Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Oilers Season Recap

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to get underway tomorrow night I thought it was time for a little hockey talk on here.
I grew up loving hockey and more specifically the Edmonton Oilers. While I was a little too young during the "glory years" to truly enjoy what it meant, I am proud to be the fan of a team with such rich tradition and history. I mean not every hockey fan can talk about the days when Gretzky, Fuhr, Coffey, Messier, Kurri and Anderson (and the list goes on) skated on the ice together at Northlands Coliseum wearing the Oilers crest on their chests. Sometimes it feels like that was a million years ago. Edmonton has always been a city that lives and dies by the Edmonton Oilers.For fans who were witness to watching the greatest player to ever play the game lead his team to 4 Stanley cups and then watch them win another without him in 1990 it has probably been a very LONG span from then through until now of watching this team struggle and watching star players come and go. But that was how the game was for a lot of years for small market teams. The Oilers were one of those teams. Once their stars became free agents they could never afford to sign them. One after another they left to play for teams who could afford them. And every year Oilers fans knew what to expect the following off season. It was how it was and whether you liked it or not, you accepted it.

But then game the off season after the 04-05 season when the Oilers traded for all-star defenseman Chris Pronger. Love him or hate him, he has been of of the most dominant defenseman in the league for a lot of years. They then made a trade for defensive forward Mike Peca. There was a buzz in Edmonton that hadn't been around for quite a few years. When Chris Pronger signed a five year pact with the Oil after the trade there was finally that feeling that maybe, just maybe we could afford to keep our stars now and in the future. That maybe we could finally compete with the powerhouses of the league. Leading up to the trade deadline that year the Oilers were struggling to find any sort of consistency in goal. They went out and traded for goalie Dwayne Roloson and also acquired defensmen Spacek and Tarnstrom and forward Sergei Samsonov. They went on to make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Western Conference and went all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals where they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.
LOVE this video, still gives me goosebumps everytime I watch it.

As much as seeing the Oilers lose that game 7 it felt like the loyalty was finally being rewarded. We had hope going forward, we had our own superstar in Chris Pronger. Things looked very good for the Edmonton Oilers. Until a week later when it was announced that Chris Pronger (who's wife was not happy in Edmonton) had demanded a trade. He was later traded to the Anaheim Ducks.

The Oilers missed the playoffs the next season. A season filled with many hardships including the trade of Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline to the New York Islanders. Once again Oilers fans watched one of their beloved stars go. The trade of Smyth ripped the hearts from the Oilers fans and the organization itself. They went on to lose 18 of their last 20 games. They also traded D Marc-Andre Bergeron to the Islanders for D Denis Grebeshkov. The off season seemed like once again it would be painful for Oilers fans. But then on the first day of free agency the Oilers made a trade that brought talented young defensman Joni Pitkanen to Edmonton. They then went on to sign free agent goalie Mathieu Garon to back up Dwayne Roloson. They signed defenseman Sheldon Souray to a 5 year pact and ended up with big power forward Dustin Penner after having signed him to a huge offer sheet. Right before the season started they named Ethan Moreau as the new Captain. They also drafted talented center Sam Gagner with the 6th overall draft pick. Gagner made the team out of training camp along with fellow rookie forward Andrew Cogliano. Things were looking up.

But then things went wrong. Captain Ethan Moreau was injured in camp and went on to miss 38 games. He returned mid season only to be injured again and put out for the remainder of the season. Sheldon Souray missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. Pitkanen was in an out of the lineup with knee and groin problems. Fernando Pisani missed the first 26 games with ulcerative colitis. Raffi Torres missed most of the season with a knee injury. Number 1 centre Shawn Horcoff underwent season ending shoulder surgery in February. Matt Greene broke his ankle and missed close to 3 months. Starting goalie Dwayne Roloson struggled with consistency to start the season and eventually lost his job to Mathieu Garon. Jarret Stoll struggled to regain his form after a severe concussion last season.

For all those injuries the Oilers endured this year to a lot of key players they still managed to find ways to win games. A lot of that could be credited to the outstanding play during the second half of the season from Oilers rookies Gagner, Cogliano, Gilbert. As well as Grebeshkov, Nilsson, Brodziak and Glencross. The young guys and rookies made the most of all the extra ice time because of injuries and they helped this team down the stretch. The Oilers almost made the playoffs, missing out by only 3 points.

Going into this off season I am excited about the future of the Edmonton Oilers. They have a talented group of young up and coming players who are ready to make their mark in this league. They have a solid defence (if healthy) and with Mathieu most likely starting in goal next season they have a lot of hope for something much better than a 9th place finish in the conference. Who knows who we may acquire via trade or free agency this off season, I am sure we will add someone. The Oilers have a great mix of guys on their team. With guys like Hemsky and Penner continuing to get better each season. Veterans like Staios and Moreau to lead this team. And with young kids like Gagner, Nilsson and Cogliano ready for prime time, this is a team with a lot of promise. And I honestly cannot way too see it come to fruition.

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