The misery fans have endured since the Edmonton Oilers lost Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final to the Carolina Hurricanes has included seeing their team hopelessly out of playoff contention more often than not by the time the first day of spring rolls around.
Not so during this lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign as the Oilers host San Jose Wednesday, the official first day of spring, with a 11-11-6 record for 28 points and in the hunt for a post-season spot in the Western Conference.
Yes, there’s a great big asterisk beside that because this season, of course, is just 48 games, but I’m guessing that, after six years out of the post-season fun with the stretch drive providing lots of bitching and precious little intrigue, fans will happy look the other way on that front.
Jump back one year to last season and the Oilers were 28-36-8 on March 18 and out of the playoff picture. In 2010-11, they were 23-39-10 on March 19. In 2009-10, they were 22-42-7 on March 19. The only question as spring arrived these past three years was where the Oilers would finish in the draft lottery – the answers we know.
So, a bonafide playoff race, even allowing for special circumstances, beats the hell out of the alternatives Oilers fans have had in recent years. That said, let’s keep our eyes on the prize – seeing the Oilers again become legit Stanley Cup contenders, not sneak-under-the-wire playoff pretenders.
You don’t have to look far on message boards and fan forums to see that a big segment of Oiler fans are pumped at the prospect of having something to yell about heading into the stretch drive. Fine. It’s completely understandable. I get the sentiment.
It’s a fine line between that possibility, though, and falling into the tempting trap that goes something like this: "Man, if Steve Tambellini would only get off his backside and trade fill-in-name-of-player-here for a puck-moving defenseman or a big winger who can score . . ."
Despite a decent run over the last eight games that’s built some optimism, this is a flawed roster in need of more than one or two pieces to make it whole in terms of building a team that can contend over the long haul. And that, even with the excitement of a possible run at the playoffs in the air, is the real prize and where the focus of Tambellini has to stay.
It’s a cliché for a GM to vow he won’t mortgage the future for the present, and it’s a cliché for a reason – some GMs can’t help themselves at times like this. "If we just got this-or-that we could make a run . . ." Given the possibility Tambellini gets a can tied to his tail if this team falls flat again, I can see how short-term fixes might be tempting. Tempting? Yes. Smart? No.
THE LONG RUN
Might Tambellini be presented with a trade opportunity between now and April 3 that would help the Oilers get into the playoffs? Sure. Should he make that deal? Depends what the asking price is. If it means giving up a young core player – definitions on that will vary depending who you talk to – or a player who can play an important part with this team two years from now, I say no.
Forget the no-brainers – Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov aren’t going anywhere. Beyond that, it gets trickier. Should Tambellini, for example, move Sam Gagner or Ales Hemsky for a better shot at seventh or eighth-place now?
Again, if the player you’re giving up can and likely will be an important part of the team two years from now, then no – unless you can say "yes" to the question plugging in the player coming back. If that’s the case, then you have to take a look at it. Seems obvious enough. It’s seldom that simple.
It’s one thing for fans jacked about a playoff push to take it all in, live for the day and concoct trades that might put the Oilers over the top here and now without an eye to tomorrow. It’s quite another matter for Tambellini to take his eyes off the prize in the name of one playoff run. Been there. Done that.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.