Last night, in the waning minutes of Edmonton’s 5-0 loss at home to the Anaheim Ducks, the few fans who remained at Rexall Place reportedly began a “We want Nail!” chant, serenading a team that had lost their fifth straight and one that has won just four games since the start of December.

As if the prospect of a third-straight season in the draft lottery shouldn’t be enough to excite Oilers fans, the news that Tom Renney couldn’t bag-skate his team this morning because of the Oilers’ team skills competition event is something so resoundingly indicative of the hollow hype surround Northern Alberta’s team.

This is a team built without foundation or direction, drawing inspiration solely from the masturbatory hype surrounding top prospects now that a certain Canadian cable giant has turned the World Junior Hockey Championship and the NHL Draft from fringe to made-for-TV events.

Wherever I go to discuss hockey, the prevailing sentiment about the Edmonton Oilers is “they’ll be good next year” and if not next year, “soon. They’re going to be very fun to watch.” This is all based on the early career successes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (and hopefully Nail Yakupov, apparently).

But if the team is ever going to improve, shouldn’t the team showcase any actual kind of improvement? The Oilers have 36 points through 43 games this season. Last season after 43 games, they had 35. After 43 games in 2010, they had 37.

This rebuild is moving at a glacial pace, but the jubilation over three good young forwards (and possibly a fourth this spring) has turned the mainstream sentiment in Edmonton about the Oilers from an objective “let’s stop picking first overall” to a fawning over young prospects.

The blame this year can fall on Ales Hemsky for playing uninspired hockey, or it can fall on injuries, but when the team is backed up by a management team that is about to hit its sixth straight season without playoff hockey, the coach shouldn’t even worry about the bag-skates anymore.

Last night’s game recap at Oilers blog Copper & Blue placed the blame on the shoulders of one General Manager Steve Tambellini:

This man insisted on a culture change and since doing so has fired a coach, a trainer, an assistant trainer, an equipment manager, a fitness trainer, a minor league coach, and a scout. And the team keeps losing.

Friend of the Shelf Jonathan Willis, an Oilers blogger with the Edmonton Journal’s Cult of Hockey, wrote something in a similar vein this morning:

After all, it was Tambellini who replaced head coach Craig MacTavish with Pat Quinn in a win now move that turned out disastrously.  It was also Steve Tambellini who signed the aging and injury-prone Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year contract.  The summer of 2009 was spent trying to shore up holes on a team that finished six points out of the playoffs.  The result was the worst season in Oilers history to that point, as all those efforts to climb into the playoffs instead left the team dead last in the NHL.

It turns out, starting a season with two NHL-calibre defensemen and an old, replacement-level starting goalie isn’t a path to success, no matter how many young and exciting forwards are in the team’s employ. This is a team that has made bad decision after bad decision. Right now, fans around the league are excited to see Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tear up the NHL just as they were Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner years ago. And those players are now traded and eviscerated as blame falls in Edmonton among the fans and media everywhere it ought to be placed.

Another Oilers blogger Benjamin Massey had a terrific takedown of the team after Game 82 last season, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche that solidified the team’s second consecutive last-place finish:

How do we expect this team to improve? We just gassed the first year of Jordan Eberle’s entry-level contract. The first year of Magnus Paajarvi’s contract. The first year of Taylor Hall’s contract. In exchange, we’re going to get another young player who we can sign too early and gas the first year of their contract too. Then BAM! Stanley Cup.

“and then BAM! Stanley Cup” became a popular refrain for Oilers fans as they head into the draft. It’s analogous to the underpants gnomes from the TV show South Park, and shows the Oilers management’s clear lack of focus or direction as the team skates closer to lottery contention, propped up by only the fact that there are a lot of bad teams is the NHL. The Oilers may be the only team in the league whose blogosphere is more fun to read than the team is to watch.

For an organization that has seemingly showed a willingness to collect resources that may someday lead to winning rather than actually win. Unlike Pittsburgh, who ended years of misery thanks to the selection of the greatest talent of the generation, or Chicago, who were shuttling young defensive prospects through the system, Edmonton shifts the focus on getting younger rather than better.

