The lowly Edmonton Oilers from a Flames fan perspective
Being a Flames fan, I know what it’s like to cheer for a team that constantly disappoints you — a team that pulls your heart out and stomps on your hopes and dreams every single season. I’ve been through the lean years of the late nineties where the team resembled something of an ECHL equivalent. I went along for the ride in 2004 — something that will stick with me for my entire life. And since then I’ve struggled to comprehend how a team allowed a high school graduate to manage the books for too many years, which resulted in the Flames being submerged in salary cap hell for the last half decade.
But, what I haven’t experienced is what Oilers fans are being subjected to right now with their pathetic excuse for a hockey team.
Every year I hear it from Oilers fans. Oh, this is the year they are going to make the jump. I can feel it. Yet, every year they miss the playoffs and every year Oilers fans go silent, or worse, cheer for their own team to lose.
They’ve missed playoffs five (soon to be six) straight seasons, and seven of last nine years. They found lightning in a bottle in 2006, much like the Flames did in 04’, and got within one win of another Stanley Cup.
Difference being, the Oilers finished with 71 points the following season, last in the division, and 12th in the West, while the Flames won the division the year after they went to the Cup final.
The Oil were forced into trading Chris Pronger after their run, for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two first round picks (Nick Ross and Jordan Eberle) and a second round pick (Travis Hamonic).
They also ripped the heart out of their team at the trade deadline the following year by trading Ryan Smyth to the Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra, and a 1st round pick in 2007 (Alex Plante).
The Pronger trade returned Smid and Eberle, while the return in the Smyth deal was sub-par. O’marra is decent, but at 25, looks to be a third line grinder and nothing more, while Nilsson now plays in the KHL and Plante is still in developing stages.
Smyth came back, which I guess is good.
They missed the playoffs by just 3 points in 07-08 and then by six in 08-09. Following that it went from bad to worse in Oil country and they have finished 30th overall (DFL for those counting) back-to-back seasons putting up a whopping 124 points in two seasons. For comparison sakes, the Washington Capitals had 121 points the 2009-10 season alone.
And to take it one step further, they are 14th in the Western Conference this season and free falling faster than Nicolas Cage’s movie career.
Albeit, injuries have hampered this season with Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker and Tom Gilbert all missing time. Not to mention Hemsky’s inability to produce even when he is in the line-up this season, presumably setting himself up to be traded out of the city. So yeah, injuries have been a problem for this young team, but injuries happen, it’s hockey and every team must deal with them, and it simply cannot be an excuse. If anything, the injuries have shown the lack of depth that this franchise holds in NHL capable players.
They have some other young guys getting some playing time in Anton Lander up front and Colton Teubert on defence. And not to forget Magnus Paajarvi who has really become the forgotten one in Edmonton, even playing 10 games in the minors this season. He was once thought to be the most NHL ready between him, Eberle and Hall. I guess not.
Then there are the fillers: Ryan Jones, Eric Belanger, Josh Green, Ben Eager, etc.
The biggest problem, however, is goaltending. Khabibulin is only getting older and his unbelievable run at the start of the season, which was a huge reason for the Oilers early success, tapered off to humanoid levels. And the Oilers fall followed suit. Yet, for a goalie who hasn’t registered a win since December 22, his numbers are fairly decent with a .921 SV% and a 2.36 GAA.
But at 38 years old, his clock is ticking.
That leaves Devan Dubnyk, holder of a 6-11 record this season, a .903 SV% and a 3.05 GAA. In 74 career games with the Oil, he has a 3.01 GAA and .906 SV%, which is very average and he has done nothing to really show he is capable of being an everyday reliable starter. I sure wouldn’t want him as my goalie.
So who’s next? They have Tyler Bunz, who was most recently cut from Team Canada at the world juniors after coming in as a favorite to make the team. He’s played fantastic for Medicine Hat of the WHL, but at 19 years of age is most likely 3-4 years away from being NHL ready. They also have Olivier Roy, who backed up Mark Visentin at last years world juniors and is now playing in the ECHL for the Stockton Thunder where he has a 7-11-4 record, a 2.68 GAA and a .915 SV%. Again, on probably a 3-4 years timeline to the NHL.
