For the better part of the last decade, documenting the Edmonton Oilers at the halfway mark of the season has been a tale of defeat, ineptitude and frustration. Over and over and over again. A hockey version of Groundhog Day, only with Bill Murray kicking Oiler fans in the pills.
Most years since the team actually gave fans something to yell about by reaching the 2006 Stanley Cup final, the Oilers have been so far out of contention by the 41-game mark there’s been nothing left to do but vent about how much fill-in-name-here sucks and calculate the team’s chances of winning the draft lottery.
It’s a welcome change, then, even as somebody who doesn’t have the same skin in the game as all the fans who’ve supported what’s been a dumpster fire for so long, to have something else to write about, something else to talk about, at the halfway mark.
With Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils, the Oilers are 21-13-7 for 49 points through 41 games as they get ready to wrap up a four-game road trip against the Ottawa Senators today. The Oilers had 37 points at this juncture a year ago and 27 points at the same time in 2014-15. Out of it. Again.
Not being somebody who believes in jinxes and crap like that – you know, thinking that mentioning a shutout on Twitter or a live broadcast can actually impact the outcome of games – I can say without hesitation the Oilers are going to put the Decade of Defeat behind them and make the playoffs. It’s not a matter of if they will, but where they’ll finish. Or did I just wreck it?
CHANGING IT UP
Like many of the writers here, I had the Oilers in the close-but-no-cigar category going into this season. Having seen it go wrong so many times in recent seasons when the Oilers were selling hope without much substance for doing so, I couldn’t muster the same optimism some others did. Looking back at snippets of items I’ve written after 41 games in recent seasons, I guess you could call me cynical.
From 2012: “The Edmonton Oilers are halfway there. Halfway where? Their latest John F. Kennedy impression in Dallas in the books after a 4-1 loss to the Stars at the American Airlines Center today, the Oilers finished up a seven-game stretch away from home with a 1-6-0 record to hit the halfway mark in their schedule with a record of 16-22-3 for 35 points.” The whole bit is here.
You get my drift. Between awful teams that never had a snowball’s chance and decent teams that under-achieved during a time frame that saw Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish pulling the levers as GM, coupled with Dallas Eakins re-inventing the game because he was just that smart, it’s been a cluster. You’ve suffered along.
Finally, here we are in the second year of Pete Chiarelli’s regime as the GM with Todd McLellan behind the bench in a spanking new rink, and the Oilers are going to have to fall down an elevator shaft in the second half of the schedule to miss the playoffs. I don’t see this collection of players and coaches doing that. What a bloody breath of fresh air that is.
There’s more to write and talk about than where it all went wrong and who should be fired because of it. There’s been no need to begin a debate in December about which pimply-faced teenager the Oilers will get in the draft lottery and how he will or won’t turn the fortunes of the franchise around.
The time has arrived again, at long last, to contemplate tweaks to the roster, being buyers not sellers, before the trade deadline that might make sense. Fans can debate what line combinations might work best down the stretch drive. Fans get to watch that Connor McDavid kid make his bid for the Art Ross Trophy.
No longer done in 41. Buckle up, if you remember how. It’s going to be fun.
WHILE I’M AT IT
I understand why there’s some concern out there that McDavid has fallen off the points pace he set early this season, but if you watched the game against New Jersey, you’ve got to think long and hard to come up with a better performance, even though he finished with just one assist (on Mark Letestu’s game-winner).
McDavid, who turns 20 Jan. 13, made something happen on pretty much every shift and he finished the game with eight shots, a career high. While he’s slowed down since a wicked start – he has 2-5-7 in his last 10 games – McDavid still leads the NHL scoring race with 14-32-46. He’s just fine.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.
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