I know, it’s American Thanksgiving, so this may seem a little off-kilter, but I was busy during Canadian Thanksgiving, slaughtering pumpkins by the thousands and engaging in our traditional ritual of animal sacrifice. So you’ll excuse me if this is a little late.
So here we are in November, the NHL and the PA are being jerks while we fans are left shopping for hotel packages to Oklahoma City and trying to convince our wives and girlfriends (preferably not both) that the shopping there is amazing. Meanwhile the city and the Katz group are playing games of chicken while the meter on the construction costs that will ultimately be paid by the citizens of this city just keeps going up and up and up. And winter is here. What better time to sit down and list all the many things for which we can be thankful?
Thanks for Nothing?
Thankfulness? For what? The free time to clean out the attic? Organize the garden shed? Finish painting baseboards? Try out that new snow shovel from Canadian Tire?
I try to be a glass-half-full kind of guy most of the time. I’m also an Edmonton resident so you know that isn’t easy. But here are a few things that have occurred to me about which I think we, as Oilers fans, could be thankful.
Thanks to Chris Pronger. Why? Well, were the 2006 Oilers really that good? No, probably not, but they certainly played like it in the postseason. I’ve always held that the 2001 Calgary Stampeders were probably one of the worst CFL teams in modern history to win a Grey Cup. Had the Oilers won in 2006, we might very well say the same thing today about that roster. There were some good points, the roster was balanced so perfectly that is was a thing of beauty, and Dwayne Roloson was playing as well as any goalie’s playoff performance since. There were individual efforts that have lived on long after the players left. I mean, how many baby boys born in Edmonton in 2007 were named Fernando?
But can any of us look at that roster and say that it stands up against the 2007 Ducks, the 2008 Red Wings, the 2009 Penguins, the 2010 Blackhawks, the 2011 Bruins, or the 2012 Kings? I don’t think so. Pronger was the lynchpin in the whole deal. While the Oilers lost a lot players that summer no one’s departure impacted the team more than him. What might have happened if he had stayed? Hard to say, but the Oilers wouldn’t have Sam Gagner, Ladislav Smid or Jordan Eberle right now. They might not even have Magnus Paajarvi. The roster wouldn’t have been exposed for what it was, and management might have been slightly better at convincing themselves that they could contend for a Cup again. Kind of like the Flames. (zing!)
Pronger tore the band-aid off, and holy mackinaw did that hurt, but in the end it was probably for the best. So for that, I give thanks.
Thanks to Dany Heatley for being a selfish doodyhead. Heatley’s arrival in Edmonton would only have fostered the same approach as had Pronger stayed on. It would have masked over some more glaring problems in the organization and in a few years’ time we’d be hamstrung by another weighty contract on a player who simply couldn’t pull his weight. Like Matt Stajan, only worse. (zing! That’s two!)
When Heatley said no, it made the team, the organization, and the city look bad. We all took it personally. Besides, the deal for Heatley was Penner, Cogliano and Smid. Consider that Penner netted us Teubert, Klefbom and Zharkov, Cogliano got us a 2nd round pick in this year’s draft, and Smid has developed into a top-four shut-down defenseman, and I think we won that non-trade. So thanks to Dany Heatley for being a jerk.
Thanks to Marian Hossa for deciding with his heart, rather than his wallet. Hossa had a Brinks truck full of money driven up to his house by Daryl Katz and the Oilers. They wanted him badly and Katz wanted to prove that Edmonton was all in when it came to free-agency. It was a bold move, and one that made Edmontonians feel better about themselves, like a shot of tequila. It was also stupid. Like a shot of tequila.
Hossa chose Chicago because everybody could see that they were the up-and-comers. Thing is, the Blackhawks now have Hossa on the books until 2021, when he’ll be 42 years-old. In that same time, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov could be feeding vulcanized rubber to Flames netminders by the fistful (zing! That’s three!).
It would have been another bad contract that only served to mask what was wrong with the team, or divert them from a more strategically sound path – a full-on rebuild. So thanks to Marian Hossa for making the right decision, for both of us.
Thanks to Darcy Regier for letting his ego and short-sightedness cloud his judgement. I like Magnus Paajarvi and Taylor Hall. Had Darcy Regier not matched the Vanek offer sheet both would likely be Buffalo Sabres today. The Sabres already have one asset that could have been an Oiler from the Dustin Penner offer sheet in Tyler Myers (he’d look pretty good playing with Jeff Petry or Justin Schultz). The Vanek contract is ridiculous, and the only saving grace for Sabres’ fans is that it comes off the books in two years’ time (then they just have that Leino contract to worry about). In exchange for Regier “standing his ground” so to speak, the Oilers had to settle for Dustin Penner and retained their 1st round picks in 2009 and 2010 that would have been compensation in a Vanek offer sheet.
