EDMONTON, AB - As the playoffs begin Wednesday night, it will feel a little lonely for fans of the Edmonton Oilers.
They won't have their favourite team to cheer for during the opening evening in the chase for the Stanley Cup. It's not what the organization wanted or expected. There isn't a single one of the 31 teams that doesn't believe they will be in the chase for the Cup. When the squads get whittled down to a more manageable 16 there are still 15 who are left standing on the outside. The Oilers are one of them this season but I firmly believe they won't be one next season.
Video: RAW | Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky
I just believe there are way too many solid (and some spectacular pieces) in place to make this a fix that can be done in 12 months or less. For a team that was mathematically alive until the final week of the season, I saw a lot of pushback and willingness to confront the challenges ahead. This is an uncomfortable time for every team looking back at what went wrong. It's not fun reviewing the season past when it isn't the success you planned. Here's what I know the Oilers are going through the 2018-19 season with a magnifying glass getting as close a look as possible at everything.
In some ways, it's hard to not smile and feel warm and fuzzy over what a number of Oilers did. Leon Draisaitl getting to the 50-goal mark. Incredible achievement by an incredible player. Connor McDavid breaking (not his leg, thank goodness) but his career high in points and equaling his total in goals. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins surpassing every offensive achievement when it comes to goals, assists and points. Darnell Nurse cracking the 40-point plateau and emerging with a career year. Alex Chiasson setting a new high for goals scored in a season. Zack Kassian sliding up and down the lineup and still setting a new personal best in goals. I mean, there was a lot to smile about when it came to individuals bettering anything they had previously done in their careers.
Video: OILERS TODAY | Exit Interviews 04.07.19
Yet I know it's a team game and as a team, the Edmonton Oilers fell short of their goal. It was, in the words of many players, the inability to stop their losing streaks. Two or three losses in a row will happen. Making sure they don't turn into four, five or six because even when they go on a late-season run as they did, it's so hard to make up ground and points in the standings.
I thought Ken Hitchcock put it in very simple and effective terms: One win or an extra win a month and the Oilers are in the playoffs. The easiest math to be done which would explain the shortfall in points. One more in October, November, December, January, February and March. Six times two equals 12. Add the 79 points they earned and we're at 91 and in a playoff spot.
If it were only so easy. But it puts a spin on the Oilers not being that far off in becoming a playoff team. Before they do that there's the hiring of a general manager. It's a much-coveted job with someone already assuming the temporary reins (Keith Gretzky) and doing a more than admirable job in difficult circumstances.
Video: RAW | Hitchcock 04.07.19
From there, a coach will have to be hand-picked for running the bench.
There's the draft, free agency on July 1, and some summer sunshine before the kids go back to school and the Oilers come back to Edmonton.
Disappointment is not an enjoyable feeling but it's also a motivating one. It motivates all of us to do better. The Edmonton Oilers will be better. This time next year I think this blog won't be a season wrapup but a playoff preview.