SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers have a lot to fix

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

DALLAS — The Edmonton Oilers aren’t heading into the All Star break broken, more like a fixer-upper that still needs a lot of work.

While the rebuilding effort that began last summer when Steve Tambellini gutted the inside of the dressing room has shown positive signs — most notably a rookie who’s tied for the team lead in goals — a 15-26-8 record that’s dropped them to last in the Western Conference shows just how much is left to be done.

Most of the heavy lifting will have to come from management in the off-season — there are still too many pieces here that aren’t good enough and need to be replaced if the Oilers are to realize their long-term vision — but the labourers have to pitch in, too.

Youth and inexperience are one thing, but they’re not excuse enough for Edmonton’s miserable lot. On many nights, Taylor Hall, Jeff Petry, Magnus Paajarvi, Devan Dubnyk and Theo Peckham are the Oilers’ best players, not the reason they have four wins in the last 21 games.

Clearly, the answer isn’t as simple as “Wait till next year.”

These last 33 games aren’t just about getting the kids more experience, they’re about making everyone else better, and tougher, and hungrier and smarter — all the things they aren’t — and weeding out those who can’t be helped.

“Be ready when you come back because we have a lot of hockey to play and we still have a lot of work to do,” head coach Tom Renney instructed the troops. “We have a lot of things that we have to make sure we shore up and continue to develop as part of our identity. You’re not coming back to an easy time, you’re coming back to hard work and a coaching staff that is absolutely driven to improve every single guy.”

Consider the stretch drive one long training camp, which begins at 2 p.m. on Monday when the players return from their brief hiatus. Anybody who doesn’t bring it in these last 33 won’t get the chance — if the Oilers are smart — to redeem himself next fall.

The games are about the get tougher and tighter and there will more of the same stuff that the Dallas Stars shoved down their throats on Wednesday night. Perfect. Time to see who’s man enough to turn this thing around.

“I think everyone has to realize it’s a different game when we come back, everyone picks their game up another notch and gets ready for the playoffs,” said Shawn Horcoff. “You start seeing the separation between the playoff teams and the non-playoff teams. It’s a new intensity level, it’s always like that after the break.”

The Oilers didn’t have much luck with the old intensity level, so they will be called on to elevate their fortitude more, perhaps, than any team in the league. They do, after all, have the farthest to go.

“Coming out of the break we need to push everything aside and come together as a team and decide that we’re going to win games,” said Ryan Jones. “As a group in that room we just have to find a way to win, that’s the bottom line.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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