February 15 2013 06:19PM
It's not often I disagree with Jason Strudwick, and I certainly can't remember a time I've disagreed strongly enough to write about it, but his suggestion today fans of the Edmonton Oilers should lower their expectations is as wrong as a comb-over in a wind storm.
Step back from the ledge and lower expectations? After six consecutive years out of the playoffs, including back-to-back 30th-place finishes and a bump up to 29th last season, fans should lower expectations? No chance. No way.
Now, to be fair and keep things in context (if my comprehension isn't out of whack) Strudwick was directing what he wrote today toward fans who went into this shortened season EXPECTING the team to make the playoffs after finishing so far out of the race in 2011-12. That's fair enough.
I, among others, picked the Oilers to make the playoffs this season. I did so knowing that a lot of the cards would have to fall their way. I did so thinking eighth place was probably the best they'd do, given that I didn’t see a bunch of playoff teams from 2011-12 falling off the map.
For me, it wasn't a matter of "playoffs or bust." Having picked them to miss for the last six seasons -- not that it took a vast intellect to suggest so -- I can hardly be categorized an over-optimistic fan. I am neither.
At the very least, with the core of the team playing in the AHL or Europe during the lockout, with Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall being a year older and with the addition of Justin Schultz, I expected Ralph Krueger's team to be contesting a post-season spot in the final dozen games of the season. To push the issue. I don’t see that as unreasonable.
PROGRESS . . .
With all the above said, and allowing that optimism (often in the extreme) springs eternal with many fans, telling people to lower their expectations after six seasons on the outside looking in is going to be a tough sell in this town. For me, it's not even primarily about exactly where the Oilers finish – it can be a fine line between eighth place or ninth and 10th in the Western Conference.
Today, as has been the case many times in the last couple of seasons, I'm seeing holes in the way this team is put together. I'm seeing lack of production at even strength. I'm seeing too little urgency in pressing the pace. I'm seeing a lack of willingness to impose a collective physical will, or at least the ability to do so, which goes back to how the team is put together.
Even with a power play that was ridiculously hot to start the season, even with some stellar play between the pipes from Devan Dubnyk and even with all their supposed firepower up front, the Oilers are 5-5-3 for 13 points and sitting 11th as they prepare to face Colorado Saturday. That could be a high-water mark if you look at the schedule between now and March 12.
Lower expectations? No chance, at least not as they pertain to expectations GM Steve Tambellini and president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe will round out the roster by finding the right pieces to complement the young talent. They've had three seasons of a rebuild to move this team along. If they can’t do it, then they should get out of the way and make room for somebody who can.
Like I said, while I figured a playoff spot was possible, I don't care as much about being right or the exact order of finish as much as I do about what I see out on the ice, and that's a spectacle that's wanting in too many areas too often to simply write-off concerns about this team as panic by over-optimistic fans.
It's not unreasonable to expect better than what we’re seeing now.
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