Edmonton Oilers already looking back on another lost season
Edmonton's Nail Yakupov (10) and Teddy Purcell (16) celebrate a goal during the second period of the Edmonton Oilers' NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, April 9, 2015. Codie McLachlan/Edmonton Sun
With one game left in the regular season, the time for reflection on another lost year has already begun for the Edmonton Oilers.
For those keeping track, it’s nine years and counting out of the playoff for the Oilers, one off a league record, which they will be hard pressed not to match.
The so-called rebuild is going backwards, as the Oilers will finish, with fewer points this season than they did last year regardless of what happens, on the road, against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
“You want to play well in Vancouver and leave yourself a good lasting memory for this season,” said Oilers winger Taylor Hall. “It’s a brutal time of year, but you have to get up to play games. If you don’t then you’re going to lose like we did (Thursday, 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks) or you’re going to get hurt. You have to find a way.”
The Oilers have been playing out the string essentially since November. A disastrous start under head coach Dallas Eakins sealed the team’s fate.
Surprisingly, the only ones who didn’t see it coming were Oilers management, who seem to be spinning their wheels regardless of who they claim is calling the shots.
Eakins was fired less than a year and-a-half into a four-year contract and replaced by interim coach Todd Nelson, who did his best to stop the bleeding.
“I think the feeling here is probably the same as it was after that lockout year,” Hall said. “We have some holes on our team, there is no doubt about it, but for the most part, in the latter half of this year we’ve had an identity at least.
“There have been a few games where we’ve knocked off big teams, we’ve played well and with the exception of games like (Thursday), there’s been a few of them, we’ve been in games. That was nice to see when I was hurt and when I came back.”
The organization took a giant step backwards after the lockout-shortened season when the club finished with 45 points and were 10 shy of a playoff spot.
This year, the Oilers will finish nearly 40 points behind the eighth-seeded playoff team.
“You always want to be positive, but you can’t put together a couple of good games in a row then put a stinker up or hang your goalie out to dry like we did (Thursday),” said Oilers winger Teddy Purcell. “We gave up too many odd-man rushes, too many turnovers, but I like what Nelly is doing with the systems, I think the guys are buying in more.
“For the most part, besides the odd stinker, I think we’re putting in more 60-minute efforts and I think that’s giving us a better chance to win. It feels like we’re in the games more since he took over than we were at the beginning of the year.”
Nelson did bring some stability to the mess created by Eakins, who looking back, was probably way in over his head.
Nelson went back to time-tested methods and put a bigger emphasis on effort and system play than on analytical data.
The players responded and nearly everyone, to a man, improved under the new coach.
“Yeah, I think that I’ve personally played better under Todd, I don’t know if that’s any correlation to switching coaches, but I’ve managed to find a little bit of my game back,” Hall said. “I think our team we did well with Todd. I don’t want to speak for anyone upstairs (management), but I think everyone respects him and would like to see him back.”
Nelson is the Oilers sixth coach in the last six years, yet there is no guarantee he’ll be at the helm next season.
The Oilers are expected to shop the position during the off-season, despite there being some dramatic improvements since Nelson took over.
“The first half of the year, I think we were pretty lost and he came in and he wanted to play a faster system,” Purcell said. “He wanted us to move our feet more, he wanted us to close space on opposition, because we’re not good enough to stand around and let them go through us. When we do that, we’re gapping better, we’re turning more pucks over on the forecheck and our power play has been a lot better too. Even though it’s been frustrating, for a lot of us, we haven’t gone through a season like this, you have to learn from it and move on as best you can.”
Notes … The Oilers reassigned goaltender Laurent Brossoit to the Oklahoma City Barons on Friday a day after making 49-saves in his NHL debut. The team activated goaltender Viktor Fasth, who could get the start against the Canucks on Saturday.