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Edmonton's 'enormously painful' season

Mar 3, 2010, 11:00 PM EDT

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The last place Edmonton Oilers are suffering through a brutal 2009-10 season. The franchise continues to struggle to find an identity ever since the notorious Chris Pronger trade, but this season cannot be blamed on that or any single event. Instead, the team has faced injuries, double-digit losing streaks and more than their fair share of personal humiliation. You know things are bad when even their owner Daryl Katz admitted it has been “an enormously tough year.”

Tonight’s game with the Chicago Blackhawks shined a light on the Oilers’ injury and trade ravaged roster. The Copper and Blue captured just how dilapidated their defensive core is right now: 
“Of the 6-man defensive unit that all agreed was the Oilers’ strength heading into this season, three have been traded and two shelved with bad medical news since Monday. The early result will be that tonight the Oilers will likely ice the worse defensive unit that has hit the ice for an NHL team since late in the 2006-07 season, when the Oilers (natch) had to use the likes of Dan Syvret, Bryan Young, Sebastien Bisaillon, and Toby Petersen on the blue. Assuming neither Whitney nor Johnson makes it to Chicago on time, the Oilers will ice four guys who were in the AHL last Sunday. The Hawks, meanwhile, will ice four guys who played in the Olympic Gold Medal Game on Sunday.”


Much like tonight’s game, a lot of the Oilers’ problems came from horrible luck. Their most dynamic forward (Ales Hemsky) suffered a season-ending injury in November while Nikolai Khabibulin upped the stakes by not only suffering a season (and possibly career) ending injury but also getting in legal trouble to boot. To put a cherry on top of a sadness sundae, the  Oilers received news of potential season-ending injuries to defensemen Ladislav Smid and Sheldon Souray during this trade deadline week. Souray, in particular, could have been able to fetch some great value on the trade market.

That’s not to say that there aren’t any self-inflicted problems, though. The signing of Nikolai Khabibulin generated quite a bit of criticism, particularly because the aging Russian goaltender’s cap hit would count against the Oilers’ cap even if he retired before the contract ends. Let’s not even linger on that painful Dany Heatley non-trade.
As far as the future of the Oilers goes, there’s still much in the air. With only Toronto (49 points) anywhere near Edmonton’s last-placed 42 points, it looks likely that the Oilers will have a great chance in the draft lottery. With the possibility of a new arena, a (hopefully) healthier roster and a probable top-5 draft pick (Taylor Hall anyone?) things could pick up for the downtrodden franchise.
That’s great, because the rest of the year has the potential to be very grim.

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