Long, Cold Winter Ahead For Edmonton Oilers

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This year’s edition of the Edmonton Oilers is a dismal 7-20-6. On Monday, the team fired head coach Dallas Eakins, who in less than a year and a half at the helm had posted a 36-63-14 record. Problem solved, right?

Well, not according to Edmonton Journal sports columnist John MacKinnon, who maintains that the once-proud Oilers are a “mess of monumental proportions”. MacKinnon joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the current state of the team.

BL: John, was it the performance of the players, the coaching staff or the team’s front office that led you to that rather bleak assessment?

JM: Well, all of the above. And this has been developing over a long period of time. This season they're on track to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight year, which is one season shy of the NHL record, which is ten, held by the Florida Panthers. And people are impatient, to say the least. It's a mixture of virtually every aspect of their organization.

The history here of excellence is both a blessing and a curse for the Edmonton Oilers.

John MacKinnon, Edmonton Journal

BL: The Oilers have had top-ten picks in the first round of the last six NHL drafts, including three consecutive number one picks. Is the team’s ability to assess talent lacking, or have the Oilers simply been unlucky and drafted a bunch of guys over the last six years who were stiffs?

JM: Well, both. But I think that their drafting of the high-end talent has been by and large astute. Taylor Hall is an excellent player, although currently I think he's gone 11 games without scoring a goal. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a fine centerman. So they do have difficulty eyeballing talent sort of at the mid-levels. But for the high-end talent I think they've done fine.

BL: How have Oilers’ fans reacted to the mess their team is in these days?

JM: Well, in the competing newspaper to ours, a tabloid paper, the Edmonton Sun, there's a full-page ad — taken out by anonymous people mind you -- and they sort of see a lack of accountability dating back to Kevin Lowe's time as general manager. So the fans are very impatient. And they're expressing it. A full-page ad is one thing. Somebody bought a billboard and put a similar thing, "Fire Kevin Lowe," on a billboard within the last month or so. So they express themselves and there are more and more empty seats at the games.

BL: Would things seem so bleak and would the fans be so dismayed were it not for the  amazing run of five Stanley Cup Championships in seven seasons back in the 1980s that Edmonton achieved?

JM: Well I think people here would be upset regardless. However, that is central to everything. Yes, the history here of excellence is both a blessing and a curse for the Edmonton Oilers. On Oct. 10 this season, they invited back the entire 1984 Edmonton Oilers team. And they all came. That was the first team in Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup. That was the first of their five.

[sidebar title="NHL Shootout History" width="630" align="right"] Earlier this week, the Florida Panthers made hockey history by winning a 20-round shootout.[/sidebar]

And they all came and they had a big night at the Rexall Place with people telling stories and Sarah McLachlan came and sang "I Will Remember You." It was a very emotional and very pleasant evening. And the team started the season by losing five straight games. So on the one hand, they're selling the excellence and selling the memories and selling Wayne Gretzky, and well they should. I mean, how many franchises have that to sell? On the other hand, the present is a pale imitation of what they had.

BL: I was going to close this conversation by asking you how long you thought it would take before the Oilers were once again contenders, but I think instead I'll just ask how long you think it'll be before they aren't terrible?

JM: They've publicly enunciated that virtually every aspect of their organization needs to be examined thoroughly, if not completely overhauled. The team is playing with basically two career backup goalies. Their defense corps is young and not yet mature enough to really be impactful. And up front they're thin at center. They're weak everywhere. I wouldn't expect them to really be decent until two or three years down the road.

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This segment aired on December 20, 2014.


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