For years, the definition of the word "basement dweller" has been greedily monopolized by the Edmonton Oilers, stubbornly clinging to their precious real estate despite multiple promises to vacate the premises. This year, the team is finally showing signs of budging, with a 28-15-8 record at the end of January, to the disbelief of most Oilers fans who’ve come to expect very little good things from their hockey club.
As the narrative shifts from perpetual self-deprecation to constructive criticism, even after losses, it's important to appreciate the fact that the team seems to have finally achieved some semblance of success. If you want a reminder of what it's like to be mired in darkness, following the Colorado Avalanche (13-31-2 with a league-worst -63 goal differencial) this year will surely bring back a lot of warm, familiar feelings. Because I loathe happiness and all things good in life, the Avs are my number two team, and I even flew to Denver to catch their game against Minnesota last season, which ended as a pathetic 0-4 loss and the final dagger to their playoffs hopes. Such is my life, and that game was a big sign of the pain that would be coming for the Avs.
The situation Colorado is going through is very similar because they are experiencing a lot of similarities to the Oilers in their darkest of times, those traits including:
- Lack of stability in coaching regimes (now led by first-year NHL coach Jared Bednar after the abrupt departure of Patrick Roy before this season).
- Finding some improbable sliver of optimism despite it all (we are never give up).
- Calls to trade the core, much blame placed on key players (Landeskog, Duchene, and MacKinnon being the Avs' equivalent of Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins, untouchability rotating throughout depending on the day).
- A dire lack of capable defencemen.
- Coaching and execs ruled by former players who were part of a dynasty for the team. If this were a movie, it would star--
- Patrick Roy as Craig McTavish
- Joe Sakic as Kevin Lowe
- Jared Bednar as Dallas Eakins
- Stan Kroenke as Daryl Katz
In short, Avs fans find themselves at the painful segment of the journey before a McDavid arrives to bless the earth and precipitate changes like bringing in Bob Nicholson, Peter Chiarelli, and Todd McLellan, as well as attracting free agents such as Milan Lucic and potentially others down the road (it's remarkable how far the Oilers have come, really). Sadly, McDavids don't come along every year, because even if you're lucky enough to get a #1 draft pick, Nolan Patrick just does not have the same cache as a CCSP.
We caught up with Steven Page of Mile High Hockey to get a sense of how Avs fans are feeling, and how they are coping. Feel free to leave comments with advice on how to get through these trying times, because if anyone knows what these times are like, it's Oilers fans.
Minnia Feng: How does the outlook this season compare with relatively bad seasons you've experienced in the past?
Steven Page: I could write a whole article to answer this question, but I'll keep it short. This year lacks a solid scapegoat. In years past, it was easy to pinpoint an easy reason why the Avs were losing; it was the coaching, the defense or a lack of a supportive cast for the core players. This year, the Avs came in as a more balanced team. They weren't stacked with an all-star roster by any means, but they were expected to be a solid playoff contender with a much better defensive system installed by Jared Bednar. Defensively, the Avs looked better, but then the offense never seemed to happen. Now, the Avs just look like a group of guys that play hockey, not a team that plays with each other. Say what you will about Patrick Roy, but his first year as a coach, he had this team playing together.
MF: What's it been like to deal with almost constant negativity, and how do you try to stay positive?
SP: This is the most negative season I can ever remember as an Avalanche fan and writer. Sure, there have been some poor performances on the ice in the last ten years, but this year there seems to be nothing to distract fans. The fans are getting tired of this long rebuild. Colorado fans were spoiled in that they inherited a cup contender. This team hasn't been a cup contender since the 2005 lock-out and for the first time since the Avs started their rebuild in 2009, there doesn't seem to be hope that next year will be better. The biggest positive that the Avs have to look forward to is that they will have some heavy veteran contracts such as Jarome Iginila's come off the books next year. Right now, Avs fans are staying positive by hoping that the team will show some minor signs of life.
MF: This being a pretty weak draft year, too, what do you think the Avs need to do to get themselves out of this whole?
SP: Yeah, I've found myself looking at the draft prospects for next years' draft far earlier than I ever have in years past. There are some good players, but not anybody worth losing a season over. Unfortunately, the Avs are going to have to do more to make themselves legit playoff contenders on a regualar basis. After seven years and three coaches, the Avs rebuild seems to be going backwards. With the variety of coaching styles the Avs have seen, it may be time to do something about the core they are building around. So, to really turn things around, the Avs will probably have to do what the Oilers did this offseason and trade a player they value as part of their core for something of value.
MF: Where do most of the fans seem to place the blame for the poor performance of the team? Have they been dealing with this situation well, and is the team's performance surprising?
SP: Like I said with the second question. This has been a very negative and disappointing year that is lacking a real scapegoat. This has been one of the most disappointing years I've seen since the Avs failed to win the Northwest Division with a stacked team in 2004. Like many experts have said, it may be time to trade a core player. The Avs core isn't necessarily bad, but they don't seem to be good enough together. While many folks are placing the blame at the lack of depth in the bottom sixth and on defense (and that is well deserved), my personal feeling (though it hasn't been really well received) is that the Avs should try and trade Gabriel Landeskog. He may wear the C on the Avalanche, but I feel he has failed to pull this team together as a leader the team can get behind.
[Minnia's Note: I feel like Landeskog is unfairly being made a scapegoat this season but that’s just me.]
MF: Can you summarize this year's team in three adjectives?
SP: Separated, sleepy, bi-polar.
MF: How do you feel about the Oilers and their future?
SP: I was skeptical of the Oilers coming into the season. I didn't know if they got enough back for the players they gave up this summer. But, they proved me wrong. Trading away those players allowed the Oilers to become Connor McDavid's team, and he has made it just that. McDavid is the real deal and we'll all love watching him for years to come. That being said, if the Oilers want to be the cup contenders that a team with a player like McDavid should be, they will need to surround him with good players. The Oilers still need to strengthen their back-end and find a some more depth offensively. It's alright now, but I think that Milan Lucic signing will come back to haunt them. That's a lot of money and term to put into a guy who frankly isn't that talented.
MF: Can we have Tyson Barrie?
SP: Sure. How about Jordan Eberle and a 1st, and we'll throw in Iginla? Hoping to get that top-4 d-man we need somewhere else.
[Minnia's Note: HA. I don’t really want Barrie, to be honest.]