Monday, June 23, 2014

Patience level at an all-time low for Oiler fans

With the 2014 NHL Entry Draft now less than a week away, the Edmonton Oilers have once again become relevant in hockey circles. Unfortunately for them, the only time this happens is leading up to draft day and it is a scenario this fan base has truly grown tired of. 

Instead of the focus being on adding another quality prospect into the organization that could help this team get over the top sometime in the future, it is all about the neverending re-build and the very real potential of another wasted season in 2014-15. 

After suffering through eight consecutive years of not only watching their team miss the playoffs but actually regressing in the overall standings, who can blame fans for not being overly excited about bringing in more “potential” on a roster that desperately needs help in the hear and now. 

At what point does continually losing no longer become an acceptable outcome? 

Is next season the year? Probably not and that would leave this once storied franchise just one year shy of not getting a sniff of post-season action for decade...think about that for a moment and let it sink in. While some of you reading this may not be old enough to care one way or another but for those of you who are, if you include his one season in the WHA with the Oilers...Wayne Gretzky played ten seasons in Edmonton. Taylor Hall is about to embark on his fifth season in Orange and Blue and while he is not #99, he is still a very special talent and should not be taken for granted. These guys won’t be around forever, which makes wasting season after season all the more frustrating. 

As my good friend Allan Mitchell (aka Lowetide) over at TSN 1260 always says, isn’t it about time for this ship to start turning north? With some of the kids who are already here now four years into their NHL careers and having played only a handful of meaningful games, how long are we going to have to wait to watch the likes of a Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Aaron Ekblad or Sam Reinhart get a chance to play some games when the pressure is on? 

If you think the fan base is frustrated, how do you think these players feel? Don’t get me wrong, everyone that has been apart of that dressing room over the last eight years has had a hand in how bad this team has performed, as have all the coaches and management. There is plenty of blame to go around but at the end of the day, this roster hasn’t been good enough for sometime now and continuing to apply one band-aid solution after another isn’t working. 

The Oilers have to get better and quickly. While no one should be expecting a miracle, there is no reason this team can not compete for a playoff spot from start to finish in ’14-’15. As of right now, there isn’t a hope in hell of that occurring and the only way it happen is by getting better players on the roster. They can certainly plug some holes via free agency but they are missing some core pieces that can only be filled in two ways - via the draft and/or trade. 

While much has been made of Edmonton’s willingness to move the third overall pick in next Friday’s draft in order to try and improve their lineup, does anyone honestly believe that? Barring a massive over payment, Craig MacTavish will not be moving his first rounder. Considering how long this mess has gone on for, it is hard to imagine this club waiting for whomever they get from the 2014 Draft Class to be that difference maker but it is easy to understand why they are in no rush to give up on the” potential” of one of these guys turning into a star down the road. 

That said, remember that turning north thing we were talking about? 

If the organization deems the player they can grab at #3, regardless of who it is, as a cornerstone piece that they simply cannot pass up, than make the pick and bring him on board. However, if that is the route they decide to go...someone else has to go and I am not talking about Sam Gagner. Call bold or whatever you would like, point is it has to happen. 

Craig MacTavish can certainly go out and sign all the Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, David Moss, Nikita Nikitin, Ron Hainsey and Tom Gilbert’s of the world but it still won’t make this a team good enough to contend for a playoff spot. In fact, you could add all of the aforementioned players to this lineup and they still wouldn’t make the playoffs. 

The combination of having nothing resembling a top pairing defenceman on the roster, absolutely no size inside their top six forwards and a goalie tandem that have made a grand total 109 NHL appearances between them and will be twenty-eight (Ben Scrivens) and thirty-two (Viktor Fasth) years old come next October, doesn’t bode well for the immediate future. Filling spots with quality role players is all well and good but if you don’t have the necessary horses to help carry the load, you are just spinning your wheels. 

The time for the Edmonton Oilers to go out and truly insulate the core group on this roster with quality NHL players who can not only help guide them along the way but do it from a standpoint of being their equal within the lineup, is long overdue. If you want these kids to take that next step in their development, put them in a situation where they will be pushed by someone who can still be a difference maker on the ice and not just off it. 

Expecting the likes of an Andrew Ference, Shawn Horcoff or Ryan Smyth to lead these guys out of this mess isn’t practical. None of them have ever been good enough players to understand the pressure that comes with being “the man”. They have never experienced what it is like to be a Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins so how can they be expected to show these kids the way? Hell outside of Ference’s success with the Bruins, we are talking about players who have only ever enjoyed marginal success, at least from a team perspective, during much of their National Hockey League careers. 

Anyone who knows anything about the game of hockey and watches this team with any sort of regularity will tell you Edmonton are a good six to eight players away from becoming a truly competitive team. Those are difficult words for any fan base to stomach and likely even harder for this one to digest. To their credit, the masses have managed to remain relatively patient to this point but this act has started to wear down even the loyalist of Oiler supporters. 

It is actually quite simple. Fans have grown tired of hearing about tomorrow and what the future might bring. After a while those words start to sound like nothing more than excuses and frankly they deserve better than this. The time to start turning north is now and one can only hope Daryl Katz and his management team are smart enough to recognize this and actually try to do something about it…before the entire thing blows up in their collective faces. 

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