EDMONTON — As the Oilers took the ice for their final exhibition game Saturday night, Jeff Kawchuk and Doug Mason stood behind the end boards beaming like kids on Christmas Eve.
“175 days,” Kawchuk whispered, “175 days until we lose to Ottawa at home on March 23rd and we’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.”
“Look at this lineup” said Mason, his eyes shining, “Connor McDavid is the best player in the world, Rattie looks great, Draisatl and Nurse are ready to do some real damage. It’s going to be a magical ride watching the team squander all this talent.”
General Manager Peter Chiarelli voiced the same excitement: “We’ve waited all summer for a chance to turn the fans against us once and for all. And it’s early days, but so far it’s going according to plan. We start the season looking great, we build up unrealistic expectations, we crash and burn in January and it’s over in March. Maybe this will be the year they finally get the message.”
That night the Oilers beat Arizona in overtime, wrapping up their preseason campaign with six wins in seven games. But at the post-game press conference head coach Todd McLellan reassured Oilers fans. “I know we’ve put together a string of wins in the pre-season, but I still believe in our fundamentals,” said McLellan. As he spoke, he ticked off the points on his fingers. “Horrendous power play. Shaky goaltending. Total lack of interest in playing defence. We should be out of the playoffs by late March.”
But “shoulds” don’t lose hockey games. Left winger Milan Lucic, who won a Stanley Cup in Boston, said it comes down to commitment: “There are no shortcuts. We’re going to have to produce 60 minutes of listless hockey night in and night out over an 82-game season if we want to be golfing in April.”
After the Oilers’ latest win, Kawchuk and Mason joined the excited throng leaving Rogers Place, buzzing about the upcoming season. “At this point” said Mason, “anything is possible. Who knows? Maybe we could even land another number one draft pick.”