Tom Renney made some pointed comments after the Oilers' 3-2 loss to San Jose on Monday. What he didn't do is indicate exactly what players he wants more from. The one currency that a coach has is ice time, so what does the way it's being distributed tell us about the favor of the coach?
Ice time paints a very clear picture. Let's start with the game against San Jose, after which Renney said that "it doesn't take many [players] with the wrong attitude to make its way through your dressing room." One would assume that the players who were drawing the ire of the coach would not see much playing time.
Ryan Jones has played less than ten minutes in a game just four times this season, and Monday night was one of those occasions. All four of those outings have come within the last 18 games. Jones has been a major problem in terms of secondary scoring with just 2 goals in his last 32 games played.
Also a problem lately is the play of the captain, Shawn Horcoff. The $5.5 million man has been somewhat improved recently, with 2-1-3 in his last six games, but he still has just 5-6-11 in his last 30. Horcoff played 19 or more minutes in 26 of the Oilers' first 30 games, scoring 20 points. In his last 30 he's been on the ice for 19+ minutes 15 times, and only 8 times in his last 20 games played.
And Ryan Smyth? Anointed as an answer for the Oilers' lack of hard work, Smyth has seen his ice time drop with his dwindling production. Like Horcoff, Smyth has 11 points in his last 30 games played, and just 4 of those points are goals. He's played 19+ minutes only eleven times in the last 30 games, after playing 19+ minutes in 21 of his first 30. In the last 15 games, Ryan Smyth has been on the ice for more than 19 total minutes just once, and he had his second-lowest total of the season on Monday at 15:27.
Ales Hemsky had one of his lowest ice time totals on the season on Monday as well at 15:29. He's played better than at the start of the year in some ways, but he still has just 3 assists in his last ten games. Renney obviously isn't happy with Sam Gagner's production either (1-1-2 in his last ten games), and Gagner's ice time has dropped accordingly in the last three contests. Eric Belanger has cracked 12 minutes of ice time just twice in his last ten games.
There are other players who aren't pulling their weight on this team, but the ones I've listed above represent what would reasonably be all of the secondary scoring, and they all appear to be in Renney's doghouse.
On the other side of the coin are the three kids.
Taylor Hall played 19+ minutes twice in his first twenty games, but in his last 30 games he's cracked 19 minutes seventeen times; including 8 times in his last ten games played and four straight.
In Jordan Eberle's first twenty games he saw 19 or more minutes of ice time just once, and his overall usage led me to speculate that Renney wasn't properly utilizing his best player. He still hasn't gotten enough action this season considering the quality of results, but Renney has finally seen fit to give Eberle 19 or more minutes of ice time in five straight games, and 20+ minutes four times in that span.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played over 20 minutes in back-to-back games. In the eleven games since returning from injury RNH has been on the ice for 20+ minutes four times. In the 37 games before he got hurt, that happened four times as well.
The Oilers have too many passengers, and the coach has pointed this out to everyone by means of their ice time. He's also rewarded the forwards that he feels are giving their all. The problem here is two-fold: the forwards that are in the dog house are supposed to be the leaders of this team, and without them producing the Oilers have next to no secondary scoring. The top end of this team is doing just fine, but other members that are supposed to be the core have underperformed in the extreme. Unless things improve significantly in the final games of the season, there will need to be big changes to what is considered the leadership of the Oilers.
The real leaders are all under 22 years old.