One could argue that Oilers fans have been spoiled over the years. Getting the privilege of watching Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri on a game-to-game basis, celebrating five Stanley Cup Championships in seven years — some franchises have never even won one Cup, let alone have the best statistical player of all time on their roster. So for Oilers fans to claim any sort of pain and suffering almost seems unfair to fan bases such as the Canucks, Sabres and even the Maple Leafs. But make no mistake, the Oilers are no longer living on the spoils of the past. The glory years are long gone, and they’ve been replaced for quite a while with the complete opposite. Now, in 2016, has this team finally turned a corner?
Now, in 2016, has this team finally turned a corner?
The Oilers Are off to a Historic Start
Their 7-1-0 record through the first eight games of the season ties a franchise record for the best start in team history. That’s nothing to scoff at. And it’s not just the fact that they’re winning games, but the manner in which their doing it. Cam Talbot is playing the best hockey we’ve ever seen from him, Connor McDavid is from another planet and the defence is holding their own.
‘It’s probably one of the best stretches of my career right now,’ said Talbot. ‘I’m trying to stay focused, stay confident, and go out there and give us a chance to win every night. I need to go out there and make the saves I’m supposed to make and hopefully make a few I’m not supposed to make.’ [TSN]
Talbot is one of the main reasons for the Oilers torrid start and having good goaltending is something that has eluded this team for many years. At the time this article was written, Edmonton had 17 goals against. Only three teams in the league have allowed less. Their 29 goals scored is tied for the most in the league. For the first time in a long time, the Oilers are firing on all cylinders. They aren’t scoring four goals a game but allowing five. They aren’t struggling to score while their goalie holds the fort. They’re functioning as a complete team.
As much fun as this start has been, the Oilers will probably lose a game, and even go on a losing streak. The one thing on everyone’s mind is, are they simply overachieving or are they finally becoming a good team? Those kinds of questions simply can’t be answered in October. But points matter whether it’s early or late, and if the Oilers hope to challenge for a playoff spot, these wins will be huge when they face some adversity.
It Hasn’t Been Fun to Be an Oilers Fan
You can’t be faulted if there’s some doubt in your mind over these Oilers. After all, they have been one of the worst teams in the league for the past nine seasons. And the moves made in the offseason left many scratching their heads. Some teams spend most seasons being middle of the pack, making the playoffs sometimes, and maybe having a deep run. The elite teams find themselves as Cup contenders for several years in a row. But the Oilers — well they’ve been downright terrible for so long, that you can’t help but feel sorry for them.
Remember 2006? The Oilers were one win away from winning the Stanley Cup. They were a Cinderella story, that eventually hit midnight. The Cup wasn’t lost in game seven, but rather in game one. Veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson was instrumental in leading the Oilers into the playoffs, and taking them to the Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron committed perhaps the most tragic play in recent Oilers history, pushing Hurricane forward Andrew Ladd into Roloson, taking the goalie out for the remainder of the series.
Would the Oilers have gone on to win the Cup had he not been injured? We’ll never know, but that play was a turning point, and that series was the last taste of postseason that Oilers fans have had. That whole ordeal was “so Oilers” and would begin a trend of disappointment and failure that would plague the team for the years to come. The Oilers managed to get three consecutive first overall picks, but not even that translated into on-ice success (two of those players have since been traded).
That run in 2006 was somewhat of an oasis in the desert. In the six seasons previous, they made the playoffs four times, only to be eliminated in the first round each time, and missed the postseason altogether the other two. They have been mired in a drought since then, missing the playoffs the last 10 seasons in a row. It’s not the worst run in professional sports, but when you factor in everything that’s happened during those years, it’s pretty dismal. The Oilers aren’t at the Cleveland Browns levels or anything, but for a hockey-mad city, it’s less than desirable.
Are the Oilers Really for Real?
Nobody wants to rain on this parade because frankly it’s been for fun Oilers fans. They aren’t a laughingstock anymore. They aren’t a team ripe with dysfunction. They also have one of the best, if not the best, young players in the league. Connor McDavid looks otherworldly right now. His speed, his hockey sense, his ability to generate chances are all a sight to behold. This kid is for real, there is no doubting that.
Teams don’t necessarily need a generational talent to succeed. You can have a bunch of really good players and win. There aren’t very many McDavid’s or Sidney Crosby’s to be had, so most teams have to make due with just regular superstars. But having a guy like McDavid puts the Oilers in a different category. They have a player who can affect every facet of the organisation, not just on the ice. He isn’t the only reason they’re winning but he’s a big part of it.
A player of McDavid’s ability gives the team hope. He’s not just any ordinary first overall pick. He is a franchise player. The challenge for any team who gets a player of his ilk is surrounding him with the right pieces. The Oilers did something that was long overdue, and that is to acquire players who are tough, but who can also contribute in other areas. They don’t need an enforcer who plays two minutes a night and fights every now and then. They have guys like Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon who are legitimate NHL players, but who are also tough as nails.
They essentially have a guy on three out of four lines who can drop the gloves if need be. That’s huge for a team with so many skilled players. It’s almost hard to compliment the Oilers because of all the mistakes they’ve made in the past. In fact, some might be waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the team to take a step backward. And to expect them to keep winning at this clip is foolish, even for the most loyal of fans. But the Oilers can’t be worse than they’ve been over the past few years. At some point, they have to start to get better, especially when you have a McDavid on board.
Are the Oilers for real? Well, no one knows that just yet. They have shown a lot of improvement this season in every area of the game. If Cam Talbot continues to play at this level, or even close to it, they have a chance. There are proven goal scorers on this team. The Oilers are looking for the balance of skill and grit, of aggressiveness and sound defence. If they stay healthy, there’s no reason to think they won’t continue to be competitive. They could surprise the hockey world and be right in the mix for a postseason spot at the end of the season. It would be “so Oilers” to do that, wouldn’t it?
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.