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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oilers' rebuild not up to spec

Coach angry at fan who tossed jersey, but players get point

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Jason Franson / The Canadian Press

Winnipeg Jets' Evander Kane (9) and Edmonton Oilers' Andrew Ference (21) battle during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday.

EDMONTON -- Anybody in the construction industry who has put hammer to nail, shovelled concrete from a wheelbarrow or flipped down a welding mask will attest to this one basic fact:

A fancy-schmancy blueprint doesn't mean diddly without the right materials.

Which brings us to the situation the Winnipeg Jets arrived to late Sunday in advance of Monday night's game with the Edmonton Oilers. Fans of the Oil have had enough of a rebuild now eight years in the making and were lighting up the talk-radio shows Monday afternoon after head coach Dallas Eakins called the fan who threw his jersey on the ice in the waning moments of Saturday's 6-0 loss to St. Louis a "quitter."

Said Eakins when asked for his thoughts on the incident prior to Monday's game:

"I understand the booing. Listen, it comes when you're not playing well and you're not producing the results. Obviously there's been some losing going on for quite some time in the past, so I firmly respect that. In regards to the guy or whoever it was who threw the sweater on the ice... that's about as bad as it gets for me. And I have great sympathy, I understand, I respect our fans but that's a bunch of bullcrap to me.

"You guys are in our room, you see the creed that went up on our wall... the one thing that stands out in big huge letter is 'I am never out of the fight.' Whoever threw that jersey on the ice, they're out, they've given up, they're a quitter. We don't want that here.

"This city, the people that work in the oil industry, they're not quitters," Eakins continued. "They work hard. They've built a great city with a great industry out of hard work and not quitting. I do not want ever, ever our players to quit -- no matter where we're at. We would be severely dumped on if we totally started to mail it in and just were giving nothing. We're not going to do that here. And so for some fan to show us all that he quit, he's done, he threw in the towel... I think that speaks volumes about the individual. I don't believe this city was built on people like that."

Gasoline tanker, meet spark...

Yes, Eakins' decision to call out the jersey-tosser -- identified locally as 29-year-old construction worker Curtis Goyetche -- further ignited a fan base which has had its patience severely tested over the last few years.

Since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Final the Oilers have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons. And for all the hope surrounding this team heading into 2013-14, they are now 11-24-3 -- just four points head of the worst team in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres.

The Oiler lineup features three first overall picks from the last four years -- Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012 as well as Jordan Eberle (22nd overall in 2008) and Sam Gagner (sixth overall in 2007).

But for all that offensive skill the Oilers still can't defend (last in goals against with a 3.44 GAA), have been shut out in three of their last five contests and entered Monday on a six-game losing skid.

Knowing all that, the surprising thing might not be a fan throwing his jersey on the ice, but why the revolt hadn't started sooner.

Asked about the rebuild, Hall was upfront Monday about the frustration mounting in the Oiler room.

"It's just been longer than I would have anticipated," he said. "When you come into a situation like this you know there's going to be some hardships and some pain involved, but you hope that the duration of it is just a little bit shorter.

"We're all looking forward to the brighter days that are soon to be ahead. That's the thing that keeps you a little bit more sane.

"It's up to us in here. I'm sure you guys in here have heard this a thousand times, but there's no one else that can really do anything about it. It's the skill and the mentality that we have to change in this room."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 ??65535

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Updated on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at 5:50 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds slideshow

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