This is Babe Ruth. Beside him is Ryan Smyth. One normally wouldn't place these two beside each other, but this latest rash of injuries combined with the postmodern plague (swine flu) has got me thinking a little bit more outside the box than usual. Perhaps the reason for the Oilers recent run of suck has to do with the Curse of the Mullet.
Ryan Smyth was the face of the Edmonton Oilers for a long time, much like the Babe was the face of the Boston Red Sox. While the Bambino played for the Sox, they won three world Series titles, with major contributions coming from him in two of those titles. For those that don't give a crap about baseball, it is interesting to note that the Babe's contributions to the '16 and '18 championships came in the form of really great pitching, not his now legendary big bat. The Red Sox sold the Babe to the New York Yankees in late 1919 and the Sox didn't win another championship for 86 years. The Yankees, meanwhile, went to the World Series 7 times with Ruth in the Lineup, winning 4 times.
As we all know, in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers were one healthy Roli away from glory. Upon the completion of that season, Prongergate went down, as well as a mass exodus of other key vets, none as important perhaps as one particularly well-loved mullet. In 2007, after a protracted discussion with then General Manager Kevin Lowe, Ryan Smyth, the mullet, the face of the franchise, Captain Canada, was traded to the New York Islanders for former first round picks Robert "not-so-magic" Nilsson and Ryan "O'Desparate" O'Marra, as well as the Isles 1st rounder in that year's draft, taking Alex "maybe I'll work out, but I shouldn't have been a 1st Round Pick" Plante. The two camps were barely $100k apart on the contract negotiations, but K-Lowe, in his infinite wisdom, pulled the trigger on the deal and Smyth was gone.
Shortly after the trade, the Oilers began to lose players as quickly as they were losing games. The area particularly affected by the injury imp was on defense, as the Oilers were forced to play effectively the entire farm team, even at one point recalling Sebastian Bissaillon from his QMJHL team on an emergency loan to allow the team to dress a full roster. It was the worst Oiler team to play since the dark days of the mid 1990s, skating to a 32-43-7 record. That team was just bad enough to net the 6th overall pick in the entry draft, issuing in the dawn of the smurf era and Sam(wise) Gagner.
The next season was not much better, as once again veteran players were either traded or left to walk away, while the injury imp took its toll on regulars Ethan "thecaptainethanmoreau" Moreau, "St." Fernando Pisani, Ales Hemsky and Shawn "holy shit he made the all-star game" Horcoff. Somehow the kids stepped up and the Oil almost sneaked into the playoffs based on unlikely heroics from Nilsson, Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert, not to mention crazy shootout luck from Goalie Matthieu Garon. This once again instilled hope for the team moving into the 08-09 season, and we all know how that went. I needn't bore you faithful readers with a summary of last year, another year where injuries, poor play and a lack of real NHL players hurt the team. Management made no moves to fill the obvious holes before last season or this for that matter, and although the team made a massive overhaul behind the bench, the shortcomings that have existed since the Smyth trade continue to haunt this team.
Thus far, the Oilers lead the league with more than 135 man games lost to injury/illness in only 25 games played. This list has included the bulk of our top six defenseman, with only Tom Gilbert playing in every game, forwards Ryan Stone, Mike Comrie, Gilbert Brule, JFJ, and most notably Horcoff and Hemsky. Horcoff is playing through his pain after a week off, but is still not at 100%, playing on the wing and not taking draws to avoid placing any more pressure on his shoulder. Word on the street is that Hemsky could be out for a really long time, possibly even the season to repair his shoulder.
The fact is, no team in the NHL has lost more man games to injuries in the last 3+ years then the Edmonton Oilers, and it always seems to be really key people that go down. Sheldon Souray missed most of his first season here, Chopper missed most of his first two seasons as captain, Visnovsky missed nearly half of last year, and Hemsky and Horcoff have both missed significant time since their former linemate was shipped out of town.
I submit to you that I am not a superstitious man, that pragmatism does reign supreme in my heart, but it feels to me like something greater then ourselves is making a point of hurting this team and tainting its legacy. I don't know for sure if I believe in curses, Bambino or otherwise, but something strange is happening here. I think we might be seeing the curse of the mullet actually rearing its long, business in the front, party in the back flowing-locked head.
The Oilers play a San Jose Sharks team tonight that is coming off of a 7-2 shellacking at the hands of a hungry young Blackhawks team the other night. Heatley is in town, and the few healthy players left ought to be looking to put his smug, trade-denying face into the boards a few times. Unfortunately, if they hit anyone, they might just break themselves. Maybe the boys will get lucky? I sure hope so...
Editor's note: Ales Hemsky is officially out with a torn labrum He will undergo surgery in the next two-three weeks and will be out a minimum of five months. The Curse of the Mullet continues...