So who’s your money on to lead this team out of the depths of the Western Conference? Dubnyk? Bunz? Roy? Someone else? Great teams need at least a “good” goalie, and most of the time a “great” goalie, to go deep into the spring dance.
Look at the last Cup winning teams as examples. Thomas, Niemi, Fleury, Osgood, Giguere, Ward, Khabibulin (much younger version), Brodeur. All-star goaltenders during their time.
I can’t see into the future, but my money would be on the Oilers not having a “great” goalie for some time.
On defence, the Oilers have some highly touted players in the stables in David Musil, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin. Klefbom most likely being the one closest to NHL ready. But really, none of these guys will be impact players for two years, at least, judging by scouting reports.
This spring, there is yet another top first round pick in the future of this team. And for those saying FAIL FOR NAIL, I would caution in saying that getting another skilled forward shouldn’t even be on this team’s radar. I don’t care how good Yakupov is. Ryan Murray or Matthew Dumba should be the guys the Oilers are looking at, as there are no goalies good enough to warrant a top five pick.
You can compare the Oilers to two different groups of teams in the past decade. The Blackhawks and the Penguins, or the Blue Jackets and the Panthers.
The Hawks missed the playoffs eight of nine years, before breaking through to the playoffs in 2009 and winning the Cup in 2010. But they had Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the backend, with Kane, Toews, and Sharp up front and an unconscious Niemi in net.
The Oilers have the forwards possibly, but as of now no one that resembles a Keith and a Seabrook, or a Niemi.
The Pens had four seasons of no playoffs, before they broke back into the dance in 2007, made the final in 08, and won it in 09. In the time they sucked, they drafted Fleury, Crosby, Malkin and Staal.
The Oilers don’t have a Fleury, and no Crosby — and even though RNH is showing signs that he could be quite good, getting to Crosby level doesn’t happen very often.
On the other side, Columbus has missed playoffs nine of 10 seasons they have been in existence, and soon to be 10 of 11. They have been cursed by bad drafting, from Gilbert Brule to Nikita Filatov, with the only bright spot being Rick Nash, and possibly Mason.
The Panthers have missed the playoffs ten straight years, and 14 of the 17 seasons they have been in existence. They have gone through bad drafting, horrible trades, and just a downright mess in the front office. Only now, with the installation of Dale Tallon (the architect from Chicago) are they showing signs of turning things around.
The Oilers could go either way. They could miss the playoffs for another six years if things go further awry, or if management makes some savvy moves, then they could be following the footsteps of a Pittsburgh or a Chicago.
This thing is, there is no set template to doing a rebuild, like most fans think. You can’t just do what the Pens and Hawks did. It takes a highly educated and well-structured management team. Notice how the Pens and Hawks turned things around once their ownership issues were cleared up.
Installing Ray Shero in 2006 in Pittsburgh and solving a bankruptcy issue sure helped out the Pens, while the Blackhawks made a dramatic 180-degree turn when Rocky Wirtz took over from his deceased father in 2007.
Now, Darryl Katz has stabilized the ownership issues in Edmonton and a new stadium is on its way, but Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini are still there, and seemingly not doing a whole lot while there team sinks to the bottom of the standings.
I complain about being a Flames fan a lot because of the hole that Darryl Sutter put our team in, but if I was an Oiler fan I’d want Lowe and Tambellini on a f’ing platter and shipped out of town as soon as humanly possible.
How do you miss the playoffs six years in a row and still have a job? Hell, Lowe was promoted during this time.
And what’s even worse is that nobody wants to play in Edmonton. It’s one of the most un-desirable places to play in the entire NHL. (http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/The-Deadbeat-Club-10-least-desirable-NHL-cities?urn=nhl-92689).
I feel sorry for Oilers fans right now. I’m sorry you have to cheer for your team to lose. I’m sorry you have to watch your team consistently play like garbage and have nothing done in the front office to change things.
Yes, I’m jealous of the star power of Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, and Eberle, but at least the Flames compete every year and there is always a “chance” they will make the playoffs.
I live off that chance, because at least there is one. That chance doesn’t currently exist in northern Alberta, and hasn’t existed in some time.
But who am I to judge, I’m just a Flames fan who has one cup to cheer about. At least Oilers fans can hold onto their past like grim death.
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