SUN Hockey Pool

Soul-searching begins for Oilers

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

They packed their equipment, cleared out their stalls and went their separate ways yesterday.

It'll be a long off-season for the Edmonton Oilers as they spend the next five months trying to figure out how it all went wrong and how it could have unravelled so quickly.

A team expecting to challenge for a division title this season, the Oilers went on to miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

"It's obviously disappointing, it's not where we wanted to be," said centre Shawn Horcoff.

"It's never an easy day, this day, when you don't make the playoffs. I don't remember the mood ever being like this in years past when we missed the playoffs. There were a lot of expectations this year, we were all expecting to do better and we're all disappointed."

In hindsight, expectations were probably too high on the team heading into the season.

They expected too much out of their second-year players, had too much faith in their off-season acquisitions and relied too heavily on their veteran leadership.

The Oilers were never able to put it all together, and when it came time to make a stand and solidify a playoff spot, they buckled under the pressure.

"It's up to everyone in here to assess themselves," said captain Ethan Moreau. "You have to look in the mirror and be happy with yourself. If you can wake up every morning and be happy with your life and how you perform your job, that's all you can ask for.

"Everybody has to take responsibility in trying to get better. I have to get better and that's the responsibility everybody has to take."

MORE TALENT

The Oilers may have had more talent heading into this year than in the past two seasons. However, they were unable to find that mix of talent and effort on a consistent basis.

"Our culture took a hit here in terms of our work ethic and selflessness and the universal commitment that we had here for so many years," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"There were a lot of nights that as a coach I had to ask for more and sometimes the tank was pretty empty. It was a difficult year for sure, it was disappointing in a lot of ways."

There were only a handful of players able to improve on their offensive output from the previous season.

Horcoff, who had a career year with 50 points in 53 games last season and was rewarded with a lucrative multi-year contract extension, had just 53 points in 81 games this year.

HEMSKY DOWN

Ales Hemsky finished with five fewer points than he did a year ago. Dustin Penner was only able to score 17 goals after finishing with 23 the previous year and 29 in his final season with Anaheim.

Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Robert Nilsson all had less productive seasons. And Mathieu Garon, the goaltender that was anointed the starter at the beginning of the season, eventually had to be traded.

"The thing is, I don't think we're that far away," Horcoff said. "There were some stretches where we played some really good hockey, the type of hockey that we had to play in order to be successful. It was just a matter of trying to make that consistent. We have to find a way to do that every night.

"Our home record wasn't where we wanted it to be although our road record was great, which is a little bit odd because we've always been a team that has played better at home.

"There are areas that we definitely have to address in the off-season if we're going to be successful."

A key area of concern was the penalty killing unit, which finished 27th in the league this season with just a 77.5% success rate. The Oilers also had difficulty winning faceoffs, and despite being able to create chances, they were dreadful finishers around the net.

"It's going to be a long off-season," Horcoff said. "There is plenty of time to sit back and reflect, make changes to the off-season program to make sure we come to camp in great shape and be ready to go.

"For us, having such a long layoff, we have to expect that everybody is going to come back in great shape next year."


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