EDMONTON - At a time when players can be distracted by rumours and speculation, the Edmonton Oilers are sticking together rather than thinking about being pulled apart by GM Kevin Lowe before the NHL trade deadline Tuesday.
Out of playoff contention in the Western Conference, the Oilers are limping toward the end of the season determined to avoid a repeat of 2006-07, when they won just two of their final 20 games.
With Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray, Raffi Torres and captain Ethan Moreau gone for the season and Ladislav Smid also injured, the Oilers are too busy coping with a brutal string of injuries to spend time worrying about what Lowe might do.
Destined to set a team record for man-games lost to injury, Lowe's time on the telephone might be better spent looking for a faith healer than trying to swing a deal or two before Tuesday's 3 p.m. ET deadline.
"It's been a constant roller-coaster ride," said Marty Reasoner. "It's been like that pretty much the last two years.
"It's been a big difference night in and night out as to what you're going to get. With how many injuries we've had, it's hard to make an assessment as to what the team would be like if we had everyone healthy."
The Oilers have lost 241 man-games to injury and will easily surpass the team record of 286 they set last season. In the latest demoralizing turn, Moreau fractured his left tibia late in Sunday's 3-2 win over Colorado. He missed 38 games after suffering a fracture in the same area when he blocked a shot in a pre-season game.
"It's a huge hole," veteran Steve Staios said of Moreau. "I can't describe how big a hole it is for our team, but we've got to battle through it and do the best we can without him.
"You want to be successful with the group we have here. You hope there's not changes. I think, as a group, we've shown a lot of improvement . . . I think we're going in the right direction."
Fernando Pisani missed the first 26 games of the season with ulcerative colitis. Matt Greene missed 34 games with a broken left leg. Souray was out 25 games with a bad shoulder. Torres has been gone 30 games with knee surgery. Horcoff has missed 10 games.
Given all the injuries, Lowe hasn't once had anything resembling a healthy roster to assess in terms of wants and needs.
"It's been crazy," Greene said. "Our No. 1 centre (Horcoff) is out. Our leader (Moreau) is out. Our big power-play guy (Souray) is out. One of our best energy guys (Torres) has been gone.
"It's tough to figure out what you need when you've got key guys out. These aren't first-year players or fringe players. How do we know what we really have with so many empty stalls on game days?"
With the Oilers in 14th place at 28-30-5 for 61 points, speculation is Lowe will be a seller at the deadline in an attempt to free up salary cap space so he can make moves this summer.
Defenceman Joni Pitkanen, set to become a restricted free agent July 1, will likely garner some interest. Dwayne Roloson, who has lost the starting job in goal to Mathieu Garon, and forward Jarret Stoll (also RFA July 1) have also been mentioned as possible trade bait.
"You just go out and play," said defenceman Tom Gilbert. "You hear things, but you can't have it on your mind or it's going to bother you.
"The difference between this year and last year is we're playing better hockey. Even with all the injuries, we're playing as a team and playing hard. We're focused on that."
A year ago, injuries and the trade of Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders at the deadline knocked the team flat going into the stretch. The rallying cry this time is to avoid of repeat of that debacle".
"It's an exciting time," Staios said. "We've got new ownership, young players, a good core. We've got all the pieces in place to be a successful team for a lot of years."