Being a fan of the Edmonton Oilers has arguably never been more difficult. After having Connor McDavid fall into the organization’s lap, many were expecting this once storied franchise to start showing signs of improvement. With frustration at an all-time high, another campaign of the same old song and dance was never going to be an acceptable outcome for the 2015-16 season. While our eyes may be telling us one thing, that progression is actually being made, taking a look at the NHL’s overall standings suggests something completely different.
— Paul Almeida (@AzorcanGlobal) December 1, 2015
After watching this team deliver a stinker against the Carolina Hurricanes in the middle of their five-game road trip and follow it up four night’s later with another less than inspiring effort against the Toronto Maple Leafs, this fan base is on the verge of exploding. Heading into this season, few saw this team struggling to the extent it has from a wins and losses perspective but if you had actually looked at the opening two months of their schedule in a realistic manner…their current predicament should not be that much of a surprise.
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With 15 of their first 25 games on the road, including three extended trips away from Rexall Place, the only way Todd McLellan’s crew was going to survive was if everything broke their way. Clearly, that is not how things played out and because of it Edmonton sits in the basement of the overall league standings with an 8-15-2 mark. Again, while this may have an eerily familiar feel to it, this group has been competitive in all but a handful of their first 25 games and that in itself is something we have rarely seen in these parts over the last decade.
Now is Not the Time for Peter Chiarelli to Strike
Contrary to popular belief, Peter Chiarelli does not need to make a move in the here and now to improve this roster. Yes, the Oilers need to add a pair of defencemen to their backend, arguably an entire third line worth of forwards and likely a starting goaltender but unless New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow decides he wants to drop his trade demands for Travis Hamonic, none of those pieces will be making their way to the Alberta capital prior to next summer.
Make no mistake, there will be changes coming to this roster prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, but those changes would be coming regardless of what Edmonton’s record was in the first week of December. Hate to be the one rehashing things that date back to the start of training camp but this year was always going to be about evaluation…and that is exactly what this coaching staff and general manager are currently doing. And guess what? The sky isn’t falling.
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Despite all the losses, this organization has had some very important questions answered…though some were rather obvious. McDavid is the real deal. Taylor Hall is this good. After getting off to a slow start, Andrej Sekera is proving to be exactly what the Oilers were hoping he was after inking him to a six-year free agent deal. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are going to be solid NHL blueliners for years to come and Leon Draisaitl is a far better player than most were giving him credit for.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the defence is still nowhere near good enough, the goaltending has been better but remains inconsistent and their bottom-six continues to bring very little to the table on a nightly basis. Benoit Pouliot has been a non-factor for much the year. Jordan Eberle hasn’t been good enough since returning from a shoulder injury and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is currently going through what has arguably been the worst stretch of games in his career over the last week to ten days.
Overreacting to a Small Sample Size
Evidentially this now means the popular thing to do is refer to the pair as “soft players” and simply ignore what either one has accomplished to this point in their careers. Funny thing is, it is not only a frustrated fan base who is taking said stance but also the local and national media who are jumping on board and piling on. While it may be warranted to an extent, these are the same fans and media who went on at great length at how “awful” a player Jeff Petry was during his time in Edmonton but have suddenly changed their tune after watching him play for the Montreal Canadiens.
It may sound ridiculous but is it really that difficult to take a step back and look at the first two months of the season and simply accept it for what it was? Sure it has been frustrating to watch but ignoring the fact that this team currently sits all of seven points back of the Vancouver Canucks for ninth place in the west is something that should not be overlooked. We are talking about a grand total of three wins and a loser point. Does that really warrant the sort of nonsense we have seen over the last couple of days? In my mind, the answer to that question is a resounding no.
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In my mind, the Oilers were never going to be a playoff team and while they may currently sit in last place, it is not as though Edmonton is buried in the standings. Even with their early season struggles, this group is a successful homestand away from quieting many of their critics. Is it an ideal situation? Of course not but this roster was flawed from Day One so expecting anything other than a bumpy ride was never realistic. No one said this was going to be easy.
So can we please stop with the Auston Matthews angle already? Again, let’s not lose sight of what this season was supposed to be. As ugly as the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was, the notion of it being some kind of watershed moment for the organization is laughable. If you truly believe that to be the case, do me a favour and give your head a solid shake because nothing could be further from the truth. While it may not be happening at the speed most would like, the Edmonton Oilers are making progress and at the end of the day…that is all that really matters.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.