Whether you ushered out 2011 at the stroke of midnight with a splash of champagne, spent a quiet evening with family or woke up this morning in a place unfamiliar without your trousers, wallet and stomach contents, here’s hoping better things await fans of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012.
I’m guessing some of you were half in the bag by the time the New York Islanders put the finishing touches on a 4-1 romp over your favorite hockey team yesterday afternoon and that, even stone-cold sober, you likely had a better time last night than the Oilers did on their flight to Chicago after yet another loss on the road — their seventh straight.
Whether you got pissed or just pissed off yesterday as the Oilers dropped to 8-17-1 in their last 26 games after an 8-2-2 start, here’s hoping that the first day of a new calendar year brings fans new-found hope, promise and clarity. Failing that, that your head stops hurting and you find your pants.
Having long ago outgrown those what-the-hell-was-I-thinking? New Year’s celebrations, I tipped a single glass of champagne and necked with my wife last night while our five-year-old son Sam slept and our 19-year-old went downtown (soaked in at least half a bottle of cologne as best I can tell) with a friend to "watch the fireworks."
As always, I contemplated the coming year and, as it concerns the Oilers, came up with some thoughts, conclusions and questions. It goes something like this, in no particular order of importance . . .
— Playoffs ? Ahahahahahaha, ahem . . .
— At 15-19-3 for 33 points after 37 games, the Oilers will need 45 points from their final 45 games just to reach the bottom of the range of 78-82 points I thought them capable of this season. That’s a total I mentioned again just the other day as do-able. No chance. Not with the flawed roster GM Steve Tambellini has assembled.
— Speaking of flawed rosters, I think we just saw Ben Eager’s career flash before our eyes as he sat stapled to the bench in the third period yesterday after taking a couple of dough head penalties. Eager, who has played for five different teams since 2005-06, has little clue about what his role is or how to play it, but he does have two years left on his contract at $1 million and $1.1 million a season. A job in the real world awaits.
— Like Eager, Eric Belanger falls into the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time category. Belanger, who has a three-year deal worth $5.250 million, has done his job on the dot, but he’s a black-hole offensively. Would the Oilers have been worse off running Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins, Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Anton Lander down the middle from the get-go?
— Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid have been forced into too many minutes and are wearing down because Ryan Whitney hasn’t been healthy (and might never return to form), Cam Barker was so-so at best before his ankle injury and Andy Sutton is one headshot away from a double-digit suspension. This team needs, and has needed since training camp began, at least one other proven, veteran defenseman to carry the load.
— With 3-8-11 in 24 games, Ales Hemsky might not hit double-digits for goals or 40 points as he approaches unrestricted free agency. Hemsky is leaving a stack of money on the table in terms of what other teams and the Oilers might offer him. Tambellini needs to make a call on Hemsky well before the trade deadline. Do you have any confidence he will? Me either.
RESOLVE AND RESOLUTIONS
— While playing "meaningful games" in March and April will be a fantasy by the time the Oilers return from this road trip, I’m still convinced this team is better — in terms of personnel — than the teams that just finished 30th in back-to-back seasons.
I still believe this team, even if Tambellini doesn’t make a single move, will easily surpass the 62 points of the past two seasons. This will happen in spite of, not because of, the roster Tambellini has assembled.
— I said it last summer, I said it last week and I’ll say it again: "If the rebuild fans have been sold is going to amount to anything, it’s going to demand more on Tambellini’s part than adding the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the outfit already assembled. Selling hope, after all, has a shelf-life. Likewise, general managers. This much we know."
— I don’t agree with every coaching decision and line-up call Tom Renney has made this season, and I’ve got some issues with the way he’s doled out ice time and used or not used Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle at times, but he’s not the first guy who should get the bullet if owner Daryl Katz decides this summer he doesn’t like what he sees.
— Remember the fuss Toronto radio personality Greg Brady started last October by suggesting on Twitter that, at some point, Kevin Lowe could move back into the GM’s chair if the Oilers don’t show the improvement Katz expects? Remember how Lowe dismissed that suggestion? If the Oilers finish as a lottery team this season, might we see it happen?
Anyway, as Bobby Kennedy said, "And on to Chicago . . ." What could possibly go wrong?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.