"And lastly, I’ll say that there’s one other guy in hockey today that is still working in the game that has won more Stanley Cups than me. So I think I know a little bit about winning, if there’s ever a concern."
Well, yes, as fans of the Edmonton Oilers will tell you after watching their team miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons, there is a concern — one inflamed by the defiant words of president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe during an exchange with reporters this pre-season.
Lowe, of course, did nothing but win as a member of the Oilers. Lowe won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton, the first two coming by the time he was 25 after making the playoffs in his first six NHL seasons. He won another with the New York Rangers in 1994. Lowe knows about winning, to be sure.
It’s quite a different matter when you look at the core of the 2013-14 edition of the Oilers, a group assembled during the seven seasons the team has been on the outside looking in since reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup final. It’s a span, counting the first 14 games this season, in which the team has won just 217 of the 554 games played since.
Seven years out. Back-to-back last-place finishes. The only thing the Oilers have won since leaving Carolina in June of 2007 after a Game 7 loss is the NHL Entry Draft lottery, getting Nail Yakupov with their third consecutive first overall pick.
The glory days are a distant memory. The last Cup celebration in 1990 came before some of the Oilers wearing Edmonton silks now, those hailed as the future of this franchise’s return to contention, were born. Those players have done nothing, it seems, but lose.
LONG TIME GONE
Taylor Hall, 21, wasn’t born when Lowe and the post-Wayne Gretzky Oilers won Edmonton’s fifth Cup. Neither was Jordan Eberle, 23, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Yakupov, both just 20.
Hall, in his fourth season, has played 180 regular season games without a taste of the playoffs after winning back-to-back Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires. Eberle, who also broke into the NHL in 2010-11, has played 209 games. Nugent-Hopkins, in this third season, has played 114 games, while Yakupov, in his second season, is at just 60.
Beyond the youngest and biggest names on the marquee, Sam Gagner, 24, in his seventh season, has 415 games in the books without so much as a playoff game. Ladislav Smid, 27, has 471 games in eight seasons. Jeff Petry, 25, has played 170 games with the Oilers, none in the post-season.
Then, there’s Ales Hemsky. Long the most offensively gifted player in Edmonton before the wave of kids arrived and injuries slowed him, Hemsky, now 30, was part of the 2006 Stanley Cup team that came within a game of making it six Cups for the Oilers. He’s played 400 of the 554 games since.
THE ROAD AHEAD
With so much rich and proud history in the rear-view mirror and mostly defeat and disappointment for this franchise since 2006, is any of the above significant here and now? I think so – how can it not be? — although I’ve got no way to prove it, nothing I can put my finger on with certainty.
I can’t help but think about what GM Craig MacTavish said last off-season when he was talking about the possibility of moving captain Shawn Horcoff, which he did, and Hemsky.
"Both players are really at a similar crossroads," he said. "Sometimes change is good for both the organization and the player. At the same time they’re valuable players, and we’re not in a position where we’re going to be able to move them without getting something substantial in return.
"When you have been in an environment like Edmonton has had over the last little while you start, as a veteran — and maybe it’s just subconsciously — you start to lose your belief in your ability to win. Given the history with these players…"
When I juxtapose the comments by Lowe and MacTavish, it seems obvious to me one, Lowe, is somewhat detached and out of touch with the players in the dressing room today, while the other, MacTavish, fully understands the toll taken on players here these last seven years.
I wonder if any of them, be they the baby faces like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov or more seasoned veterans like Gagner, Smid and Hemsky, are at or are approaching the kind of crossroads MacTavish spoke of. With it looking very much like it’ll be eight straight years of losing, of being out of the playoffs yet again, I’d wager some are.
That possibility should send a shiver down your spine.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.