When the Edmonton Oilers reek like overripe cheese and lose too much, fans are unhappy. When they get their act together and win too much, as they’ve done over the last month, fans are unhappy. Tough crowd.
It’s all about timing, of course. When the Oilers dashed expectations they would contend for a playoff spot and all but cemented an eighth straight year out of the post season by staggering to a 4-15-2 start, the crap hit the fans and they tossed it back at Dallas Eakins and his team. Too much losing.
With Tuesday’s 5-1 stomping of the Nashville Predators at Rexall Place in the books, the Oilers have now won 10 of their last 17 games and have picked up three additional loser points during that stretch, giving them 23 of a possible 34 points since January 26.
That’s a pace that would’ve put the Oilers in the playoff picture had it started in October instead of late January. Obviously it’s a case of far too little, too late. All the Oilers are doing now is screwing up their chances at the highest possible draft choice. Some fans are unhappy. Too much winning.
It goes without saying, or should, that the vast majority of fans have every right to be unhappy without another face-plant out of the blocks and another year out of the playoffs. I’m on board with them. The too much winning crowd now? Not so much. Not at all, actually.
I’ve said it before, as has Jason Gregor and others, and I’ll say it again: this group of Oiler players needs a taste of success to build on. This group of players needs to know what it feels like and what it takes to win and win consistently. Winning games, whenever those victories come, is a part of moving along the rebuild that management has been selling fans for years now.
I know where fans who’d like to see the Oilers stink now as badly as they did when it mattered are coming from as it pertains to the NHL Entry Draft and the order selection for also-rans and non-playoff teams. At the rate they’ve been winning lately, the Oilers chances of getting one of the first three picks in June are diminishing. Aaron Ekblad would look good in Edmonton silks.
From that standpoint, a late-season surge can throw a wrench in the works. That said, I see significant value in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the Oilers putting the failure of yet another frustrating season behind them by finishing up on a roll.
Can I put a hard value, as in points or specific progress in development, on getting on a roll now? No, I can’t. Do I see a strong finish carrying over in terms of “momentum” to next season? No. It doesn’t work that way. What I can say is I’ve been around NHL dressing rooms long enough to know you can’t shake a loser’s mentality by continuing to lose.
From where I sit, winning now, even with playoff hopes a distant memory and every point gained at this juncture being a poke in the ribs for a sizeable segment of “tank it” fans, is the only way to go. Let the Buffalo Sabres, who come calling at Rexall Place Thursday with a death-grip on 30th place, be the dregs of the NHL. This team has been there and done that.
WHILE I’M AT IT
. . . Sam Gagner has 2-7-9 in his last eight games. I’ve always liked Sam, warts and all, and I always will, so I hope he stays hot. Not because I think he has a future here, but so that he regains something approaching value on the market. With Ales Hemsky gone, he’s the most likely top-six forward to go on the block when GM Craig MacTavish goes shopping this summer.
. . . I like the way Mark Fraser competes and he’s got the kind of mean streak the Oilers need, but it’s obvious to everybody he needs to pick up a step or two. I’m not sure if Fraser can accomplish that, but I’d like to see him after a summer spent with Steve Serdachny. Fraser will never be a gazelle, but he could be a useful sixth or seventh D-man if he can improve his mobility.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.