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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hall and Ebs

I remember writing about how Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle had taken over leadership of the Edmonton Oilers and that they’d put their stamp on a team that had been wandering aimlessly for years since the 2006 Stanley Cup final. They would, I wrote in 2012, be cornerstone players for the franchise for a long time to come. 

Years before Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl arrived, Hall, Eberle and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had established themselves as the faces of the franchise. I thought they’d lead the team out of what became known as the Decade of Darkness — a stretch of futility and a carousel of coaches, general managers and players — but it wasn’t to be.

Then, with so much promise unfulfilled, Hall and Eberle were gone. Hall, traded to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016, never made it to the playoffs with the Oilers. Eberle got two rounds deep with the Oilers in 2017, but after producing just two assists in 13 games, he was traded to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome June 22, 2017.

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In the years since, not much has changed for the Oilers in terms of playoff success. McDavid and Draisaitl run the show and are the show these days. There’s some continuity and stability with Ken Holland in the GM’s chair and Dave Tippett behind the bench, but the Oilers are again on the outside looking in after being swept 4-0 in the opening round by the Winnipeg Jets.

Hall and Eberle, meanwhile, still have something to play for. Eberle and the Islanders lead Hall and the Boston Bruins 3-2 going into the sixth game of their playoff series tonight with a chance to meet Tampa Bay in the final four on the line. Funny how things work out — if you’re not an Oilers’ fan still waiting for your team to make a splash once the regular season is done.

THE ROAD TRAVELLED

Hall, now 29, had one season of overlap with McDavid in Edmonton and two with Draisaitl. Without a playoff sniff with the Oilers, it’s been a winding road to get to tonight’s Game 6 for him. Hall has made stops in New Jersey, Arizona, Buffalo and Boston. He’s got 24 playoff games and 7-10-17 on his resume now. The two-time Memorial Cup MVP also has a Hart Memorial Trophy to show for 2017-18 with the Devils, when he scored 39-54-93.

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Eberle, 31, has stayed with the Islanders since being dealt after he was criticized as a no-show in the 2017 playoffs, which ended in the second round when the Oilers were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks. Eberle has made the playoffs in three of four seasons with New York, including a trip to the Conference Finals where the Islanders lost to the Lightning in six games here in Edmonton. Eberle long ago put that poor playoff performance with the Oilers in the rear-view mirror with 12-19-31 in 41 games since.

“Definitely didn’t play up to my standards, especially in the playoffs,” Eberle said in 2017 about the post-season struggle that led to GM Peter Chiarelli shipping him to New York. “It has to do with points. I had a really good first series and it didn’t show on the scoresheet. Those are times you have to score, and I got demoted in the lineup and beaten up a bit, too.

“The Edmonton media can be pretty brutal and your confidence goes and this is a game you can’t play if you don’t have confidence. It’s that simple . . . it’s the Edmonton Oilers and everything around it. When you read articles every day about how much you suck, it’s tough . . . It affects you and I lost my confidence. The biggest thing for me since I got here with the Islanders is trying to get that back.” The full article is here.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Fans in Edmonton are still clamouring for playoff success, as is to be expected when there’s been so little of it since that unlikely ride to the 2006 Stanley Cup final. Hall and Eberle can certainly relate to the frustration McDavid and Draisaitl have experienced since they took the wheel here, but that’s not their problem anymore. They’ve still got a chance to win and a game to play tonight.

Previously by Robin Brownlee