SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers are optimistic losers

Vancouver's David Booth fires a puck past Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk Saturday night. (Rich Lam,...

Vancouver's David Booth fires a puck past Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk Saturday night. (Rich Lam, Getty Images)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:40 PM ET

Well, glad that’s over.

A regular season that was about 72 games too long is finally dead, Oilers fans. It can’t hurt you anymore.

That’s 30th, 30th and 29th in the last three years, 21st before that. Three different coaches in four seasons, maybe four in five if the architects of this team decide Tom Renney isn’t running it properly.

Grim.

“It’s another disappointing year,” said Sam Gagner, after the Oilers closed out their 32-40-10 campaign with a shutout loss in Vancouver. “You come back every year with optimism and excitement, but there were different things that happened throughout the year that we just didn’t handle well enough.

“We’re growing as a team, you can tell that. We’re in a lot more games, but the result at the end of the day is obviously disappointing for us and something we have to rectify going forward here.”

Ah, yes, moving forward. Wait Till Next Year has become an annual battle cry in Edmonton, to the point that some people think they should just put it on the cover of their media guide every September and be done with it.

Every spring, as the franchise dissects another failure, it points to all these reasons why things are going to be different next fall. Then fall turns to spring and they are right back where they started.

So here we are again: crappy spring, but just wait till next year. Nobody loses more optimistically than Edmonton.

“What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney, who understands how fans are feeling. “But I don’t think that’s the case here. It’s frustrating finishing 29th again, but there are a lot of positives. Just the strides that those three young kids made, and Devan Dubnyk and a guy like Jeff Petry.

“When you see how good some guys are and how much they’ve improved, the sky is kind of the limit for them. For us to see that means a lot. As much as people have said that it in the past here, I’m excited about the future. I really am.”

Nobody is worried about Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (OK, some of us actually are worried that management screwed up royally by waiting until April to give Hall shoulder surgery they knew he needed in November, but we’ll blow up that bridge when we come to it), it’s the rest of the team that gives people the creeps.

The over 25 crowd, specifically. They weren’t good enough.

“It’s just about the veterans playing some better hockey because the young guys were so good for us,” said Whitney. “There are guys here who have to have better years, myself being one, and I think we all will.”

They have to. You look around at some of the teams and players who missed this season — Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, Martin St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa, and realize that having a few high-end players doesn’t mean anything. It takes a deep, skilled, committed, big, tough program loaded with overachievers to make it these days and the Oilers are missing almost all of those ingredients.

And with most of the verterans signed to contracts that aren’t easy to move, the team isn’t going to look much different next year, so there is considerable pressure on the likes of Whitney, Horcoff, Hemsky, Belanger, Jones and Eager to elevate their games because this team isn’t taking the next step unless all of them are better.

“Exactly,” said Whitney. “There were guys on our team who were good, but not enough. If everyone can improve a little bit, and guys who had off years improve a lot ...”

Then wait till next year might actually have some meaning.

“You’ve seen growth throughout the year, but at the same time it doesn’t just happen,” said Gagner. “It’s hard to jump that many points in a single season, but we have a lot of young guys who are becoming great players in this league. Hopefully it’s a good year for all of us next year.”

Follow me on TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

 


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