NO CIGAR

As quickly as the Edmonton Oilers playoff bandwagon gathered steam with five straight wins, it is today upside down and on fire in the ditch after three straight losses, the last coming 2-1 against the Anaheim Ducks Monday.

Simply put, it was fun while it lasted, but the post-season drama is done and slim has turned to none. It’s over. No chance. No way. No cigar. The Oilers will miss the playoffs, long shot that it was, for the seventh straight season.

The question now, with the Oilers sitting with 39 points through 39 games and with seven of their last nine outings home at Rexall Place, is how close is good enough? Or is close good enough?

If the Oilers push the issue from now until game 48, if they give it the old college try and finish within two or three points of eighth place in the Western Conference, is that sufficient progress? Is that good enough for a team that’s finished 30th, 30th and 29th the past three seasons?

PLAYING OUT THE STRING

The Oilers weren’t nearly good enough against the Ducks – as far as the big picture, they won’t be good enough, period, until GM Steve Tambellini addresses the holes on this roster — despite a score dressed up by some terrific goaltending by Devan Dubnyk and a hope-and-a-prayer goal by Nick Schultz.

Outside of Taylor Hall roaring up and down the ice and the stellar play of Dubnyk, Oilers faithful had little to yell about during a game which at least provided comic relief when thick-skulled Anaheim fans mistakenly booed Nick Schultz (before his goal) instead of Justin Schultz for shunning So-Cal fans in favor of a city that actually cares about hockey, but I digress . . .

Thanks to an attack that went south the past three games, a drought that’s seen the Oilers outscored 10-2, you don’t need a spread sheet – really — or a vast intellect to understand the challenge for coach Ralph Krueger and his players now is to suck it up and play it out with as much gusto as they can muster the rest of the way. Finish strong. Don’t fold. Leave what needs to be done to those (Tambellini and Kevin Lowe) responsible for the make-up of this team.

Of course, we’ll hear plenty of that from the players and the coaches in coming days. What are they supposed to say? "We give up." As much of a kick in the teeth for fans as another year out of the playoffs is, I do see progress and I do see movement, slow as it has been, toward contention. Right now, that seems like cold consolation for those who wanted and expected more than "close."

No cigar.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    The Oil are, collectively, like a composite of “The Kid” from ‘The Quick and the Dead’. Young, fast, slick, arrogant, and pretty hot s*** against the Swede, but when it comes to going up against big, mean, crafty bastards like Gene Hackman… close, but no cigar, indeed.

    Maybe next year…

  • The Oil weren’t going to make the playoffs this year, but I really wanted them to take another step forward. THey did. Playoffs next year, cup contention the year after, and the year after that, and the year after that, etc.

    That being said, there has been a ton of rookies on this club for a long time, and it looks like we’ll continue to add to that. I like that we’ve got prospects graduating, but it looks like we’re just getting to the point where they don’t have to step in and play big minutes. That will be a big key to being competitive. The unfortunate thing is that the last peice of the rebuild is addressing the blue line, and it’s obvious the long term plan comes from our prospects. And we all know how long rookies dmen take to develop…

  • Gerald R. Ford

    It is funny how many people think that one bigger centerman will solve the team’s problems. While I have long been a proponent of trading Gagner (and still back that now – he is brutal defensively and can’t compete against the top teams), the biggest issue on the team is on the blueline. Ask any good GM or coach and they will say the same thing – winning teams are built with solid bluelines. That is what is killing the team again this year – they did not change the blueline at all.

    Right now the Oilers have 3 NHL calibre d-men to move forward with: Petry (will be a good #3), Smid (forced to play 2nd pairing but likely best served as a #5), and Justin Schultz (possible #2 or #3, but right now is playing too much). Nick Schultz looks like Jason Smith did at the end, Whitney is no longer a true NHL calibre d-man, and the rest are #7s. Until management addresses the blueline deficiencies it does not really matter what happens up front.

    FWIW, Detroit is another smallish team, same with Montreal, that is doing better than the Oilers. While neither is a legit cup threat, look at the difference a better defensive corps can make in just getting to the dance.

  • Over a regular 82 games season does this squad make the playoffs ??

    on pace for 82 points… probably 10 points short in a regular season anyways.

