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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A step back

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:

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

Nov 18, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan watches his team take on the Dallas Stars during the third period at American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Oilers 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    As much as I have liked Cam Talbot and hope he has a bounce back season I am not sure the team can risk going into next season with that big of a question mark. Do the Oilers want to take any chance at all because if goaltending is poor or even average next season it will not bode well.

    • camdog

      No they don’t. Even though Montoya is signed for another year, there was a story out not long ago about the Oilers still,looking for a goalie to challenge Talbot for next season.

      • D'oh-ilers

        Halak, Ward, Bernier, Hutton, Dell, Khudobin, Raanta, Lehtonen, Kuemper, Johnson, Sateri, Pavelec, Glass, Niemi, Lack, Berra & Hutchinson are all scheduled to be UFAs at the end of the season. Plenty of inexpensive choices to choose from.

        • Where's the Lamb Sauce

          Not Glass, Niemi, Lack, Berra or Pavelec; they are not NHL calibre backups and would not push Talbot whatsoever. Kuemper would be a great pickup though

          • crabman

            @Kneedrop, and Talbot is having a horrendous season. Would you actually like any of those 6 goalies moving forward? or are you just talking this opportunity to remind everyone here about your hatred for Talbot? Because anyone who follows ON comment threads are fully aware.

  • Oilfan11

    Still don’t understand how anyone could consider the Oilers cup contenders after being knocked out in the 2nd round then proceeding to get worse through the off season… they should have been expected to battle for a playoff spot but definitely not legitimate cup threats

      • Oilfan11

        That’s my point… why were people predicting this when so many guys were coming off career years, Sekera’s injury, weaker forward group, no improvement to the team that was eliminated in the second round. Meanwhile other teams were actively trying to improve.

        • Big Nuggets

          You want to claim last year was an outlier because of multiple players having career years, its a fair analysis, but we have a young team with many players still gaining experience and getting better. For McDavid and Drai the sky is the limit for their abilities, this season also had Nurse, Kaira, and Nuge all playing great. The results this season have not been a return to average from the year before. This season has been a different kind of disaster. Special teams, goaltending, and heart appear to be the culprits.

          • McRaj

            It’s sad how we think a 55 point pace for Nuge while he took a step back defensively is great. Nice expectations for a first overall pick making 6M and then we are ready to burn Lucic for essentially providing similar offense. We as fans just play favorites.

  • Top_Shelfie

    Going out on a limb here….
    PK at home improves….
    PP improves….
    Goaltending improves…..
    Heart starts beating to the tune of “spoiler”

    Result…Oilers win at least 17 of their contests.

    Go Top Shelf!

  • camdog

    Concern I have for remainder of season is when Connor is sick or a bit knicked up the team from the coaches to the GM to the players tend to use it as an excuse to mail it in.

    I’m also concerned that we have a coaching staff focussed on absolving themselves of responsibility when team doesn’t perform. Example being the coach repeating that joke about putting 8 players on ice to end their slump with empty net. It happens time after time and has been going on since the beginning of the season. Coaching staff look like they are trying to set themselves up for their next job rather than stick up for the boys. Thing is this is exactly what happened in SAN Jose when Hall of Farmers were stripped of their captaincy. There is a pattern here…

  • Gravis82

    Would have been nice to have two lines, each with a guy capable of 90pts and willing his team to win the possession battle. And I am not even talking about Nuge and Draisaitl. I don’t think we truly realize the future that Chiarelli gave up with that trade. People have every right to be sour for a decade over that. Being positive in a season like this only rewards gross incompetence. Fire the mall.

  • Oiler Al

    Fans would do more cheering and positive commenting,if there was winning results from the team.The guys who should be banging their heads against the wall are managment and coaching staff.

  • winteriscoming

    The truth is I stopped watching the games as part of my new years resolution similar to the beet eater, I have more time in my day and enjoy telling people that this is the longest that I’ve gone with my resolution. The way that they are playing I’m good until next season.

  • Anton CP

    Here’s a question, is Darnell Nurse worth of losing both Taylor Hall and Dougie Hamilton?

    Considering that Chiarelli has a chance to land Dougie Hamilton (seriously, stop talking about Barzal already, he would never be drafted by the Oilers anyway) by trading Nurse with picks, if Chiarelli got Hamilton then he doesn’t need to trade away Hall for Larsson. I guess this is the biggest question going into next year, is Nurse worth the future?

