Since the thrilling and unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final in 2006, the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs. That’s nine years without a postseason appearance. Nine years without meaningful games in the Spring. Nine years with only the draft to look forward to. It may not be the longest drought in professional sports, but for such a passionate fanbase and a storied franchise, the losing is starting to sting. This season however, things have felt different since the moment the lottery balls fell Edmonton’s way. The presence of Connor McDavid has brought a new found excitement to this team that even three consecutive first overall pick couldn’t produce.
Now, through nine games, the Oilers have a record of 3-6. (Not great, but not the worst in the division, so that’s something). The typical fan finds their emotions go on a roller coaster during most games, because the Oilers show such flashes of brilliance, but then brain farts that lead to goals against, almost within the same few moments. Because of the new coach, the new system, and all the new players, it’s to be expected that there will be growing pains. But, just as much as the organization has been mired in a culture of the losing, the fans are to some extent as well. There is still hope, however, still leaps of excitement at every goal, and frowns of disappointment at every loss.
This season is still so young, still so fresh. The Oilers are in the process of moving forward, but they’ll probably be losing a lot along the way. For the loyal fan, who isn’t really sure what they should be expecting from this group, there are three main keys to keep in mind.
The Oilers Defence isn’t Good
I’m trying to be kind here, but if anyone thought (hoped) that the defence was fixed in the offseason, it’s still very much a work in progress. Andrej Sekera, despite being the teams top free agent acquisition this summer, isn’t a number one defenceman. He isn’t the solution to play the point on the powerplay. If he’s expected to play above his head, the results won’t be pretty. At the moment, he’s on the second pairing with Mark Fayne, but an illness/injury to Justin Schultz might see him bumped up. With Griffin Reinhart hurt and not available, some are calling for Darnell Nurse to get a shot, but he’s right where he should be, working out his game in the AHL. Andrew Ference will likely draw in, so in other words, an already weak corp will be getting weaker. And as for Eric Gyrba, well just look away when he’s got the puck.
Suggested sentiment: Concern.
2. Connor McDavid is as Good as Advertised
With five goals and nine points so far, McDavid is showing why everyone thinks so highly of him. It’s not just his speed and hockey sense, but this kid is poised and mature both on and off the ice. He’s exactly the type of player every team would want, and we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg. But in addition to his strong individual play, he’s making those around him better. Nail Yakupov has been improving while playing on McDavid’s wing, with two goals and eight points through nine games. Yakupov looked outmatched at times against the Kings, but, he is making strides forward, and that’s good news for the Oilers.
Suggested sentiment: Excitement
3. There are Other Good Players on this Team
Taylor Hall as looked re-energized in the early going. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played really solid so far. Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson look like quite the formidable goaltending tandem. It’s nice to feel confident that your goalie is going to stop the puck, and that has been a rarity in Edmonton over the past few seasons. The team misses Jordan Eberle, there’s no doubt, but he’s going to be back, and that’s big for the powerplay. It’s easy to point to the negatives, and with the Oilers there have been plenty, but if you look at the little things, you’ll see progress. Granted, the Kings seemed to out-muscle the Oilers at times, but they held tough, and a disallowed goal (that did cross the line), combined with a weak penalty to Lori Korpikoski was the difference.
Suggested sentiment: Hope
You can be sure of one thing regarding this current edition of the Oilers, and that is the managements’ commitment to getting the best out of this team. If changes need to be made and they are feasible, then those changes will happen. The coaching staff won’t accept lackluster efforts. Obviously a typical fan will have those moments of “here we go again” every time the Oilers put up a disappointing loss. But there is something different about this team. The skill level will begin to rise to the top, and the deficiencies will gradually be corrected. Suggestion: try to enjoy the ride. I think the worst is probably over.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.