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Oilers done building, ready to start winning

by Derek Van Diest /

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers no longer consider themselves a young, up-and-coming team.

According to new coach Dallas Eakins, the rebuilding phase is over in Edmonton and the time for results has arrived.

"We're not building, we're not a young team," Eakins said. "Our expectations are to prepare to win every night and that's what we're going to try to do.

"We can't move forward without looking at what's gone on in the past, but saying that, I don't care what happened here last year, the year before and the year before that. This is a fresh start for this team with a couple of new coaches, new players, but most importantly, different expectations."

The Oilers have not made the playoffs since getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. Since then, they've finished 30th in the NHL standings on two occasions and chose first in the NHL draft three times due to good fortune in the lottery.

Now on their fifth coach in the past six seasons, the Oilers once again are looking at taking a leap forward.

"It's got to be playoffs for us," center Sam Gagner said. "We've been through a lot of losing here. Losing helps you grow as a person, but it's never fun. Our core is pretty much intact from the last few years and we have a lot to prove going forward. We're excited about the challenge this year and we're looking forward to challenging for a playoff spot."

The Oilers have not made significant player personnel changes from the team that finished 12th in the Western Conference last season.

They traded captain Shawn Horcoff, signed free-agent defenseman Andrew Ference and shuffled the deck on their bottom two lines.

The big changes came in the front office and behind the bench. The Oilers fired general manager Steve Tambellini in April and replaced him with former coach Craig MacTavish. He fired coach Ralph Krueger after one season and replaced him with Eakins.

"There is going to be change when there isn't success," Gagner said. "We haven't had that -- we haven't even been close to that. I think it's important for us to realize that the time is now to turn things around. It's been said before and it's a matter of going out and being ready for it and accomplishing it."

The Oilers are relying on a more experienced core in Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry to take them toward a playoff run.

Regardless of the complementary group they've been surrounded with, the onus will be on them to pull the club up the standings.

"I think it's a copout to be labeled young and it allows you to go through some growing periods," Gagner said. "I think that's done now. We've been through a lot as a core and it's time for us to move forward as a group. We have a mix of veteran guys and young guys and everything in between here. It's important for us to reach that next level. It doesn't matter what our label is; it's about winning."

Heading into the new-look Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, winning won't come easy.

The Oilers have their work cut out and the pressure to perform will intensify from years past.

"There's a point where you get sick and tired of being told how good you're going to be and you want to get to that point," Eberle said. "Last year was tough, just because I thought we had a great team and we were in a playoff spot after the trade deadline and that six-game slide killed us and took us out of it.

"In a short season that hurts but that motivates you to work hard in the summer. I like what we did in the offseason. I like the feeling in the dressing room right now and I know that the guys are excited to get on the ice."

Fans in Edmonton seem to have taken an optimistic but cautious approach to the club's chances this season. They've been excited heading into previous seasons only to be disappointed.

"Being around the city, fans are excited about this season," Eberle said. "They've been excited about the last few seasons, but this one in particular, the changes made on the roster and kind of the feeling of the new fresh start that we have here. I think the fans deserve a better team. They've gone through some heartache in the last little bit and we need to deliver, plain and simple."

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