So, the Edmonton Oilers staged their annual skills competition at Rexall Place today. Fun stuff – skating, stickhandling and shooting, unfettered by the monotony of defensive responsibility, teamwork, good judgment and the willingness to work, just like their games.
This display of flash-and-dash started out at NHL rinks as a chance for fans to see players having some fun snapping the puck around, to get up close and personal with the players they cheer for and maybe get an autograph or a quick picture. It’s supposed to be a break from the 82-game grind of the schedule. A thank-you to the people who fill the building, support the team.
With just one win in their last 21 games and a 7-22-7 record after a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames Saturday, this edition of the skills competition came up woefully short in the thank-you department – they didn’t offer each and every fan who walked through the door a refund on tickets they’ve wasted money on.
Destined to miss the playoffs for a ninth straight season, and by at least a $20 cab ride, the Oilers have become a laughing stock. They’re a punchline and a dysfunctional entity that is becoming more like a circus sideshow than a professional hockey team with each loss on the way to the worst season in the history of a once-proud franchise.
Step right up.
A NEW LOW
Fans, of course, have every right to be outraged over the bungling and incompetence they’ve seen from Oiler management and the ineptitude and failure of the team on the ice since this outfit somehow reached the 2006 Stanley Cup final. You pay the freight.
It’s so bad now, however, some of that outrage is pouring over into the ranks of those who cover the team, a media contingent that has long been painted as too team-friendly and hesitant to criticize an organization (even if it isn’t true) that used to win Stanley Cups for fun.
It’s a shift that, as near as I can tell, really ramped up with a question by local columnist John MacKinnon that prompted the “six-rings” response by POHO Kevin Lowe in April of 2013 upon the hiring of Craig MacTavish as GM. It’s one that continues unfiltered now. Some snippets from those who cover the team every day via Twitter last night after the loss to the Flames:
I’ve run out of things to ask this team after losses, which is convenient because they’ve long ran out of things to say … #Oilers
— Derek Van Diest (@SUNdvandiest) December 28, 2014
I make a lot of jokes about this team, but in all seriousness, the Oilers organization under Daryl Katz is a disgrace.
— Rob Tychkowski (@Sun_Tychkowski) November 23, 2014
7 Oiler wins in 1st 36 games. 79-80 team had 7 in first 32 games. They had Gretzky on that team, so you knew there was light coming.#oilers.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) December 28, 2014
I’ve got to say it: this is worst Oiler team I’ve ever covered and I’ve been doing it since 1979. That’s 35 years.#oilers.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) December 28, 2014
WHAT YOU SEE IT WHAT YOU GET
Having first worked alongside Matheson in 1989 at The Journal, I can tell you without hesitation he’s not prone to overstatement. If he calls this the worst Oiler team he’s ever seen, take that assessment to the bank, even if you aren’t old enough to recall the glory days. Those of Matheson’s vintage have, no doubt, already come to the same conclusion.
I never saw the Oilers as utterly beaten, defeated and in disarray as this, even with the awful teams of the early 1990s, during my time as a beat man at the dailies, but, like I said, I’ve only been keeping tabs on the team since 1989. I don’t have the answers.
It’s painfully obvious the people running this franchise don’t have the first clue either. This is a team that, despite having collected three first overall draft picks for all the suffering fans have endured, is worse at the bottom line than it was last season and the season before that and the season before that.
Fire Lowe? Count me in. Fire MacTavish? Sure. Thank Todd Nelson for being a good company man and stepping into this mess as interim coach and return him to Oklahoma City? Can do. Weed out and trade away the sulkers for pennies on the dollar? Might have to. Tear it down. Square one, then. Any other ideas? I’m all out. Perhaps another letter from Daryl Katz.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
With two games remaining in December, against the Los Angeles Kings and the Flames this coming week, it’s more likely than not the Oilers will begin the 2015 calendar year with seven wins from their first 38 games. Seven.
If you clean house from top to bottom – management, coaches, scouts, Lowe, MacTavish and the horses they rode in on — you’re looking, at a minimum, of running this seemingly never-ending non-playoff streak to a decade. Go with status quo and the result is likely the same.
Happy New Year. Hope you enjoyed the skills competition.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.