EDMONTON - This weekend, most of the teams around the National Hockey League are starting training camps excited and projecting many optimistic opinions.
“We can go all the way,” some will say.
“Deep into the playoffs,” you’ll hear from others.
In Edmonton, there’s excitement starting the season, too.
“We won’t suck so bad …
“We won’t reek so much …
“We’re not going to be nearly as rotten …”
OK. Those aren’t actual quotes. But when you’ve finished 30th for two consecutive seasons, just the idea of getting on the ladder and climbing a few rungs can get you giddy.
It was like that yesterday as the Oilers took their physicals, did their fitness testing and posed for media guide pictures and scoreboard video.
Young and old, the Oilers are starting training camp prepared to welcome and embrace beginning to ascend the standings.
“There was so much patience from the fans last year,” said Magnus Paajarvi.
“That won’t be there this year, that’s for sure.
“We’ve got to start winning. Thirtieth place is not acceptable whatsoever. The fans want to win. Nothing else matters,” he said.
“Enough is enough,” said Sam Gagner.
“It’s been two long seasons finishing last. Long off-seasons as well. The last two summers have been so long that it gets annoying. I think everyone is pretty hungry to be making those summers shorter by making the playoffs.
“You look at what management did in the summer to fill holes and turn this around. It’s time to grow together now. When you go through two years like we’ve gone through here, it wears on you. It’s time to have some fun,” he said.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was perhaps talking about himself more than the team, but his quote might cover the season ahead better than anything uttered at the gathering which sets up the actual on-ice beginning of camp Saturday.
“Nervous and optimistic,” said Dubnyk.
“This is the start of everything!”
Dubnyk is now 25 and expecting to make his move toward becoming the Oilers starting goaltender for the future. The timing is perfect if he comes forward to lead the Oilers.
“It’s pretty obvious we don’t want to finish 30th again,” he said, adding playoffs are possible.
“I think we all feel we can actually do it this year.”
But it’s the two old warhorses who maybe see it best, one from the inside and the other coming in from the outside.
Captain Shawn Horcoff and Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth, are back together again, hoping to bring the Oilers back together again.
“As each season goes on it wears on you more and more,” said Horcoff. “The last two years have been the most trying of my career. It’s been a long time coming. I’d love to have some fun again.
“I’m excited by the depth we have here. We’re still a young team, but we’re going forward here and we’re pretty deep with our top nine forwards.”
Horcoff isn’t predicting a rapid rise for the team.
“One year is not going to make Jordan and Taylor and Mags superstars,” he said of sophomore (jinx?) players Eberle, Hall and Pajaarvi.
“And we’re going to have to wait on Nuge (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins). Even if he does make it, he’s not going to be where he can be.
“I think it’s a realistic goal to make the playoffs. The only way to develop our young talent is to make them play the big games. I know what it did for my career. It gave me confidence playing against the best in meaningful games in February and beyond, when everything becomes more intense. And there’s nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Smyth looked like a very happy camper Friday.
“I don’t want to come in and change things, I want to be part of something special,” said the longtime Oiler who requested a trade from a playoff team back to the team where he spent most of his career.
“There is tremendous upside here. I want to use some of the experience I’ve gained in the past to mentor these guys,” said Smyth.
“We’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones