As we are all painfully aware, the Edmonton Oilers currently have the longest playoff drought in the NHL. However, it’s not just the lack of post-season play that has taken its toll. The Oilers have posted some of the lowest showings in the standings in franchise history. This year, they are on pace for the worst record since the team became an NHL entity. This, after three first overall draft picks in a row. In reality all of the picks are strong players, but the organization has failed to add necessary pieces to support the young talent. A lack of veteran leadership and a consistent blue line have led to shifting rosters that have never settled in with any level of chemistry.
Has management done all that they can do? Do players even want to play here? Has the instability of the coaching repelled players from being open to a trade? Why has the scouting been so poor? The list of questions goes on and on. The fact is that since narrowly missing the post-season in 2008, there has been little reason for enthusiasm among fans nor has there been sufficient evidence of an aggressive plan to extract the team from the abyss.
Sure, Taylor Hall, RNH and Yakupov have set off plenty of fireworks. And when the team is firing on all cylinders, they can eviscerate other teams, most recently knocking off Columbus 7-0 and Colorado 8-2. But the fact remains that the defence and bottom six have been weak for years now. Steve Tambellini made attempts at signing players that fit the bill, but much of the time the players were reclamation projects like Cam Barker, Ben Eager or busts like Eric Belanger.
Added to that has been a seemingly endless rotation of AHL call-ups, many due to the crazy amount of injuries the team endures, regularly near the top in the NHL for man games lost. Few have stuck and so as management fails to round out the team, the young core relies on an ever-changing cast while the new coaches are reworking team systems annually. Plus, it’s cold as hell here and good free agents know it and stay away.
So, what is a fan to think? The 2013-14 Oilers may have two players (RNH, Eberle) who will score over 20 goals and two who are locks to score thirty (Hall, Perron), the first time in years the Oilers have had that kind of scoring prowess. Add to that Yakupov, Smyth, Gordon and Hemsky, all of whom are on pace for 10-15 goal seasons. Scoring isn’t the issue. The problems lie in poor defensive players, lack of size and sub-par goaltending.
For a fan, though, these are longstanding problems. After so many seasons on the outside looking in, another terrible season is developing. Fan support remains but more are becoming passive fans, as the losses continue to pile up. TV broadcasts show empty seats where season ticket holders once sat. Fans are throwing jerseys on the ice and some are tuning out. It’s tough to get excited about a 150 dollar ticket, 8 dollar beer and 15 dollar parking when the expectation is failure instead of success.
It’s unfortunate the losing culture is being built on the backs of such talented young players. However, fans just want what any fan wants—a winning product. But, when it seems like your ownership and management are stagnant, it doesn’t instill hope for the future. When it’s January and your team is likely out for the year, what is the spark to light up your fan base? Skills competitions and sales on toques and scarves? Perhaps there isn’t one. But I can promise you another year of the same results will erode the solid base here in Alberta. Fans will always love the Oilers–but they WILL hold ownership and management to account.