Bring Back the Rivalry

March 11, 2019 | Peter Maher

Bring Back the Rivalry

Many Flames fans relish the thought that the Edmonton’s Oilers are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.

Don’t count me in that group.

Unless the Oilers somehow surge and sneak into post-season action as a wild card in the very weak lower portion of the Western Conference over the final month of the regular season, it’ll be 28 years since the last playoff Battle of Alberta.

Theoren Fleury, who scored the most memorable Flame goal in that seven-game series in 1991, called that first round battle “the most vicious and toughest series I’ve ever played in.”

Fleury, who tallied the Flames overtime goal in game six in Edmonton to tie the series at 3-3 before Esa Tikkanen scored the overtime winner for the Oilers in the series finale in the Saddledome, added the teams “hated” each other then.

It was that way as well in the 80’s before Fleury arrived on the scene when Alberta’s rivals met four times in the post-season with two of those rounds also going the limit.

A bit of that was recalled last week when Fleury and former Oiler defenceman Kevin Lowe were announced as part of this year’s class for induction in Hockey Alberta’s Hall-of-Fame.

The Flames-Oilers rivalry has been dormant for at least a couple of decades. It won’t ever get back to what it was. However, it would be nice to see fires rekindled somewhat with a playoff series or even the two teams in a tussle for first place. It would also be fitting that when the Oilers play here on April 6 in the final game of the regular season that it’s a meaningful clash with the Oilers needing a win to gain a playoff spot and the Flames in a position to spoil it.

The Oilers begin this week seven points out of a playoff spot and 24 points behind the Flames.

Consequently, the Oilers are a long way from being an upper-echelon team despite having the NHL’s best player – Connor McDavid. Plus, a pretty good complimentary star in possible 50-goal scorer Leon Draisaitl.

They’ve already this season fired the coach Todd McLellan and the general manager, Peter Chiarelli, who did a pretty good job of running the team into the ground during his tenure since he was hired in 2014.

President Bob Nicholson stated at last week’s League GM meetings that he hasn’t begun the search yet for Chiarelli’s replacement but will be soon. Nicholson, who used to be in Calgary as President of Hockey Canada, says he plans to interview many candidates before making his decision admitting that he may have reacted too quickly when he hired Chiarelli. Nicholson’s approach will be interesting. Will he be seeking someone who sells him on the idea he can turn the team around quickly or will be more focused on getting a GM with a long-term plan?

The latter would be the better option.

The Oilers are poorly built for today’s NHL.

In McDavid, they have the league’s fastest player, but they are one of the slowest and least mobile teams. They are also right at the Salary Cap maximum and have very few solid prospects in their system. Of course, why should all this matter in Calgary where many folks savor the Oilers’ plight?

While it’s nice to rub-it-in to the fans up North, wouldn’t it be awesome to see the ‘battle’ get back into Flame-Oiler confrontations?

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