Glory Days (They'll Pass You By)

It feels like forever since the Edmonton Oilers made their glorious run to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. A million little things in a million little ways bring this home every time we open a newspaper. A team that so recently caressed the pinnacle of hockey glory mired in a relentless rebuild, hoping that a cocky first overall pick from Calgary can bring back the magic of Sergei Samsonov. The Oilers signing the backup goaltender from the team that beat us. Watching Erik Cole inspirationally come back from a serious neck injury in the Finals against us, then trading for him, then trading him away, then releasing the guy we traded him for. We've gone through two coaches, a general manager, an owner, and two minor league affiliations.

And of the thirty-eight players that took some part in that magnificent 2005-06 season with the Oilers, precisely two remain. Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. Two.

For crying out loud, this team has more members of the 2006-07 Chicago Blackhawks than they do of the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers!

Don't pretend this is the norm. Remember the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings? Of course you do, we kicked the hell out of them. Thirty-two players played at least one NHL game for them that season and ten remain. Want me to list them? Sure! Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Andreas Lilja, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, and Chris Osgood. Ten.

How about the team that vanquished us, the Carolina Hurricanes? Flukey winners in a small hockey market who had a lot of impending free agents looking for a big payday. Well, they're down to Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, and Cam Ward, or four. That's not a lot, but it's twice as many as we've got. We're actually tied with the 2005-06 St. Louis Blues, who retain only Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman from a team that finished last four seasons ago.

If you think that hockey players are interchangeable parts, just cogs to be swapped in and out of the machine as the desire strikes you, then this isn't necessarily a bad thing. But for us mad fools who believe in things like chemistry and familiarity, gutting a conference champion over the course of four seasons is pretty dumb, and well, the cause for alarm should be pretty obvious.

It's easy to say that in a salary cap world, there'll be more player turnover. But that's a cheap answer. There were no players on the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers who, when their contracts were up, we genuinely could not afford. There were a few (Jaroslav Spacek and Sergei Samsonov leap to mind) who we could have paid but whose price flew beyond their value and the Oilers sensibly let go. There was Ryan Smyth, who may or may not have fallen into that category and is a can of worms there's no need to open again.

And, again, some of these departures make sense. Chris Pronger... well, he left and there was nothing we could have done about it. Igor Ulanov and Rem Murray were both, essentially, zombies by the end of the 2006 season. That team was loaded with bit players I could either take or leave individually (I don't recall being heartbroken when we swapped Danny Syvret for Ryan Potulny). None of these players were essential to our Stanley Cup hopes on their own, and very few of them have made a lot of noise after leaving Edmonton. But getting rid of as many of them as we did over a short period left us having to replace an entire slew of bottom six players who had played most of a season together, grown to know each other, and with whom the coaching staff was familiar. In some cases, we replaced the players successfully, but more often we didn't, and another nail was driven into our coffin.

Things deteriorated even further as we move on. We're still trying to replace Jarret Stoll, a tough-minutes faceoff-chewing centre with a cannon from the point and a loud voice in the dressing room, even though we sold off the guy we traded him for last trade deadline and got sixty cents on the dollar for him. We sent Jason Smith out east in exchange for a guy who did not in the least want to play in Edmonton, and we haven't exactly been bathing in shutdown defenders since then either. Georges Laraque was allowed to sign in Phoenix despite being a fan favourite and an enforcer who could actually play hockey: something Zack Stortini has only recently been able to duplicate. Ditching Dwayne Roloson and Jussi Markkanen as free agents to replace them with Nikolai Khabibulin and Jeff Deslauriers for more money is an act so astoundingly stupid it should get you sent to a psychiatric institution. And if you compiled all the effective tough minutes roleplayers this team sent up the river for nothing or next to it - Radek Dvorak, Mike Peca, Todd Harvey, and now Marc Pouliot and Fernando Pisani - you could get a pretty bloody good team together on their own.

It's not just the loss of continuity, although that's important. It's the loss of so many effective, reliable, and high value players for whom we got nothing or next-to-nothing that can help the team today. Kyle Brodziak made a whopping $1.15 million last year and was one of Minnesota's best forwards. We traded him for the pick we used to take Kyle Bigos. What chance could there possibly be in this universe that Kyle Bigos will play more NHL games than Kyle Brodziak, to say nothing of playing them as well? We'd have been better served if we set Brodziak on fire. And that move is by no means atypical.

This last season has almost completed the process of gutting the Finals team. Most of us would agree that Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau, two guys who survived into last year, had to go, and many of you would include Fernando Pisani and Marc Pouliot in that category. Again, the point is not that every move was bad. The point is that we took a team that came within one bad break of winning the Stanley Cup, tore away more than 90% of it, and replaced that 90% with almost nothing: no top prospects that we've traded for, no promising young players that we picked up in those many, many deals, just a lot of lost free agents and some nice youngsters we got because we were so terrible. We've traded players for worse players and traded those worse players for even worse ones. We've diluted the talent of that team until it can no longer be detected, and only our two oft-injured first liners, their primes passing like scenery out the window, remain.

And people wonder why we'll be in the lottery again next year.

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