Unrealistic expectations doomed the Oilers

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

Jordan Eberle and the rest of the young Oilers need more than half a year experience playing together to gel and become a playoff team.(Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)

Jordan Eberle and the rest of the young Oilers need more than half a year experience playing together to gel and become a playoff team.(Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)

Many are looking at the Edmonton Oilers as a big disappointment this season, including Puck Daddy editor Greg Wyshynski who had this to say about them. “The Edmonton Oilers teased us all by looking like a team that was finally going to ripen their young players and qualify for the playoff in the West.”

It’s easy to say they teased us all, especially after their young player dominated with the American League’s Oklahoma City Barons in the first half of the season, but it’s probably more accurate to say everyone fooled themselves into thinking the Oilers were better than they really are.

The overhype reached its peak in Sports Illustrated‘s preseason power rankings in which the Oilers were ranked third based on the fact many of their young stars were playing during the lockout. While it was a solid reason for placing them higher than their 28th place finish last season, placing them third was way too optimistic.

The important thing for this season was to get out of the basement. They may not have moved very far, but they have three teams below them in the Western Conference standings after finishing 29th, 30th and 30th in overall standings the past three years respectively.

Should they have done a little better? Probably. After all, teams who are going according to plan don’t usually have their GM fired mid-season. But it’s important to remember while they do have a ton of talent, they are still extremely young and inexperienced.

Chicago proved you can rebuild quickly, but they also proved a group needs to be together for at least one season before before they gain the chemistry and experience needed to make the postseason. Of their core group of players Justin Schultz, 22, and Nail Yakupov, 19, are rookies; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 20, is in his second year and Taylor Hall, 21, Jordan Eberle, 22, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, 22, are in their third years.

When the Blackhawks finally broke through and made the playoffs in 2008-09 they were young, but at least their core had more experience than Edmonton does now. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were only in their second years, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were in their fourth and Patrick Sharp was in his fifth full season. Chicago’s core was still young, but they had a bit more experience than Edmonton does now. They had also built up considerably more depth than

Another thing Chicago, as well as Pittsburgh a year earlier, did was place very high expectations for rebuilding teams with loads of young talent. And as great as it would be to watch these Oilers rise through the ranks and become a Stanley Cup contender in a few short seasons, the reality is it takes a bit longer than that. When the Boston Bruins decided to rebuild by trading Joe Thornton to San Jose early in the 2005-06 season it took them two years to make the playoffs and that was with a core of veterans including Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Marco Sturm and Tim Thomas who was only in his third year in the NHL but had been playing professionally for a decade.

Nugent-Hopkins has slumped badly this season, posting 3-20-23 in 39 games after going 18-34-52 in 62 games last season and it was easy to imagine him becoming a 70-point player in his second year like teammate Eberle. Unfortunately for young players the path to stardom is often filled with bumps and setbacks. In fact, all three of last season’s Calder Trophy finalists, Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Henrique, have all gone through a sophomore slump this season.

There is plenty of time for these kids to grow and morph into a contender. They only made a small step forward this season, but after three years of being stuck in neutral it’s a pretty good sign. The players are going to continue to grow though the whole process just might go by faster with new management as John MacKinnon of The Edmonton Journal explains:

Lowe told the assembled media at Rexall Place on Monday the change had been coming for a while as the Oilers failed to perform as a legitimate contender for a playoff berth, save for the recent five-game winning streak that lifted the Oilers a single point out of eighth place in the Western Conference.

Five straight losses later, the outcome — a reunification of the 1980s glory-days Boys on the Bus at the wheel of this once-great franchise — will see the same men who achieved some success, such as that magical Stanley Cup run in 2006, but also failure, as in the seven non-playoff seasons that followed.

MacKinnon points to Marc Bergevin in his first year as GM of the Montreal Canadiens and how he was told to assemble the best poeple possible around him, regardless of whether or not they have any past affiliations with the Habs. With new blood and vision leading the team, Montreal has jumped from 15th in the Eastern Conference to leading the Northeast Division.

There is still work to be done and trades to be made for this team to reach the expectations everyone has placed upon them. They have started to rise up this season and must continue to do so. If they drop in the standings in any season after this one, or fail to make a move upwards, then yes, they will be a big disappointment. But for this year they played how everyone should have expected them to play if not how everyone did expect them to play.

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