Great Expectations – The Difference A Year Makes….Or Not.


Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We are a little over a month away from the start of hockey season, or as one of my astute friends put it – “time to dump your girlfriend season”. Of course I’m not endorsing that you should end a mutually exclusive partnership of love and respect with your significant other, but what my friend is trying to say is that hockey takes a priority in his life and he does not have the mental aptitude to balance sports and a relationship at the same time. Or maybe, he’s just making excuses for being single. And just to be clear, we are not talking about me. We are talking about some other devilishly handsome guy.

This season is no different than others when it comes to anticipating what might happen. After a summer of substantial roster changes, a new coach and another full season of development for the fab 5, people are expecting significant progress from the young Oilers. Kind of what we expected last year. And the year before. What’s different now? A little. A lot. Some things have changed, some haven’t at all. Let’s take a look at what we all thought at this time last year and where we are now.

Last year before the lockout, the Oilers were coming off a third straight lottery season finishing 29th in the standings after two seasons of finishing 30th overall (that’s last….dead last in case you didn’t know). I remember watching an episode of Oil Change the night before Taylor Hall was drafted. Some of the most prophetic words ever spoken by Oiler management in its 34 year history were said that evening. Seriously I can’t make this stuff up.

The night was July 24, 2010 at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. Team President Kevin Lowe gave the first speech of the night…

"”I see a lot of great things happening. We’ve seen the light. We’ve had to bear our souls and do a lot of soul searching. And we’ve had to suck up a lot of crap.”"

GM Steve Tambellini stood up with a pat on Lowe’s back –

"“He’s said that a lot to me over the past six months!”"

Lowe –

"“yeah…clean up the mess!”"

The room erupted in laughter.

Owner Daryl Katz followed that up with this gem –

"“It’s a great thing to make the first pick, to have the first pick. It’s not like we want to do this every year mind you.”"

The room erupted in a more evil, sinister laughter.

Three years later and three first picks later, I wonder what they would say now. I don’t know if Tambellini can be reached for a quote, he’s been fired. Kevin Lowe is still trying to distinguish the two types of fans that the Oilers have. Daryl Katz? He’s been busy bullying taxpayers into a new arena deal while making veiled threats to move the team to Seattle.

Back on ice level, the ‘wow’ trade that Lowe predicted last off season failed to materialize. A summer full of marginal change that included the firing of head coach Tom Renney and promotion of assistant Ralph Krueger was the only wow headline the team made over the summer. Not the biggest wow I’ve ever experienced, especially after that weekend in Vegas where I met this girl and…..never mind. The drafting of Nail Yakupov and the signing of Justin Schultz however provided plenty of excitement heading into the season. Aside from that, there were minor cosmetic changes to a team that finished embarrassingly low for the third straight year. The only significant subtraction, if you want to call it that, was the release of Cam Barker who fumbled his way into playing 25 games with the big club. The rest of the usual suspects were brought back for another season with the hope that they would suddenly become less horrible.

The time during the lockout showed so much promise and put the hype into overdrive. The incredible debut of J. Shultz in the AHL along with the trio of Hall, Eberle and RNH provided a level of excitement that hasn’t been seen here since the glory days. Could it be? After 6 years of bottom feeding have we finally arrived? The management thought so. The fans (including myself) thought so. So did the media. Every major outlet had the Oilers making the playoffs, with SI ranking them 3rd in the league. The entire f@#$! league. We were all fooled. That was the unreasonable conclusion we all came to. The thought that magically somehow the entire fortunes of the team would change with the subtraction of a press box defenseman and the addition of two rookies. Two great rookies mind you, but rookies nonetheless. In the end, it foreshadowed the demise of Tambellini and the 48 game tenure of Krueger as head coach.

The prognosis for this season? Tempered expectations. The parade route hasn’t been planned yet as it was last summer, however there are some similarities that should be noted. Kevin Lowe’s ‘wow’ trade never happened, and MacT’s ‘bold’ move didn’t either. You could argue either way about Paajarvi for Perron, but most people were expecting something bigger. Another new coach has been hired, the 5th coach in the seven years since that glorious run to the finals in 2006. The list is long: MacT, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger and now Dallas Eakins. The difference between Krueger and Eakins? Eakins comes from outside of the organization, a bold move in itself since this team rarely goes outside the organization for coaches. The good ol’ boys label still rings true however with the return of MacT as GM and Scott Howson coming back as his assistant after a successful run of consistent sucking in Columbus.

Is MacT the hero Edmonton deserves? That has yet to be answered but in the short time he has been here, he has delivered on all counts and addressed a litany of issues hampering this team. He promised us change, and that’s what he’s given us. Is it changing apples for oranges? Or is it apples for other apples that taste just as bad? Why can’t we trade apples for pizza? Why are there no pizza analogies? Why does my fridge have 15 different condiments in it and no food? I can address most of those questions with my therapist, however for now we will focus on the roster. (If you have any answers to them, tweet me your theories and we can discuss).

Out – Steve Tambellini, Ralph Krueger, Shawn Horcoff, Magnus Paajarvi, Ryan Whitney, Mark Fistric, Teemu Hartikainen, Darcy Hordichuk, Eric Belanger, Jerred Smithson, Andy Sutton (retired), Theo Peckham, Lennart Petrell and Nik Khabibulin.

In – Dallas Eakins, Andrew Ference, David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Jesse Joensuu, Jason LaBarbera, Philip Larsen, Denis Grebeshkov & Anton Belov.

As you can see, it’s a lot more change than Cam Barker. Is it a better change? The simple answer is YES. Why is it? Ask yourself if it would be better if we went into this season with the same roster as last year.

As my good friend (I met him once – we’re not really friends) and famed actor from the Old Spice commercials Isaiah Mustafa would say:

"Hello fans. Look at your old team, now back to me. Now back to your old team, now back to me. Thankfully, that isn’t me. But if that old team stopped using the same people and expect different results, a new successful team could be me. Look down, back up. Where are you? You’re on your couch watching a new team instead of your old team. What’s in your hand? Two tickets to that thing you love. Look again; the tickets are now for the playoffs. Anything is possible when your team hasn’t played a game yet. I’m on a golf cart."

Last week I went from 34 twitter followers to 48 but now it’s back down to 47. Who out there is mad at me? Tell me so we can work this out. This week I’m aiming for 10 new followers. Then I can tell my cat that he’s not the only one in my life. Follow me on twitter @Yaseen_AC.