Oiler Glory Years Coming Again

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By Terry Ryan

I am a big fan of watching teams that develop their young talent, and I am enthralled by the high-flying Edmonton Oilers, 2012 edition.

BetOnHockey_Oiler_Banners_300x247.jpgThe Oil have changed their identity many times over the years and had success using contrasting systems; the 1980's legendary squad - which featured the likes of Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, and "The Great One" (arguably the "Greatest One") Wayne Gretzky, amongst others - stacks up as one of the best offensive powerhouses of all time, in the history of sport, and with Gretzky at the helm, the Oil won 4 Stanley Cups in 5 years from 1983-1988. What's interesting is that after the blockbuster deal that sent Gretz to La-La land the following season and changed the game forever, the Oilers won the Cup again in 1989 with a new face as captain in Messier and more emphasis on character, grit, and 2 way hockey (although they still were exceptional scorers).  In the 90's, superstars left town for the brighter lights and fatter paychecks of the big city and the Oilers were now faced with the all-too-real circumstance of working under a very tight budget in a league expanding to more and more U.S. markets.  A new game plan led to mediocrity for a half dozen seasons or so and the glory years seemed long gone.  In my opinion the biggest Oiler story of the grunge decade was the selection of Ryan Smyth, 6th overall, in 1994.  Smyth would become the face of the franchise until 2007 when he was traded to the New York Islanders for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and a
first round pick (Alex Plante).  Smyth's highlight with the team would have to be guiding them to the 2006 Stanley Cup finals vs the Carolina Hurricanes - a series that saw the Oilers come from nowhere to force a game seven and nearly take home Lord Stanley's coveted prize, obliterating the odds and proving to the hockey world the fact that hard work, determination, character, and team unity are attributes that can help an average team on paper who are expected by most to be on the golf course after the first round of playoffs become the Cinderella story of the sports world 8 weeks later.  The Oilers had success again, and once again they used a different method to achieve it.

BetOn_Hockey_Ryan_Smyth_300x309.jpgWell, here we are in 2012.  Good hometown boy Smytty is back from his United States journey that would make any tourist jealous (New York, Colorado, L.A.), and he has never looked more at home.  This time, the blueprint has changed once again.  Smyth personifies Edmonton - a blue collar town filled with hard working Canadians - and joins a a handful of other thirty-somethings - including Nikolai Khabibulin, the oldest player on the roster at 38 years of age - as they use their experience to prepare youngsters like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Super-rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for promising careers and try and build a team for the future.  The thing is, the Oiler's are winning now.

It is early, but this team looks like it's for real, and it looks dangerous.  The Oilers peppered their line-up with pieces of the puzzle that could spell success real soon, and underrated veterans like Eric Belanger, Cam Barker and Ben Eager - Eager having a Stanley Cup under his belt as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks - have obviously helped team confidence even though their numbers on paper may not reveal this, at least not glaringly (both have minimal points but have had much NHL experience and are good for team chemistry).  Watching these young men go to battle reminds me of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks in recent years.  Rather than base a team on free agent signings and trading draft picks, Edmonton is developing their youngsters in the same way the Pens developed Crosby, Fleury, Malkin and Stahl (resulting in a Cup in 2009), and  Chi-town developed a young nucleus of players like Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Jonathon Toews before winning the Stanley Cup the following year.

Bet_On_Hockey_Ryan_Nugent_Hopkins_300x314.jpgIf nothing else, the Oilers are a very entertaining hockey club to watch.  Smyth and Nugent-Hopkins are leading the team in scoring, magnifying the contrast in their playing styles amongst a common goal of team-oriented success. They have good leadership, play with passion, and their big draft picks are panning out way earlier than expected. How well can they do?  While nobody is counting on Edmonton quite yet to be the one squad that wins the last game of the season this year, anything is possible, as we saw in 2006. The Oilers are definitely my favorite team to watch this year, and that won't change.  Will I bet on them to win the Cup?  Probably not this season, but the way they are playing, don't rule it out.  One thing is for sure, Oil-Country has reason to be a buzz this hockey season. Right now, the Oil are leading the Northwest division in points and it is no fluke they are in such a position. This bunch is going to be real good, real soon, and they are here to stay.





Edmonton Oilers have 66 to 1 Odds to Win The Stanley Cup


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