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Opinion: after a decade of heartbreak, Edmonton Oilers fans have earned a playoff run, too

'We’ve missed out on the thrill of a playoff run, the buzz in the city, and that unique sensation when everyone is watching the same event.'

It's been 11 years since the Oilers last had even a chance at the Cup, but fans have stuck with them.

Canadian Press

It's been 11 years since the Oilers last had even a chance at the Cup, but fans have stuck with them.

There’s an old sports debate that goes something like this: is it better to be agonizingly close and lose in heartbreaking fashion, or to be miles away from contending, saving yourself from the agony of defeat?

After what Edmonton Oilers fans have been through, we will tell you the choice is simple – we’ll gladly take the agony of defeat; anything to help us feel again.

For the past decade, the Oilers fan base has gone through five stages of grief as we mourn lost season after lost season.

Denial. Statements like “we just haven’t got the bounces,” or “our goaltending is bound to improve” are common as a season begins to slip away.

Anger. We find a player or coach to heap blame on. Names like “Justin Schultz” or “Dallas Eakins” are regularly uttered.

Bargaining. Forget about a playoff berth. Oilers fans would settle for a playoff race, or even glimpses of improvement.

Depression. With another season gone and the playoffs a distant dream, the diehard fan has to endure another 40 or 50 meaningless beatings at the hands of better teams.

Acceptance. While other franchises may get nice things like the playoffs or even a Stanley Cup, we’re accumulating picks, which are bound to work out eventually, right? Right?!

To most, playoffs are no big deal. Hell, over half the league’s teams make it. Some, like the Detroit Red Wings, make it every year; it was fitting that on the same day the Oilers finally broke their streak of ineptitude, the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated after 25 consecutive playoff appearances.

And at the risk of sounding privileged, we’ve earned it.

We’ve been through 10 years featuring the Old Boys Club, ritual humiliations on Hockey Night In Canada, and Gene Principe puns. We’ve talked ourselves into false dawns (remember when HOPE stood for Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, and Eberle?), and shown patience as the next coach or general manager promised bold moves before falling flat on his face.

But worst of all, we’ve missed out on the thrill of a playoff run, the buzz in the city, and that unique sensation when everyone is watching the same event.

Looking past the storied history of the Gretzky and Messier Oilers, this generation hasn’t even witnessed a moment like Todd Marchant’s Game 7 winner, or Ales Hemsky’s pass to Sergei Samsonov, sending Rexall Place into ecstasy.

Traditional thinking suggests it’s too soon for this team to truly contend, but traditional thinking suggested that the 2005-’06 Oilers team couldn’t contend, either. And the mere fact we are even having this discussion, rather than coming up with a funny hashtag for winning the draft lottery (my favourite was always #failfornail) is enough for most of us.

This year’s Oilers are playing with house money, and even if they lose to San Jose in five games the season will still be a success.

In the years to come, the playoffs will be a nerve-jangling experience, and we’ll soon forget that simply qualifying feels like a prize. So let’s enjoy that the local hockey squadron is finally back on track by packing Whyte Avenue, re-attaching our dusty car flags, and belting out the national anthem before the game.

Scott Tougas is a local writer and long-time Oilers aficionado. He'll be tweeting about the playoffs at @stougas

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