EDMONTON — We are 55 games in here in Edmonton, and it’s over. The season is effectively over, and not long from now, more than one player’s tenure in this city will come to an uncomfortable conclusion.
The Edmonton Oilers. Sellers at the deadline.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
“We shouldn’t be talking about this. We should be adding (players) for a playoff run, but we have to own where we are,” said Mark Letestu, the fourth-line centre and pending unrestricted free agent who knows well what happens to 33-year-old UFAs on losing teams. “Guys are going to go and that’s part of the business.”
“There’s no picking or choosing for me.”
Edmonton lost its fourth straight Monday, 7-5 to the Florida Panthers, as the exalted roster of the 1984-85 Oilers — named the NHL’s Greatest Team — watched from the pews. They used to play 7-5 games all the time. But that team would, you know, win most of the time.
“I’d say about four of them I’d like to have back,” said Cam Talbot, who was porous in the Oilers’ goal.
It’s not about wins and losses anymore here. Northern Alberta is already in Next Year Country, which starts at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
“The obligation of the team is to get the best deal possible,” continued Letestu, who senses a trade. “I’ll go to any team and be a pro about it. I’m in a situation where I’m easy to move. I’m an expiring asset and there may be something they can get for me.”
An expiring asset.
Here in Edmonton, where the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the 11th season in the last 12 years, those three words can sum up a lot of different things. And people.
On Monday, Ryan Strome and Patrick Maroon started the game on Connor McDavid’s flanks. That’s where they put guys who are available in trade here in Edmonton, and Maroon obliged with a goal and an assist.
Few names are better traveled than Maroon’s these days, with Deadline Day looming two weeks away. The big left-winger’s name is on every trade board in the hockey world these days, right there on the first page.
“I’ve never been on the board before. I don’t know what it means, how it works,” Maroon, the soon-to-be 30-year-old said Monday. “It seems like these guys know everything before it goes down. As players, we don’t know anything, then we turn on (the TV) and your name is splashed across the board.
“But it’s an excuse for me. I can’t let that affect me, or affect my play.”
The sad truth of it all?
“I think it is affecting him,” said his coach, Todd McLellan, before the game. “I don’t think Patty has been as effective a player as he has been, in a large part probably due to (the trade rumours).”
After a 27-goal season last year, Maroon has been a shadow of that player in 2017-18. Sure, he got his 14th goal Monday. But garbage time has begun in Edmonton, largely because players like Maroon — who helped to carry the team last season — have not reached anywhere close to that level this winter.
Now, everyone will play for themselves, as always happens with losing teams. Everyone has personal stat lines, new contracts, and almost certainly for Maroon, new teams to worry about, now that the common goal of the playoffs is extinct.
“What he has to do now is park it when the game starts,” McLellan said. “Once you get on the ice you should be able to produce. That’s the fun part. That’s the escape, and playing with some fire should be able to help everybody.”
For one night, at least, Maroon was productive Monday. But he admitted before the game, being a prime target with Deadline Day approaching does get in between his ears.
“Do I think about it? Yes, I go home and think about it. I’m not going to lie,” he said. “We’re all human, but I can’t let that affect my play.”
There was some talk at one point of a new contract between Maroon’s agent Allain Roy and Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. But the Oilers are too slow on the wing, and with Milan Lucic’s giant contract anchoring him to the Oilers roster, it is likely they’ll divest themselves of Maroon in hopes of parlaying him into a speedier left-winger.
Like Maroon, Letestu stated plainly that his preference would be to re-sign in northern Alberta, where he was born and raised in a small town called Elk Point. But a disappointing season has shaped Chiarelli’s needs, and Letestu likely isn’t one of those anymore.
“We’ve talked about it with my family, but the way the season’s gone it’s been, well, short of a disaster. It’s been a bad year,” Letestu said. “I don’t think this is a trend, though. I think it’s a one-off and it would be enticing to be a part of this (long-term). I’d like to stay here.”
There are many moves to be made before this team is competitive again. Outside of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, no one is safe.
Nor should they be.