TORONTO -- If you look just at the numbers, things are pretty bleak in Edmonton again this season.
Despite the vaunted youth movement and landing forward Taylor Hall, the No.1 overall pick in last summer's draft, the Oil Change happening in the City of Champions seems like it's proceeding along at a glacial pace.
Some fans might be forgiven for wondering if progress is being made at all. Consider, at the All-Star break, the Oilers are in last place (again) in the Western Conference, with 38 points. On the bright side, Edmonton has more points than both New Jersey (35) and the New York Islanders (37). Then again, this is an uncharacteristically horrible season for the Devils and the Islanders, well, they are consistently a train wreck.
The Oilers finished in the NHL cellar in 2009-10, with 62 points. After 49 games last season, the team was at 16-27-6. After 49 games this season, 15-26-8.
Nobody has scored fewer goals in the West than Edmonton, with 122, although that puts them ahead of the Devils (101), Ottawa (108) and the Isles (119).
Nobody has surrendered more goals in the West (or the league) than Edmonton, with 168 opposition scores. Veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin has not been sharp. The 38-year-old has an 8-22-2 record, along with an underwhelming 3.45 goals-against average and an .861 save percentage.
So, yes, if you're only looking at numbers, then this year doesn't look a whole lot different than last year for the Oil.
The outage on offense and the leaky defense is due in part to the season- ending ankle injury suffered by blue-chip blueliner Ryan Whitney. The sixth- year pro and fifth overall pick in the 2002 entry draft tore an ankle tendon that had to be surgically repaired. If he gets back at all, it won't be until the end of March. Sadly ironic is the fact the injury occurred when Whitney hit a rut in the ice at Rexall Place, which is voted the best ice in the NHL by players on a regular basis.
The lack of offense is also related to the ongoing injury woes of playmaker Ales Hemsky. He missed 60 games last season recovering from a shoulder injury, but was averaging a point-a-game at the time. This season, he's already been out for a month with a torn groin muscle, then was pulled from a game earlier this month with concussion-like symptoms.
Then there's captain Shawn Horcoff, who missed six weeks with a sprained knee and rookie Jordan Eberle, who sprained his ankle and then had an emergency appendectomy. Oilers coach Tom Renney told Jim Matheson, the dean of hockey writers and the Oilers beat guy, that "excuses are for losers." He's right, but the Oilers do seem to be especially cursed when it comes to visits to the sick bay.
On the upside, at least Sheldon Souray's contract is now off the books; rookie Taylor Hall is starting to find the net on a more regular basis; fellow freshman Magnus Paajarvi can be a sublime playmaker; Linus Omark, yet another rookie, has been a nice surprise. The soon-to-be 24-year-old Swede is scoring about half-a-point per game in 20 games.
Sam Gagner is rebounding and could break the 50-point barrier, which would be a career high for the fourth-year forward; Andrew Cogliano hasn't missed a game in his three-and-half seasons in the league, suiting up for 295 consecutive matches since he cracked the roster in the fall of 2007.
There are many miles to go before the Oilers are once again playoff contenders, but the Chicago Blackhawks are now the template and they missed the playoffs nine out of 10 years before losing in the conference final and then winning a Cup, so there seems to be a point at which success becomes exponential, not linear. It accelerates.
Oilers fans are just wondering when the foot is going to be applied to the pedal.