The horror is over for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:41 PM ET

Pat Quinn, Sheldon Souray and Steve Tambellini have all had their say, the lottery is over and the off-season has just begun.

Good, because that means we can close the book on the regular season.

It began with Nikolai Khabibulin’s last-second, game-losing blunder on opening night and ended, not a moment too soon, with a 7-2 beat down in Anaheim.

And in the six long months and 80 long games in between, it wasn’t much better.

Points wise it can be argued that this was not the worst season in Edmonton Oilers history, (they only had 60 in 1992-93), but given everything that’s gone so horribly wrong here, it’s really no contest.

From injuries to illnesses to woeful underachievers to off-ice turmoil to humiliating losing streaks to the first-ever 30th place finish, 2009-10 was without question the lowest point the once-proud hockey club has ever known.

Some of it seemed unavoidable, like 531 man games lost to injury, some of it was self-inflicted, like bloated contracts to players who didn’t deserve them then and surely don’t now, and some of it was just downright strange.

Here’s a look back at the year that was, but shouldn’t have been:

Let’s break a deal ... Before the season from hell even began there was trouble. The Oilers made a desperate bid for Ottawa’s Dany Heatley in the summer, offering Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid in a trade. Problem was, Senators management leaked the names of the players, making it very uncomfortable for the three Oilers, and Heatley had no intention of lifting his no-trade clause to come to Edmonton. Oilers management left Penner, Cogliano and Smid to twist in the wind for an entire month while they let Heatley think about it. The Oilers became a laughingstock and couldn’t wait for the season to start so they could put all the negative vibes behind them.

Doh!

The hurt locker ... You can buy $20 streetcorner watches in New York that last longer than most Oilers did. They finished the year with nine players on the injured list, including Ales Hemsky, who was done after 22 games, Nikolai Khabibulin, gone after 18, and Sheldon Souray, who played 37 games before breaking his hand in Calgary and burning his bridge in Edmonton. Ladislav Smid, J-F Jacques, Ryan Stone, Theo Peckham, Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule also had to shut it down early.

In all, 36 different players suited up for the Oilers this year, not counting the backup goalie they called up from the University of Calgary, leading to a hissy fit from Shannon Szabados.

The Oilers are putting their heads together to try and figure out why they can’t stay healthy, so expect a few off-season concussions.

How sick is that? ... It wasn’t just hockey injuries that dragged the season down.

Swine flu gutted the dressing room, twice, hitting 12 players and most of the training staff in the first wave. It got so bad the Oilers didn’t even have enough players to ice a full team one night in San Jose (not that it would have mattered), and reporters travelling with the team didn’t even go in the dressing room, preferring to pull players into the hallway and speak to the there ... at a distance.

Two months later, the flus came through again, swine and regular, sucking even more life from an already lifeless group.

“Just when you think you’re over the bump or you’ve at least put the sickness behind you it comes back again,” sighed Patrick O’Sullivan.

“I’m not a doctor, but it can’t be the same thing, it can’t be the H1N1 because we’d all be immune to that by now. So your guess is as good as mine.”

Ill at ease ... In addition to the flu, they dug deep into the medical textbooks for the rest of their illnesses. Fernando Pisani was sidelined with ulcerative colitis and Mike Comrie misseed almost half a season with mononucleosis. Devan Dubnyk came down with some kind of gastrointestinal disorder and Gilbert Brule was sick four times, with maladies ranging from flu, stomach problems to an unspecified malaise.

Rumours of dangerously high estrogen levels in the dressing room proved to be unfounded.

Broke-back poundin’ ... Life off the ice wasn’t any better. There was the disputed New Year’s Eve restaurant tab in Calgary (who could have guessed that one would go public), Sheldon Souray’s attack on management, followed by a couple of pretty decent counter-punches from management.

And after his season-ending back surgery, Nikolai Khabibulin was arrested for extreme DUI in Scottsdale, accused of speeding in his black Ferrari (probably not the best ride for somebody nursing a bad back) with a few too many red wines in his system. He’s back in court on the matter Friday.

Not so rosy Palm ... Who can forget the mid-season vacation to Palm Springs, the one that was cancelled in favour of a mini-training camp when the Oilers lost nine of 10 games to fall to second last in the NHL.

“There was a plan, a good one by our management and ownership, to give our players a little bit of a break, which seemed pretty smart in August,” said Pat Quinn. “But it doesn’t feel, as a coach, very smart right now.”

Wrong net, dude ... If it was a golf tournament, they’d all be major champions. O’Sullivan and Shawn Horcoff were supposed to be filling opposition nets, but spent most of their time fishing goals out of their own. O’Sullivan (-35) and Shawn Horcoff (-29) had the worst two plus/minus totals in the NHL. Edmonton had three others in the bottom nine: Souray (-19), Taylor Chorney (-21) and Ryan Potulny (-21).

All of this begs the question: how in the world did Dustin Penner finish plus 6?

The good ... The Oilers were headed out on a five-game road trip in early December desperately needing points. They got 10, sweeping a five-game trip for the first time in franchise history. After that, it was the road to ruin as Edmonton lost 20 of its next 21 away from home.

The bad ... The Oilers were still in the mix in mid-December, but they went on a seven-game losing streak, beat then 29th place Toronto Maple Leafs, then put up another 13-game losing streak. Winning once in 21 games ended their season by February.

The team MVP ... The Oilers only had one player with more than 20 goals, only one with 30 assists, only one with more than 60 points and only one regular forward who wasn’t a minus player. Penner. Last year’s most vilified player is this year’s most valuable.

Most disappointing ... There are plenty of candidates, but none of them making $7 million. As Edmonton’s highest paid player Shawn Horcoff was expected to carry a big load. He finished strongly, but 36 points and minus 29, wasn’t nearly enough to earn his money.

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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