EDMONTON — Taylor Hall thought this year might be different for the Edmonton Oilers. In the end, it was another disappointment.
Despite moments of encouragement, the Oilers missed the playoffs for a ninth-straight year and finished the season with a record of 24-44-14.
“This was the year we came in with really high hopes and we didn’t deliver so it’s frustrating having to come to the rink early again and see all the teams preparing for playoffs,” Hall said. “It sucks.”
Edmonton finished with the third worst record in the league.
The Oilers began at a promising 4-4-1 but had fallen to 6-14-4 by the end of November. Before mid-season their playoff hopes were gone and coach Dallas Eakins was fired and replaced by Todd Nelson on an interim basis.
“When I first got here there were situations where we would get up a few goals and then a team would score a goal and we would get rattled,” said Nelson. “We saw the team grow as the season went on where we hunkered down and preserved the victory. That has to continue moving forward. There are some building blocks we can build on next year.”
Whether Nelson will be back next year remains unclear. General manager Craig MacTavish is expected to speak to the media on Monday.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose right foot is still in a boot after cracking a bone in his heel, said he felt that the team was “right there” early in the season.
“As the year went on I felt like we picked it up and played a lot better,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “So we can take some positives out of the year, but we all know we need to get better.”
Some players said they felt the team played more aggressively and responsibly under Nelson in the final 51 games. The Oilers had a 17-25-9 record under Nelson and played through injuries to captain Andrew Ference and Nugent-Hopkins.
“Sporadic play was the best way to describe it,” said Ference, who is still suffering effects from his third concussion that occurred late in the season. “There were some games we put together some really good play, some responsible play. But even at that it wasn’t consistent enough so it’s not progress as good as should be.”
Ference said the biggest challenge going forward is for players to stop rewarding themselves for being close.
“I think we did that, to a certain extent, at the start of the season,” he said.
“Maybe we were too happy with how close we were in some of those one-goal games and close games.
“You can get into trouble when you congratulate yourself on mediocrity a little too easily.”
The defenceman also referenced Edmonton’s rival, the Calgary Flames, as a good example on where the team wants to go.
“You look at Calgary, they never accepted the fact they weren’t supposed to be good. They held themselves to a high standard all year b& that’s something we have to look at and try to emulate,” said Ference.
Forward Jordan Eberle, who led the team in scoring with 24 goals and 63 points, said the Oilers underperformed once again.
“I thought we had a better team and didn’t meet the expectations that everyone in that locker-room thought we could do,” said Eberle.
Hall will accompany Eberle to play for Canada at the world championships in May.
Nugent-Hopkins said he’s hopeful to play in the worlds but will have to consult with team doctors in the next few days.