EDMONTON - Is it for real this time. Are the Edmonton Oilers finally getting good?
We’ve been asking this question about once a year for the last 10 years, when mediocre Oilers teams come out of nowhere to stun us with an unexpected surge.
Remember Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson and Sam Gagner, with young Tom Gilbert on defence, leading Edmonton on a 14-5-1 stretch drive in 2008 — the dawn of a new era that led to 21st, 30th and 30th place seasons?
Remember when they missed the playoffs in 2003, but closed out the season with points in 14 of their last 18 games (10-4-4), serving notice they’d be a force in 2004?
Remember when they missed the playoffs in 2004, but finished with points in 10 of their last 13 games, serving notice they were ready to take that next step?
It doesn’t always happen in March, but it always happens.
Remember 2009, how they rose from the dead to go 5-0 on a five-game road trip, the first time any Oilers team ever accomplished that feat, to climb back into the race … only to lose 20 of their next 21?
This organization does have a knack for winning when the pressure is off.
And now, with Edmonton tearing up another stretch drive, it is oh so tempting to wonder once again if they are finally getting good.
It’s hard to resist with the Oilers going 5-0-2 in their last seven, with Devan Dubnyk playing like a No. 1 netminder, with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going at a point-per-game clip and with Edmonton moving from 29th to within striking distance of 26th.
Are they finally shifting gears in a program that’s been stuck in neutral for six years?
While we’ve seen this movie before, there are enough reasons to believe that this is real, and that maybe the fans can take some of the credit for it.
For starters, Taylor Hall (even though he’s not playing right now), Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are a giant step up from any of the previous co-stars in this well-worn script.
Secondly, the gradual upward trend can be traced back longer than seven games in March — Edmonton actually has a modest winning record in its last 33 (15-13-5).
And it’s not like fans haven’t been telling Tom Renney all along that he has the talent here to win, as long as he used it properly.
Many of the things people have been griping about all season were finally addressed, and the result is a team that seems better for it.
You’ve been on Renney for weeks to give Devan Dubnyk the net, pretty reasonable given that Dubnyk is 25 years old and is 13-6-2 in his last 21 games, while Khabibulin is 39 and is 2-13-4 in his last 19.
You’ve been on him for weeks to play the kids more than the plumbers, to maybe play a 30-goal scorer more than a four-goal scorer. It happened; Eric Belanger’s ice time dropped from 16-18 minutes a night to the 11-12 range, while Jordan Eberle’s is up from 15-17 to 19-21.
And the Oilers are winning more than they’re losing. Here they come. Can’t wait till next year.
But … we have seen this movie before.
They do this a lot, play themselves out of it, then go on a hot streak when it doesn’t matter anymore.
So, is this another mirage, given that four of the games on their 5-0-2 run were against teams currently out of the playoffs? Or is this really the first faint glimpse of that light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel?
How much stock do you put in a streak when it doesn’t matter?
If you’re GM Steve Tambellini, is it subtle change this summer, believing the players and the coaching staff finally get it, or does the realist in you see a team that was 29th all year and needs wholesale change?
As a fan, would you be happy with minimal change next year, based on these last few weeks of the season? Or is it safer to base things on the last 10 years, and you’ll only believe they’ll be good next year when you see it four yourself?
I’m in that last group. It’s tempting to get excited, but cautious optimism might be the best course of action here.
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