And if the season will be determined a success if the team earns Nail Yakupov, I have to wonder how long until I can go to a bar in Canada and, when the discussion inevitably turns to the Oilers, people stop talking about the team’s rosy future and instead draw up comparisons to the eternally hopeless New York Islanders, or the Atlanta Thrashers, wherever they went.

Comments (20)

  1. Obviously this is an “opinion” so out of respect I won’t call it idiotic. To say there has been no improvement is inane. Special teams have gone from last in the league, to top 10, that is a major shift (ask the Leafs). Goal differential is another huge change. While it hasn’t translated to wins yet, doesn’t mean it won’t. You are assuming all the people who believe this team will improve and mature are wishful thinking, yet their opinions are easily more supportable than yours of disaster.

    • Doesn’t mean it will translate into wins either… The magical game of hypothetical arguments, they work for you but never against you.

    • Special teams aren’t better, they’ve just got better percentages right now. It’s not sustainable.

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head. The Oilers’ young players are talented and exciting to watch and all, but that’s as far as it goes. They’re not suddenly the NHL’s team to beat. They’re not the Harlem Globetrotters. Even the most stoic hockey fans turn into squealing fanboys as soon as Nugent-Hopkins does something. Enough is enough.

  3. To be perfectly honest if you disagree with the writer’s argument you have to do better than “but it might work.” This argument is as flimsy as saying any team could win the Stanley Cup. Its a true statement but not very insightful and just as bad as “their rebuild might not work.” The argument is this: when do you finally say “this is the core we are committed to building a good hockey team around rather than the belief that drafting high correlates with success? If you don’t surround a young core with complimentary pieces that include vets that are accustomed to winning and work ethic, then it doesn’t matter what kind of junior talent you draft. At some point you will need a Yzerman type to really grab this team.

  4. It took a long time for Pittsburgh and Chicago to rebuild. People seem to forget that. Patience.

    • The Oilers have spent six years failing to surround their young talent with adequate veteran support to help them improve as individuals or as a hockey team. When do you say, enough is enough?

      I lived and died with this team during the lean years of the late ’90s and early ’00s, and 2006 was my reward. Since then, they’ve spent year after year pissing in my face. I’ve stopped watching now, because frankly, I have better things to do. Like go to graduate school. And have sex with girls.

      When management is earnest about getting better, and stops making idiotic moves, they’ll have my attention again.

  5. Someone who purports to be a professional hockey writer should know that there are more indicators of whether a team has improved or not than ‘well they have the same number of points over the same number of games’. As has been mentioned, special teams have improved tremendously and the goal differential has also tightened by a lot. And of course, the number of injuries (the fact that, due to said injuries, our entire defensive corps has a combined cap hit of just over seven million) surely could not be a factor.

    Do the Oilers still have some serious problems to address? Certainly. But to suggest that soon they’ll be relegated to the ‘eternally hopeless pile’ belies a stunning ignorance of the team that betrays your bias. I mean, I’m happy for you that you’ve been able to parley your hyperbolic slant into a professional writing job with the Score, but let’s be frank – you’re the CW of Canadian sports networks. The eternal ‘also ran’.

    Enjoy the hits you’ll no doubt pick up as a result of this piece, but I imagine the majority of the attention will be pitying.

    • you just justified his article, yes “our entire defensive corps has a combined cap hit of just over seven million” (are you part of the team?) this is exactly the lack of direction he’s talking about, relying on young prospects and not picking up any pieces, third and fourth liners, solid defensive defenseman… Surely an uber talented pick next year will fix the team, that’s not how it works(as the oilers have shown). Now for the special teams aspect, I haven’t looked at any of the oilers statistics and I’m not going to, but if the specialty teams have improved and their record has not, then clearly they have fallen in other aspects(don’t know what they are), but it’s best to only point out what supports you instead of taking into account other arguments and rebutting them. By the way, having the same amount of points in the same amount of games for the last three seasons may not be the only indicator but is the most important, you don’t make the playoffs by having improved special teams and a terrible record, realistically you need a good record and good special teams but only one is necessary.

  6. Great points. At what time do we finally stop talking about the future, and instead look for results now? The team needs to start showing improvement. They have struggled for a long time. At some point, enough is enough. Edmonton deserves better.

  7. One thing that the writer has failed to recognize is the significant injuries that have plauged the team for the last 6 years. I know what people will say: “Every team goes through injuries”. Not every year and not consistently to the top players on the team. Last year Hall, Hemsky, Whitney and Eberle were all done for the year. The same sort of thing is happening now

    • I see your point but eventually even the injuries excuse get’s to be BS I’m sorry but to say the team is doing bad due to injuries year after year is like saying you couldn’t do good in school cause your dog ate your homework. Eventually that excuse is just not going to fly. I’ll admit it’s one thing if they do lose the better players due to injuries it’ll hurt them for a while but eventually the other players have to step up and play which is something they’re NOT doing.

  8. It’s time for Oilers fans to stop making excuses for the team, and start demanding a serious culture and content change. Without those 2 things, and the firing of Lowe and Tambellini, the Oilers already are the islanders of the west.

  9. Sure hate some of your grammatical decisions: “Jubilation….turns to fawning”, “As if the draft lottery shouldn’t be enough to excite fans, the news of no bag skate is indicative….”. Kind of got lost on that sentence. Really good article otherwise. Other commenters are sure splitting hairs. The team sucks, agreed? I think the author made his point, whether or not you want to quibble about optimism on the PP. I thought Tambellini had a strong off-season, but it is remarkable how little they have been able to follow through. Have to say though, that coming in I had zero confidence in Smid and Gilbert. Looks like Tambellini seriously underestimated the danger of such a thin blue line.

  10. The Oilers have the talent when it comes to offense, I figure that management seems to think that if we score 4 or 5 goals a game it’s ok to allow 3 or 4 goals a game, in other words the best defense is a good offense! What they need is defensive help. With a goalie on his way out ( Khabibulin ) and Dubnyk not even close to being a starter, they need to secure a bonified young goalie, I’m thinking like Tuukka Rask. What would it take to get him? Could be too much! Rask is itching to be a starter.
    In conclusion, defensive help and someone to stop the puck!

  11. Also to some of you assholes on here,singing UFA has not works for some teams has it.No,Stupid leafs fans on here go suck brian burks cock.

  12. The Oilers don’t need to be this awful.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Shame on Katz, Lowe and Tambellini for failing to improve this team, year after year.

    Unless of course the plan is to suck until such time as the team is playing in their shiny new rink. If that’s what is really at play here then I’d imagine things are proceeding exactly as they should be.

    And in the mean time the fanbase can fight one another on various blogs over ultimately meaningless minutia and details until the sun comes back out again in 2 or 3 seasons.

    (*for the record, I honestly think it’s more overall incompetence than some over-arcing conspiracy involving the new rink. Still though, wouldn’t it be perfect for Katz if the Oilers are actually worth watching when the new rink is open for business?)

  13. THe people I feel sorry for are the up and coming fans. The long-term fans like myself eventually don’t give a fuck. We just accept the fact the team sucks and move on with it. We literally might as be just bottom feeders. But the sad thing is you have these young fans that have this…PIPE DREAM that the oilers will do better next year “We just gotta do better next year” And aren’t realizing that NEXT year will most likely give us the same results. Unless the young talent shapes up and fast we’ll see a team like the Red wings who will continue to hold onto the young players because “They’re the key to our success” and when they finally win a cup the players will most likely be in there mid thirties to early forties and be close to retiree and we’ll be back at square one. Now I’m not saying we should rely on only OLD players NORE should we rely on YOUNG players but what we have to understand is that if the players we’ve got NOW don’t shape up they’ll eventually be too old and we’ll be back at square one.

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