Are We There Yet?
3 months ago
In the days before we had mobile hotspots, wireless headphones, and gaming devices as distractions, a long-drive vacation meant piling into the family station wagon – seatbelts were optional — and hitting the road without many ways to pass the time.
With my family, it was an annual summer haul of about 20 hours from Vancouver to Prince Albert in our gas-guzzling Oldsmobile wagon – think Family Truckster from the Vacation movie. Given there are only so many times you can play Punch Buggy or sing 99 Bottles of Beer, it never took long until the anticipation became too much as we got closer. We’d nag mom repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Even when we were close, it never seemed soon enough.
I know, thanks for the nostalgia, pops, what’s the point? Well, for me, watching the Oilers these past two seasons has been a bit like that family vacay. With 104 points in 2021-22, the Oilers lost in the Western Conference final to the Colorado Avalanche, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. This season, after compiling 109 points, the Oilers lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round. The Oilers led in all six games of that series, but lost four of them. Vegas went on to hoist the Cup. The Oilers are close, but they aren’t there yet.
That’s not meant to be a consolation prize and it’s not to suggest GM Ken Holland can stand pat because there are questions about his roster as it stands today. With the anticipation and expectation of a fanbase that hasn’t seen its team play in the Cup final in 17 years, it’s understandable that it feels to some fans that there’s still a long way to go. Holland begs to differ. Get close. Stay close. Learn. Tweak the talent.
WHAT HE SAID
“You just don’t show up and, all of a sudden, you’re good and you win the Cup,” Holland told Mark Spector of Sportsnet from scouting meetings. “There seems to be a lot of major disappointments along the way. Vegas has been at the final four, four times in six years.
“What am I saying to you? You’ve just got to keep winning. You have got to put yourself in multiple situations so that your players, your coaching staff, have a greater understanding of what we need to change.”
Yes, changes. The Oilers aren’t going to take another step via osmosis just by being close. There is more quality depth around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl now than there was three years ago with the addition of Zach Hyman and Evander Kane. The Oilers had 13 players with 10 goals this season. Who doesn’t like the addition of stud Mattias Ekholm and rugged and raw Vincent Desharnais on the blue line?
Anybody who has been paying attention knows that Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell have to be better. You may disagree, but I think they will be. They don’t have to be great, just better. Likewise, the Oilers have to improve defensively at 5-on-5 and not lean so much on a power play that was historically good last season and has been the class of the league since 2019-20. Holland knows this. Coach Jay Woodcroft knows this. The players know it.
“I can’t tell you this is going to lead to the Stanley Cup,” Holland said. “But I do know it’s the only path. You’ve got to be good year after year after year after year. You’ve got to put yourself in that situation multiple times and believe you’re going to find the way.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
That last part, belief, is a tough ask of the fanbase around here for reasons that pre-date Holland’s arrival in our town by many years. What matters is that McDavid, Draisaitl, and those wearing Oilers silks when the puck drops do. That they are all in. Are we there yet? No.
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