Ever since the Oilers won the draft lottery, there’s been a general sentiment that Connor McDavid would fix things. Combine that with the fact the Flames suddenly looked like they were on the rise, and it was as if the addition of McDavid would pull the Oilers up to Calgary’s level.
A competitive Battle of Alberta is what was assumed. With Calgary trending up, and Edmonton presumably having nowhere to trend but up, these match ups were supposed to be appointment viewing sooner rather than later.
Like in the 80’s, when trips through Alberta were hell for opposing teams. Alberta would be competitive again, and the games between Calgary and Edmonton that much more evenly played, that much better.
Both teams have had underwhelming starts to their seasons, though, so we’re definitely not there quite yet.
Top rivalry priorities
The general attitude I’ve seen around more often than not in recent years is that the Canucks are the Flames’ main rival. While the Flames were #goingforit, they could at least masquerade as competitive; at the same time, the Oilers were in the midst of establishing their lottery dynasty.
The Canucks, however, were an actual threat to win. There were battles for playoff spots on the line. They had good goaltending, younger star players, and depth; they also beat the Flames a lot.
It was also just really, really easy to hate them. Between the smug sense of superiority you typically find when you go further west to their players literally biting people, combined with the fact the team was actually good, you really, really wanted them to lose. And the Oilers were already doing enough losing on their own. So… you looked forward to games against the Canucks more, and you relished the chance to beat them more.
I have never liked this. To me, the Oilers always have been and always will be the Flames’ number one rivals, no matter the situations of their teams. So what if the Oilers are shoe-ins for last place yet again? Let’s help them get there. That was more important.
I didn’t come from a hockey family; it took the city-wide playoff madness of 2004 to get me into the sport. But I do know that when I was younger and I’d check the TV guide looking for something to watch (remember it scrolling through all the channels and if you missed one you’d have to wait for it to come back around? What a time to be alive), if I saw there was a Flames vs. Oilers game on, I’d immediately tune in to it, but only if it was an NHL-level Battle of Alberta. I didn’t care about hockey, but I did care about beating Edmonton, just because they were Edmonton and it needed to be done.
The Battle of Alberta extends beyond just hockey, but the NHL really is a centre stage for it. The rivalry with the Canucks is strong, possibly stronger than ever if this past April’s playoff series and the start to the 2015-16 season have anything to say about it, but it’s not Calgary’s number one rivalry.
Cycling through the years
Remember HOPE? Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Eberle. They were to be the Oilers’ future, especially Taylor Hall. They’d draft their stud first overall player, and be better the next season. Those four guys would see to it.
(It’s a shame two of them aren’t even in the NHL anymore, I guess.)
All summer, you’d have to hear about it. All throughout the first bit of the season, you’d have Oilers fans talking about how they were just around the corner from being great again. Except then they’d be out of playoff contention before anyone else, and be in line to draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov, and the cycle would repeat itself.
By that time, the Flames were right in the bottom of the basement alongside their northern brethren. It took a partially locked out season and commitment to trade star players to finally get the Flames to finish with a lesser record than the Oilers, and for their troubles, they spared Sean Monahan from a horrible fate. Leon Draisaitl was another brief reprieve from first overall picks, but then the McDavid lottery happened and, well.
You guys all saw what happened to the comment sections here this past off-season. The cycle started anew.
It has been going on for several years now, and wow, is it ever annoying.
There are some people out there who pity the Oilers, and have expressed readiness for change up north. I look back on all those off-seasons of fruitless bragging, and I do not understand those people.
A new, improved Battle?
That brings us to where we are now. With both teams having improved over the off-season, there’s an expectation the Oilers and Flames should be more evenly matched up now, and bring us fewer one-sided games.
The Oilers have their legion of first overall picks, now headlined by their newest golden child. They added Andrej Sekera and Cam Talbot in the off-season, and indicated they believe Oscar Klefbom to be very much the real deal. Probably most important of all, though, they finally got a new President of Hockey Operations, new General Manager, and new Head Coach who had actually experienced success coaching at the NHL level before. Optimism remains ever-present in Edmonton, but there’s a little more justification for it this time around.
The Flames, meanwhile, added Dougie Hamilton to a lineup that already has the should-be-two-time-Norris-Trophy-winner Mark Giordano. They added Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett to their lineup that already has a savvy Detroit veteran, sixth overall pick who you could make an argument should have gone first overall, and fourth round tiny person. They didn’t lose any key players from their surprise playoff year.
Both teams currently have significant injuries with Jordan Eberle and T.J. Brodie unavailable; both lineups are undeniably stronger with the two of them there. Both teams are also starting off near the bottom of the Pacific (although some teams are certainly lower than others, so).
All off-season, the narrative has been Alberta improvement. One team has actually demonstrated themselves capable of it (even if PDO went their way), the other has… not.
I guess we’ll see what happens in their first matchup. (This is me trying to avoid the jinx before the puck has even dropped.) Just keep this in mind: on Oct. 17, 2015, the Flames have a 1-3 record; the Oilers, 0-4. Both remain possibilities for the playoffs.
The last regular season Battle of Alberta of 2015-16 is scheduled for April 2, 2016. We’ll see where both teams are then. We’ll see who still has something to play for, and who’s ready to lick their wounds into the off-season, hoping for more improvements to come before the puck drops on 2016-17.
We’ll probably still all hate each other by that date, though, as it should be.
(Please be civil in the comments!)