Friday, December 07, 2012

Oilers History: The mishandling of Jason Arnott


From the dynasty days of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky to the present edition of the Edmonton Oilers that features Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, fans of the Orange and Blue have watched only two other top flight centres pull on an Oilers jersey over the last two decades. One being former captain Doug Weight, whom Glen Sather stole from the New York Rangers for an aging Esa Tikkanen in 1993, the other was never really given a fair shake in the City of Champions.

For an organization that had not drafted a quality centre since stealing Messier in the third round of the 1979 Entry Draft, grabbing Jason Arnott with the seventh overall pick in the1993 NHL Entry Draft, must have seemed like a godsend. The former Oshawa Generals fifty goal man did not disappoint, putting together a thirty-three goal rookie campaign during his first year in the Alberta capital.

The season that the than nineteen year old was able to put together, earned him enough votes, to finish second in balloting for the Calder Trophy, behind New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur. His sixty-eight point season trailed only Weight's team leading total of seventy-four and led the club in goals. Pretty impressive rookie campaign...especially on a team that finished second from the bottom in the Western Conference.

The big man followed it up with a decent sophomore performance but much of the focus in Edmonton during the 1994-95 campaign, surrounded the attitude of one Shane Corson.  The low point being, the well publicized scuffle between Arnott and the than Oilers captain, over an assist the former Montreal Canadiens forward felt should have been awarded to him.

That altercation ended up costing Corson his captaincy, head coach George Burnett his job and put the young Oiler in a less than flattering light. From that point on, the Collingwood, Ontario native would become a regular target in the local media for his off-ice activities and quickly become a target of the local fan base.

While a fifteen goal season during the lockout shortened year was not outstanding, it was far from awful. Never to be mistaken for an overly physical player, the 6'5", 210lb forward suddenly started to play with an edge to his game. After compiling 104 minutes in penalties during his initial NHL season, he followed it up with a staggering 128 PIM's in only forty-two games.

Could the off-ice issues have caused him to act out on the ice? Possibly but it was an edge that, personally, I found refreshing. Unfortunately, that was not how new head coach Ron Low and others within the Oilers brass saw it and instructed the second year NHL'er to tone it down. Not a wise move.

Over the following two seasons, Arnott's on ice performance was up and down. He managed to put together twenty-eight and nineteen goal seasons but battled various injuries and seemed to lose the edge that emerged during his second year in Oilers silks.

That being said, he did have a productive post-season in 1997, scoring nine points in the Oilers twelve playoff games, after upsetting the Dallas Stars in the opening round of the playoffs. Like the rest of the team, his performance was inconsistent but he was still only twenty-three years old.

After getting off to an absolutely dreadful start during the following season, frustration was starting to set in with not only the fans, but also the organization and player. With that being the case, Sather decided to pull the trigger and move Arnott to the New Jersey Devils for Bill Guerin. On paper, it wasn't a bad move but in the long run, it was a decision that would haunt this franchise for years.

Guerin was solid during his three years in Edmonton but Arnott developed into that big bodied 1st/2nd line centre, that this organization is still searching for to this very day. They had him in their grasp but ultimately, gave him away. For anyone that has followed the National Hockey League, it is obvious how difficult it is to find a player with the rare skill set that Mr. Arnott owned.

Not surprisingly, he he has gone on to score 400 goals and 904 points over an eighteen year carer and won a Stanley Cup Championship in 2000...in which he scored the Cup clinching goal in double overtime.

There are those who will argue, that the Edmonton Oilers had no choice but to move Jason Arnott because of non-hockey related issues...which is nothing but a load of you know what. Instead of bringing in leadership to help offset the likes of Corson or a Boris Mironov or Andrei Kovalenko, and help him work through his growing pains, they decided to move the best centre this organization had drafted since 1979.


Oilers History Page

2 comments:

  1. You left out his infamous line when asked about his less then 100% effort in a game,,,He replied "I just wasn't into it tonight"...That interview alone did more to damgage his relationship than anything else.

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  2. Agreed, not unlike the love/hate relationship many fans had with Grant Fuhr after he called them a "bunch of jerks" during the 1982-83 season. Sometimes people forget these guys are just kids and more often than not, in over their heads to start their NHL careers.

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