Oilers fans have been witness to yet another debacle of their clubs season as they seem destined to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. After signing Nicolai Habibulin from Chicago over the summer and signing Mike Comrie to a one-year deal, there was a sense from fans that a good season was in the making. The bad omen that many fans thought surrounded the Oilers after the charades of Comrie running out or being shipped out of town, depending on which way you looked at it meant the Oilers and Comrie had turned over a new leaf. Oilers management signed future hall of fame coach Pat Quinn to a four-year deal and brought in Tom Renney and Jim Flemming to give the Oilers one of the most experienced and capable coaching staffs in the NHL. That never happned and the Oilers have been bottom dwellers and 16 points out of eight place in the western conference for weeks now. This will be the fourth straight year the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs and hockey die-hards in Edmonton are upset. Actually, pissed off would be a more accurate way of describing the fans attitude towards the team’s lack of performance. The players aren’t completely to blame. Decimated by injuries, total of 257 man games lost and several players suffered from the flu and other illnesses throughout the season. It hasn’t all been bad news for the Oiler fans. The wait is over for Oilers fan who have waited three years for Dustin Penner to break out of his funk since he signed a 5-year 21.25 M offer sheet from then Oilers General Manager Kevin Lowe who saw something in Penner that nobody watching the NHL in the last three years had seen a glimpse of up until this point. No more calling out by reporters who flagged the large forward for being overweight. Penner came to camp in the best shape of his life, minimized his use of barley drinks over the summer and flew out of the starting gate this season. Before the mid point of the season Penner had already surpassed his totals from the previous two seasons and even got a good look by the Canadian Olympic team scouts and has carried the load for the Oilers most of the season with 41 points in 46 games and a +6 rating. After starting the season in the press box, Robert Nilson has found his edge and is now showing a compete level that matches his skill level. It’s now showing on the ice. Gilbert Brule, the player who was given up on by the Columbus Blue Jackets last season with a demotion to their AHL affiliate came into Oilers camp on fire and that continued when the season began. Brule is high risk at times, but he seems to be maturing into a quality third line player who can be counted on to contribute some valuable offence, while playing the body and forechecking hard to get the puck back. To add to the Oilers problems this season, Habibulin suffered a back injury and has missed 23 games this season, leaving Jeff Druin Deslaurier and Devon Dubnyk to carry the load and the weight of the entire Oiler nation. Oilers dynamic forward Ales Hemsky was lost to shoulder injury, missing the last 21 games and disappointing Oiler fans who began to see Hemsky come out of his shell as he looked ready to make the jump to a legitimate All-Star status. Anouther bright spot for the Oilers has been the play of call-up Ryan Potulny, who has recorded 16 points in 31 games. The light at the end of the tunnel are the prospects available at this years draft. Jordan Eberle had a strong straining camp and pre-season; however, was sent back to his junior team, The Regina Pats for the betterment of his development. The kid, nicknamed The Messiah” to folks in Regina, extended his reputation for clutch play after scoring two goalsls in the remaining minutes of the World Junior Gold medal game against the United States. Canada lost in overtime, but that magic by Eberle is bound to follow him along during his professional career. The Oilers have a future star and hall of famer in my mind and a player who will help the Oilers in the very near future. Taylor Hall destroyed the competition at the World Juniors and there’s a strong chance the Oilers could be in a position to draft him this summer. Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler are no slouches in the draft either. They are both rising stars who could change the fortunes of any franchise if Hall isn’t available. Look no further than the Colorado Avalanche, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and several others who have built their franchise around a strong rebuilding process. History backs the notion that building a stable of quality high draft picks is the key to winning and setting up the opportunity for a small dynasty, despite the parity in the NHL. Oiler fans have been asking for a rebuild and now they’re getting it. Admittedly, it’s been the most painful season to watch the Oilers, not to mention many years of mediocrity, but hitting rock bottom may be what is needed to wake-up to a beautiful sunrise.
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