Earlier this year, I wrote a blog called Why It’s Okay If The Oilers Miss The Playoffs. In it, I argued that given the circumstances and the roster, chances were good the Oilers missed out one more year. Barring breakout seasons from the Big 5, the team would need to add a few more pieces before it’s ready for contention. Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.
Naturally, most fans find this wretched 3-12 start somewhat unexpected. Last season was no walk in the park, but one could sense the Edmonton Oilers were nearing respectability. Nail Yakupov was tied for the lead in points by rookies, Taylor Hall was in the Top 10 for scoring and Devan Dubnyk seemed to be competent enough between the pipes. Over summer, we were confident MacT would adjust the roster to give the team the needed boost it had been after. Add in the hottest rookie coach in some time—they say everyone wanted him—and Oilers fans were ready for competitive hockey.
Instead, fans have been treated to sub-par goaltending, a lack of defensive effort and a devolution in special teams play. The injury bug has bitten the team mightily again this season, with team unable to ice a full, healthy squad to date. Only a month in, the Oilers are already ten points back of a playoff spot, something that will be difficult to make up, even with over 65 games left in the season.
Confidence in slick new coach Dallas Eakins is waning too, with fans now saying Krueger may have been a better fit. Perhaps he was. After all, Eakins first two years as head coach of the Toronto Marlies were not playoff seasons for the team, and this after a failed NHL hockey career. Regardless, Eakins is considered a great hockey mind, and deserves to prove his mettle in the big leagues. However, it would appear his learning curve is steep as it is for his players.
Oilers faithful, indeed, are growing impatient. No one is pretending that this losing culture is fun to be a part of. There is no vested interest in the club continuing to tank, as the reputation of the Oilers will continue to be stained with the black tar of losing, a status that will continue to repel free agents from signing here. That is why it behooves the team to play a united, passionate form of hockey. Even if the Oilers miss out on the post season, there is still a reason to show up at the rink and be competitive. Players around the league will study their options as they near free agency. They may take a chance on a team with an uncertain future.
Last season, Nathan Horton chose the Columbus Blue Jackets despite their paucity of success. He left current perennials the Boston Bruins for the hot destination known as Ohio, not known for its life of glamour and luxury. But, the organization in Columbus is building a team that is moving forward, and slowly players are beginning to see what they can contribute to the chemistry that exists there.
In Edmonton, there are a bunch of highly skilled, but highly selfish hockey players on the ice. They bunch up like a cluster of bees and break out of the neutral zone with no structure or plan. Instead of moving parts proceeding in lockstep, each player is randomly inserting themselves into the play. expecting some sort of draft pick magic to emerge as a result of some phenomenal toe drag or no-look pass. The rest of the NHL has figured out the weakness of the team and in so doing have rendered the organization unable to attract the talent it not only desires but needs.
It’s more than likely we will see some roster movement should the team continue to bottom out. Upper management doesn’t have long. Should the Oilers have similar results in the next 15 games, fans will demand either a trade, a firing, or a discount on tickets. Ideally, MacT needs to make moves for the longevity of the club. But if this season descends into a truly poor state, players and even coaches may see themselves sent on their way. The Oilers have this season to figure out what they need to do to become a complete team. We need to give the team and Dallas Eakins the room to come together. This is the last window of failure for this organization. Let’s hope fresh air flows through it.