THE TEAM TODAY: End of Season
Oilers players hold year-end meetings, chat with media as 2012-13 concludes
END OF SEASONEDMONTON - The Oilers players met with head coach Ralph Krueger on Sunday morning followed by sessions with the Edmonton media as the club talked about the season that was, with 2012-13 having come to a close the night before.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger also spoke with the media and gave his thoughts on the abbreviated 48-game campaign.
"First of all, we were pleased to have a season. It would have been a real pity if this wouldn't have happened," he began. "What's happened here in the last three months, there's been a real tremendous amount of growth, there's been a tremendous amount of pain, we've had pleasure also on the journey.
"When you take the first three quarters (of the season), I want to underline it again. Looking at the first 36 games, everything seemed to be on course and on path for what we could hope for -- being in the playoff race and possibly finding a way to get there in the last week of the season was what this year was all about."
Krueger added that although the Oilers finished on a high note with two dominant wins over the Wild and Canucks, they will remember the collapse that occurred late in the season.
"The last quarter was extremely painful and the finish will not remove that pain. It was a show of character and a response in Minnesota and, finally, against Vancouver that gives us courage and gives us confidence going into the summer but with a lot of pain."
The head coach said that the current group is not one that can be expected to make the playoffs.
"We still don't have the team to be a playoff team. We ended up with a result we deserved and we need to start making the difference today."
Krueger noted that it was a learning process, not only for his team but also for himself.
"My first year as a head coach in the National Hockey League, there was a lot of opportunity for me to grow and to learn. I've learned a lot of things. I've certainly never done everything right in my 24 years of coaching. You make mistakes and you do things that you analyze and do differently the next time. That's what's going to happen to me. I'm going to spend the next few weeks looking at the opportunities, the areas we need to change and improve at and things that I, together with my coaching staff, can work on to be better at. That's where it's going to begin and by the end of May I'll be communicating with players."
As is the custom, the head coach met with the players today but Krueger said that he wants to reconnect with every player at the end of the month.
"In the exit meetings today, I don't like to go too deep because I think I need some distance, too, to really analyze each player properly -- and that includes players that are leaving here, by the way. Players that aren't coming back, I want to speak to and make sure they get something of value from what I've experienced with them here"
Looking ahead to next season, Krueger saw plenty of opportunities to help better prepare his squad next season.
"I want this honest process to continue that we've initiated. I think we really have a great core of players who want to understand what it takes to win. To bring them into these habits consistently was difficult this season but everybody had that difficulty so it's not an excuse, it's just the reality of a one-to-two practice-to-game ratio.
"We're going to have a three-week training camp and, more importantly than anything, the new season begins today and we have a four-month plus training camp. The training camp actually begins off ice. Understanding that is our main message today in our exit meetings. We have a very strong summer program in place to either take a player 100% under control or to supplement what he already has in place. We are going to be attacking that with a passion beginning today to work on being much fitter as a team."
Fitness was an area that Krueger wanted to improve on for the team next season.
"I thought we had good fitness. We played these games -- five in the last seven days -- showing we had the fitness but I think we still need more strength. Fitness is not just aerobic, it's also strength, flexibility, agility, mobility. It's so many things that we want to improve on."
The one-on-one meetings have gone well, noted Krueger. The coach added that from this point until camp opens in September, the onus is on each player to perform and come prepared for camp.
"It's really exciting to see how honest they've been in their self-assessments. With that honesty, we can really tap into it. Right now, the summer is all about individualization. Everything we did in the last three-and-a-half months was about team and everything we do in the next three-and-a-half months is about the individual player. What does he want to become as a player, what's the role he's going to take on next year if he's going to make us a better team, how's he going to add value. We're going to work with that player one-on-one and he will be alone almost all this summer and he needs to take responsibility for that to truly grow and become that player."
LEADING ALL ROOKIES
Nail Yakupov led all rookies with 17 goals and was tied for first with Jonathan Huberdeau with 31 points on the season. Yakupov recorded his first career hat-trick against Vancouver on Apr. 27 and in the last 14 games, he had 11 goals and four assists with a plus-7 rating.
“Last game, when I scored in Minnesota too, I think, I have a pretty good chance to be first in the league for rookies. Last game, I scored three goals and I wasn’t thinking I was going to score three in that game, I wanted to score one and it was exciting for that one.”
Captain Shawn Horcoff said his playing improved over the season and it’s just a small glimpse of what’s to come for Yakupov next year.
“As the year went on, he was great. I think the way he finished is indicative of how his next season is going to be. I thought he really made some great strides in the second half and just his overall game, and he’s a dynamic player. I think as the season wore on, he was more confident with the puck, he became more patient and as a result of that, his offence became more prevalent. It’s good to see him finish with the last two games he had.”
Hall, who played on a line with Yakupov on Saturday, said he’s evolved over the season.
“He led the team in goals, he made tremendous strides defensively. I think everyone really saw that and it was pretty cool to see how much he was paying attention to that side of the puck and once that happen, you saw the player that he is.”
“He’s one of those guys, when the game is on the line, he’s going to score and he’s going to be there and he’s a great kid. He loves to score, he loves to play hockey and we all like having him around in the room.”
ALES HEMSKY INJURY UPDATE
Hemsky has been out of the lineup since Apr. 13 after suffering a foot injury and said he tried to play through the pain but it was just too hard in the end.
“I felt good for the first twenty games and then I fractured my foot. It was a struggle to skate everyday and to not skate and not say anything to anybody anything, but I made a decision to play through it because I didn’t want to sit in the stands. It would be another four or six weeks so I just tried to play through it. I don’t know if it was a smart idea, maybe I could have taken the three weeks off and gotten better a little bit, just in the end, I couldn’t do it anymore, it was too much for me.
“I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t go through battles so that’s why I said I would take one week off and see where the team was and if we were still in the race, I would probably go and play through it again.”
Hemsky’s foot doesn’t require surgery but just time to heal.
“It’s just a healing process. It just takes too long when you play on it, it doesn’t heal.”
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS INJURY UPDATE
Nugent-Hopkins missed the last five games of the season as he underwent shoulder surgery to repair his torn labrum.
“It’s something that we discussed as the year went on. I obviously didn’t want to miss any time with the Oilers this year, it was tough to miss the last five games but I thought that it would give me a head start going into next year.”
“It went really well, as far as the doctor’s concern. Now it’s going to be a good summer recovery and lots of rehab and I want to make sure it’s ready to go.”
He’ll spend the summer rehabbing his shoulder and will most likely miss the first couple of games in the 2013-14 season with his target return date will be sometime in October.
“We’re definitely going to work on getting me stronger. I think the staff here is going to put together a really good program for me trying to get me stronger, just trying to work around the shoulder and making sure that it’s strong too but I don’t think it’s going to hinder me that much this summer.”
HEADING TO WORLDS
Several players will be extending their hockey season as they head overseas to play in the 2013 World Championship. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Justin Schultz and Devan Dubnyk have all accepted invitations to play for Team Canada while Jeff Petry will be representing Team USA.
The last time Hall played for Team Canada was in the 2009-10 World Junior Championship, where he scored six goals and had six assists in six games.
“It’ll be fun. I take off Tuesday and hopefully I can show well there. It’ll be nice to have some teammates there as well. I haven’t played for Hockey Canada in a long time so I’m excited to get over there and start a new journey. I’ve been wearing the Oilers’ crest for a long time now and I haven’t played for Canada in a while so I’m excited.”
-- Wendy Mach & Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com