The last time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs, they were one win away from a Stanley Cup championship. And that’s a lot closer than most teams can say they’ve gotten lately. But game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 was a long time ago, and for a hockey mad city like Edmonton, five years without a post-season game is getting to be too much. The Oilers are in a re-build phase, and doing a good job of stockpiling talent. Patience is a key, and expectations for the team were low, certainly by media standards. But at what point does this team need to start delivering results? Two consecutive last place finishes are two too many, regardless the first overall pick that it reaps. Is there change needed for a team sitting outside the playoff picture once again? Or does the team just need to stay the course?
The Oilers have lost three straight, and 8 of their last 10 games, despite Taylor Hall coming back into the line-up. The team has slipped to 12th place in the Western Conference, with a record of 14-15-3 for 31 points in 32 games. For a young roster, is that an acceptable record at this point in the season? It’s probably not that surprising, but in a market like Edmonton, it’s certainly not applauded. Obviously, perspective is always needed in these situations. Compared to many other middling teams in the NHL, the Oilers boast some of the best young talent. They have an ownership and management group trying to build a winner and a franchise history filled with champions. But, when does this team need to start showing results? An early season surge prompted many to prematurely believe this will be the year the Oilers break through. But a mediocre November has landed them back in the basement, and while there are a lot of positives to build on, there are some gaping holes as well.
The goaltending hasn’t been terrible, but with an oft-injured and inexperienced defense corp, the Oilers netminders need to be stellar every night. The offense doesn’t score a ton of goals (14th overall in the NHL) but they do score enough to win consistently. For a little bit more perspective, the Minnesota Wild rank 26th overall in goals for, yet they sit 2nd overall in the NHL standings. The Oilers have sustained a lot of injuries this season, but are finally starting to get healthy. So what will it take to push this team over the edge?
Coach Tom Renney has done the best he can in his short tenure behind the bench in Edmonton, and there has been zero indication that his job is in jeopardy. But when will responsibility start to fall on him as the team struggles? There’s always the possibility of trade, and with cap space and lots of assets to move, Edmonton could be a player at the trade deadline. Magnus Paajarvi has been a huge disappointment this season, still without a goal and recently demoted the AHL. Linus Omark hasn’t been able to crack the line-up and isn’t pleased about it. Maybe they need to bring in a different goalie, or a top four defenseman. It seems that most teams all the have the same needs around the trade deadline, and there’s no telling if the Oilers will be buyers or sellers come Spring. If they miss the playoffs this year, that will make 6 straight seasons of no postseason in Edmonton. Where is the line between a patient rebuild, and a need for tangible results? As the Oilers continue a tough stretch of games leading into the Christmas break, the team will be looking for some answers. Can this group, that is maturing together, become a legit playoff contender without any help? Do they need yet another year to grow? It could very well be time to shake things up, whatever that may entail.