Friday, November 21, 2014

Edmonton Oilers Postgame 20: The Heart of Darkness

Normally the post would be crowned with a picture and a score line, maybe some witty caption, but black, oily bile has clawed its way up my throat, and my heart feels hollow and dark. So simple words will have to do; words will have to be my catharsis in this bleak, awful, and agonizing time for the Edmonton Oilers faithful.

Of all the fans in the league, no one quite knows suffering like the Oilers fan, and certainly not in the last decade or so. After the ultimate rejection by one of the worst modern era Stanley Cup winner, the Oilers have ridden a black steed down to the bottom of the league, through the gates of hell, and sat upon a pile of draft corpses, gutter slime seasons, and the bleached bones of long gone NHL coaches. Like greasy, worm-fed scoundrels, we - the unnamed mass of misguided fans - have crowded to bow before this dark throne, and begged our black master to show us the past glories. The days of yore when the Oily tendrils of the Orange and Blue spread across North America and dominated professional hockey. When the master of the puck was anointed, and he lead us to a dynasty of silver cups piled upon one another. It was hockey rapture, and the probably the greatest run a hockey fan could ever experience.

The echoes of that greatness are with us still: it's drawn one of the largest and most passionate group of fans in the world, a knowledgeable group of dedicated and intelligent writers, and finally pride. The kind of pride that had Kevin Lowe make a fool of himself when the Oilers recent ineptitude was challenged. The kind of pride that had our GM Craig MacTavish proclaim that Justin Schultz had "Norris" potential. The kind of pride that Eakins exercised in his first season as an NHL coach and that eventually humbled him before his second.

The kind of pride that has prevented the Oilers from making the kind of ruthless, necessary decisions with their roster to truly fashion a contender.

Today, after the Oilers shutout loss to the Devils - who were a measly 4 points up o the Oilers before the game - we are faced, again, with absolute fucking rock fucking bottom. Second last in the league ahead of only the -35 goal differential, possibly-historically-bad Buffalo "McDavid" Sabres, there remains almost nothing more to be said about the travesty of the first quarter of the Oilers season. It's a failure, from the coaches early season decisions to the goaltenders early stopping ability to the inept power play. It's been a failure, a fuck-up, an absolute anal-blasting top to bottom. Even in my darkest nightmares I couldn't imagine how impossibly bad the Oilers results would be.

We are left with three paths.

First, you can shun the Oilers. You can finally admit you don't have the stomach for all of this fucking carnage, all this blood, all this eye-bleeding, loser-powered play. You can walk away, wash the oily film off your hands, and find solace in liquor or crack or cat videos. This is the path for the flighty, floppy fan; the fan who doesn't truly bleed Oil; this is for the weak-willed.

Second, you can rage and scream and throat-rip. You can dial the digits of your local sports talk radio, and make the lines burn with your anguish. You can call your local witch doctor and curse the unborn children of Nikitin, place a hex on Hendricks, prick a Ben Scrivens bobble-head with voodoo juju. You can wave away the math, spit on the off-season signings, and ultimately embrace the hate. It's the easiest path. It might be the most satisfying, to give in to all that anger. I couldn't blame you in the slightest - it's been too long, too dark, and too empty for me to disparage anyone who simply wants their pound of flesh. Maybe some of that hate will light a fire in the Oilers that seems to be missing from their game since their dead-eyed coach doesn't seem to help instill it.

Third, you can believe the numbers that say that the Oilers continue to be incredibly unlucky, and that they have made real gains on the shot clock this season. I'm sure right now this seems like a laughable idea, like I'm high on heroin, that I'm watching the games on spreadsheets, or I'm stupid. Again, considering how bad they've been, even I have begun to doubt my own conviction - who wouldn't? This is the hardest path, and probably the least popular.

There have been serious problems: the coaches ice-time decisions, the power play strategies, and the general GM reaction to a lack of center, goalie, and defenceman depth. And yet, the Oilers aren't getting buried in their own end any more, and they have been the butt of bad percentages that surely can't sustain. The opposite (bad possession, high percentages) burned the '13-14 Avalanche, the '13-14 Leafs, and the '11-12 Wild even as their fan-bases screamed at the statletes that they were idiots and pencil-pushers. And now we have the opposite, and again we will probably be ridiculed or even worse, give in to the hate since it's so fucking tempting to just throw the coaching staff and players and management under the bus.

I'm sticking to my fucking guns. I believe that they are better, and even if Eakins gets replaced by Dan Bylsma, even if the Oilers find respectable goaltending and the power play punches out a few opponents, I won't have wavered. You win games by possessing the puck, not riding percentages, and I am willing to die by that sword.

Let's just hope the Oilers don't thrust it through my heart.


  1. "I'm sticking to my fucking guns. I believe that they are better, and even if Eakins gets replaced by Dan Bylsma, even if the Oilers find respectable goaltending and the power play punches out a few opponents, I won't have wavered."

    Bold comments, John. I respect you sticking to your guns. You won't be surprised to hear that I think your comment about the "lack of center, goalie, and defenceman depth" will be impossible to overcome without trading at least two of your three stud wingers (hall, eberle, yakupov). You won't be surprised to hear me say again that I think it's a form of stockholme syndrome that you're unwilling to explore trading players from this "core".

    But I sincerely respect you focusing on the data you think is relevant, and if it bears out over time and this group is really better than they are showing, I will show you a lot of respect going forward.