Enough with the consolation prizes. All that really matters is wins and losses. If I heard that once from fans of the Edmonton Oilers during the decade of futility leading up to a long-awaited return to the playoffs last spring, I heard it 1,000 times. As a bottom line it is, of course, true. Except when it isn’t. Say what?
Such was the case on Sunday after the Oilers jetted into Denver for the second half of back-to-back games, fell behind early as they almost always do and then rallied for a 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on the strength of a hat-trick by Connor McDavid. Cam Talbot was terrific after giving up the obligatory lead. McDavid was superb and Leon Draisaitl was just as good. All in all, a terrific win. That’s all that matters, no?
Well, not in the big picture, which is as gloomy and grim as it can be with the Oilers hopelessly out of playoff contention in the Western Conference with 52 points from a record of 24-30-4. With 24 games to play, it is mop-up time for the Oilers in a season when many people, me included, thought that they’d be a Stanley Cup contender. As the season has gone sideways, frustration has grown, which is understandable. That big picture is ugly, so there’s not a lot of comfort in tight shots like that win over the Avs.
That prompted one Oiler fan – a guy I’ve met and know to be a pretty sharp and reasonable adult – to play down the win on Twitter, as many fans tend to do at times like this. I responded, sounding somewhat preachy, which was not the intention. He came back again. It went like this:
— David Shortt (@AdMan0828) February 18, 2018
When you can't take even a little break from wallowing in the futility of a miserable season to enjoy a hard-fought win and a magnificent performance by Connor McDavid, it "might" be an indication you need to step back. #justsayin https://t.co/SdiqfLvXQW
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) February 18, 2018
Yeah. Good point. I’ll take that one on the chin.
— David Shortt (@AdMan0828) February 18, 2018
THE WAY I SEE IT
David doesn’t need my advice regarding how to feel about the Oilers. Neither do you. I understand where he and other fans are coming from, even if I don’t feel the same way. I don’t have the same emotional skin in the game as people who buy the tickets and the jerseys. Would I like to see the Oilers do well? Sure. I spent a long time around this team and I know the city is a lot more fun to be in when fans are getting revved up for a playoff run than when it’s “next year” time again, as it is now.
The big picture truly does suck today for everybody who expected more from the Oilers. Here and now, though, you can’t undo the bad trades GM Peter Chiarelli has made. You can’t make the hideous special teams better by bitching about it every damn day, win or lose. Bob Nicholson could look down at the pecking order below him and blow out every single person who would qualify as a member of the Old Boys Club today and that isn’t going to put the team in the playoffs this April.
That’s not to say anybody in hockey ops gets to slide on the real problems and shortcoming that exist and that they, in most cases, created. Nobody gets a pass. It’s just that, for me, bitching about it today and tomorrow and the day after that is akin to slamming your head into a brick wall day after day after day. If your head starts to hurt, maybe it’s time to stop, take a break and rest up before taking a run at it again – there will be time for that.
If you’re going to kick the Oilers when they’re down, when they win and when they lose, you’re going to go through a whole lot of shoe leather. For what? So, I enjoyed Sunday’s win in Denver – doesn’t change Chiarelli’s trades. I enjoyed watching Talbot dig in after giving up another lead – doesn’t change whatever it is Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson are drawing up. I marvelled (again) at McDavid – the Oilers still need a winger or two and a D-man. All this we know. None of it was going to change Sunday afternoon.
DOWN THE ROAD
I’ll have my eye on a lot of things between now and the end of the season. In no particular order, some of them are:
- I want to see McDavid take a run at his second straight Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion, and there’s not much doubt he’s going to do that. I’m enjoying every minute of watching him play, even if he doesn’t have enough help.
- Whether it’s garbage time or not, let’s see if Talbot can right himself down the stretch and be more like the stopper we saw last season. If Talbot does that, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as far being the starter this team can move forward with.
- How will Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson finish? Both have had their struggles for different reasons this season. I think we saw the measure of them last season and that this campaign has been a down-year. For me, they’re keepers. Let’s see them prove it.
- Let’s see more of Ryan Strome, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev. I want to know if and where they fit into the plans moving forward. We already know about Mike Cammalleri and Mark Letestu.
- Milan Lucic. His contract says he isn’t going anywhere. Let’s see Lucic find his game again before he trots out a trimmed down version of himself for 2018-19. I don’t think he’s hit the wall, but he’s got to show us something.
All the rest between now and training camp 2018 falls to Nicholson and Chiarelli, McLellan, Woodcroft, Johnson, Herbers, the scouting staff and the usual suspects. We can start grinding away on all of that as usual soon enough – I have no doubt whatsoever that we will, as we should. Enjoy what’s left of Family Day.