a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

05/10/11 22.0 The Dark Time

The title sounds a little ominous, but this truly is the dark time for Oiler fans. We aren't glued to our TV's, paying enormous amounts of money for tickets to games, literally draining the city of beer, or partaking in fun-filled riots on Whyte Avenue. We're sitting here waiting for the draft. Again.

It's easy for the early energy of the playoffs to rub off on fans of teams that didn't make the dance, but now, with the mostly boring hockey that made up the Semi-Final Round, that energy is wearing thin. Two sweeps in the East didn't help things, and as much as the Canucks tried to make things interesting by giving the Predators two games, there was never any doubt who would win that series. Pekka Rinne is good, sure, but he's not that good. No matter how good your goalie is, you still have to score goals and the Predators simply couldn't do enough of that. No big surprises there.

Detroit has a chance to make things interesting in the only remaining series. Even if the series does go seven games, it's safe to say that not many people care. No one is cheering for Detroit in the traditional underdog role because Detroit has had their share of success. At the same time, the reputation for choking that San Jose has been saddled with has reduced the amount of respect that they get around the league and among fans, which means that it's hard to cheer for them as well. When a good team like the Sharks bow out early, it's natural for fans of lesser teams (see: the Edmonton Oilers) to be happy about it. All the Canadian teams except the Canucks are lesser teams than San Jose, so it's not hard to see why Canadians (who watch the playoffs because it's still the game they love) will not be sad if the Sharks blow the 3-0 series lead.

Among the four teams that are left, the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely be the favorite among Oiler fans. It's hard to imagine that there's a fan out there who doesn't want Roli the Goalie to win a Stanley Cup after his heroics in 2006. As stated previously, nobody is cheering for San Jose or Detroit. The Canucks? Forget it. Boston is still a rival from many years ago, whom the Oilers knocked off in the final twice.

But there's another reason to cheer for the Lightning. They have shown what it takes to rebuild a franchise through the draft. Things are a little different in Edmonton than they are in Tampa, with the #1 overall pick in Stamkos being a center and not a winger as Hall is. Also, the Lightning took Hedman second overall in 2009, while it seems very likely that the Oilers will take a center with their second straight first overall pick. Furthermore, the Lightning already had some key pieces in place from a previous era in Lecavalier and St. Louis.

Nevertheless, the Lightning finished among the bottom teams in the league last year and they were still abismal in the two prior years even with St. Louis and Lecavalier, and now they are in the Eastern Conference Final. The Oilers are younger, and make no mistake: they will not be this deep in the playoffs as soon as the Lightning. Tampa has benefited greatly from the experience of their veterans, and outside of Hemsky and Horcoff that's something the Oilers lack. Horcoff and Hemsky are not St. Louis and Lecavalier.

That doesn't mean that the Oilers won't eventually get there though. The Pittsburgh Penguins were sent packing in the 2007 playoffs by the Ottawa Senators in 5 games, which was Pittsburgh's first post-season berth since 2001. Their core was young, just like the Oilers are now, and they went on to the Stanley Cup Final the following year.

Expect the Oilers' learning curve to be more similar to that of the Penguins, but cheer for the Lightning because it's another team that was a laughing stock not so long ago that has a legitimate shot to win it all. It's an encouraging story for Oiler fans, and there's a certain satisfaction to be taken from seeing Roloson go all the way.

Go... Lightning... Go?

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