Before the season started, hockey pundits didn’t project a very good season for the re-building Edmonton Oilers. They predicted the team to finish near the bottom of the standings, and halfway through the year that’s exactly where they are. But behind closed doors, management and fans hoped this would be the year the Oilers cracked the top 8, despite the grim predictions. And early in the year, it seemed that might actually happen. But the wheels have fallen off, attributed to key injuries, holes on defense and under-achieving veterans. At some point, the re-build has to start showing results, right? Well considering head coach Tom Renney and GM Steve Tambellini have expiring contracts, there might be some big changes coming in Edmonton.
With the NHL trade deadline approaching, teams have to evaluate where they’re at, and whether or not they’re going to be buyers or sellers. In the case of the Oilers, they have some gaping needs, primarily on defense. They also have viable some trade pieces. Names like Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner have been thrown around, and those players might be able to fetch a decent return. But another season down the drain certainly doesn’t sit well with ownership, especially with the recent battle for a new arena. The city wants a winner, and so far the current regime hasn’t delivered. Patience is key, obviously, but the team hasn’t been in the playoffs since the 2005-06 season, and the natives are getting restless. It seems like the re-build is taking much longer than expected. And despite early results, the team just hasn’t taken a step forward. Fans are starting to look at teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues and wonder when their team will follow suite. And then there’s another Canadian team, who like the Oilers, were given very little hope for success.
The Ottawa Senators were thought to be in re-build mode as well this season, but they are progressing leaps and bounds ahead of the Oilers. Most expected them to be in the battle
for the 1st overall pick, not in the race for the division lead. Are they over-achieving? Perhaps. Have they had better luck on the injury front? For the most part, yes. They are also coached extremely well. Rookie bench boss Paul MacLean has gotten the most out of his players. The veterans are contributing. The young players took a step forward. Erik Karlsson has emerged as one the brightest young defensive stars in the game. Jason Spezza is rejuvenated. Daniel Alfredsson is re-thinking retirement. On paper it didn’t seem like the Senators would compete for a playoff spot. But the games aren’t played on paper, and Ottawa is certainly proving that theory this season.
So where does that comparison leave the Oilers? Veteran Ryan Smyth stormed out of the gate, but he has cooled as of late, and with injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, the team needs much more out of Captain Canada. The Oilers have a lot of ground to make up, but all signs indicate they will once again be sellers at the trade deadline. Maybe next year Edmonton will pull an Ottawa and rise out of the ashes. But to shed some light on the situation, the aim of re-build process is to construct a consistent winner, not a one and done team like the Tampa Bay Lightning. Can the Oilers look at Ottawa as the kind of the team to strive to be? Is that a team built for the long-haul? It can sometimes be excruciating for passionate hockey fans to watch their team struggle year after year, but the more pieces this team adds, the better they will slowly become. It’s just been a little slower than everyone hoped.