Friday, September 16, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Kyle & the Edmonton Oilers

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 29 of 30: the Edmonton Oilers


Last summer, the Edmonton Oilers won the "Taylor vs Tyler" debate by selecting Taylor Hall first overall - although Tyler Seguin won the rookie sweepstakes by being chosen second by the Bruins. The Oilers were a very young team, looking to make a splash and begin the climb back to glory. Edmonton owned the Stanley Cup for 5 seasons between 1984-1990, but have struggled a great deal since then, with the exception of a very good Cup run in 2006, which ended at a loss to Carolina.

Unfortunately, the 2010-2011 season didn't turn out so hot, either. Although the Oilers picked up some impressive wins during the season, they just couldn't pick up enough of them, and the Oilers finished dead last in the standings - again - with a mere 62 points. (Compare that to Vancouver's 117 at the top of the standings.) Which meant that once again, Edmonton won the Draft lottery, and with their first overall pick, they chose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There's a very good chance that Nugent-Hopkins will make the leap to the NHL - Hall did, last season - but they may also want him to spent another year in the minors to bulk out a bit.

The Oilers' top goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, spent part of his summer serving his jail sentence in the States for a DUI convinction that had come early in the season. Khabibulin says he has learned his lesson and that he's going to be focusing on his game. 

He needs to, because he had the worst year of his career last year, and with all the talent that's beginning to stack up in front of him and his backup, Devan Dubnyk, it will be expected for the Oilers to make it to the playoffs - repeatedly - in the years to come. Perhaps this is the season that Khabibulin and Dubnyk begin splitting their ice time a bit more evenly, especially as Dubyk put up a very solid .916 sv% and 2.71 GAA in the 35 games he played. (He still needs to work on the "stealing games" aspect of his game, however, as his record was 12-13-8.)

Edmonton has been rebuilding for a while, and it continues this season. Like the Wild's Becoming Wild, you can get a look at the team's efforts through their series, Oil Change, which has six episodes online.

In the meantime, what did the Oilers do with their summer after plucking Nugent-Hopkins off the top of the Draft pile? Their big splash of the summer was bringing Ryan Smyth back to the Oilers. Smyth spent 1994-2007 with the Oilers; he hadn't wanted to leave the team when he was traded away, so it was emotional for him to return to Edmonton. Other than that, the team picked up a combination of grit and playoff experience. Eric Belanger just posted a career year for Phoenix, so he may make an important impact, but otherwise, none of the players - and and of themselves, at least - will be likely to create huge changes for the Oilers.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Cam Barker (MN), Eric Belanger (PHX), Ben Eager (SJ), Darcy Hordichuk (FLA), Ryan Smyth (LAK), Andy Sutton (ANA)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Andrew Cogliano (ANA), Kurtis Foster (ANA), Colin Fraser (LAK), Dustin Penner (LAK), Jim Vandermeer (SJ)

The Oilers still have a couple years of rebuilding ahead of them and they probably won't make the playoffs again this year, but they should be able to begin their climb out of the basement.

* * *

For the Oilers, we talked to Kyle, who you can find on Twitter at @ickylek. He also writes a hockey blog called Kyle has been an Oilers fan for 30 years.

Let's talk about how you became an Oilers fan.

I was originally drawn to the team because of Wayne Gretzky, and truly became a fan during the 1983 and 1984 playoffs, which I watched with my grandparents. 

My fandom was further cemented by Esa Tikkanen and his brave attempts at speaking English.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Ben Eager

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)?

As is often the case, I think the Oilers need to work on their depth at all positions. Typically, the Oilers have been starting each recent season with some holes in the lineup. This year, the forward group seems to be strong while the defense is in need of some depth. We often suffer a few injuries each year and cannot adequately replace the missing players. Should anyone on the blueline go down this year (especially Gilbert or Whitney) we will once again be a lottery team. Don't even get me started on the goaltending. It would be nice if Khabibulin would retire, but thats unlikely. Dubnyk is better but still unproven and its likely we can pick up another stop-gap option (like Leighton, etc.) given the team's reluctance to part with Khabibulin.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

11th in the Western Conference

What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Eberle's goal in Game 1 versus Calgary. It was all downhill after that.

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