Not enough wins means the Edmonton Oilers aren’t progressing at the rate they should in the rebuild. Too many wins means the Oilers risk dropping back in the draft lottery. I’d say fans of the Oilers are a tough crowd, but fickle is more accurate.
In Oil Country, it seems many fans aren’t happy unless they’ve got issues to be unhappy about. Consternation is the constant. Some fans are of the mind that if the Oilers don’t show a marked improvement in Western Conference standings after back-to-back seasons of 62 points and 30th-place finishes, the rebuild is off the rails.
Others, eye-balling an opportunity to snag the highest possible pick yet again after welcoming Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the last two drafts, won’t be impressed with today’s 6-3 win over the feeble Columbus Blue Jackets because it puts another top-two pick in jeopardy.
Of course, considering the Oilers are coming off a season in which they went 25-45-12 and finished a $50 cab ride short of the playoff spot in dead-last, they can improve significantly in terms of points – and it looks like they will as they have a record of 31-36-9 for 71 points with six games to play – without actually moving up many places in the standings.
As for their place in the lottery, there’s every possibility the Oilers could land as good a prospect with the third or fourth selection as with the first or second. Only time will tell. If it works out the balls fall the right way and the Oilers get one of the first two picks, we’ll have gnashing of teeth over choosing Nail Yakupov or Mikhael Grigorenko and debate about choosing either one of them – because they’re Russian.
Oiler fans are passionate. And fickle. A bag of mixed nuts.
SIX TO GO . . .
I’m not going to start waxing poetic about the rebuild or the job that GM Steve Tambellini has done because the shortcomings and warts on the team that he’s put together are many and have (and will continue to be) discussed ad nauseam here and elsewhere. There is much work remaining.
That said, despite the shortcomings in personnel, a spate of injuries and a couple of months where nothing went right, the Oilers are going into their final six games with six more wins and nine points than they had in 82 games last season. That might be in spite of Tambellini and coach Tom Renney rather than because of them, but it’s a fact.
Having gone 3-0-1 on the road trip and 5-0-2 in their last seven games overall, the Oilers are headed for the wire on as much of roll and playing as well as they have since getting off to a 9-3-2 start. Right now, they’re doing it without Taylor Hall, thanks to a lot of really good work by Jordan Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.
There is progress here. Not enough of it, no doubt, for dreamers who were talking about playoffs-or-bust in pre-season, but progress nonetheless. It won’t necessarily be accurately reflected in the standings or even the final points total, for that matter. Still, I can’t imagine anybody actually believes this edition of the team is not decidedly more talented and better equipped moving forward than it was one or two years ago.
Patience. Perspective. Perseverance.
ABOUT RYAN JONES
For a guy who’d been written off more often than a three-martini lunch heading into this season, Ryan Jones continues to SIUTBOHC in a way even his backers couldn’t have foreseen. Good for him (I haven’t rubbed that in as often as Lowetide has used the photo of Ms. Oklahoma yet, have I?).
Snagged from Nashville by way of the waiver wire, there wasn’t much love for the former Miami of Ohio captain when he first pulled on Oilers silks. Despite tallying 18-7-25 last season, many still weren’t convinced Jones was a very good hockey player. Cynics eye-balled the underlying numbers and didn’t hesitate to blow-off Jones as a poser and pretender. There was plenty of insight like this bit, from a poster calling himself OilLeak:
"Jones was shooting at a unsustainable rate last year and will not duplicate those efforts this year. Jones will also have far less ice time with the added depth to the roster. Jones is also a terrible hockey player, true story."
OilLeak couldn’t have been more wrong, of course. With a goal and two assists against the Blue Jackets, Jones now 17-15-32 with a half-dozen games to play. His shooting percentage is only down marginally at 13.0 compared to 14.3 last season and his ice time is up to 15:16, compared to 13:50.
Jones is an effective third-liner who can move into the top-six in a pinch, as he’s doing now with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle, and a good penalty killer who brings some hustle and energy to the line-up. He’s a good player. True story.
WHILE I’M AT IT
— Sam Gagner sits at 17-29-46 and has a chance to reach 50 points for the first time in his career. His previous best was his rookie season, when he tallied 13-36-49.
Considering Gagner has missed seven games and had a difficult start to the year because of a sprained ankle, I like the determination he’s shown, even if it’s been an uneven season full of ups and too many downs. Has he answered questions about being a fit in the top-six mix?
— Still on Gagner, if you’re not sold on him, fine, but skip the asinine argument that goes, "Yeh, but if you take out that eight-point game . . ." You can’t just "take out" that eight-point game because it messes up your argument, just like you can’t ignore a stretch of bad games. It’s all part of the body of work.
— Another concussion for Theo Peckham is a troubling issue at this early stage in his career. Peckham was knocked out of the Columbus game after a hit by Rick Nash and a follow-up collision with Colton Gillies. He missed games earlier this season with concussion-like symptoms and was concussed last season in a scrap with Nathan Horton.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.