Oilers' season mercifully ends

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:13 PM ET

The end couldn’t come soon enough.

Had the NHL given the Edmonton Oilers the option of opting out of the season in February, they probably would have taken it.

If they could have just mailed in their two points every night from then on in, they would have paid for the postage.

Yet, now that the season is over, the demolition process can begin and new foundations can be put in place. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

“There is reason to believe that we have a chance to grow this team,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. “Is it a bigger job than maybe some expected? Probably. But by the same token, we are bad this year in a lot of areas and there is a ways to go.”

This season, the Oilers had the second-lowest point total in franchise history. They won just 27 games all season and were out of the playoff race by January.

“There were some positives,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. “You have to look at the number of injuries we had on this team, which forced a lot of guys to have to step up and find their game. I thought we played better towards the end of the season. We have to build on that, move forward, and take that into next season.”

Injuries were a factor, having lost 530 man games this season. The Oilers lost their starting goaltender, their top scorer and most offensive defenceman early on.

“It was a critical time when we lost our goaltender,” Quinn said. “We also missed a lot of time out of our defence. We just weren’t able to recover from it. We couldn’t get the kind of play that we needed to succeed.

“We went all of January and never won a hockey game. You don’t know how that happens. I’ve been around the game a long time and you try and analyze and figure that out, and I’m not so sure how you can do that.

“We went south for a while and got ourselves in a spot where we weren’t going to be a playoff team. We had 32 guys around our team all year long, that's the kind of year we had with injuries. They’re all reasons, but at the same time, it doesn’t help you feel any better when at the end of the year, you’re like we are, right out of it and trying to find positive things.”

One positive is that when you hit rock bottom, it’s hard to get any lower.

By being the worst team in the league, the Oilers get an opportunity to acquire the top prospect. They’ll find out Tuesday whether they’ll get the first or second choice in this summer’s draft.

“We’re going to have some young guys that might need some time to develop, but eventually will be up here,” said Oilers defenceman Ryan Whitney. “There’s a bright future ahead. We’re actually in a lot better shape than a lot of the teams around the league, which is pretty impressive for finishing 30th. As bad as it is, it’s better to finish 30th than to finish 23rd and get the 10th pick in the draft.

“It’s sad to say, but you do want to get a high pick and at the end we got it. Now it’s time to move forward and go from there.”

General manager Steve Tambellini will have his plate full this off-season turning over the roster.

He has a disgruntled defenceman to move, underachieving veterans to unload and perhaps some bad contracts to buy out.

For those that are left, if anything this season has made them stronger.

“I think so, I hope so,” said centre Shawn Horcoff.

“Obviously we’re going to have a lot different team here next year. Some of the veterans won’t be back and there are going to be a lot of changes next year. We’re in a transition period and it’s going to be a different look.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


Photos