Oilers' fans hitch their hopes to new coach

By Bruce Penton

Twitter hasn’t been kind to the Edmonton Oilers. Nor have opposing teams and critical columnists. Finally, the boom was lowered, coach Todd McLellan was fired and the Oilers’ faithful hope the team follows the 2015 blueprint of the Pittsburgh Penguins and goes on to win the Stanley Cup. And in whose dream world is that a possibility?

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The Penguins had the best player in hockey in 2015, Sidney Crosby, but after a slow start, coach Mike Johnston was fired in December and replaced by Mike Sullivan. The Pens ship was righted, and the team sailed through to the Stanley Cup.

Like Pittsburgh in 2015, the Oilers have the best player in hockey, Connor McDavid, but the pieces surrounding him don’t compel any experts to proclaim the Oilers as a Stanley Cup contender just yet. Western Canadians who love the Oilers (much of the population, other than those who call Calgary and area home) will be watching intently to see if new coach and Edmonton native Ken Hitchcock can pull a Sullivan out of the Oilers’ gloom. Said Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet: “There is no doubt that (Hitchcock) was watching the Oilers’ every move, thinking — and saying to anyone who asked — “I can fix this.”

Those experts who use Twitter to spread their wisdom suggest McLellan wasn’t necessarily the problem; that general manager Peter Chiarelli should have been the one to go. With a plethora of first overall or otherwise early draft picks, many hockey people think the Oilers should be better than floundering in the lower depths of the Western Conference.

McDavid was a gift, thanks to a lucky lottery bounce. Success at other years’ drafts hasn’t been as good for the Oil. Jordan Eberle (No. 22 overall in 2008) was exchanged for Ryan Strome two years ago and Strome has since been discarded. Taylor Hall (No. 1 overall in 2010) was a solid pick (the reigning MVP) and later exchanged for ho-hum defenceman Adam Larsson. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was No. 1 overall in 2011 and has turned into a journeyman forward. Nail Yakupov (No. 1 overall in 2012) turned into a dud. Darnell Nurse (No. 7 overall in 2013) is a dependable blueliner. Leon Draisaitl (No 3 overall in 2014) has been a success. Jesse Puljujarvi (No. 4 overall in 2016) has yet to bear fruit.

Overall, the Oilers’ drafting in the past decade — less than half of those years under Chiarelli’s watch — would perhaps earn a ‘C’ grade. If Hitchcock can’t work wonders and another of McDavid’s prime years goes to waste, perhaps drafting a better GM would be the team’s best move.

• Blogger Torben Rolfsen of B.C., on Calgary’s vote to abandon the chase for the 2026 Winter Olympics: “Should have called it Winter Stampede and it would have gone forward.”

Comedy writer Brad Dickson of Omaha: “The annual Nebraska-Iowa game should be pushed back to Saturday from Friday. There's too much pre-game hate for only six days.”

Dwight Perryof the Seattle Times: “Receiver Juju Smith-Schuster went trick-or-treating in his Steelers uniform. If Bears linebacker Khalil Mack followed suit, just imagine how many sacks he’d bring home.”

Greg Coteof the Miami Herald: “Florida citizens this week voted to ban dog racing in the state, meaning some 6,000 suddenly retired racing greyhounds may need new homes. Breathing a well-earned sigh of relief: the mechanical rabbit!”

Comedy writer Jim Barach: “A Canadian curling team was ejected from an event for being ‘extremely drunk.’ Where did they think they were, a bowling alley?”

RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “Word out of Buffalo is the Bills released QB Nathan Peterman because they felt the team was going in the wrong direction. Just like most of Peterman's passes.”

Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played a winner-take-all one round match for $9 million. The players wore mics. Tiger’s mic was closed-captioned for the swearing impaired.”

Pat Fordeof Yahoo Sports, on Kansas hiring ex-LSU football coach Les Miles: “He has the luxury of going from a place where the expectation is ‘Beat Alabama’ to a place where the expectation is ‘Beat Anyone.’ 

NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, after Bears kicker Cody Parkey hit the uprights four times on field-goal or PAT attempts in a 34-24 win over the Lions: “Then, after the game, it took him four times to get through the locker-room doors.”

Jack Finarelli(sportscurmudgeon.com) after Browns GM John Dorsey said he’d consider ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in his head-coaching search: “If he said that as part of a stand-up comedy routine, maybe it would work in that context; in just about any other context, it is about as dumb as an inflatable dart board.”

Brad Rockof the Deseret News: “Wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin scoffed at his 14-day beer fast, saying, ‘I will probably drink until my final day on Earth. Said the two-win Cleveland Cavaliers: ‘Ditto that.’”
Care to comment? Email brucepenton2003@yahoo.ca

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