(Image courtesy of edmontonjournal.com)

This time last year, the metaphorical wheels had fallen off for Justin Schultz. Yet again, the Oilers were in the basement of the NHL standings. Yet again, Schultz was getting walked, turnstiled, and exposed repeatedly by opposition forwards en route to backbreaking goals. Yet again, his plus/minus was putrid. But this time it was clear that Oilers fans had run out of patience. At a home game in February, they booed vociferously when Schultz’s name was listed in the starting lineup. A week later, he was mercifully dealt out of town to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a third-round draft pick; a modest return for a player who once had so much promise.

These days, life is a little better for Schultz. He’s currently tied with Kevin Shattenkirk for fifth place in scoring among defensemen, with 7G-23A-30P in 44 games. In the 45 games he played for the Oilers last season he managed a paltry 3G-7A-10P, and posted a facepalm-worthy -22. This year he’s a +12. So what happened?

Ask Beniot Pouliot. He’s the most recent inductee into the doghouse of the Edmonton Oilers’ fan base, which only begs the question more: do we Oilers fans just love to hate? Do we just need a proverbial whipping boy, or do we react poorly to uninspired, impotent play?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. In Schultz’s case, it’s not unfair to suggest that he became the goat amongst Oilers fans because of his tendency to make defensive errors of a particularly glaring nature. It is, however, unfair to suggest that Schultz didn’t get a fair shake in Edmonton. As the only right-shooting offensive defenseman on a roster loaded with lefties, Schultz had no shortage of opportunities over his three and a half seasons with the Oilers. It’s unfortunate that he ended his time here with boos from his home crowd, but being one of the highest paid and used defenceman on a perennially terrible team has ramifications.

In the case of Beniot Pouliot, it’s clear that his deteriorating game and portfolio of inexcusable offensive zone penalties are wearing thin with coach Todd McLellan. Yet the fan demeanor toward his boat anchor-like performance – while frosty – hasn’t turned ugly. The fact that the Oilers currently sit in second place in the Pacific Division might have something to do with that, as might the team’s ability this season to continually find ways to win games.

The fact is, we Oilers fans approach the game with such a tribal sense of passion that we take everything personally. We forgive mistakes but not continuous mediocrity, and we take EVERYTHING personally. We booed Chris Pronger at every home game for the rest of his career after he demanded a trade out of Edmonton. We booed Dany Heatley – as a member of the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, and Anaheim Ducks – because he exercised a clause in his contract to veto being traded here. And we booed Justin Schultz because we were promised so much, and he was only able to deliver so little.