SUN Hockey Pool

All that remains is pride

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

End the slump, but finish 30th.

Win a bloody game, for crying out loud.

Just don't win too many.

For fans of the Edmonton Oilers, the final 29 games of the season represent an uneasy paradox. Their team won't get any better unless it remains worse than everyone else.

Oilers fans want that first or second pick overall, but what they don't want is the kind of embarrassment and frustration it takes to finish dead last in a league that has the Toronto Maple Leafs in it,

The players, however, aren't the least bit conflicted. Especially the veterans.

That the worst season in franchise history might yield a Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin is of no comfort to guys who likely won't be around when Edmonton's rebuilding effort finally comes to fruition -- whenever that is.

"It's not a great position when you're a veteran player and a team is in the mindset that it's going to be a while before there's success," said Ethan Moreau. "It's not something a veteran player likes to hear, that's for sure."

"Just wait till 2015!" is not exactly an inspirational battle cry when you're in your mid- 30s and losing every game you play.

"We're worried about winning now," said Fernando Pisani, who's in the last year of the four-year deal he struck after Edmonton's Cup final run in 2006.

"Everybody has pride. Nobody wants to be in this situation. We're doing our best to make sure we get out of it.

"Your character is put on the line when you go into these games, to see who will quit and who won't quit. Everybody in this dressing room has won at some level and has that competitive drive. There's no way guys are OK with (finishing 30th if it means a good pick)."

Even the players who probably will be here in four or five years aren't secretly excited about what Edmonton might pull out of the next draft.

"That's definitely not what we're thinking about," said Sam Gagner.

"You play hockey to win games. It's my third year in the league and to not have made the playoffs once is not fun. You play this game to be a playoff player. Growing up, I was always on really good teams, always on playoff teams."

Tonight against Carolina was supposed to be a big game, one that might determine who finishes 30th and secures that first or second pick. Now the Oilers are so far back, even this one doesn't matter.

There's nothing left to play for now but themselves, for self-respect and respect around the NHL.

"This really tests your character," said Gagner. "For a lot of guys in here you see what they're really like. Everybody in here is trying to stay positive, but at the same time this isn't a positive situation. There has to be a lot of urgency and desperation in our game."

They will learn a lot about everybody in the dressing room during the next three months.

A sinking ship will provide the coaching staff with an opportunity to sniff out the rats.

"Every time you play, your character and your integrity is always judged, regardless of your position in the standings," said Moreau. "People always look to see how you respond to adversity.

"It's hard to realize it now, but this stretch will help a lot of guys' careers, including older guys. It makes you appreciate good times even more. You can always learn from stuff like this and if you don't you're missing a pretty big opportunity."

A loss to Carolina all but seals 30th, but nobody's looking at the silver lining of a 14th straight defeat.

"We want to win," said Gagner.


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