The roster is almost set. The season starts in just a few days. Oiler fans should be buzzing with excitement and anticipating the season where the team breaks its playoff drought and brings meaningful hockey back to Edmonton. They aren’t. Instead, fans are skeptical. Sure, they’re excited for NHL hockey to begin again, but it seems like the general consensus among fans, at least, is that this edition of the Copper and Blue is still too soft, and lacking the proper depth. Despite that, some feel like this could be the year the Oilers make it happen, even if they don’t vocalize it most of the time.
Readers, don’t count on it. I don’t mean to be a negative Nelly, but lets face the facts. The team is heading into the season with only ONE proven NHL center. The team still lacks a top-pairing defenseman. There is nary a power forward of note to be found (Help us, Obi-Wan Joensuu…you’re our only hope). The goaltending is still uncertain. The players are learning a new system. A captain has yet to be named. The list could go on. On the other hand, I think that most of us are hoping that some, if not all, of these shortcomings can be surmounted.
Head Coach Dallas Eakins seems like a bit of a cold fish who can’t be bothered by the trivial aspects of hockey fandom, and I love him for it. I think that Craig Mactavish made a great decision hiring him and moving Krueger along. Today’s gutsy move of waiving fan favorite Ryan Jones is a perfect example. He was loved for his enthusiasm, his team spirit and his easy connection with the public. Oh, and he scored goals once upon a time. But, the truth is, he lost a step after his unfortunate injury and can’t contribute as he should. He’s gone. Nothing could be better for the team than to treat this season as the foundation for the future–a real future that is defined by a winning culture and by making tough sacrifices for the longevity of the team.
The largest part of the process, both for fans and the organization, is letting go of the 80’s. Not all of it of course. I still listen to New Order and Erasure. But, I think that fans have an idea of just how crazy good we once had it here and crave greatness like a drug. The fact is, it will NEVER be like that again. The game has evolved into one where points are scarcer and size and speed are bigger factors. Does anyone really expect anyone to ever score 215 points in one season ever again? Naturally, a healthy reverence for the amazing team that once played here is required. However, from the changing of the dressing room to the roster itself, Eakins seems to be remaking the team in his image and he doesn’t want it to look like the Boys on the Bus.
Despite all of this, there is potential for an explosive season for a few of our players. Taylor Hall could score 100 points, and I don’t think that is a stretch. Nail Yakupov could light up in his second season, moving closer to Stamkos-esque prowess, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, too, could be poised for breakout campaigns. Hemsky and Smyth, based on their stellar pre-season, could be back to form as well. Should they galvanize as a unit, it could be thrilling and a ticket to the post-season. Realistically, though, this team is likely to experience some growing pains.
It is my belief, however, that the new culture being installed at Rexall Place is the one that will eventually bring the cup back home. That’s why I’m okay with one more year on the outside looking in. If what we see from there is a work in progress that is moving forward, then there’s no reason for despair. And there’s a part of me, too, that thinks that these boys are just sick of losing. Maybe that, along with the Eakins diet and fitness program will be enough, Either way, this team is heading in the right direction.