    • RJ

      I consider Barzal situation similar to Puljujarvi in 2016. Everyone had JP as the consensus third pick. Nobody had him going fourth.

      Barzal was a projected top 10-12 pick who fell. I don’t think he would have been the projected Oilers pick because no one had him falling to 16.

      Of course, the Oilers being who they are, they would not have given him two years of development before they brought him to the NHL. They would have brought him up at 18, then thrown him on the fourth line and every fourth game in the press box because he doesn’t defend the way TM would have wanted him to.

    • ed from edmonton

      I don’t get your math. But I will say that the progress of Nurse has been perhaps the single bright spot this year. I don’t think we yet know how good he will be.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      One thing, that most people don’t get…
      Anyone that leaves the Oilers goes on to great things. for the most part…
      Those that come in aren’t developed and pushed, so they regress…
      Hamilton, or whoever would regress to become what the coaching staff expect of them (which isn’t much, it seems?)
      This team is coasting, I’m not sure they (players) want to? The management for some stupid reason is really happy with mediocrity?
      I think all our players can play way above what they are showing us… I don’t think we need to make many moves, other than management & coaching.

  • KMA

    Here’s a suggestion to consider that may help to ease the pain of the boat anchor the Lucic contract has become to this team. He could donate one-half of his annual salary to a different local charity each year for the remainder of his time as a member of the Oilers.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I don’t know? When you get between 35 & 50 points on a really bad team, with the worst PP in the league for most of the season. I think you are probably worth 6 mil? Not to mention other value he brings to the team…
      Enough with, Ragging on Looch already… It gets a bit tiresome, especially when there is value?
      He’s what, 3rd or 4th in scoring?

  • crabman

    “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”,
    I’m surprised to hear this message from someone on a site that relies on traffic. If the only people that watched the games then came to ON to read the articles and comment there would be much less traffic on this site.

    • Surprised? How so? Maybe check your last sentence — “If the only people that watched the games then came to ON to read the articles and comment there would be much less traffic on this site” — because it doesn’t make sense. What is it you are trying to say?

      • crabman

        You’re right not well written at all. What I’m trying to say is it sounds like you are suggesting that people that can’t stop complaining, even after a good game, should take a break. But most people can’t stop complaining. If all the complainers stopped watching games and stopped reading and commenting on your articles you wouldn’t have half the traffic on this site. And I can only assume that wouldn’t be a good thing.

        • Stepping back doesn’t necessarily mean stop watching games or following the team. The big picture has been discouraging and frustrating and the issues remain. That said, there’s nothing wrong with saying “TODAY, they played a good game and I’m going to focus on that” before returning to the grind of thinking about everything that’s wrong.

          • crabman

            Thanks for clarifying Robin. That’s obviously not how I took the message but something I can agree with.
            I come here and complain about the Oilers situation but I can still find silver linings and can enjoy the games, even some of the ones we lose if it was entertaining. If I couldn’t still find some joy in watching and reading and debating this team I wouldn’t keep coming back. That said the comment section is getting harder and harder to read through with the amount of negativity everyday.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    RB , i agree with you mostly . i tune in for Conner now to win the art ross and put on amazing displays even though we dropped the ball big time this year.

    But for you to have a go at a “real fan” who does bleed orange and blue and write a article how u got the better of him on twitter? cmon dude your not even a real fan by your own admission . dont judge the die hards and if u dont have your heart in it u will never know

    • IRONman

      Watch for 97. He is always exciting to see what he will do next. F the management and the coaches. Play 97 and Leon for the enjoyment of the fans who pay $229 per game per seat. Thanks

    • I didn’t get the better of anybody and if you think that’s why I wrote this, then you’ve missed the point completely. There’s nothing wrong with taking a breather from what’s been a miserable season by enjoying a win, even if it doesn’t mean a lot in the big picture. That’s the message. It’s not complicated.

  • Serious Gord

    1. I said long before the:season began that the oil would likely miss the playoffs. The reasons were simple and evident for those who wanted to Look : freakishly low injury injury levels last year covered up the complete abscence of depth and key players having career-Best seasons last season meant that a simple regression to the mean would result in a very tight race to the last playoff spot. Well the regression went well past the mean.

