Two weeks ago, after a halfhearted effort against the San Jose Sharks, Tom Renney took some shots at his team and their play (if you missed it, or just want to watch it again, you can find the video here). In the seven games since then the Oilers have come away with at least a single point in every outing and with a 5-0-2 record during that stretch have eliminated the gap that had existed between them and the teams ahead of them in the standings. As of this morning the Oilers have 71 points and find themselves in 28th place only two points back of the 26th place Islanders.
With their season effectively over the Oilers picked a somewhat odd time to start winning games because with wins come points that improve a teams position in the standings. And, as I'm sure you know, with each spot the team climbs in the standings now that corresponds to a spot further down in the draft order come June. In fact, the Oilers have actually played so well of late that if they were to win four or five of their final six games there is an outside chance that Steve Tambellini might not get to make his annual appearance on TSN's draft lottery special.
For the fans who have fallen in love with the draft and think that the Oilers are just another lottery pick away from a Stanley Cup this is of course seen as cause for concern. To listen to some you'd think that the team is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions; human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! But I think it's absolutely great. After the jump I'll tell you why.
The single biggest reason why these wins are a good thing is that the Oilers are winning games for a change and there just hasn't been enough of that over the last three seasons. The Oilers have won just 83 games out of the last 240 games that they've played, a total that, not surprisingly, is the lowest in the NHL during that time. Think about that for a minute, the Oilers have won just one in three games for three seasons. I get that losing is part of the rebuilding plan but at this point I'm beyond tired of losing, I'm completely sick of losing. I don't care how the wins come, or who they come against, I just want to see the Oilers win some games because winning is a lot more fun than losing. If you're not sure about that just think back to October and the first few weeks of November.
And while each win could result in the Oilers drafting later in the first round (although still very early) than some would like, the drop off in the prospect that the Oilers will add to their system won't be so significant that it will in any way hurt the Oilers rebuild. The last few drafts have seen the Oilers add Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle to the team not to mention all the prospects that haven't yet reached the NHL. I would certainly never argue against adding more skill but this this is a team that has added enough youth and skill to their system that at this point the rebuild, if it is going to be successful, is going to need to see complementary players added to the team as much as it will need more bright shiny prospects. Will Mikhail Grigorenko be better than Ryan Murray? He might be, but if that's what the rebuild is depending on then the rebuild is in real trouble.
Another plus to the late season streak is that it's clear the players haven't given up on either the season or their head coach. I would imagine that going out night after night to play games that mean almost nothing is a lot tougher than it sounds and I don't think that it sounds all that easy. Given the Oilers place in the standings I wouldn't blame any player if they took the occasional night off or didn't give 100% on each and every shift. Management hasn't taken winning seriously so why should the players? Add in playing for a coach who might not be around next season and it would be even more understandable to see a drop off in the teams play. But after being challenged by Renney a couple of weeks ago the Oilers responded with the current string of wins and play that might just be good enough to save their coaches job. And even if they can't save Renney's job it's encouraging to see that the players on this team still take some pride in what they're doing.
It's easy to look at the standings and think what if. After all if the Oilers hadn't won their last game of the 2006/07 season they would have finished 26th; instead they leapfrogged the Blackhawks into 25th and the Blackhawks went on to win the lottery and select Patrick Kane first overall. But I'm going to just enjoy the wins as they come and not worry about the standings. It's been a tough last three years, I think we've all earned that.