A lot of players have shuffled in and out of Oilers’ uniforms since fated Cup run of 05-06. Some of these players are particularly emblematic of a management team addled in its thinking and crabbed in its execution.
Say, for example, Patrick O’Sullivan, Erik Cole, Ben Eager, or Lennart Petrell. These players stand out as curios. Oddities lost in the general shuffle of incompetence, they are remembered more the fantastic nature of their rise and fall within the Oilers’ organization––one day touted a key acquisitions for a team on the upswing, the next day cast aside as yet another hindrance of success.
Setting these oddities aside, the Oilers of the last near-decade fall into roughly three camps:
The Lingering Reminder of Success: those players––like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and Steve Staios––who experienced the apogee of post-Messier Oilers’ hockey only to ride the bad-ship Oiler down to its recent, never-ending nadir.
The (Current) Promissory Note of Success: those players––like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Oscar Klefbom––who have experienced nothing but Oilers’ failure, yet are likely to remain with the team through the near-inevitable McDavid surge of fortune.
And, finally, we have The Blank Generation. Those players who, over the course of the 06-07 through 14-15 NHL seasons, have managed to endure a protracted relationship of mutual devastation with the Oilers.
That is, players who have notched the better part of 3 consecutive NHL seasons and better than 125 NHL games with the Oilers before moving on from the organization*.
This group is The Blank Generation of Oilers. They played for the team during arguably its darkest hour. And, they played for the team over a long enough period to have had considerable expectations placed upon them by the organization. They played for the team long enough to watch their talents wasted on fruitless venture after fruitless venture, or wane as the years ticked on.
The Blank Generation consists of 21 players.
21 players who have no affiliation with a successful Oilers team. 21 players who have no current prospect of cashing in on the McDavid promissory note. 21 players who spent a considerable amount of their prime asset (their youthful, would-be years of flourishing) on a wasted enterprise.
I think there is a good argument to be made that these 21 players––players who endured the Oilers of 06-07 through 14-15 as much as the Oilers endured them; players who have no relation to past or future Oilers’ success––best represent the efforts of the Oilers’ brass over the past near-decade.
They are the shiny, “future players” drafted in the early days of the (pre)re-build (Gagner, Cogliano); the players acquired in landmark trades (Whitney, N. Schultz); the players signed to bright-light, free-agent deals (Souray, Khabibulin).
*NB: For goalies, I reduced the number of games to 100.
This is the Blank Generation:
This is a rough depth chart, including games played for the Oilers (I’ve switched sides on a couple of D and moved a couple of Cs to wing).
This team of miscreants and vagabonds represents every kind of Oiler bungling we’ve gotten to know over the years.
The Unheralded. Those players who, despite showing talent on the ice in an Oilers’ uniform year over year, somehow managed to escape the notice of their managers. These are players who could have helped the Oilers succeed every day since they were cast aside. They represent the greatest of blunders: the needlessly abandoned talent.
Gilbert, Cogliano, Petry, Dubnyk, Brodziak.
The Developmental Blunders. Those players of promise who never managed to find traction within the Oilers’ developmental system. These players showcase the whimsical nature of the Oilers’ development over the period. Often thrust into the deep waters early, these players arrive in the NHL seemingly without any support system to guide their rocky journey in becoming a pro hockey player. They represent the damage a systemic, structural problem can inflict. These players of bygone promise, now cling desperately to a fading NHL career.
Smid, Gagner, Paajarvi, Peckham.
The Ludicrous Bets. Those players who were never going to deliver on the expectations of the Oilers. These players represent an inability to get a reading on outside talent.
Whitney, N. Schultz.
The Absurd. This player represents the incredible peevishness of the Oilers.
The doctor grabbed my throat and yelled, “God’s Consolation Prize!”
The longest suffering member of The Blank Generation was Sam Gagner. 481 games played. What a waste.