It is over. The Edmonton Oilers season wrapped up Saturday night with a win over the Canucks. The team ended on a high note with a two-game win streak. If I am being honest they are not really wins. On Friday, the Wild goalies couldn’t stop an earth ball if it hit them in the chest. Saturday night I spent most of the game trying to figure out who all these Canuck players were.
Wins are nice to close out the season, but don’t read anything more into them. It doesn’t mean anything about what this team can do next year without some player changes. These two wins just made the last few days of the season more enjoyable.
As a player, reaching the end of the season without holding the Stanley Cup in your hands is always considered a disappointment. Making the playoffs does soften the blow, but barely. NHL players don’t play a whole season to just make the playoffs.
I played on teams where we just made it into the first round and then got spit out in four quick games. It was an awesome experience, don’t get me wrong. The intensity of each game was a lot of fun to be a part of. You learn that every mistake is a much bigger issue during the post-season. They often result in a goal against. I know I matured as a player because of being a part of the playoffs, experience like that you can’t get anywhere else.
I learned a lot about playoff hockey when I got a chance to be a part of it. I also learned that when my team got spit out of them right away or we didn’t make at all I was very disappointed. The season just feels like a waste, especially as you get older.
A hockey career is only so long. Each season that goes by where you don’t win the Cup means your window is closing. That is a harsh reality. I don’t have many regrets from my career, but not getting a chance to be a part of a Stanley Cup winner is one. No Stanley Cup, and also not ever finishing off a hat trick in a game.
As this season’s Oilers pack up and leave for the World Championships or their home towns I know there are a lot of mixed emotions. Depending on their age, performance and contract status I know they each have unique feelings about the season ending and leaving the city.
For the younger guys with contracts they are looking ahead to next season. They should be looking at their own game from this year. What were my areas of strength? What should I do to improve? What should my summer program look like? Do I need to get stronger or a work on a better shot? They should be doing an honest self-evaluation. Coaches and managers will tell you their thoughts but each player should also be honest with themselves. Easy to say, harder to do.
Change is inevitable
There are some players on the Oilers that are still trying to find their way on this team or wondering if they fit in. These guys were probably looking for reassurance in their exit meetings about what they should expect next season. They may or may not have a contract for next year, but they know they will be back in the organization, just not sure where.
Then there are the unrestricted free agents. I know this group well. In fact, you could say I am an expert.
You have your meetings, you get your feedback and you give your thoughts on the team. Then you leave. Most often you don’t know if you will be back. It is unsettling, especially if you know you want to come back.
There are a few Oilers that fit into this group. Both Mark Fistric and Ryan Jones have said they would like to come back but as they take off, they really don’t know. They might not know for quite a while. I have learned that the wheels do not turn quickly around the NHL. Maybe Mac T will be different. We will have to wait to find out.
Change in the NHL is inevitable on each team. Players must learn to roll with it. There are a few guys on each team that have long term deals but for many it is three years and less. In today’s NHL players move around.
So as all the Oilers players leave town over the next couple of weeks they should all be reflecting on this season and how they played or produced. Some are probably very comfortable knowing they will be back next year and others are probably packing up for good.
There are a lot of holes through this lineup that need addressing. I am very interested to see which players come back and how they adjust their games for more success for the team. I am also interested in seeing who is new coming in and how they bring want is needed.
If the goal for the Oilers is to make the playoffs next year, rookie general manager Craig MacTavish is going to have to remake quite a bit of this roster. I picked the Oilers to finish eleventh, they finished twelfth. Jumping for twelfth to eighth next year will be a pretty push, but not impossible if MacT brings in the right kind of players.
If the long term goal of the Oilers is to win a Stanley Cup they have a long way to go. After the playoffs are over put the winning lineup next to the Oilers best lineup from this year. That will be eye opener. I would say the Oilers are about half way there. Being half way there is the good news, the bad news is most of the teams in the NHL are half way there.
Alzeimer’s Pro Am Hockey tournament
This past weekend I got to play in this great tournament to raise money and awareness for Alzeimers. It was a great time. There were many NHL alumni there and each team got to draft their favorite.
I was drafted by a bunch of great guys called the Forget-me-nots. We played with a lot of energy and were very good at hemming the team in our own zone to tire them out. I think I actually beat my personal shift length record of four minutes!
Oilers Nation also put together a team. I really got a sense of how much this group values my friendship when they skipped me during the draft. Ouch! That was a stinger.
I did get my chance at revenge to the Nation when I played with Gregor’s team the Journeymen against the Nation. We put the boots to the Oilers Nation team! With their lack of leadership that shouldn’t come as a big surprise!
Great weekend all around, I can’t wait till next year!