I assume that in a past life I must have only cheered for winning teams, this would help explain why every team that I cheer for now is terrible. Take the Oilers, I've been a season ticket holder for eight years, you know how those years have gone. I'm up to year ten with the Eskimos and I've seen one home playoff game, this in a league where half the teams host a playoff game each year. The Oil Kings won a Memorial Cup the year I gave up my season tickets. When it comes to baseball my first love is the Blue Jays and they haven't made the playoffs in 20 years, or really even been close. And then there are the Miami Dolphins, a team that I can't tell you why I cheer for and has has managed to rival the Oilers' front office incompetence in recent years. Yes, I must have done something in a past life to deserve this.
As surprising as it may sound to some, I find that there are a lot of similarities between fans of the Oilers and Dolphins. These are fans who were so fed up with their previous General Manager, Jeff Ireland, that some decided to pay for a plane to fly over the stadium with a banner urging the owner to fire him. Not just once, but twice. That almost makes a billboard calling for Kevin Lowe's head look tame by comparison. And so, when I came across an article on the "Eight Type of Dolphins Fans" I immediately noted how many of these cross over to the Oilers as well. One in particular jumped out at me, the Eternal Optimist:
This is the guy who, although realistic to the fact that the Dolphins have made no appreciable or significant improvement to the roster, still comes into the season thinking THIS is the year.
Our head coach is a lanky doofus? Sure, but he once worked with Aaron Rodgers. SO THAT'S SOMETHING.
Our number-one wide receiver can't catch? Yes, but he's superfast! Our schedule is tough.
Yeah, but the New England Patriots are older, even though they're showing no signs of slowing down and still have one of the best quarterbacks in the game. I mean, Tom Brady is 37 this year. THAT'S A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY!
Of course there is no right kind of fan, but, generally speaking, this type of fan and I don't see eye to eye. If I say that the Oilers are at best five wins better in their own end of the rink, or that they have a gapping hole on the second line that threatens to sink the team, or that there is very little I'm looking forward to next season, this fan disagrees. Sometimes on this site, other times on Twitter. And I love that debate, I really do. It's part of what makes writing on a site like this fun even when the team isn't any fun to watch. What I don't like from some of the more optimistic fans is the idea that I don't like the Oilers, or that I want them to lose, simply because I have different expectations for the season ahead.
I can't tell you how many times I've written something and hoped, deep down, that I was wrong, that whatever is was that Oilers were doing would work out for them. I'd gladly be wrong about everything Oilers related for a calendar year if it meant that the team would make the playoffs at the end. That's not how it works though. I look at this team and I see 12th place, and so I write that. But still I cling to the hope, as stupid and irrational as it may be, that everything will break right for the Oilers this season and when the dust clears they'll be a lot better than I expected, or, dare to dream, in a playoff spot. This year the source of that hope is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' surgically repaired shoulder.
The reality of the Oilers is that they will go as far as Taylor Hall can take them. But there is only so much that he can do by himself, he has to have a supporting cast, and the biggest part of that supporting cast is Nugent-Hopkins. We all saw what Hall was like a full year removed from the shoulder surgery that ended his second NHL season. It was like watching a different player. More aggressive in the offensive zone and stronger on the puck. Some of that could, and should, be attributed to his having another year in the NHL under his belt, But there is a difference between between healthy enough to play and really being confident about your shoulder after a surgery like he and Nugent-Hopkins had. And I think we saw some of that difference in the way that Hall played last season.
Now, if Nugent-Hopkins can bounce back in a similar way just imagine the Oilers top line. That would be a combination that could be put up against the league's best and be expected to come out on top more often than not. A Nugent-Hopkins finally playing at 100% skating with one of the league's very best left wingers, it gives me goose bumps. Just how good would number Hall's counting numbers be in a situation like this, and would it be enough to overcome the roster holes that exist elsewhere in the lineup? I have my doubts that it would be, but we can always hope.