It was hard not to get caught up in the hype surrounding the Edmonton Oilers. They had a plethora of talented budding stars who had just dominated the American Hockey League during the lock-out. And most of them weren’t rookies. Primed with NHL experience, the Oilers had nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately, the talent on this team hasn’t quite delivered in the standings and Edmonton finds themselves at the bottom of the Western Conference yet again. Since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1990, the Oilers have qualified for the playoffs in nine of the past 21 years, and it doesn’t look like they’re headed their this seasons. Fans love to see championships, and long playoff runs. But winners aren’t built overnight.
Look at the Detroit Red Wings. They are the model of consistency. They’ve made the playoffs an NHL record 22 years in a row and are in a playoff spot yet again this season. Not every team can do what the Red Wings have done. In fact, the majority of teams are similar to the Oilers, struggling in and out of the playoffs year after year. Obviously, a team’s goal should be to build a contender, who can compete year after year. Too many teams find themselves rebuilding every few years, with little success to speak of in between.
The Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup final in 2006. They lost, and despite it being a remarkable run, it means very little to fans in 2013. They have been watching their team wallow in obscurity for years, and one long playoff run in the middle is of little consolation. So what then is the answer? It’s a word Oilers fans may not want to hear, but it’s the only solution: patience.
Look at the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ve made the playoffs once in their existence, and recently traded away the only star they’ve ever had. Look at the Florida Panthers. They won the Southeast Division last season, but now find themselves dead last in the NHL with little hope on the horizon. Look at the Tampa Bay Lighting. They have one of the best players in the game on their roster, but can’t seem to string together any tangible success. Look at the Dallas Stars. They haven’t been able to replicate their playoff success from early in the 2000’s and find themselves on the outside looking in yet again. Look at the Calgary Flames. They refuse to say they’re in rebuild mode, but their team is old and not heading anywhere fast as they face the prospect of trading their franchise player in Jarome Iginla.
So Oilers fans, who would you rather be? Yes, it’s discouraging to watch your beloved team not take any strides forward despite boasting such potential. Yes, it’s frustrating that this team looks just as bad as it did last season if not worse. But look at the players on this roster. They are young, they’re highly skilled, and they’re gaining invaluable experience that will help them as their careers progress.
Some people are clamoring for a trade. Some kind of move that will jump-start this team. But a big trade isn’t going to help this team, because at this point, who are you willing to give up? Maybe an upgrade in net is necessary, and they certainly need to bolster their defense. But development here is key. Don’t blow up a team that hasn’t even scratched the surface of what they can do. Their general manager tends to agree with this sentiment.
“Whether you’re in the playoffs or not, if you can upgrade your team or improve it, we’ll do that, but most of the people that are here are the people we’re going to be counting on for some time. You’re not going to give up youth just for a quick fix there that’s for sure.” – Steve Tambellini (Edmonton Journal)
Is he just doing what all good GM’s do? Saying all the right things to satisfy the media? Perhaps, but one thing is for certain: there are very few teams in this league that have the explosive offensive potential that the Oilers have. They are in an excellent position for years to come. Is there a concern about contracts, and not being able to pay everyone? In a salary cap world there’s always that concern. But its preposterous to think that this early on, the Oilers window is closing.
In a results based-game, patience is an ugly word. But the best is yet to come, no doubt. Making a splash in the trade market may do more harm than good. There is upgrade needed in certain areas to be sure, but the blueprint is there. And it’s a much better blueprint than a good majority of the league can duplicate.