Over the weekend, an Oilers fan named Brett Barrett wrote a blog post centred around a letter he wrote to the organization and the subsequent response he received from Bob Nicholson.
Barrett mentions a handful of things the Oilers have done over the past few years to kill his fandom of the team. After being gifted Connor McDavid in the lottery, Peter Chiarelli dealt away many of the fruits of the Decade of Darkness for underwhelming returns and the team ultimately put together probably its most disappointing season in franchise history in 2017-18. According to Barrett, listening to Chiarelli and Nicholson shrug off the disaster season and what led to it at their post-season press conference was the boiling point for him.
The post received an extremely mixed reaction from the Oilers fan community. Many laughed at Nicholson’s response which referenced the signing of Mikko Koskinen and re-signing of an AHL depth forward Patrick Russell as reasons to believe in Chiarelli’s plan. Many agreed but said that the Oilers were too much of an addiction to kick even despite the negative effects the team has on their mental health. Many also told Barrett to grow up and that he wasn’t a real fan in the first place.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Do you have a boiling point? What would the organization have to do in order for you to just give up? If you don’t, what’s the closest you’ve been to letting go? Or have you taken a hiatus from cheering and paying attention?
It’s been a whirlwind decade for this fanbase. I’m not sure any other fanbase in the league has gone through what Oilers fans have gone through since the 2004-05 lockout season.
It all begins with the massive high felt during the 2006 playoff run. After spending the 90s and early 2000s struggling to scrape by as a low-budget team, the Oilers capitalized on the newly-implemented salary cap and acquired Chirs Pronger. He, along with an incredible series of deadline additions like Dwayne Roloson, Jaroslav Spacek, and Sergei Samsonov, helped lead the team on a wild run to the Stanley Cup Final that ended in Game 7 as the Carolina Hurricanes won their first-ever Stanley Cup.
Shortly after that crash was another shot to the chest. Pronger demanded a trade. I don’t know which was more painful. Watching Dwayne Roloson get injured in Game 1 of the Cup Final or seeing that article in the Edmonton Journal saying that Pronger wanted out. Little did we know, though, it was only going to get more painful from there.
Everything after the Pronger trade was a nightmare. The Oilers disappointed heavily in 2006-07. Despite having playoff aspirations with their young core of players who crushed it during the playoff run, the team couldn’t live up to expectations. The lowest point, though, was trading Ryan Smyth, the heart and soul of the team, at the trade deadline because the team wouldn’t pay him what he was worth.
The post-Smyth Oilers lacked an identity. With his departure, the team seemed to lose its endearing, gritty, workman style that made them a nightmare to play against. Decent players with high expectations came and went like a game of musical chairs. Joffrey Lupul, Joni Pitkanen, Erik Cole, Ales Kotalik, Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Ryan Whitney, and so on were brought in to push the team over the top, but it never happened.
The organization decided it was time for an Oil Change. They tanked in 2009-10 and found their saviour as Taylor Hall became Edmonton’s first-ever No. 1 overall draft pick. They gutted the team and proceeded to build through the draft around Hall. Within a couple years, they loaded the farm with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Tyler Pitlick, Nail Yakupov, and Justin Schultz.
This group was never able to pull it together. General manager Craig MacTavish made an honest effort to augment the team with veterans like Andrew Ference, Benoit Pouliot, and Mark Fayne, but it didn’t work. The Oilers continued to put up miserable seasons despite the talent on the roster.
Amidst the issues on the ice, the organization also tested its fans with terrible PR graces away from the game. Darryl Katz threatened to move the team to Seattle in 2012 if his downtown arena deals weren’t met and Kevin Lowe divided the fanbase into two tiers based on whether or not they actually paid for tickets.
Then came the 2015 draft lottery. With an 11.5 percent chance of winning, the third-last Oilers jumped to No. 1 overall and got themselves the golden ticket. Despite having three first overall picks in a row, this would be the one they couldn’t screw up. All the crap everyone had put up with was going to be worth it. After watching Pronger leave, Smyth get dealt at the deadline, the revolving door of mediocrity that followed, the city get bullied by the owner, getting called a Tier 2 fan, and the Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins core fail to push the team over the top, the gift was Connor McDavid.
Connor McDavid was an Edmonton Oiler. With that, the Old Boys Club got washed out and replaced by Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan, two outsiders with actual pedigree beyond playing on good teams in the 80s were going to steer the ship.
Chiarelli came in and changed the culture quickly. He added Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera in free agency and picked Cam Talbot from the Rangers for nothing. Some of his moves were controversial and questionable, like dealing Hall for Adam Larsson and acquiring Griffin Reinhart for two top picks, but his decisions helped the Oilers to the playoffs in 2016-17 for the first time in a decade. Still, despite the playoff run, there was a looming worry that Chiarelli wasn’t going to get the most out of the talent he inherited.
There was validity to that anxiety. The Oilers struggled mightily in 2017-18 and ultimately ended up missing the playoffs. The team clearly lacked scoring depth behind Connor McDavid and the blueline that Chiarelli paid a high price to assemble simply didn’t live up to expectations. After the season, Bob Nicholson, as pointed out in Barrett’s post, validated Chiarelli’s work and said the organization had full faith in his plan.
The Oilers have lost a lot of fans along the path of the Decade of Darkness. Whether it was poor management and an ugly on-ice product or insult from the actions and words of Katz and Lowe, people got pushed away from cheering for the Oilers. I imagine many came crawling back due to the advent of Connor McDavid but even more got pushed away when it became evident that management, the same old story, could find a way to mess it up.
As I mentioned earlier, nobody in the NHL has gone through what Oilers fans have the past 12 years. I’ll give an honourable mention shoutout to fans of the Ottawa Senators who watched their team reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2017 and then watched it totally fall apart over the next year, but what Oilers fans have endured over such a long stretch is incredible.
I commend those fans who have stuck by the team through thick and thin. The Oilers are blessed to have such a ridiculously good, loyal, and passionate fanbase that they probably don’t deserve. That said, I also empathize with those fans who have let go, or, at least the fans who have stepped back and gone on a break. Cheering for a team is supposed to give you a positive release from the stresses of life. If it isn’t doing that for you, you absolutely should step away. Everyone is different and everyone likes to consume entertainment in different ways.
So, let’s circle back to the original WWYDW question. What’s your boiling point? Do you even have one? Have you been close to getting there at any point? Or are you all-in for life no matter what?
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