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PRINCIPE: That's it, that's all

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers

And so another season has been put into the history books for the Edmonton Oilers. 2014-15 is over. It feels like it just began and now, suddenly, it's done. I still remember flying into Penticton and trying to familiarize myself with so many Oiler names and numbers. From rookie camp to main camp we went. Day after day spent at Rexall Place or sometimes Millenium Place in Sherwood Park. From the first to the final cuts were made for the Oilers to embark on another NHL season. It began with the thrill of a 1984 reunion, but also the agony of an opening night defeat to Calgary.

However, late October brought with it a sign that something positive was happening. Less than three weeks into the season and Edmonton had brandished a four-game winning streak. Something that looked good and felt good for a club looking to find some traction even if their sport is played on ice. It was a glimpse into the possibilities that lay ahead, which would also describe Leon Draisaitl who scored his first NHL goal and spent time with the big club. Eventually, it was decided, for the good of the player and his future, that the WHL was the best choice and not the NHL. Like Draisaitl, Edmonton was a team clutching and grabbing for respectability. Instead of the fine line of playing in the NHL or not it was the difference between winning and losing. Edmonton kept finding itself on the wrong side of 4-3, 3-2 and 2-1 scores. After so many close losses and 15 defeats in 16 games the first big news broke. Dallas Eakins has been relieved of his duties.

I was on my way to the airport when the assignment desk at Sportsnet called and said there were reports Dallas had been let go. It didn't take long to confirm, turn the car around and exchange my flight to Phoenix for a drive to the Oiler offices. A full house stood and listened to GM Craig MacTavish explain that, “the losses were mounting and we had to do something."

That summed it all up. You aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead and I take the same approach to those that are fired. Disparaging Dallas wasn't going to make anything better on the ice or in the standings. It was time to move on.

That's what Edmonton did with Todd Nelson. A familiar, yet somewhat unknown, coach from the AHL. A successful bench boss in the minors, but could he do it in the NHL? The answer was yes (I wrote about Todd last week). He did his part, which helped the players do theirs. There was also the acquisition of Derek Roy. A once high-scoring centre who was tired of bouncing around the league. He landed in Edmonton and stayed here the rest of the season. The 31-year-old helped in the room and helped everyone, especially Nail Yakupov, on the ice. Yakupov looked closer to what we had seen in his rookie and the NHL's lockout season.

Yakupov wasn't the only one who emerged halfway through the season. Jordan Eberle looked like he had a Canada jersey on and was playing at the World Juniors. He recaptured some of his magic act that, for a time, had disappeared. There was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, setting a career-high in goals. The just turned 22-year-old was looking like the neighbour kid you hadn't seen in a while, but who left home a boy and came back a man. Taylor Hall almost spent more time in the medical room than the dressing room and the ice. A tough season for the back-to-back top-10 NHL scorer. I'm not worried about Taylor, because with a little luck he'll be back as a star player on this team and in the league next season.

Hard to believe it's over, but it won't be long before it starts again. I can't wait for the lottery, the draft and seeing what the future holds. In the meantime, enjoy the spring and summer and we'll see you in the fall for the start of the Edmonton Oilers 2015-16 season.
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