Politics

Cup dreams in September? Not a chance, say Edmonton Oilers


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So, do you think the Edmonton Oilers will open the Stanley Cup final at home or on the road?

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With fans still riding the high of the best Edmonton Oilers season since 2006, and seeing some of the players they signed in the summer, it’s tempting to get ahead of one’s self.

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Bold predictions of Stanley Cup windows and contender status before a puck even drops on the pre-season are great for long-suffering fans, so long as that sentiment doesn’t make its way into the dressing room.

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By all accounts, it hasn’t. In fact, the Oilers are pumping the brakes on just about everything that has to do with looking ahead to another trip to the Western Conference final and beyond.

Starting at the top.

“I told the guys there are 32 teams in the league having meetings today who have high hopes and high expectations,” general manager Ken Holland said of his address to the team prior to the start of training camp.

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“Last year is history. It means nothing. You have to play your way back into the playoffs.”

If Holland knows anything from experience in Detroit, it’s that this season is going to be harder than last year, not easier.

“Teams are going to be ready for us,” he said. “They saw us play in the final four. They’re going to be ready. I’m expecting it’s going to be a real dogfight in the west to make the playoffs. Last year is history.

“(Big talk) might get the fan base excited, but you have to do it all over again. Good programs do it year after year after year after year.”

The core of this team has done it twice in the last six years, and learned a very valuable and painful lesson about taking anything for granted.

“I remember that summer (of 2017) personally,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “Everybody was talking about how we were a good team, we were going to be a contender. That’s not how sports works. You have to earn it. We didn’t earn it at all.”

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No, they didn’t. They missed the playoffs two years in a row and then bowed out in the first round the two years after that.

This time, there is a steely determination to prove it was no fluke.

“We have to have a chip on our shoulder,” said Nurse. “It was great to get to a Western Conference final, but there was only one winner last year and we were in the group of losers. To get to that ultimate goal, it’s going to take a lot more work than we even put in last year.”

Getting Evander Kane back and signing goalie Jack Campbell leads many to believe the Oilers are stronger than they were last year, but that’s absolutely not the case yet.

Last year’s team went three rounds deep. This year’s team hasn’t even won a pre-season game yet.

“For sure you can look at it on paper and say we’re a better team now than we were at the end of last year,” said Nurse.

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“But that’s paper. The real test comes when the puck drops on opening night.”

CASE CLOSED

Kane reached a multimillion-dollar settlement in his wrongful dismissal suit with the San Jose Sharks, who terminated his contract in January for violating COVID-19 protocol while playing with the AHL affiliate.

He was still owed $19 million over the final three years. Since he’ll make $16.5 million over the next three years with Edmonton, he can demonstrate $2.5 million in lost wages. He also lost out on some of his $7 million salary last year when they terminated his deal in January.

“I’m happy it’s over and done with,” he said, joking that the story would make for good television. “I won’t get into it too much. It’ll probably be in the Netflix doc when I’m done.”

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SPEAKING OF CONTRACTS

Oilers RFA Ryan McLeod, who’s been waiting on a new deal all summer, is expected to be on the ice for the start of camp on Thursday.

“He took physicals and I talked to his agent, I’m hopeful that we’re going to find a solution on a contract,” said Holland, who hasn’t been able to find room under the cap to get a deal done. “He’s obviously been patient.”

The hope was that the Oilers would trade away some salary and leave room to sign the 23-year-old center to a two- or three-year deal, but it hasn’t happened.

“We’re to the point now where we’re probably looking at a one-year deal. I like him a lot. I think he’s a top nine forward. I see him growing into an important player for us in the bottom six. But, ultimately we’re at where we’re at with the cap.”

KOEKKOEK STILL OUT

Defenceman Slater Koekkoek, who missed last season while addressing personal issues, isn’t at camp. His agent asked Holland to release the following statement:

“Slater will be away from the team while he continues to work on his mental health. He will be working with the singular goal of returning to the Oilers in the best mindset and with the tools he needs to have s successful return.”

rtychkowski@postmedia.com

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