Edmonton still draws NHL talent despite least-desirable ranking

Edmonton may think of itself as a hockey town, but the feeling apparently isn't mutual with NHL players.

'It's kind of been sloughed off as some kind of arctic hell hole,' says veteran sports columnist

The Edmonton Oilers are having a hard time, on and off the ice. Sports agents say Edmonton is the city most often named by NHL players in their no-trade clauses. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

The Edmonton Oilers are shrugging off a recent survey that suggests NHL players don't want to play in the city.

The ESPN survey of prominent sports agents done by reporter Craig Custance suggests that Edmonton is the city most often named by NHL players in their no-trade clauses.

But newcomer Derek Roy says he would argue against the impression created by the poll..

"As soon as you get here you feel welcome. It's a great organization, it's a great hockey town. Everything has been first class since I got here."

Goaltender Ben Scrivens called the results skewed.

"The teams that were at the top of the list were teams that weren't in the playoffs.

"I thought we landed some pretty good free agents last year," Scrivens said, pointing to Teddy Purcell, David Perron and Mark Fayne. 

"They've been highly coveted free agents and they made a choice to come here." 

Of the 10 agents polled by Custance, each named Edmonton as one of the least desirable cities for NHL players.

But Edmonton is not the only city the players are railing against — Winnipeg came in a close second place in terms of cities to be avoided, with Ottawa and Toronto coming in fourth and fifth, respectively.

The only American city in the top five list? Buffalo.

Vancouver was the only Canadian city that was not included on the "avoid" list.

"It's probably nothing that we didn't suspect, but to have it laid out like that with quotes from the agents just detailing what an awful place we all live [in] was kind of sobering, I thought," said Cam Cole, a sports columnist who covered hockey in Edmonton for 20 years.

"One agent called [Edmonton] a 'complete nightmare,'" said Cole. "That was the most sweeping indictment in the whole report, I thought."

"It's kind of been sloughed off as some kind of arctic hell hole."

  • Listen to Cole's full interview with Edmonton AM host Mark Connolly:

Can't compete with sunny skies, lower taxes

Some of the reasons given by players for avoiding Edmonton included:

  • The weather.
  • Too much travel.
  • Too much scrutiny.
  • The team's poor record.
  • Higher Canadian taxes.

University of Alberta sports management professor Dan Mason says Canadian fans can come off as a "little intense."

"Every play you make is going to be scrutinized and discussed," he said. "You're not going to be able to go anywhere in the city without being noticed. A lot of players would like to have a little more anonymity in their job."

Scrivens suggested some players love the limelight.

"Each player is their own person. A guy like [Montreal Canadien] P.K. Subban thrives under it."

Cole said Edmonton hasn't always had trouble attracting top-quality players, pointing to the Oilers' dream team streak when players like Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri were on the ice.

"There was no reluctance to play in Edmonton in those days, because they had a real good team, and they had no problem attracting free agents. I think that's probably the hidden component here."

But now?

"It's kind of obvious that nobody really wants to go somewhere they don't feel they have a chance to win — and Edmonton has looked like that place for a while now. They don't seem to be able to solve the performance aspect of the whole equation."

Cole said there is little the Oilers can do at present but start turning their record around, although he noted the deck is stacked against them, given the difficulty in attracting talented players.

"Let's just say, once you've got the choice, once you've worked towards and earned the right to determine where you're going to play and where you're not going to play, it's completely within your rights to say, 'I don't want to go there.'"

But Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish says the hockey landscape in Edmonton is changing.  

"With the new building, with the emerging direction of the team and emergent talent level of the team, it's a much easier situation for us to sell.

"I know ESPN is based in Connecticut. It's a long way from Edmonton." 

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