final buzzer mugging of Noel Acciari respectively. The aggressive Acciari has been a marked man throughout the series.

Not to be denied, the Cats’ Sam Bennett was suspended for one game for his Game 1 boarding of Blake Coleman. Cooper called it a “predatory hit” which started a stream of commentary from both coaches.

After five games the matchup drew a combined 194 minutes in penalties, far and away the most of any series. There have been seven misconducts and 69 minor penalties. Despite all of the scrums and after the whistle jabs, ironically there hasn’t been a single major penalty for an old fashioned one-to-one punch-out. Plenty of slashing, cross-checking, roughing and boarding.

Another elimination game tonight. The combatants are ready.


THE JIVE: ‘The Great One’ has signed a deal with TNT, according to Andrew Marchand of The New York Post and according to sources. “Gretzky will be a lead analyst on Turner’s forthcoming premiere studio show after agreeing to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $3 million per season, according to sources.”

“The Post reported nearly three weeks ago that ESPN and Gretzky failed to reach a deal to bring Gretzky to Bristol, leaving TNT as the clear favorites. Turner, with Gretzky’s buddy Charles Barkley serving as a recruiter, closed the deal.


THE JIVE: The noble Slovakian has done marvelously and deserves time to think about a return next season. He certainly didn't hurt the Capitals but he didn't get them past the Bruins, did he? My gut feeling is that he'll play one more season and then head back to Bratislava. As for the Bruins, it's clear now that losing The Big Guy did not diminish the Beantowners one iota. For that, they can thank Charlie McAvoy. (He's The New Chara, without the height!)


THE JIVE: Why not? Although many Rangers fans will disagree -- some vehemently -- Quinn was moving the Blueshirts in the right direction. His orchestration in New York was turned dissonant by a few unfortunate episodes; especially Artemi Panarin's mysterious "leave of absence" at a critical time of the season. With 20-20 hindsight, some wonder whether that furlough was necessary. Now that John Davidson is running the Jackets, he has a better knowledge of Quinn than anyone. (My gut feeling is that Quinn will get the BJ's gig.)

Trivia Corner

In their last year of existence, 1941-42, the Brooklyn Americans had a familiar home rink and an unfamiliar practice rink. Where were each of the two rinks?

(Answer below)

CLASSIC COMMENTS FROM YESTERYEAR: "I guess I should have told Conny!" -- Frank Selke, Sr., Conn Smythe's aid during World War II while Smythe served overseas, made a trade without telling his boss who was fighting in France. When Smythe returned from the war, Selke exited Toronto and became managing director of the Canadiens.

The player Selke obtained was center Ted Kennedy who won five Cups for the Leafs.

TRIVIA ANSWER: The home arena was Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue and 49th Street. It was shared with the Rangers.

The Amerks practice rink was the Brooklyn Ice Palace on Atlantic Avenue near Bedford Avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.