    I really want the media – the guys that have the acess and can really ask the questions that fans want to hold management accountable.

    I want them to roll the archived tape of the Oiler management self proclaimed 1-3-5 plan.

    they said playoffs in three, CONTEND in 5. This is year 4.

    Are we going to Contend next year??? absolutely not – not with this roster.

    Also, I want to know

    under what rationale was Ryan Smyth given a two year contract? when you got the likes of Ryan Jones, Temmu Haartikanen and Magnus Pajaarvi that do the same thing. And easily Smyth has been the most ineffective of the four and has had the most ice time of the four.

    ask Tambellini how effective does he think all of his veteran UFA signings have been to the Oilers over his tenure – Belanger? Eager? Khabibulin? (injured every year) Sutton ? Potter ? Hordichuck? Cam Barker? Kurtis Foster? Steve MacIntyre?

    – When Lennert Petrell is the most effective signing you have brought to the team what does that say about the GM?

    – When re-signing pieces that existed before you became the GM – Hemsky, Smid – and renewing draft picks to their 2nd contract in the NHL at MAX … what does that say about the GM?

    – And why does the top level executive roster for the Oilers feel glutted – Laforge, Lowe, Mac T, Tambellini, Howson ?? how many former GMs and ex coaches do you need up there? not to mention all the assistant titles

    • Mitch

      Excellent post. Media is has an ethical responsibility to grill the morons in management. Didn’t they ask renney for a plan? What was it? Who has a plan? Is there a plan? Every single acquisition (the ones they had to use their brain for, not picks and ufas) has been a disaster, why are Tammy and klowe still here? The fans need a voice, the media MUST ask these questions

      • Quicksilver ballet

        The media can’t effectively do that without being blackballed. Everyone of them live in fear of losing that press pass. It’s wielded over them like a fat kid at a cotton candy booth. Without that press pass it severely affects their livelihood.

        Have to think a guy like Jim Mathesons damning (if there ever was one) articles have to be proofread by the Oilers before it goes to print. They are all at the mercy of the big boob that is the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club. Not many want to bite the hands that feed them, me thinks. Sharing the same planes, eating their food, probably all comes at a price. Nobody is forced to drink more of that Oiler Koolaid than the media types. LOL, look what happened to Bob Stauffer as a reference.

  • I’ll have to side with DSF on this one. Having the 5th worst shot differential post ’04-’05 lockout does not qualify as improvement in my world. The record and facade of being in the playoff hunt is and was being propped up by good goal tending, 1 fantastic line (led by Hall) a good PP and a good PK. There needs to be drastic change in support player personnel and coaching strategy at even strength. If that means a change in management so be it. Clean out the f***ing closet.

    Hall, Eberle and Nuge are getting it done as a line (or whomever Hall plays with) but there is currently no consistent support from the rest of the team (It could be said that Smid and Petry provide that support, but after that?). Let me repeat. From game to game there is only one line consistently outplaying the other team. That is the sign of a bad hockey team, a team that consistently, as a whole, gets out shot and out played. -5.7 is historically bad and this team is no closer to the playoffs than they were when the rebuild began. F*** am I sick of the losing. The Oil coloured goggles are off this fan and my fridge is empty of ‘optimism and hope’ beer.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Robin, ripping Anaheim fans for cheering for (against, I guess) the wrong player to an audience who

    BOOED WAYNE GRETZKY

    Really isn’t particularly logical.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Heading into the season the company line was all about playing meaningful games down the stretch.

    I fear that once the dust settles, Tambellini will point to playing meaningful games in April or past the deadline and will be given a free pass by the only guy that matters, Katz.

    Even though the last meaningful game was April 3rd and it fell on the deadline itself.

    Anyways, when deciding if this season has been good enough I can’t get past the fact that when Horcoff went down for an extended period and then Belanger followed suit, managements big solution was to force Krueger into playing Ryan frigg’n Smyth at center.

    Seriously, how many points were left on the table by not actually providing a roster of players that can play their natural positions? 3? 4? How would even a few extra points look right now?

