Oilers a different team from a year ago

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:06 PM ET

Pat Quinn's words hung in the air like napalm fumes.

Probably because he had just dropped a bombshell on his Edmonton Oilers.

It was a year ago to the month and the bags were all but packed for a mid-season golf junket to Palm Springs.

Unfortunately, the rest of the NHL had been swinging clubs at Edmonton all season. At holiday time, the Oilers were 1-9 in their last 10 and second last in the NHL.

Jetting off to California, just days after a New Year's Eve bar tab dispute in Calgary hit the fan, didn't seem prudent.

"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," announced Quinn. "But it doesn't feel, as a coach, very smart right now."

So they stayed home and practised for four days in cold, snowy Edmonton instead. Mmmmmm, January mini-camp.

Fast forward to 2011 and the Oilers, after Friday night's 6-1 loss to Vancouver, have two wins in their last 12 and sit third last in the NHL.

But they're teeing it up at Bighorn Country Club anyway. Shutting down the party was never even on the agenda.

It's a different time, they say, and a different team.

"We're working awfully hard and we're really trying to work through some circumstances that are certainly unique to us this year," said head coach Tom Renney, who thinks cancelling last year's trip was the right call, as is going ahead with this year's.

"As bad as we've looked at times, it certainly hasn't been for lack of wanting to do the right thing. We have excellent leadership in our room and an excellent group of people who need to know how enjoyable the NHL experience can be.

"This is all part of being a pro and I don't think they should be denied the opportunity to participate in something like this, especially when you're talking about our foundation people and shareholders. I think it's really important to rub shoulders with those people, too."

Renney says the coaching staff agonized over last year's decision.

"It was tough, no question about it," he said. "We needed to work on things. As we talked it through, I was all for doing more work, for staying back and working on things that would help our game. It was a tough call, though. Nobody struggled more than Pat Quinn."

Alas, camp had little effect -- the Oilers went 11-24-3 in their final 38 games and Quinn isn't back this year.

"I don't want to comment too much on last year, last year is in the past," said captain Shawn Horcoff, one of the few veterans who survived the off-season purge. "There were multiple things that went on here that led to our demise. I prefer to keep that in the past and comment more on this year.

"We are where we are in the standings, but there's a whole different outlook. The effort is there every night, we have a great bunch of guys. Not that it wasn't last year, but we have a younger team, hungry, but there's a lot of inexperience that leads to our problems.

"It's just a different attitude. I mean, at this time last year it was as miserable as I've ever been around, and deservedly so. This time there is hope for the future."

They didn't have to ask the players twice if the two-day trip, before they continue the five-game swing in Dallas Tuesday, is a good idea.

"Last year might have even been a good thing for us to get away from things and re-focus our energy," said Sam Gagner. "I don't think last year was a case of not working hard.

"This year it'll be nice to get that mental break. It's a long season, it's always nice when you get a chance to get away from it."

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