Being an Edmonton Oilers fan born after the glory years has not been easy. We suffered through years of mediocrity and terrible drafting in the ’90’s, rode a wave of momentum all the way to the Cup finals in 2006, and then came crashing down once Mr. Pronger asked for his way out of town.
After the run to the Cup, things got really bad in the City of Champions. The Oilers started losing, a lot. The first year of tanking yielded Sam Gagner, and would have got them Patrick Kane if not for a misguided victory in the last game of the season. Two other first round picks in 2007 along with Gagner never panned out, but the core of young players had begun.
Cheering against your team is a difficult task. You want them to do well individually, but you are so concerned about the future and the potential of high draft picks that you torture yourself throughout the game, and all season long. This is what it has been like to be an Oilers fan for the better part of the last five years.
First came the season of Taylor Hall. Then The Nuge. Now we go for Yakupov. We watch the games as a collective, with high hopes at the start of the year, but reality quickly sets in. At one point this year Khabibulin was the best goalie in the league and we actually thought for a second that there was hope. But alas, there is none.
After starting the year on fire, the Oilers now find themselves near the basement of the league. So a new game now begins for insane Oilers fans like me. We do not just cheer for the Oil to lose games, we also cheer for the teams below us in the standings to win every single night. The Blue Jackets, the Hurricanes and the Islanders are not easy to cheer for, but we find a way.
We cheer for individual accomplishments rather than team success. The Nuge and Eberle will hopefully keep up their ridiculous scoring pace and end the season north of 70 points. Hall, if he can stay healthy, could become a true power forward and dominant scorer in the league. But as long as they find a way to lose the games while lighting the lamp, all will be fine.
The Oilers currently have the sixth fewest points in the league, with talented squads in Tampa and Anaheim still behind them. Both of those teams simply have too much talent to go an entire season in the basement, so we can rest easy knowing that they will leapfrog us in due course. The real challenge comes from the Island, the Canes and the Jackets.
As has been part of the process in the past few years, tracing back to the time when Ales Hemsky went down with a season ending injury in 2009-2010, Oilers fans now look towards the top of the draft and start thinking ahead a year. Few thought that we would fall all the way to the basement for Taylor Hall, but a going a month without a win will help that cause. Then the Nuge draft came last year, and despite the endless questions about his size, he has already found himself amongst the elite offensive players in the league just thirty odd games into his big league career.
So what comes next? The consensus at this time is that the Russian duo of Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko are the top two players available in the draft this year. Yakupov has been compared to Kovalchuk while Grigorenko looks like Malkin out there. But do the Oilers need another top end player? When picking at the top of the draft, it is rarely wise to pick based on need, so they would have to pick one of the two if they end up with one of the top two picks.
So now we cheer for the Oilers to lose. Every single last game. It is painful, but it needs to be done. The Oilers are not nearly close enough to competing in the league right now, as they have nothing resembling scoring balance. The kid line notches one or two a night, but there is simply no balance in the lineup. Ryan Smyth started hot, but has not been able to throw the puck in the net lately. Hemsky is useless on this team, and will likely be shipped out at the deadline.
Last year the Oil held onto Penner until the deadline, and ended up getting a first round pick and a serviceable d-man in Colton Teubert in exchange for the donair-loving Dusty Penner. If they hold onto Hemsky until the deadline, and if he can manage to notch a few points here and there, then a similar return is likely for the Czech winger.
Many believe that the Oil must draft a blueliner. It is without a question the weakest part of the team, but the organization has a few pieces that could step into the lineup in the next year or two. Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and David Musil could all be solid players for the next decade, and that might be exactly what they need.
If Yakupov or Grigorenko are available, the Oil have to draft one of them. Ryan Murray, Mathew Dumba and Jacob Trouba are all highly touted defenceman in this years class, but none of them touch on the level of the Russian duo. Sure drafting another highly skilled forward might seem like overkill, but building more than just one line of scoring is necessary in the league today.
So we will continue to cheer for them to lose. All games except those against the Flames need to be lost. It sounds counterintuitive to being a fan, but sometimes you need to look ahead, rather than looking in the moment. The Penguins drafted Crosby, Malking, Fleury and Staal in four consecutive years with either the first or second overall selection. This is what needs to happen if the Oilers are going to be successful for the next generation.
Another dynamic scorer this year, and then hopefully stud blueliner Seth Jones next year. He is a towering, strong skating player, and happens to be the son of former NBA’er Popeye Jones. He is that stud on the back end that the team has lacked since Pronger jumped ship, and every successful team needs a player like him, surrounded by role playing guys, in order to be a winning franchise.
So we hope to lose. Then lose again, and them a few more times. The team will be in perfect shape, barring that they can lock up their young talent long-term, for their new arena to open in a few years. The Oilers will be contending, and the glory days will be restored in Oil Nation.
Such are the joys of losing.