Athletes are people. People get upset when they and/or the group they associate themselves with aren’t living up to expectations. Hence, with the Edmonton Oilers having gone 2-10-2 in their last 14 games, 2020 Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl might find it a little patronizing when a reporter asks him postgame what the biggest problem has been with the Oilers.
I don’t mind the question from reporter Jim Matheson, by the way. Some people are saying that he was fishing for a headline and trying to get Draisaitl to blame some of his teammates. I don’t get that vibe from his question. Was the question vague and open to interpretation? Absolutely. It wasn’t some thought-provoking statement worthy of pondering from Greek philosophers, but it likely also wasn’t as deep as some people are making it out to be. Matheson did handle the situation poorly afterwards.
As I said earlier, you can’t expect profound analysis from cheery, happy-go-lucky hockey players when their team is in a funk as bad as the one the Oilers are in. Draisaitl offered a professional answer with the intent to avoid any sort of drama. You can tell by the look on his face that there are a number of things he wants to say, but he doesn’t because he understands that his words could have consequences. Matheson needs to understand this and not push the envelope any further. When he does push it further, especially in the condescending tone we hear in the video, that’s when Draisaitl snaps with “You know everything.” Matheson needs to understand that he went a little over the line there. He needs to make like a hiker who just saw a mountain lion and back up slowly. Calling a grown man “pissy”? You’re just asking for trouble at that point, but I guess Matheson has never minded going over the edge.
Matheson has covered the Oilers since their inception into the WHA in 1973. In that time, he has developed a history of being blunt with Oilers’ players, and that’s putting it lightly. As recently as September of last year, Matheson told Oilers’ goaltender Mikko Koskinen that Oilers’ fans “don’t want him.” While several Oilers’ fans were disappointed with Koskinen’s play in 2021 after his solid 2020 season, it’s hard to say they didn’t want him around. He is better than most of the options the Oilers’ would’ve considered that offseason, and although his stats may not show it, the Oilers have done very well with him in net. After all, in 20 games played this year, Koskinen is 12-7-1 (60.0 outright win percentage; 62.5 points percentage). That’s a far cry from the Oilers’ actual points percentage this season of 54.3 percent. Obviously, this doesn’t directly correlate to Koskinen’s play in net, and Koskinen is 0-5-1 in his last six games, but it should be noted.
Matheson’s question to Koskinen (most likely) unintentionally created division in the Oilers’ locker room and cast unnecessary self-doubt on the Oilers’ netminder. Matheson succeeded in that regard. Koskinen has gone on to state that he knows he needs to get better and that he’s not sure if he can handle a full starter’s worth of games in an NHL season. The former was achieved much later though. Two weeks ago, Koskinen voiced his frustration with the constant bashings he’d been receiving in the media by targeting the Oilers’ offense.
“When the team loses, it’s either the coach or goalie who gets sacrificed,” said Koskinen. “I have to be better, but at the same time, we scored seven goals in my last six losses. I can’t score goals. It’s not only about goaltending when it comes to winning and losing. Everybody has to better from now on and we will be.”
Maybe it’s what happened with Koskinen that has led so many people to believe Matheson held similar “intentions” with his question to Draisaitl. In reality though, it was likely just a bland question that Draisaitl was tired of hearing and reacted to in an emotional way. That probably bruised Matheson’s ego and prompted his own emotional retaliation that was way out of line.
Matheson was clearly in the wrong for the way he acted, but let’s not pretend that Draisaitl didn’t up the ante with his “you know everything” response. I understand his frustration and unwillingness to play stupid games with nothing but stupid prizes on the line, but that also just comes with the territory of being one of the NHL’s biggest stars. You’re going to get badgered by reporters with awful questions that you can’t really answer in an honest fashion lest you throw your teammates under the bus. You’re going to have to put on a fake smile when you’re feeling upset and give family-friendly statements responding to hate in a modest/understanding way lest you be viewed as a diva by the public. Is that right? No, but that’s just how the world works.
Hopefully, Matheson can come back and be a little more understanding of the situation that Draisaitl, Koskinen, and McDavid are in with how poorly the Oilers have performed as of late. If that’s the case, everybody grows as a person. Everybody wins, and we’ll all sing Kumbaya in a circle. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen.