Expectations. We are closing in on the end of August here in Alberta and with that hockey has become a topic of conversation because the cool wind is a reminder that training camps is just around the corner. Now being an Oiler fan has not been easy the last couple years, this time every year it has been the same thing. Hockey fans have all been saying the same thing about the last place Oilers, too small, not enough grit, too much top end talent, their D stinks, don’t have a goalie, the list continues on and on. And the chatter has already begun, but I think for the first time in years Oiler fans have the right not to expect something more from their team.
Under the Tambellini era the Oilers were a rebuilding team, one that drafted high and let those players grow in the NHL, whether they were ready or not is up for debate but they played and have done so with getting no special treatment from any of the NHL. At the end of every year it seemed to be the same excuse, our team is a young, exciting and an upcoming team. They just need time. Fans would cry for protection for the kids, screaming for trades. And all management would do is nothing, just get more face time on Oil Change. Sign a couple guys who all seemed to be in the decline of their careers, but never brought in that piece that has always seemed to be missing from these young Oilers. It seemed that the fans had a better idea what the Oilers needed then management ever did. So year after year the same thing, and year after year the Oilers would finish in the bottom 5 of the league. It was like watching the same rerun of that one Friends episode you always see late at night. Hockey experts, fans would all say the same thing to Oiler fans “told you so.”
Then April 15th 2013 came and Craig MacTavish was the new Oilers GM, and with that day came a lot of promises that changes were on the horizon. And since that day the direction of the team has changed drastically. Magnus Paajarvi, one of the kids who never really seemed he fit in was traded. With that trade a top 6 forward came to the Oilers in David Perron. Shawn Horcoff who might have one of the worst contracts signed in the NHL was traded from the team. That day was better than Christmas morning to some Oiler fans. The Oilers used their first pick under MacTavish to draft Darnell Nurse, which to me was one of the biggest indications that things had changed for the Oilers organization. They drafted guy who might not have been the biggest name but under the proper guidance could turn into a top NHL defensemen. And maybe one of the biggest moves under MacTavish’s guidance is the signing of Andrew Ference. A new voice and a new leader for the locker room, he has a dynamic that this team hasn’t seen yet. A calming presence.
So what does all this mean? How is this year going to be any different than any under Tambellini? In the short time since MacTavish’s hire, the direction of the organization has changed. The message has changed in Edmonton. And for the first time since the Oilers entered the “rebuild” stage fans should be expecting a lot more from their team. The organization has a new life and with that a new faith should be restored into Oil country. The Ference factor on this team is going to be huge on the growth of this team, I am not saying he is going to be the new captain of the Oilers but his presence on this team will change the dynamics of the whole team quickly. He is a proven leader that will hold players accountable but at the same time supportive when they need it. He will tighten up the back end on this team because of his presence. But one thing that no one will talk about is Hemsky. I don’t know if he will finish the year with the team but all signs point to him starting the year with the team. I think there is a reason to why he wasn’t traded, under MacTavish Hemsky played the best hockey of his career. I have a hunch that Hemsky wants to stay, he wants to be apart of the rebirth of the Oilers. As long as Hemsky is an Oiler I think we will see the evolution of Hemsky, and it might not be the player fans expect. He will be a threat every night, but he will have a different role with the team. He will provide the team with secondary scoring the team needs to open up space for the kids.
And maybe the biggest reason fans can expect more from this team, is the kids are no longer expected to play like kids. The organization moves and the new direction is not just a message to the fans but one to the new core players in Edmonton. This is now their team, and it is now time to make the next step in the rebuild stage. And with newly hired bench boss Dallas Eakins he is going to introduce a system to let this team, and the young core succeed. The young players in Edmonton are going to have career years, this team might start slow because of the transition period but once it clicks the Oilers are going to be a threat in this league, maybe not to win the cup this year but to make the playoffs. I am sure all the experts will say the same thing to start the season, “when is this team going to make the step away from the basement?” Well if what has happened in the off season is any indication, this is the year the Oilers will make the leap out of the basement.
Expectations. This is the year Oiler fans have been waiting for, to have real expectations for their team. Yeah sure everyone is going to question maybe even laugh at you, but Oiler fans are used to being laughed at by now. It has been a long couple years for the fans of the most northern NHL team. Always having hope but always getting slapped in the face with another disappointing season. Well its time to stop hoping and start expecting. The climb towards the top begins now, so get strapped in and get ready for some playoff hockey Edmonton. The organization has taken a new direction, and that direction is up. And that will reflect in the standings this year, when the Oilers for the first time since going to the cup finals make the post season this year.