“One of the things we learned is you can’t believe your own hype.” Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers grabbed my attention today with that snippet – part of his take about what was a monumentally miserable and disappointing season for him and the Oilers in 2017-18. No, you can’t do that, among other things.
“One of the things we learned is you can’t believe your own hype,” Nurse said in an interview with TSN. “I think we kind of went in with, ah . . . we didn’t have that hunger that we had the year before that made us so successful. It’ll be good to have that back in the room. I know guys will all be ready to go.” The entire interview, including clips with Connor McDavid, is here.
The clip was filed under the headline “Oilers eager for redemption after rough season: last year was a kick in the head.” I’m thinking most fans of the Oilers felt that kick a little bit lower than that, but it’s based on a quote, so fine. As for redemption, well, would you expect talk of anything else after a season in which the Oilers fell out of the playoff picture after teasing the faithful with 103 points and going two rounds deep the year before? No.
As for what Nurse said, learning you can’t read too much into your own press clippings, there’s some substance to that, even though I find it a bit of a pat answer. It’s true, after all, that a lot of people, not all of them outwardly dim, picked the Oilers to waltz into the playoffs again last season. Some seasoned pundits even picked Edmonton to not only play for the Stanley Cup, but win it. So, there was that.
MORE THAN THAT
So, yes, there was more than enough hoopla surrounding what was supposed to be an emerging Oilers team. I got sucked in by some of what I saw in 2016-17 and so did many of you. I can see how some players might have bought into that as well. How, exactly that impacted their collective performance, and to what degree, I don’t know. What I do know is there was more to the failure that unfolded than that. Yes, one of the things we learned is you can’t believe the hype, but there’s a whole bunch of things teams can’t do. The Oilers did them anyway.
- Teams can’t go into a season obviously lacking depth and hoping that unproven players will perform at optimal levels. The Oilers did that, especially with their forwards on the right side. How did that work? Has GM Peter Chiarelli done enough to address that this off-season or are we hoping for the best again?
- Teams can’t have a high-ticket player pegged for an important top-six role like Milan Lucic score just one goal in the final 46 games of the season, but it happened. While I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe Lucic will bounce back, how good does the left side look beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if he isn’t substantially better?
- Teams need proven depth on defence and not having enough almost always bites you at some point in the season. We saw that when Oscar Klefbom was banged up, Adam Larsson had to deal with the passing of his father and Andrej Sekera was less than he’d been after returning from knee surgery. Now, Sekera is out again. Are the Oilers counting on Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard to make the team?
- Teams can’t have special teams as abysmal as the Oilers were for most of the season, they can’t allow 14 first-shot goals and they can’t have their starting goaltender struggle mightily for 60 games with no viable option as a back-up, but we saw all of that, too. By the time Cam Talbot regained his form, the season was lost. There’s no proven back-up this season.
THE THINGS WE LEARNED
If the Oilers started last season feeling pretty good about themselves after going two rounds deep and were lacking the edge and hunger that it takes to fashion an encore, it won’t hurt a bit if being humbled rekindles the fire in the belly all of the best teams have. So, sure, what Nurse said matters. That checks one box, and it’s a significant one.
I wonder, though, about the rest. If the Oilers come out with the chip on their shoulders players often talk about, that’s good, but will it be enough to provide answers for the questions that still remain? Will re-finding that edge, playing with something to prove, make up for a shortage of established right wingers or having to toss young defencemen into the deep end if they aren’t ready? I think we know the answer to that.