We come not to bury the Oilers, but to pity them. Or at least, their fans.
Somehow the Edmonton Oilers are once again at the bottom of the league standings and in great position for an unprecedented fourth first-overall pick in six years before lottery rule changes make that even more unlikely. This season did not even provide a brief window of hope as the Oilers lost their first five games and nine of their first 13 in October. Frustrations are high within, and scapegoats are being fattened for the usual ritual sacrifice.
Now they see the New York Islanders come through town on a roll and with a team that has legitimately righted itself after what has been at times a trying rebuild.
The Islanders will ice the same lineup that has been getting them wins more often than not, including Jaroslav Halak in goal. Not wanting to make any moves when the latest injury is just a misstep away, the Isles aren't making a change yet despite Michael Grabner looking ready to come off IR, reports Arthur Staple of Newsday.
The Oilers, who have now offloaded top-six winger David Perron and bottom-six (except on the Oilers) center Mark Arcobello, will see Rob Klinkhammer debut tonight. He was the live body acquired from Pittsburgh in the Perron trade. Ben Scrivens has been getting the majority of starts lately.
View from There
Latest Oilers head coach Todd Nelson on the Isles:
"They play a fast game, their defence is very active off the rush, they come with a four-man attack and they’re good in the offensive zone so we’re going to have to play our system well defensively and have our head on a swivel in the d-zone because they are very active."
Former B's, Now in Orange and Blue
Oilers captain Andrew Ferrence provided a little insight on his former teammate in Boston Johnny Boychuk, and what we've seen him add to the Isles beyond his on-ice contributions:
Obviously he’s a real big, strong guy. But he has fun with the game. He comes every day with a really good attitude to get better. To enjoy what he’s doing and it’s infectious. He brings a very positive attitude to the room and has a very positive effect on the game because he plays it hard. He does it the right way all the time.
We definitely got the better Bruins cap casualty. Boychuk's comments on Ferrence:
There are similarities, but we are different players. He’s a tough player. He’s sound defensively and sticks up for teammates when called upon.
They are different players, yes. The free agent contract Ferrence signed with the Oilers last summer was one some Isles fans called for, but then and now it looks like the kind of investment the Isles were wise to avoid.
Speaking of which...
Funhouse Mirror Reflection
Most Islanders fans recognize what Edmonton Oilers fans are going through, or have gone through, for what seems like year after year since Lockout II. A rebuild that goes on and on. Arduous losing streaks and frustrating mistakes that seem symptomatic of a deep sickness, an eccentric and overly loyal owner, a braintrust of former players who are tight with one another.
Except not really. The Oilers' swan dive coincided with a trade of a popular captain to the Islanders, who were making one more 2000s playoff appearance. While both have been through political drama to replace their respective Coliseums, the Islanders owner at least offered to build his own. While both have had top five picks more often than not, the Isles have been just not-bad enough to miss out on the "can't miss" top selections every year but 2009.
And most importantly, the Isles as currently constructed are populated by multiple waiver claims and picks from throughout the draft -- not just the lottery prizes.
Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, plus top-10 picks Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome, as well as waiver claims Thomas Hickey and Michael Grabner, and trade returns Lubomir Visnovsky, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk -- for the most part these are the types of players the Oilers have not managed to accumulate, and that deficit is the source of frustration for fans stuck watching the Oilers spin their wheels around top picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
Things of course can change in a hurry. I fondly recall the days when new commenters would drive by our site to inform us "the Oilers rebuild is ahead of the Isles and we're screwed" thanks to a few weeks in October. And we have watched the Islanders go from media punching bag at last March's trade deadline -- hey, it so neatly fit the inviting narrative -- to a serious contender this year thanks to a series of long-desired reinforcements over the summer.
But for now, until that sea change comes in Alberta, it's a macabre voyeurism to see Oilers fans go through this for another year. Some of the best writers and blogs are those following the Oilers, so at least this whole thing is ... well chronicled. If it weren't, our grandchildren would never believe it happened this way.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here. Hopefully you're not in bed before you find out whether you were right.