    2. And most of this season I have argued that next season and even twomor three seasons after that could be as bad or worse: depth is still non-existent, cap troubles are going to be epic meaning holes in the team will not be adequately addressed if they are all.

    Worse still the fok and fog-infested management that is at the root of those mess looks to be remaining untouched as Daryl Katz continues to give Philip wrigley a run for his money for title of the worst owner in pro sports history.

    So yeah, I don’t give a rats about the recent win – it’s like admiring how calm the sea is an hour after the titanic has hit the berg.

    • Anton CP

      Well, if you want to go with the history…I’ve a bet with some co-worker way back in 2006 by saying that the Oilers will miss playoffs or at best a bubble team for 06-07 season…the guy has yet to pay up.

      Anyhow, as said for like, 5 years? Since for the past 12 years that the team has different owners, managements, coaches, and players that the only thing remain the same are fans. So I guess the fans are the problem?

    • Hemmercules

      Its tough to feel good about anything regarding the team when they are basically eliminated from the post season 2 or 3 months ahead of time. Wins are meaningless for the most part other than division games to play spoiler on the Ducks and the Shames if they can. I never cheer for loses but at this point winning is just setting them back in the draft. They somehow still manage to lose to the teams that are worse than them in the standing so that helps the draft cause I guess.

      McDavid is great and all but he could score a hatty every night from here on out and what doesn’t it even matter? Great for his trophy collection but it does little for the long term Oiler fan that just wants to see cup runs. He’s fun to watch but if the team is getting buried every night it just makes me feel bad for him. Generational talent stuck on a sinking ship.

  • ed from edmonton

    We have seen many players look good in garbage games during year end death marches. Don’t put much value in player performances from now until end of the year.

  • ed from edmonton

    As a guy who has watched the Oilers since 1972 the current situation might be the most depressing of all time. Give Terry Jones a gold star for calling this back after the 5-0 debacle vs the Kings in early January. My interest in watching the Oil is at an all time low. At least I have the Olympics to distract me for now.

  • Oil-In-the-Blood

    I don’t really comment on the nation and lowetide site but I def read and follow a ton (35 yr fan) but man there is a lot of hardcore whining going on that definitely out numbers constructive comments, lowetide is better as he seems to control it a bit more. I have noticed this on the mainstream articles and forums for a while, so negative and whiny, I get it I have been here since the 99, 11 days but come on 🙂 ….. I will say most of those free agent goalies are not any better (actually worse) than Talbot. I do like Kuemper and maybe Raanta, Ward 6-7 yrs ago but most aren’t very good (I could care less if they have better stats this year or last). Talbot has hiccups for sure (def not an elite#1 but can be solid) but D, team D, special teams are part of it.

    • ed from edmonton

      The Oil are committed to Talbot next year, We should hope that the “real” Talbot (i.e. 2016/17 guy) returns. However one thing that PC has failed at in the last two years (not saying this is hos only fail) is totally blowing the backup goalie spot. If they did not have to play Gustaffson last year (which resulted in a least 3, 6-5 type losses) and finished ahead of Anahaim, what would have happened?

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I agree with your take here, Robin. Excellent. My belief has always been – now and back in the Decade of Darkness – if a hockey team’s fortunes, good or ill, are enough that you’re actively downplaying wins or, worse, over-reacting to losses (jersey-tossers vex me to no end), then you need to go find a new hobby. Sports are too much for you to handle.

    • ed from edmonton

      The jersey tosses expressed the extreme frustration many highly invested fans were feeling. Something casual fans or media types (watching games is their job not a hobby) can never understand.

  • The Future Never Comes

    If you guys want to really take a step back, just stop watching for the rest of the season. They don’t show up to 80% of the games, so why show up to watch on the couch/stadium? I have not watched about the last 8 games and effectively my blood pressure has gone down, I’m not watching something for three ours that has me screaming at the TV, and I find my days are a lot happier. Only thing I do at this point is check the SN app to see how many points 97 got and who else has scored. I’ve divested myself, and I will pick back up come October. Seriously, you should try to remove yourselves from the shackles of frustration, it’s liberating.

    • Hemmercules

      Insane??

      EL is great, love to have him but you can’t ship out 6 players for 3. Oilers depth is already in the toilet, have to recoup some picks if you are shipping all those guys out for essentially 1 player and a prospect.