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GENE'S BLOG: Happy New Year

In his latest blog, Gene Principe takes a look back at 2016 and the improvements seen in the Oilers

by Gene Principe / Special to

Whether you spent it at home, at a hotel, at a party, or somewhere else with family or friends or both I hope you had a Happy New Year. I spent mine from 11:30 pm on at my sister's house. Before that, like more than 18,000 people, I was at Rogers Place. Thousands at the building and hundreds of thousands more across the country tuning into the final game of 2016 for the Edmonton Oilers. We didn't have to wait until midnight for fireworks. There were a few set off during the game and especially in overtime. What a way to ring in the New Year? One point short of a perfect way to say goodbye to 2016.

2016 wasn't a bad year at all for the Edmonton Oilers. Let's take a look at the back-half of last season which was the first part of last year. Their record was 16-22-5. Eleven of those games were played without Connor McDavid. Upon his return, he stayed healthy and started to show those flashes of fantastic we now are starting to see on a nearly nightly basis. The next big element that fell into order was Cam Talbot. It was as the calendar turned so did Talbot. Comfortable as a number one. He got into a groove and began showing what he expects of himself and what the Oilers expect of him. Dependable, durable, steady and sometimes flashy. A goalie you can count on.

For all that was on display, Peter Chiarelli knew he needed more to keep the push forward on pace. They drafted Jesse Puljujarvi. He made a big deal to get Adam Larsson. Edmonton made a long-term commitment to secure Milan Lucic. They signed some college kids in Matthew Benning and Drake Caggiula. There was also the signing of Kris Russell.

It's clear in watching the Oilers GM at work: he knows what he wants and goes out to try and get what the club needs. It also appears if plan A isn't materializing, there's a plan B or a plan C.

Like an artist handed brushes, paint and an open canvas, the team was turned over to Todd McLellan and his staff. It was their move next. Taking the pieces of this hockey puzzle and sliding them together, as comfortably as possible into the right spot. Sometimes the painting and pieces work easily but even Van Gogh had to stop, assess his work and then move forward with his project. Todd McLellan has often said, like a painting, this team is a work in progress. Every team is but sometimes you are closer to the end than the beginning. The Oilers look to be in the middle.

Their record is 19-12-7. They're second in the Pacific Division. The Oilers are comfortably (as comfortable as you can be nearing the halfway point) within the playoff cut line for the West. They have a player who is in the running for the scoring title. Another in the push for power play goal efficiency. There are role players and tough players. They are bigger and stronger on the ice and in the standings. They have a goalie who has played more than anyone else in the league and as well or better than most. A defence with not one star but a group that works well together. Overall, what they have is belief in themselves. You see it in the eyes of Ryan Nugent Hopkins or the voice of Leon Draisaitl or the actions of Connor McDavid. They are not the Oilers of the past. They are clearly past that. It's now about the present and what their future holds in 2017. Happy New Year.

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