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There is hope Oil fans

Not sure which is tougher to swallow: the fact the Oilers have missedthe playoffs, or the fact the dream ultimately ended at the hands ofthe Calgary Flames in Game 81.

Not sure which is tougher to swallow: the fact the Oilers have missed the playoffs, or the fact the dream ultimately ended at the hands of the Calgary Flames in Game 81.

Neither option, I’m guessing, is sitting well on Whyte Avenue, or anywhere else in Edmonton for that matter. A second straight year out of the post-season, especially after 2006’s magical run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, isn’t acceptable anywhere in the ‘City of Champions.’

However.

Rewind one year ago, and it was a totally different story — same non-playoff ending, yes, but it was all blackness and horror compared to the light and hope that permeated this season’s final two months in Edmonton. As you may recall (unless you’ve blocked it out entirely), the latter stages of the 2006-07 Oilers campaign featured a February trade of Ryan Smyth and then … loss after loss after loss. Last spring at this time, the Oilers were just finishing up a 20-losses-in-22-games tailspin that history will likely record as the franchise’s darkest hour.

It’s completely different this time around. The Oilers almost reversed that ridiculous losing trend, winning at will in the final two months of 2007-08. They enter the off-season knowing there are positives in place.

For starters, they played their best hockey without some of their best players. No. 1 centre Shawn Horcoff and big free agent acquisition Sheldon Souray both missed huge chunks of the year; their presence alone next year will be a big boon.

Ales Hemsky, the Oilers’ best player, rose to the challenge of being the focal point of every opponent’s top defence pairing and checking line.

Goaltender Mathieu Garon, after stops in Montreal and Los Angeles, finally realized the potential that others had seen in him for so long. He replaced Dwayne Roloson, the hero of the 2006 run, and was probably the NHL’s best free agent signing last summer.

Then, of course, there are the rookies, led by offensive building blocks Sam Gagner, 18, and Andrew Cogliano, 20. Due to injuries and a lack of overall scoring, they received plenty of ice time and the chance to prove they could contribute on the scoreboard. And they did, from the start of the season to the very end. Don’t forget Curtis Glencross, a gritty winger who added 15 goals in 61 games. And Tom Gilbert, too, jumped up the defence depth chart until he was playing 22 minutes a night.

Other young players delivered at times, too, from Dustin Penner to Robert Nilsson to Denis Grebeshkov to Ladislav Smid.

No, it’s not the ending the Oilers wanted this season. But it’s progress and it’s promising and it’s a sunnier summer in northern Alberta.


 
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