When a team has been as inept as the Edmonton Oilers have these past nine seasons, it’s human nature to try to look past the misery occasionally, to seek a distraction from the drudgery whether you’re witnessing the carnage from the press box or paying good money to see it from the seats at Rexall Place.
I used to do it when I was covering the beat and I find myself doing it now as the Oilers crawl to the finish line on their knees yet again. I try to find a storyline, even a tidbit, to provide a break from duly documenting the dismay for the umpteenth time – how flawed the line-up is, how incompetent management is, that Kevin Lowe must go, how just about everything sucks.
That’s not to ignore another year of defeat after defeat, the latest being a 3-1 loss to San Jose Thursday, and the issues that lead to the same old, same old, it’s simply to take a break from banging one’s head against the same wall, or walls, day after day. We’ll carry on with that soon enough.
Thankfully, there’s been a few of those distractions to ease another early exit. For me, it’s been watching Brandon Davidson, David Musil, Richard Bachman and, last night, Laurent Brossoit. Stories about people who may or may not play a significant role with the Oilers moving forward.
BEYOND THE SCORE
I’ve found myself pulling for Davidson, who at the age of 23 has overcome testicular cancer to continue his hockey career and make it this far. A sixth-round pick by the Oilers in 2010, the former Regina Pat was a longshot to even play an NHL game before the cancer struck him. How, or if, he fits in down the road, I don’t know. He now has 11 NHL games on his resume.
When I watch Musil lumber up and down the ice, I can’t help but think of him and his little brother Adam hanging around the rink in the days when their dad, Frank, was playing for the Oilers. Time flies. He reminds me of his dad, a tough, honest defensemen with limited skill. I don’t know if David will ever be able to live up to where he was drafted, 31st overall in 2011, or become a regular player here, but if he doesn’t it won’t be for lack of trying.
I cringed the other night when Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings blew a slapshot past Bachman from centre ice in his first game back in Edmonton’s line-up after dealing with the death of his older brother. Bachman prevailed, however, making 25 saves in a 4-2 win. I don’t know about you, but it did my heart good to watch the Oilers embrace Bachman, the undersized underdog in Edmonton’s goaltending picture, after the game.
Then, there was Brossoit, a former member of the Edmonton Oil Kings, taking his place between the pipes against the Sharks last night in his NHL debut. Playing behind a mostly AHL blue line group, he had every reason to be absolutely shaking in his skates. Brossoit had the local faithful roaring in the stands, making 49 saves. He was brilliant. Might Brossoit be the stopper the Oilers need? Maybe. But not now. Not yet.
With the Oilers closing out the season in Vancouver Saturday and GM Craig MacTavish facing the media early next week, we’ll get back to dissecting everything that is wrong with the team, and there is plenty, soon enough. From where I sit, Davidson, Musil, Bachman and Brossoit have provided welcome distractions.
While Brossoit was knocking himself out to script what should have been a feel-good win, too many of his teammates chose to stand around and watch it rather than give the kid some help. I get it that the Oilers are undermanned and overmatched and playing out the string, but that’s inexcusable.
“He was outstanding,” coach Todd Nelson said of Brossoit. “But I was really disappointed with the lack of support in front of him. We had way too many passengers tonight.
“That was one of the best performances I’ve seen all year . . . It was a bit concerning. There were a handful of guys who worked hard, but it wasn’t enough. It was disappointing because it would have been a great story.”
Leading the list of those along for the ride was Justin Schultz, who lost an edge on Patrick Marleau’s goal to tie it 1-1 and all-in-all played yet another game looking disinterested. Frankly, guys like Schultz drive me nuts. He’s got all the talent in the world, but doesn’t have a ticker to match.
I wonder what plough horses like Musil, Matt Hendricks and other pluggers who are short on talent but long on try think about Schultz, a thoroughbred who only runs when he feels like it and spits the bit too often.
WHILE I’M AT IT
I know I’m in the minority here, but I was happy to see the Calgary Flames clinch a playoff spot last night. For me, it’s not about rubbing Oiler fans’ noses in it, it’s that I like the way the Flames play. Specifically, the way they play for each other and that they never, ever quit. What a concept.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.