If Oilers fans are feeling like their team absolutely has to make the playoffs this season, they ought to look to the Columbus Blue Jackets — who are at Rexall Place for an important game tonight — for perspective.
You think the pressure is tough in Edmonton? Try following a Columbus team that, in its eighth season of existence, is still attempting to secure its first post-season berth.
Try facing a future that, though blessed with the presence of youngsters such as Nikita Filatov (the No. 1 NHL-ready prospect as selected by the Hockey News’ upcoming Future Watch special edition), Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard and Steve Mason, could include the departure of star forward Rick Nash, slated to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010 and rumoured to be considering employment with another team.
Year-in, year-out, mismanagement stunted the Blue Jackets’ growth — and only since GM (and former Oilers management mainstay) Scott Howson came on the scene in 2007 has there been some semblance of discernable progress.
But even then, the road to championship contention is almost invariably slow and fraught with potholes.
That may be the ultimate lesson the Oilers learn this season.
For argument’s sake, let’s say Edmonton falls short in its playoff drive; does that mean GM Steve Tambellini and the rest of the front office should begin placing dynamite sticks around the team’s pillars to begin the process of starting over from scratch?
Of course not.
The fact of the matter is that Edmonton, like Columbus, has got a handful of solid young players still finding their NHL identities, one or two top-level performers and a collection of league veterans who haven’t proven able to guide the Oilers into a group of elite teams that includes Detroit and San Jose.
Therefore, Tambellini’s challenge is just about identical to Howson’s: Settle on a core of four or five players to build around, and augment that core with both bargain-type role players and the odd splurge on veteran UFAs.
Panicking or pouting over a disappointing season does nobody any good.