Well I was right about a new era in Edmonton but I was sorely mistaken about the many more trips to the Stanley Cup Final part when Chris Pronger demanded a trade away from Edmonton due to family reasons (his wife hated the city despite unfounded rumors of his infidelity). Just like that, a mass exodus began. It should also be noted that because of this, Edmonton became a dirty word to free agents and those with No Trade Clauses. Yes, I am looking at you Michael Nylander & Dany Heatley!
What happened next was 10 seasons that can be accurately described as being simultaneously kicked in the groin, slapped in the face, given an atomic wedgie, being subjected to a swirlie and then a dog lifting his leg over your battered and embarrassed corpse...yes, it was THAT bad.
It is said that it is always darkest right before the dawn, well here's a Cole's Notes version of just how dark things became:
- Ryan Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders over a contract dispute, where they were only $750K apart on a deal.
- Steve Tambellini's entire run as GM.
- The fact that someone had an Oilers voodoo doll because they suffered an unprecedented run of injury after injury to key player after key player, season after season.
- Dallas Eakins' entire run as Head Coach.
- Becoming the butt of jokes from everybody about the Oilers' habitual Draft Lottery status.
- Remember when The Kid Line of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano & Robert Nilsson were supposed to be the future?
- Remember when Robbie Schremp was supposed to be the future?
- Remember when H.O.P.E. was a thing? Well Taylor Hall, Linus Omark & Magnus Paajarvi are long gone.
- Ralph Krueger being fired via Skype after just narrowly missing the playoffs.
- The Oilers won the #1 overall pick an unprecedented 3 years in a row (2010- Taylor Hall, 2011- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2012- Nail Yakupov) and only RNH remains,
- President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe turning the fans against him by classifying them into two tiers.
Year after year my optimism was high as the season started, I would proclaim to anyone who would listen that "this is the year it all turns around" and like clockwork, year after year the season was lost before Christmas, most times well before. It got so bad that I had to stay away from the message boards and switch the station once the radio station's started taking calls from listeners.
However, it wasn't all doom and gloom as the team provided a glimmer here, a silver lining there. Here are some of my personal favorite moments during these dark times:
- Patrik Stefan of the Dallas Stars missing a tap in empty netter, which led to the Oilers going the other way and tying the game very late.
- Ryan Smyth getting in Jean-Sebastien Giguere's head and causing an epic meltdown that led to him being more concerned with punching Smytty with his blocker than the stopping the puck.
- That one exciting stretch drive when The Kid Line and the line of Zack Stortini, Curtis Glencross & Kyle Brodziak almost go them into the playoffs.
- The return of Mike Comrie, which seemed impossible consider how nasty the break up was.
- The Oilers reinstated the retro blue, white and orange jerseys while doing away with the copper and blue.
- Sam Gagner's 8 point night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
- Ben Scrivens' 59 save performance against the San Jose Sharks.
- Jordan Eberle's thrilling 1st NHL goal against the Calgary Flames.
- Steve MacIntyre busting onto the scene and busting up Calgary Flames on several occasions, which led to me going out and buying a crested MacIntyre jersey, it might just be the only one in existence.
- Linus Omark's center ice spinorama during the shootout against Dan Ellis and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Nail Yakupov's tying goal against the Los Angeles Kings and his subsequent sliding on his knees across center ice celebration, thrilling the entire crowd, Eric Belanger be damned.
- Ryan Smyth's return and emotional retirement.
Then came the fateful day of Saturday, April 18th, 2015. On that day EVERYTHING changed. It was on that day that the bingo balls came up 5-14-6-1. The Oilers went in with an 11.5% chance of winning the draft lottery and they did just that. However this was no ordinary draft lottery, this was the draft lottery for the right to select the generational talent that is Connor McDavid. In the subsequent days, new Chief Executive Officer Bob Nicholson hired Peter Chiarelli to replace Craig McTavish as GM and Todd McLellan as head coach. When they drafted McDavid, they also debuted a new orange 3rd jersey, which made me a very happy camper seeing as orange is my favorite color.
Connor McDavid came even better than advertised, it was apparent from the start that he was a phenom. He became a talent that was absolute must see to believe. His speed, vision and skills had to be witnessed in person because TV did not do it justice. In one last cruel twist of fate, he was robbed of the 1st Calder Trophy in team history due to a horrific broken collarbone that stole half of his season when Philadelphia Flyer Brandon Manning crashed him into the board during yet another breathtaking drive to the net.
After just half a season it was apparent that this was McDavid's team and it led to Chiarelli trading away Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. A move that was highly criticized by Oilers fan and hockey pundit alike. I was one of the few in favor of this trade. I viewed it part addition by subtraction (due to the whispers of Hall being a locker room cancer) and part trading from a position of strength (forward depth) to shore up a position of weakness (a top pairing defenseman).
Chiarelli moulded the team in the image of his previous team, the Boston Bruins to help the soft, smurf Edmonton Oilers compete with the big teams of the Pacific Division. He added Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic & Zack Kassian to provide the right mix of size and skill. He added goaltender Cam Talbot to provide a stable starter for the 1st time since Dwayne Roloson. He completely re-made the defense turning it into a well oiled unit rather than the rag tag, leaking chances like a sieve unit's of years past.
This season the Oilers opened the gorgeous, state of the art new arena, Roger's Place in the downtown core. Not many people believed, myself included, that they had a contender to play in it. To say that the Oilers exceeded expectations this year is an understatement of the year contender. They had the best record against the Pacific Division, they had the best record against the Western Conference, they were in the division title race all the way up until the last day of the season, McDavid scored 100 points, Talbot broke the record for Oilers wins in a season, they finished with 103 points and secured home ice advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs.
As I sit here typing this up on the eve of the attending my 1st ever playoff game, I have come to the realization that it was a long, difficult road to get here but damn it the destination is beautiful. Every single thing that occurred following losing game 7, led to winning the McDavid lottery. For that, I forgive Chris Pronger and his wife for wanting out, I forgive Dany Heatley & Michael Nylander for spurning us. I forgive Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, Craig McTavish, Dallas Eakins & Scott Howson (Nikita Nikitin? Really?!?!) for their ineptitude. I forgive Eric Belanger, Nikita Nikitin, J.F. Jacques, Liam Reddox, Nikolai Khabibulin, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Toby Peterson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ben Eager & Anton Belov for being terrible at hockey whilst wearing an Oilers jersey. All roads led to McDavid and I am over the past once and for all.
City of Edmonton! Savor this moment, we are about to witness the next step in the journey and I am ready to cheer until my voice gives out and clap until my hands are numb. Just remember, don't be stupid and riot or drink and drive, be responsible, be better.