How galling would it be today to have Vanek on the books while Hall and Paajarvi were playing elsewhere? I don’t know any Sabres fans, so I’ll just have to imagine.
Speaking of offer sheets…
Thanks, kind of, to Dustin Penner for signing that offer sheet. Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch, but here is where my not-insignificant powers of optimism display their full glory.
Penner’s offer sheet meant that the Oilers handed over the picks that became Tyler Myers, Justin Schultz, and Kirill Petrov. Whoa, put down the razor blades, it didn’t turn out that badly in the end so just hear me out.
Penner proved to the fans and franchise that there was more value in the effort in the player than their size (it’s not the size of the dog in the fight…). You can coach a lot of things, but we’ve seen over and over again that effort and a competitive nature isn’t always one of them.
Sure the Oilers didn’t get a chance to draft at 12th overall that year, which is where Myers was taken, but they still walked away with Eberle at 22nd, and Justin Schultz decided to come to the Oilers in the end. That is perhaps the most twisted bit of hockey karma that I can remember breaking in this team’s favour since a game of backgammon determined whether Gretzky would land in Edmonton or Winnipeg (and no, I’m not comparing Justin Schultz to Gretzky).
Petrov is a prospect very similar to Danill Zharkov (russian winger, big body, skilled, rough around the edges), the player selected with the 3rd round pick the Oilers got in the Penner trade. So where the Oilers basically lost the chance to draft a defenceman like Myers or Schultz (and there is no guarantee that they would have), as well as a forward like Petrov, they did end up turning Penner into Oscar Klefbom to replace what could have been Myers, Danill Zharkov who might have been Petrov, and Colten Teubert, and they got Schultz in the end. It wasn’t like it was planned, but maybe that just means we should be all the more thankful. Having said that, if the Oilers ever tender another offer sheet I will personally slap the General Manager of the time.
Thanks to Gary Bettman.
Stop laughing for a second and let me explain.
I’m not a fan of his, and I think that he has made some errors in his time as commissioner. However, as I stated earlier I am a resident of Edmonton and an Oilers fan. Bettman went to the wall to keep the Oilers in Edmonton. He orchestrated the Canadian exchange rate equalization plan that fed the healthy Canadian clubs about $3 million a year for several years during this team’s darkest financial days. He fought to bring cohesion to the Edmonton Investors Group so that they might counter Les Alexander’s purchase offer for the team. He also threw an entire NHL season into the dustbin to bring about a salary cap, which the EIG stated was a precondition for retaining an NHL team in Edmonton. He has stepped in on more than one occasion to try and facilitate the building of a new arena here in Edmonton. He also told Jim Balsillie to take a hike which, in hindsight, proved to be kind of a good idea. He is also partially responsible for this.
He’s kind of a jerk sometimes, and comes across like he has a Napoleon complex, and his insistence on propping up markets in Florida, Phoenix, Nashville and Dallas has baffled and frustrated Canadian hockey fans to no end. He’s also got a fair amount of blame to carry for the current state of affairs. But without Bettman’s stubborness, we aren’t talking about the Edmonton Oilers today. You don’t have to like the guy, just be thankful.
Thanks to the Hockey Gods. In the Old Testament there is a lot of talk of smiting and being brought low. Well, the Oilers got themselves a boatload of smote in 2009-2010, and thanks to that the organization finally seemed to learn its lesson: that quick-fixes are often neither quick nor fixes. Without that rash of injuries to Khabibulin, Nilsson, Jacques, Brule, Hemsky, Souray, Smid, Peckham, and Gagner, that season the Oilers might not have sucked as badly as they did. Hitting rock bottom the way they did was what convinced ownership, and by extension management, to alter course from the plan that had them thinking Robert Nilsson, J.F. Jacques and Patrick O’Sullivan were top-six forwards.
One has to wonder also if the Hockey Gods were paying the Oilers back with interest this spring when the organization won the draft lottery and Justin Schultz. Give thanks, and be quick with it. Those old-school gods aren’t to be trifled with.
Finally, thanks to the Calgary Flames. They’ve been whipping our beloved Oilers for a few seasons now and at the same time have been doggedly pushing that old roster along, trying to make it a winner. Having such an emotionally-charged rivalry so close and apparently pursuing the exact opposite strategy as the Oilers has only encouraged the local fan base that we are on the right track. Not only that but without this storied rivalry, not only would we be without some of our warmest memories, we might also have to share a team with that city to the south.
So there we have it. Things for which we can be thankful. Sure, there are numerous others that I’m sure will come to mind. Health care, peace and stability, ready access to clean drinking water, the rule of law, a progressive civil society, freedom and safety of person, and countless other things that aren’t taken for granted in many other countries in the world. But you are probably already thankful for those things. I know I am.