It has been a tough year for the Oilers and their fans.
While no one truly believed the assembled roster at the beginning of the year was a world beater, no one thought they would fall as hard as they have.
While many will point to the injury epidemic that has riddled the franchise this year — the effects of which have rippled throughout the organization — this season has been a few years in the making.
To pin point the beginning one has to look back to the gut-wrenching trade of Ryan Smyth in late February of 2007, for Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Mara and a first round pick.
The trade, as painful as it was for fans to digest, was actually a positive move.
It signalled a frustration with mediocrity, that just battling for the final playoff spot every year wasn’t enough. It showed the club was ready to tear it down and rebuild with the hopes of putting together a team that could compete for division and league titles every year.
However, in an effort not to alienate the fan base after trading the heart-and-soul of the franchise they got anxious and the plan to rebuild completely apparently went out he window as they decided to take some short cuts.
They brought in Dustin Penner with an ultra-controversial move that cost them three draft picks and a boat-load of money. They signed defencemen Sheldon Souray and traded for Joni Pitkanen, then decided to rush top pick Sam Gagner after an impressive first camp.
The next year they traded off more young pieces for Lubomir Visnovsky. This season it was signing 36-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year deal.
While not all of those players have been a bust — Visnovsky has been quite good and Penner has finally found his game after floundering for two years — a good portion of their future was mortgaged for them.
In addition, instead of purging themselves of veterans many were re-signed and most still have a year or more remaining on those deals.
Centreman Shawn Horcoff signed the most outlandish extension at six years and $33 million. The deal is a head scratcher and is an albatross on a team that will be challenged to move him.
The result has been a team that is short on depth — which has killed them with the injuries and flu this season — and virtually in the same place they were three years ago when they made the Smyth deal. Except for one major difference — they are also a cap club, making it even more difficult to move out the bodies that need to be moved.
The good news is there is actually help on the way with a number of young prospects ready to cross the Atlantic in the next couple of years — Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Anton Lander and Linus Omark — or graduating from the major junior and college ranks — Jordan Eberle and Riley Nash.
They should also receive a fairly nice lottery pick this year, and if they don’t wind up with the top overall pick and select Taylor Hall, American defenceman Cam Fowler could be a nice consolation prize and a cornerstone on the blue-line to build around.
Hopefully the Oilers have gotten the message that shortcuts aren’t going to help them get out of this mess.
So far those shortcuts have actually made the process much longer.
This year will mark the fourth straight non-playoff season, and with the work ahead they could be staring at another three.