The news of Ryan Jones being placed on waivers didn’t result in panic-inducing shock. No, that type of reaction occurs when someone tells you that you impregnated them, or when you wake up in a stranger’s bathtub with no recollection of the previous evening. It was a surprise to many, no doubt, but it probably didn’t cause anyone to weep openly, tip over the nearest desk, or punch a wall Darcy Wakaluk-style. Still, the move becomes more frustrating the longer you think about it.
Jones didn’t have an impressive preseason, but he doesn’t find himself in Oklahoma City today because he can’t play at the NHL level. He doesn’t even find himself there because Will Acton or Mike Brown are better hockey players, because they aren’t. So why is the 29-year-old grinder with more than 282 NHL games under his belt headed back to the AHL for the first time in four years? An overreaction to the team’s perceived lack of toughness, and overt nepotism.
It’s hard to tell which hurt Jones more, because they factored in pretty equally. The Oilers were already facing questions about their overall toughness even before Sam Gagner had his jaw broken by Zack Kassian, and TSN insider Bob McKenzie had stated that the team was looking for an enforcer long before the Oilers’ second-line center had his face mangled by an errant stick. So, after the damage had been done, the team plucked Steve MacIntyre off the waiver wire.
The MacIntyre acquisition should have done three things. First, it should have extinguished the stupid and seemingly unending debate about needing someone to protect the team’s young stars. Second, it should have rendered Ben Eager and Mike Brown obsolete. Both players are middleweights who don’t offer much more than the occasional facewash after the whistle. Third, it should have put the Oilers’ focus back on retaining players who can provide some offense from a depth line.
That should have been a good thing for Jones, who has a higher career single-season goal mark (18) than Eager (11), Boyd Gordon (8), Brown (6), Jesse Joensuu (6), Linus Omark (5), Anton Lander (2), or any other player he was competing with for a spot on the Oilers’ third or fourth line. However, in a move that can only be seen as overreaction to the team’s perceived lack toughness, the Oilers coaching staff decided that MacIntyre, Eager and Brown were each more valuable to the team than Jones. As a result, they’re in, he’s out.
But the Oilers’ dubious decision making didn’t end there. Listening to Edmonton head coach Dallas Eakins coming into training camp, nobody was spoken of more highly than Ryan Hamilton. Sure he liked what players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz brought to the team, but he loved Hamilton. I don’t want to knock Hamilton at all. In fact, I want to see him do well, because he’s an undrafted player who has worked his way up the AHL depth chart over the last eight seasons, bouncing back from injuries and overcoming doubts to make himself a productive player. However, nepotism is the only reason he’s an Edmonton Oiler.
When the new head coached arrived in Edmonton, Hamilton, the captain of Eakins’ Toronto Marlies team last season, followed close behind. I’m sure Eakins sees a lot of himself in Hamilton. Eakins had so many different stops over the course of his playing career you have to wonder if he ever unloaded his luggage, so he can relate to an unheralded guy who gets a shot at the NHL, and the windfall payday (by comparison to his AHL salary) that comes with it. However, that doesn’t mean Hamilton belongs in the NHL rather than Jones, and you have to wonder if playing favorites will come at the expense of the team.
Before you make the argument that Hamilton simply outplayed Jones, look at the numbers. Jones received 15:05 in ice-time during his first preseason game – Edmonton’s 3-2 split-squad win over Calgary. He played on a line with Gordon and David Perron, and spent 1:32 on the power play that night, scoring a power play goal to open the scoring early in the first period. Meanwhile, during that same game, Hamilton played 18:59 (2:06 of power play time) and had an assist on a line with Gagner and Eberle. Look at the ice-time numbers for each player in their four subsequent games:
16:14 – 1:14 PP
12:41 – 1:28 PP
10:48 – 0:32 PP
10:52 – 0:00 PP
14:42 – 2:28 PP
14:02 – 2:02 PP
14:12 – 1:23 PP
12:37 – 0:27 PP
Those numbers sure look to me like one player was being showcased, while the other was being shafted. You can’t make a legitimate case for Hamilton getting roughly twice as much power play time as Jones, particularly when Jones had already shown the ability to produce on the power play. Also, during those subsequent four games Hamilton lined up with Acton, Eager, Jones and Lander for the most part, and spent one game on the wing with Jujhar Khaira and Nail Yakupov. Jones was simply buried with the scrubs, suiting up alongside Brown, Lander, Hamilton and Pitlick during his reduced ice-time audition.
Plus, how is this decision made prior to the team’s final preseason game tomorrow night against Dallas? Does anyone really believe that Hamilton had shown enough at this point to replace Jones in the lineup? In boxing, in order for a contender to take away a champion’s belt they have to not only win the fight, but do it decisively enough to eliminate doubt in the mind of the spectators as to who the better boxer is. Nobody can tell me that Hamilton was definitively better than Jones, either in the preseason or moving forward.
I sincerely hope that Eakins believes he’s making the right decision for the hockey team, rather than simply rewarding a player he’s extremely familiar with, but the move reeks of nepotism. In fact, it smells worse than an outhouse on a tuna schooner. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Jones return to the NHL at some point, because he can truly play the game and fill a role for the Oilers. However, if Eakins continues to favor the toughness of Eager and Brown, and the familiarity of Hamilton, we’ve likely seen the last of Jones.