    As a side rant, going back to Smyth, the guy built a career scoring PP goals from 6 feet in front of the net, at his age and already limited skating ability why sign him to kill penalties and see pretty much no PP time? Talk about sticking a round peg in a square hole for sentiments sake.

    Bottom line, the season can’t be seen as a success when it comes to at least assessing management but like some losses can be good losses, I think the important players on the team have shown that they are ready to win. They have excelled despite playing on a team that has been intentionally – or otherwise – handicapped. They have demonstrated that they are ready to be on a winning team.

    Maybe it’s time to get some decision makers in to the right positions that can give them some help with that.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    No one should be surprised with the current state of affairs……….we have know and talked about holes in the team for the past three years.

    We missed the trading deadline and did nothing, except add another marginal player who will be playing in OKC next year. Forsberg went for almost nothing and would have helped us next year……….no moving out marginal players, ( Hemsky, Jones, WHitney, Petrell, Peckham, Potter) for draft picks………nothing was done and why?

    Because Tamby did not want to send the wrong message to the team……….i’m laughing so hard I can hardly type.

  • Bucknuck

    I managed to get my hopes up, but watching the game last night there was no question in my mind that Anaheim was far superior at the little things that win games (like working the boards and passing).

    For once I was hoping to see the blender. Nugent Hopkins looked lost out there, and I thought they should have put Ebs and Hall with Gagner at some point just to try it out, but Dubnyk kept the score close.

    It was hard to watch, and I am officially off the playoff bandwagon. They needed to win two or three of the last four games and they didn’t. Season over.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Heading into this off season, Edmonton has a few improved assets at their disposal. A now healthy Hemsky, an improved one dimensional offensive player in Sam Gagner, and a restored Paajarvi as a purposeful NHL prospect again. Smid, N.Schultz, Lander and Hartikainen, all available when management finally decides to punch that accelerator, hopefully this summer.

    Jones,Fistric and Whitney may unfortunately walk for free, but we’ll still be stuck with Horcoff, a slowing Smyth, and perhaps Belenger.

  • Spydyr

    Oilers are not necessarrily doing much better this year than last . We started well the year before and about after 40 games we fell apart as usual due mainly to diminshing talents of our veterans . This year it looks like same scenario happening at 35 game mark .

    Gagner will be a good NHL’er like Cogliano , but probably not with a squad that is fraught with too many diminutive players . Todays NHL is size with skill , and the hockey factory is putting them out in droves . Smaller players are facing much more talented bigger players than ever before and can be successfull as long as there are not too many on same team – which is a disadvantage to them and team to be honest .

    The best we got simply is still not good enough to make playoffs due to inferior veteran core . Others with multiple diminshing talents like Tampa are also not making playoffs . Like it or not size and grit rule the NHL now and have for several years . Thats what every team wants , and we are lack to get on that bandwagon . Blame management for lack of forsight right from the getgo of rebuild . Simply put overall , we were not this bad before the initial gutting . We are still trying going into fifth season next year to get at least as good as we were the year of gutting .

    All players are tradeable , we are just not getting long term upgrades with our trades .

    Start acquiring some long term veteran core to replace the inferior one we have now .

  • The Soup Fascist

    Smyth is a toughie. Best case scenario is he retires at the end of the season, realizing he can’t compete at the level he would like.

    Sadly, I don’t see that happening. He is a guy who is going to leave the game one (or more) year(s) too late rather than one year too early. Plus, no matter how much money he has, he is not walking away from $2.5 or so million next year.

    Really is too bad. The guy has been a blood and guts Oiler and a great community guy, but sadly he just can’t compete any more. Waaay to many fluttery shots from outside and not enough dirty nose stuff. The guy has been beat up for close to 20 years and his body is showing the effects.

    What is the right way to deal with a guy who gave you everything he had for the better part of 15 seasons but is done like dinner? Like I said, tough one.

    • oilerjed

      I think you have it wrong about the money. Smytty is loaded and is not concerned about money. He is hoping beyond hope that he can hold on long enough to win a cup with the OIL. Bank on it.

      • The Soup Fascist

        Then maybe he can orchestrate a trade. The Oilers will never win a cup in the BRIEF time he can get around the ice.

        No matter how much money you have $2.5 million is a lot of money. I love Smytty but he walked for $100k five years ago. That is not a knock. Just a fact.

