SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers have last in the bag -- nearly

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

This season, nothing has been in the bag for the Edmonton Oilers.

Regardless of how hard they’ve played, how big a lead they’ve held, or how improbable a defeat would seem, even for this team, the Oilers have found a way to lose. They’ve turned it into an art form.

Yet, heading towards the final stretch of the year, there's little doubt the Oilers will finish dead last.

That’s in the bag.

With 12 games left in the season to forget, and currently 11 points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the penultimate spot in the NHL standings, there is little chance of the Oilers improving their position.

They’ll need to win at least six of their remaining 12 games to do so, and that’s only if the Leafs drop all of their remaining 12 games.

Either way, it’s an unlikely scenario, especially considering the Oilers have just six wins in their last 33 games.

“It’s been pretty frustrating coming to the rink every day,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert following a 4-2 loss in Minnesota on Tuesday.

“Especially when you put in an effort like that and you never have anything to show for it, regardless of how well you’ve played. It gets frustrating after a while.”

Oiler fans have been frustrated pretty much since the slide began in December, ironically enough, following the most successful road trip in franchise history. The only solace they can take is in the fact the Oilers will get, at worst, the second overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Considering all the losing they’ve done this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they lost the draft lottery as well. Fortunately for them, by finishing last in the standings, the lowest the Oilers can drop in the draft is to second.

There, either Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall or Plymouth Whalers centre Tyler Seguin will be available for the taking. The pair are the two top-ranked players in the upcoming draft, with Seguin being listed as No. 1 in the latest rankings released by NHL Central Scouting on Tuesday. It was a position previously held by Hall.

The two finished the regular season tied for the Ontario Hockey League lead in points with 106. Seguin had more goals with 48, but Hall played in six fewer games.

Either way, whoever the Oilers end up with, they’ll get a quality player to try and rebuild a franchise around. The club is expected to be keeping a close eye on both as the two could meet along the way during the OHL playoffs, which start Thursday. In fact, if the OHL's Western Conference seedings hold up, No. 1 Windsor would host No. 4 Plymouth in the second round — a series which would begin around April 1.

Prior to the draft, though, the Oilers still have to play out the string.

They have a four-game homestand beginning Friday against the Detroit Red Wings, who currently hold a three-point lead over the Calgary Flames for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They’ll also host the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks.

All four of those teams still have plenty left to play for — although the Ducks are quickly falling out of the playoff race — meaning there won’t be much of reprieve on the Oilers, whose mental state has taken as big a beating as their physical one.

“The big part of us becoming a good team for the future is the mental side of this business,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn.

“We need to find a way to get better there. It’s not just how we skate, stickhandle and shoot. If you’ve got physical tools, it’s about knowing how to play a game right, and right now, we’re struggling with playing it all night long, not get frustrated and not give up.

“We’re not a strong team in that regard right now, but we’re going to stick with it.”

For everyone involved, the end can’t come soon enough.

“This year hasn’t been fun for anybody,” said Sam Gagner. “It’s one of those years that you just want to put behind you, but you have to try to learn from everything that’s happened and that’s what we’re trying to do in here.”


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