LOS ANGELES – The Edmonton Oilers joke of a 2014-15 season can be summed up in too many disastrous words and actions. From the term ‘forensic investigation’ regarding the how to improve the team following Dallas Eakins’ firing to the bizarre public media offense to all things Tyler Dellow. Edmonton has been a sad prank this year.
But nothing and I mean nothing could forecast or predict the calamity of Edmonton’s 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. It wasn’t so much how poor the Oilers looked on the ice. It was how the loss at Staples Center bled onto the social interwebs.
The word ‘Bunz’ was not only trending in Los Angeles on Twitter. It had also gone global to the No. 3 trend in Canada. (S/t Curtis Zupke for alerting us to this last night and the SIr Mix-A-Lot jokes)
— Eric Duhatschek (@eduhatschek) April 3, 2015
Backup goaltender Tyler Bunz came in the third period in relief of Ben Scrivens and looked like a nervous man making his first start while playing in front of a terrible team. He allowed three goals on 12 shots on goal, but every shot felt like an adventure.
“You want more shots, stepping into a situation like that. The legs feel a little bit like JELL-O,” Bunz said. “Especially after that second one I calmed down and tried to make that next save. “
When a reporter (that would be me) made eye contact with Jordan Eberle in the locker room after the game, there seemed to be a moment where Eberle just wanted to head straight for the shower. That’s fine, and it makes sense. The previous night Eberle’s Oilers lost 5-1 to the Anaheim Ducks. I wouldn’t have blamed Eberle for wanting to just chill after two straight blastings. The Oilers are done, and have been done for a while, with the third-worst record in the NHL. They had played a little better down the stretch, but didn’t look special.
It was clear Eberle wanted to use the media to get a point across instead. After he nodded back at me, he unloaded.
“I don’t really have words, except that it’s embarrassing and unacceptable. I think that was definitely one of the hardest games I’ve had to go through as a player. It seemed like nothing went right,” Eberle said. “We couldn’t make a check, we couldn’t make a save and help our goalie out with a block and it just kept piling on.”
And Eberle didn’t stop there. He continued and got deeper into his team as media around him grew to larger numbers.
“You’re a professional hockey player. You have to be able to play through whatever it is,” he said. “Guys are playing for jobs, when you go out there and get embarrassed like that you have to be in a situation where there’s going to be guys who can take your spot. In the NHL and the AHL there are a ton of good hockey player who would love to be here, so you do that. It’s like I said, it’s embarrassing.”
We’ve made all sorts of jokes about tanking this year, between Buffalo, Arizona and even the Oilers. But with Edmonton it goes beyond losing and trying to get a high pick. They’ve been there. They’ve done that and for a multitude of reasons, it simply hasn’t worked.
The Oilers have players like Eberle who have won at different levels and been star players in junior. And playing for the Oilers seems to have been humbling for him as it has for some of the other highly-skilled guys in that room.
“You’re never proud of efforts like that. We left our goalies out to dry on a few occasions. We came into this Western swing against Anaheim and LA with high hopes, “ said Taylor Hall. “Overall if we want to compete with these teams we have to play better.”
Will it ever happen? Do the Oilers have the pieces to become next season’s surprise team? If they need a defenseman, they have Darnell Nurse in juniors. He’s a good prospect. If Edmonton gets the No. 3 pick in the NHL draft, Noah Hanifin may give the Oilers more high-end all-around defensive depth, which is exactly what they need. Nail Yakupov is just 21 years old and has played much better under interim coach Todd Nelson. He went through a stretch of seven points in six games and six in five games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a silky smooth playmaker. Or at least has potential to turn into a prolific one.
But it’s hard to turn around a culture that has been so beaten down since the 2006 Stanley Cup Final – the last time the Oilers made the playoffs. For Edmonton, it’s not losing to get a high pick. They know drafting No. 1 yields no guaranteed rewards. It’s about simply trying to win. And that’s the difficult part.
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