Fans of both of these teams could be forgiven for wishing it was, say, 1982, with good times still ahead. If Puma and Adidas three-stripes can be in style again (wait, again again?), let '80s nostalgia live eternal.
2008 2009, and each club is in some stage of rebuild -- but without the benefit of a Kurri or a Bossy (or the rest of the legends' legends) landing in their laps. The Oilers, Stop #3 on the Islanders' Western rebuild tour, are obviously further along in the process than the Islanders -- as typified by the Oilers' bet on Isles' playoffs now! discard Robert Nilsson.
The Last Dynasty (old definition) at The Last Dynasty (interrupt allowed, v.1)
9:30 EST | [many names that should be Northlands] Coliseum | MSG+
But a gaze into the Oil yields a scary question: If the cap era demands payroll parity, and no superstars are headed your lapward way, and free agents have trouble finding your GM on their "friends" list, then where does the rebuild lead you? Just mediocrity? I'm enduring a lost season just to get back to mediocrity?
The Oilers have a crop of youngsters that's not too shabby. But the stop-and-go development of fitful young pups always triggers knee-jerk panic in some fans, so when a kid struggles -- or if he's fine but his counting stats struggle -- there's always one segment of a fanbase ready to dump him at the first offer.
The THN cover I joked about from this pre-season was premature; but just because THN says you're about to rise doesn't mean you should be. A huge part of avoiding rebuilding-to-mediocrity is making the right evaluations about what the heck is in your talented pups' heads. An unforgiving game, that.
The Oilers are in that process, while another time-honored hockey meme is in the picture: What to do about the damned coach. Is Craig MacTavish smart? Full of himself? Fine but worn stale on his players? These are the cliches bouncing around Oilers followers about the guy who's been there since 2000 and had them in the Finals just three seasons ago. For a coach, longevity is a blessing ... until it's not.
For a fuller encapsulation of all these issues at once, forgive me for sampling at length what Lowetide posted on Jan. 1 of this new year (and do check out the full link):
The Edmonton Oilers are not (despite some who say it) burdened with a Jim Fanning "gut feel" gunslinger manager. The Oilers coach (Craig MacTavish) has over an 8-year span ('00-'08) made mostly rational decisions and on the biggest stage (Stanley Cup playoffs) pushed the right buttons in series against Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim. I'm also prepared to suggest that despite his choice of backup in the fateful G1 SCF that spring, the fault for the Stanley loss doesn't fall at the feet of the head coach.
Since the Chris Pronger trade, this club has been in development mode. Thousands of at-bats have been given to Ladislav Smid, Matt Greene, Marc Pouliot, Tom Gilbert, Brad Winchester, Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Zack Stortini, JF Jacques, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Liam Reddox, Jeff Deslauriers and a few I haven't mentioned here.
While doing that, the Oilers have also tried to put a winning team on the field. They have some veterans who are long in the tooth (Roloson, Moreau, Staios), some who are in the heart of their careers (Horcoff, Cole), a few hired guns (Lubo, Souray), a mess of kids (above, plus Grebeshkov) and even one guy touched by God (Hemsky). They've even spent money, lots of it.
The Oilers have one fatal flaw: they never had had a balanced team.
That could be our future. According to Newsday, ex-Oiler-malcontent and pending UFA Mike Comrie might want to be part of it. If he's healthy and consistent, I'd be willing to listen. But he's gonna have to do much more to show me a $4 million salary slot.
I'm sorry, I could go on and on. I love this league and miss the days of multiple meetings with every club, so these Western swings are rare chances to mull over what other clubs are going through.
For a bit on the present trying times on our beloved Islanders, the impossible-to-dislike Richard Park leads with heart and soul:
"We're just trying to build some really good habits," Park said in San Jose. "The one thing we can control is our work ethic and playing right until the end. The last two games are examples of that. Unfortunately, we've come up short in those two games, but we have to stay positive and try to build some confidence from our effort.
"I know they say, 'Close doesn't matter.' But when a team is fighting for wins, you have to find something that's going right."
Yeah, kinda how a fan has to look at it, too.