  • Spydyr

    We play well when teams don’t run us every time we touch the puck! Then the opposing coach says, ‘hey guys, remember the game plan, hit these Oilers, they have no answer’! Hard to watch the game when an energy guy, who can play, gets 5 mins. of playing time! Krueger has to get Brown on the ice more for the energy & physicality! Distressing to watch! I would also have Fistric & Peckham as the third pairing for 15 mins. per game? We need push back & accountability for the other teams, screw this turn the other cheek BS!

  • 2004Z06

    RNH is legit! He is just not ready to be playing on the first line. The ultimate game plan is to get a legit number one center, this will require giving up someone of REAL (not perceived) value.

    RNH moves to 2C and Gagner moves to the wing if he is not going out as partial compensation for a 1C mentioned above.

    I actually like our 4th line, but MPS, Lander, Hartikainen might become a decent 3rd line.

    Jones, Hemsky, Smyth, Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk need to come off the roster….I don’t think there is much trade value there (maybe Hemsky).

    Horcoff becomes the depth C that can play up or down the lineup when needed.

    Defense needs a lot of help.

    Smid at #4, J. Shultz at #2, Petry at #3, Everyone else is expendable.

    I keep Dubnyk and resign Habby for 1 year as the backup. (1.5 mil)

    Easier said than done!

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee they need to get bigger this team is wore down bad. I don’t want to package Yakupov in any deal unless the return is Backes or Lucic. I hate the UFA market in terms of Oilers managers getting it right. The other thing that bothers me is Smyth he can’t play the wing anymore IMO was doing fine at centre ice. Edmonton puts way to much emphasis on face-offs instead of winning battles. Just because you have possession from the face-off isnt the be all and end all. They need to just get way more committed to playing defence.

  • Mitch

    As a hockey manager, Tambellini is well suited for a role similar to the one he held in Hongcouver.

    As an executive, Kevin Lowe would make a great ‘Community Ambassador’ or television analyst.

    ….that is as diplomatic as I can be on the subject.

  • Grumpy OM

    It has been fun, yet frustrating watching the Oil this year. I am of the old school of thought but, why is 4/93/14 not together on the p.p.? I think Ralph has done a good job, but like every other coach in the NHL he must put his mark on the team in order to justify his job.

    In my opinion the best coach is one that doesn’t over coach, they are far and few between, the best one out there is Dan Bylsma , but then again he has alot of good horses to open the gate for.

    The Oilers goal should not be to make the playoffs,but to be win the Stanley Cup. They are heading in the right direction, what management does this off season will tell fans alot.

    As a side comment is it just me or is Gene Principe a joke and embarrassment to the entire Sportsnet and Oilers organizations.

    • Wendy01

      Its just you…at least Mean Gene is creative and tries to bring some levity to the telecast. Would you rather watch a guy like Roger Millions go through the motions? Sure, Gene’s cheesy but he knows it and he knows we know it. He doesn’t care if people are laughing at him or with him…at least they’re laughing.

      • Bucknuck

        I’m with you, Gene’s self deprecating humour might not be for everyone, but it’s hardly an embarrassment. I would venture a guess that the players feel pretty comfortable around Gene since he is the easy going guy he is, which is a good thing for viewers I would think.

    • GVBlackhawk

      Actually Gene is not employed by the Oilers whatsoever.

      I sat next to Gene on a flight to Chicago a couple of years ago. Real nice guy who is not a phoney. The puns are meant to be cheesy…that’s his schtick.

      Want to know who is embarrassing to hockey? Don Cherry, Glenn Healy, PJ Stock, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, etc.

  • The Worrier

    Hey Brownlee,

    Is that former Oiler Zdeno Ciger’s store? I thought he would of got into the windshield repair business after hockey…

    As they say in Slovakia or when trying to win a prize during Wednesday Night Will Fraser’s Trivia on the Jason Gregor Show “Close, but no Zdeno Ciger!”

  • Grumpy OM

    It’s not too hard to stay in the mix until April when the season is only 48 games long. Dubnyk has been stellar and we are probably a little bit better than the past few years but I’m not sure that we have made as much progress as some people seem to think.