Back in the 1999 or so when I was writing at the Edmonton Journal, Rob Tychkowski, the beat man over at the Edmonton Sun, and I managed to take a few minutes away from our hectic work schedules to go someplace other than Legend’s Corner or Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and do some shopping in Nashville.
We ended up in one of the many tourist trap gift shops dotting Broadway Street amid the honky-tonks and gin joints. Staring at a wall full of T-shirts, maybe a selection of 50-75 different designs, it turns out we both decided on the same shirt. The shirt read: “Charter Member of the Piss and Moan About Everything Club.” Perfect, we thought. Two please.
Clearly, judging by the comments on this website by an understandably miserable fan base after the Edmonton Oilers came back with great gusto to beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 Thursday, we could use an armful or two of those shirts these days for those unwilling or incapable of finding any hint of a silver lining, even when there is one.
I’d suggest the 9-9-2 record the Oilers have fashioned and the way they’ve achieved it under interim coach Todd Nelson qualifies as that. Seems to me like reason enough to take a break from the ongoing misery that is about to reach nine straight seasons hopelessly out of the playoffs.
WHAT SAY YOU?
“Good comeback win… In another meaningless game in another meaningless season. Just glad the game didnt go too long and cut into the flames/kings game. Will calgary get a 7pt lead for the last playoff spot or will the kings come with 3pts?? Meaningful hockey!! Man, the oilers have turned me into a sour person.”
That’s the very first comment in Thursday’s post-game thread. I picked it out not to lecture or wag my finger at who made the statement but because it’s a good indication of how a sizeable segment of the fan base is feeling after nine years of failure and ineptitude. Fans have every right to feel this way and say so. They certainly did so last night.
Fans have been teased with decent stretches of hockey before only to end up flat on their asses one more time after Lucy pulls the football away again. Thinking everything is going to be OK this time or drawing any hard and fast conclusions about the team based on this stretch under Nelson doesn’t make a lot of sense. We know that by now. Cynicism is warranted.
All that said, I don’t think it necessarily follows that acknowledging the positives we have seen under Nelson makes one gullible and of the belief that this team is just fine as it is. That Nelson is the answer and that, boy oh boy, next season will somehow be different without a major makeover of a roster that simply isn’t good enough.
It’s OK to accentuate the positives, however modest, for a day or two and take a break from hacking away at the obvious negatives still obvious in the bigger picture. They remain, and there will be plenty of days to pick away at that scab – that could start as early as tomorrow in Ottawa if the Oilers come up with the same kind of super-lame no-show they did in Toronto.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Twenty games isn’t a long enough look to draw conclusions about Nelson, but if you want to discount and downplay this stretch, don’t hold up a 30-game stretch last season in which the Oilers went 14-13-3 as proof this team is no better than it was under Dallas Eakins. The Oilers were a .380 team under Eakins (36-63-14). Neither record is good enough but one of them is damn sure better than the other.
I like what I’m seeing out of Nail Yakupov, Oscar Klefbom and Anton Lander. That doesn’t mean Nelson gets all the credit. That doesn’t mean Yakupov will ever live up to being picked first overall. That doesn’t mean Klefbom won’t, at some point, struggle. That doesn’t mean Lander has arrived to stay after failing to stick in previous stints.
What it means from where I sit is all three of these players have a chance to be part of the future the management of this team has been selling for years. Again, a chance, not a certainty. I’ll take that after being sure the chances of Yakupov being a bust increased with every passing day under Eakins.
I saw a lot of joy – maybe it was simply relief – as the Oilers celebrated that win over the Habs. I liked how they didn’t fold when they could have, seeing as this was another “meaningless” game and one that was played without Taylor Hall and Benoit Pouliot.
I don’t care what the Oilers say about playing for Nelson — I recall Eakins getting a vote of confidence from Hall. Those words rang hollow. Talk is cheap. What I do care about is how the Oilers actually play under Nelson. I see a more committed, passionate, resilient group. What do you see?
THE REST OF THE WAY
I sense a shift in this group. After last night’s win, I said the following on Twitter: “Oilers a long, long way from being a team that can contend, but building on a foundation of give-a-damn isn’t a bad place to start.”
I believe that’s fundamental to the success of any team and in any sport. Commitment and a bunch of “try hard” by a group of players brings no guarantee of success. It’s not a substitute for astute drafting and top-notch player development, for depth of talent and the right mix on the roster. It won’t get teams out of the glue if management doesn’t understand the importance of having enough actual NHL centres or proven goaltending.
What it will do is provide a foundation, a place to start. I saw a lot of give-a-damn against the Canadiens Thursday after seeing far too little of it the past couple of seasons. If it’s the real deal and not just a passing fancy, then even the most jaded fan might have something to hang his hat on.
More of the same, thank-you very much.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.