January 28 2014 06:03PM
The way I see it, the Edmonton Oilers will be far better served in the long run by having as much success as possible in their final 27 games of the season than they will by sucking so badly they get another crack at a first overall pick.
What the Oilers need now is for the core players they've assembled in previous seasons of ineptitude and suffering – Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov – to find out what it feels like to win rather than more filing off the ice game after game carrying yet more failure on their shoulders.
What the Oilers don't need is their fourth first overall draft pick in the last five years, even if the reward for being the worst team in the NHL this season is prized defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Another blue-chipper, no matter how good he is, who'll help the team three years down the road isn’t as important as having the group assembled now – not to mention fans who expected better this season – get a taste of how it feels to win.
The good news is that the Oilers, 17-32-6 for 40 points, can tear it up, relatively speaking, in these final 27 games and still get a crack at a top-three selection next June. They're buried so deep now, even winning 14-15 of their remaining games likely isn't going to move them above 28th place.
No Ekblad there? Too bad.
DOWN THE STRETCH
Not everybody agrees with my approach, of course. With playoffs out of the question for the eighth straight season, there is a segment of fans who'd like to see the Oilers "tank it" and finish last, getting the best possible pick. The hopeless Buffalo Sabres, with 35 points, sit 30th now.
The only team the Oilers have a realistic chance of overtaking is the 28th place Calgary Flames, who have 43 points (and three games in hand). Right now, the Florida Panthers occupy 27th with 49 points and they also have three games in hand. The Oilers won’t catch them even with 14-15 wins.
Playing at or near .500 in terms of available points the rest of the way isn't going to undue the struggles of the first 55 games in the eyes of fans, and that's understandable, but it could do wonders for the aforementioned likes of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov. Winning is and has to be a part of development and there's been precious little of that around here.
No matter how this team finishes, it goes without saying there's still a helluva lot of work for GM Craig MacTavish to do before the Oilers get anywhere near a playoff spot. This much we know.
That said, I'd rather see Hall and the rest of the kids head into the off-season with something resembling confidence and feeling good about themselves in April after a modest run of success than have June roll around and hear, "With the first overall pick, the Edmonton Oilers select . . ."
WHILE I'M AT IT
. . . As good as Ekblad is, I'm not sure the Oilers could go far wrong if they were to hang on to the third overall pick and get a crack at either Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett, both centres.
. . . Sam Gagner is playing his best hockey of the season after a horrendous start and that's good news. Gagner is, far and away, the likeliest player to be dealt between now and training camp next season – assuming there's nothing big on the table that involves one of the core group – and he will strengthen MacTavish's hand with a solid finish.
. . . I've liked the way Jeff Petry has played over the last stretch a lot more than I liked him at the start of the season. He's been a lightning rod for criticism, some of it earned, mainly because he's been forced into top-pairing minutes by lack of depth. When Petry is playing second-pairing minutes, the Oilers will be a playoff team.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.