It is one of the most important intangibles a hockey team can possess. It is something that can happen inexplicably between players or in certain line combinations. Maybe, it will develop over time as a team bonds and develops together, or some players just naturally have complimentary styles and mesh from the get-go.
Team chemistry, and the camaraderie that comes with it, is an often overlooked aspect of team building. And it seems that, after a few years of being together and going through countless growing pains, the core of the Edmonton Oilers appear to be well on their way to building this all-too-important trait of a successful team.
It all started with a tweet from Mark Spector following the disappointing 7-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 11.
Standing up for your teammates
During the game, the Oilers had a disastrous second period which was marred by turnovers. Notably, one each from Ryan McLeod and Vincent Desharnais that led to goals against. Afterwards, the media (Spector) requested to have the two of them appear in the post-game press conference, presumably to field questions about their play.
But that did not happen. Instead, the core leadership group and veterans of the team collectively put their feet down and took on the media themselves. They protected a younger player, McLeod, and a rookie, Desharnais.
This move was a brilliant show of support for one’s teammates. The group knows that the players will (or already had) taken accountability behind the scenes to those that actually matter: the coaching staff and the other players. But the gesture of support from the team’s veterans are a shining example of the team culture being built right now. Especially given how the culture and chemistry in the locker rooms of Oilers teams of the past 15 years were perceived.
Oilers teams of the past
Through the decade of darkness, one of the common traits of those teams was a distinct lack of chemistry, cohesion, and camaraderie amongst the players.
Some years it was a divide in the locker room between the older veterans and younger players. Some years it was a coach who had completely lost the room. Some years the players didn’t seem to have each other’s backs (which led to the bus stop jokes that an Oiler would take a massive hit and the rest of the team would stand around like they were waiting at a bus stop). And some years, it was all of the above.
Through those difficult times, the Oilers underwent significant roster turnover almost every single season. They cycled through coaches almost every year. Within that, it becomes extremely difficult for any sense of a strong bond within the group to develop when the locker room has such a revolving door.
The beauty of the situation the current version of the Oilers has is that the core has been mostly together for years. There have been players added, like Zach Hyman and Evander Kane, but the mainstays have been consistent.
It’s extremely difficult for a team to find any semblance of success with constant turnover or lines being put through the blender every other period. But over time, with some consistency, that starts to develop. The players begin meshing and connecting on and off the ice. And it can take the team to a whole new level.
The importance of chemistry for a team
Over the past fifteen seasons, two examples stand out of teams with high levels of chemistry and camaraderie. The Pittsburgh Penuins, who have a strong core committed to their system and the same goal. And the Boston Bruins, who have developed one of the healthiest and most admirable locker room cultures built around two of the greatest leaders over that span.
Pittsburgh Penguins and group commitment
The Penguins have had an extremely long and sustained competitive window, dating back to 2006–07. Although there may have been seven seasons between Stanley Cup wins, the team was always in the mix.
The leadership group, centered around Sidney Crosby, is notoriously committed to a constant pursuit of success. They will push players to be the best version of themselves at all times, especially in practice.
By creating this team commitment to success, pushing each other, and holding each other accountable, the Penguins have created a system that works. They can basically drop any player in any spot in the lineup and have success. This has gone a long way in helping them cope with roster turnover and injury issues over the years.
The admirable culture of the Boston Bruins
The Bruins organization has been lucky to have been led by Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron for the past 13 years. These two are two of the best captains and locker room presences the league has ever seen.
They have created an environment that is actively trying to be a bright spot in hockey culture by being openly against hazing and disrespect of younger players (something that has been far too common in some places).
The players have an extremely high standard of conduct on who they let into the locker room and organization. Something that came up during the controversial attempted signing of Mitchell Miller earlier this season.
Now led by Bergeron, the Bruins locker room is one that other teams should be modeling theirs after. The leadership and care shown by the new captain gives the utmost respect for his teammates. This is a quality that will develop amazing chemistry, camaraderie, and battle for one’s teammates.
The Oilers locker room moving forward
After seeing this one small action by the core leaders in the Oilers’ locker room, it is clear that they are well on their way to developing a strong sense of camaraderie. The willingness to protect each other instead of just throwing them to the wolves is admirable.
Moving forward, as this group spends more time and goes through the ups and downs of a season together, we can only expect this to grow. Some roster turnover will be expected in the coming years as Edmonton tries to bring some of their better prospects into the NHL as cheaper players to fill roster spots in a cap crunch. So with the main core intact and locked down for years, these newcomers should be able to slot in much easier than they may have in years past.
Even though chemistry and camaraderie are intangible traits, they are incredibly important to team success and are often overlooked when trying to build teams. It is a great sign for the competitive window the Oilers are entering that they seem to be developing it with each other.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire