This is the last in a five-part series looking into the areas in which the Oilers improved in the 2016-17 NHL season, leading them to their first playoff appearance in eleven years.
All in all the Oilers have made quite a few changes to their on-ice personnel and some of that came with a lot of luck at the right time. Draisaitl turning out to be as good as he is, for example, is a major win for an organization desperate to claim any sort of positional depth and strength. Oscar Klefbom developing into a high-end defenseman partnered with his fellow countryman is also vital to the Oilers success. I think that pairing is a fine example of the sum being greater than the individual parts. Perhaps one of the aspects that led to this year’s success is overlooked.
Writing Their Own Story
The Edmonton Oilers made a conscious effort to philosophically start over with the hiring of Bob Nicholson three years ago. He was initially brought in to do a forensic audit of the organization and the difference three years later is amazing. They are now run as a professional organization should be. The threat of frustrated fans tossing their jerseys onto the ice after the team struggles through a 6-0 loss seems now like only a memory. Things got to the point where, even in the city of Edmonton, fans were becoming embarrassed to support the local team. Now, the sense of pride has returned, and consumer confidence has returned.
There is still a place in the organization for Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish, and even the Great One is hanging around town now, but the hockey decisions are left to people that envision this team in a whole new light. As expensive as it in Roger’s Place to go watch the Oilers play, fans have a better sense of getting their money’s worth now. There is a feeling of pride and excitement surrounding the team, but perhaps, more importantly, there is a sense of structure and strength within the organization. Hope for better days has been replaced by accountability and the Oilers have won their fans back.
A few things stuck out to me in end of season presser with Todd McLellan which reinforced the idea that things are now different. He has been here for a short two years but had no issue assuming some of the ownership for the ten years the fans patiently waited for their team to figure things out. He stated “I think the fans are more important to us than we are to them” which speaks to how the team now wants the fans to be part of them and grow alongside them. There is no more detrimental effect on a sports team than when their fans become apathetic to their situation, and the Oilers managed to avoid that by changing the path they had been on for far too long.
The Oilers of the 1980’s will always be ours to cherish no matter what the future brings. The team today, however, is for the first time its own separate entity, and ironically, that seems to be a reason that same success may return once again.
Look, Connor McDavid was a game changer and as fans, we are obliged to remember that. It would be asinine to suggest the Oilers could have given the Anaheim Ducks a run for their money in the second round of the playoffs without him. To me, however, it is just as crazy to believe that you can throw him on the ice with 17 other random teammates and a goalie and expect the success we witnessed last year. The Oilers have some very good players and some very high-end talent in some key positions. Most importantly, the Oilers, for the first time in much too long, are a functional hockey team in all areas.
So hold on tight; the next 10-15 years are going to hopefully bring some glory, and likely some further pain and heartache. One thing that can be promised to Oiler’s fans no matter what is that being a fan of this team is fun again.