Having endured a nightmare that’s produced cold sweats for seasons on end, fans of the Edmonton Oilers are daring to dream these days. To understate in the extreme, it’s an overdue and welcome change of fortune, and there might be more to come.
Just two weeks ago, fans were bracing themselves for another summer of angst and frustration after a 28th place finish and more of the same old, same old from the Oilers. We were destined, it seemed, for another off-season of discontent. Then, the dominos started to fall.
The giddy roll began April 18 when Bill Daly turned over that gold card with the Oiler logo on it, giving Edmonton the first overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft and the right to select Connor McDavid, touted as a generational talent. You celebrated and fist-pumped like hell while fans and some media types in 29 other cities moaned and whined about the injustice of it all.
Then, on April 24, big boss Bob Nicholson announced Kevin Lowe was being bumped off as POHO, GM Craig MacTavish was being demoted and Peter Chiarelli was taking over both positions. We expected Nicholson’s “forensic audit” to produce lip service. We expected Daryl Katz’s friends to keep their jobs. Then, kaboom, real change. I didn’t see that coming.
Now, the Oilers are looking for a head coach and we’re led to believe the two leading candidates are Todd McLellan and Mike Babcock – think about that for a moment – and nobody is laughing out loud at the possibility one of them will fill the position.
A possibility that seemed nothing more than a bad joke or pie-in-the-sky not long ago, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said Thursday that he believes Edmonton to be the likeliest landing spot for Babcock, if he chooses to leave the Detroit Red Wings for a new challenge. Not a single guffaw was heard.
YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE
“If I were ranking the possibilities for Mike Babcock outside of Detroit, take Detroit out of the equation, I would put Edmonton at Number 1, no question,” McKenzie said. “The number one criteria, I think, for Mike Babcock would be who he is working for. I think it always is to some degree for a head coach to want to know who (the) general manager or owner is. Who is he reporting to?”
Added McKenzie: “I think the Bob Nicholson factor, with Chiarelli there, and obviously there’s some connection between Chiarelli and Babcock vis-a-vis the Olympics, but it’s more probably Bob Nicholson than anybody else, I think that is huge.
“Also the fact, and it’s not just Connor McDavid, but for all the jokes we make about the Edmonton Oilers, and rightfully so because they’ve been a tire fire for eight or nine years now, the reality is as you look at that team, while they still have significant pieces to put together, goaltending, defense, this thing is a lot closer to coming together than falling apart . . .”
One need only look at the comment section on this website or others like it to put some context to the turn of events we’ve seen so far. McDavid instead of Noah Hanifin or Dylan Strome. Lowe out and Chiarelli in instead of more talk about patience from MacTavish. McLellan or Babcock as the leading candidates to coach a team that two seasons ago hired Dallas Eakins.
Yes, there remains much work to do to return the Oilers to contention, but when you factor in all the above, not to mention talk Edmonton has become a more attractive destination for free agents not named Nikita Nikitin and that the new rink is taking shape, optimism abounds. When’s the last time Oiler fans didn’t feel like Wile E. Coyote waiting on the Acme anvil?
ONLY DIRECTION IS UP
I, like many of you, was quick to say after the lottery win that we should be wary of mistaking good luck for an actual game plan. MacTavish was still in charge at that point and we were expecting less-than-a-lot to come from the audit done by Nicholson. Now, Chiarelli will call the shots.
Now, with word from Chiarelli at the World Championship in Prague today that MacTavish will be staying on as his second-in-command, we wait on McLellan, who is coaching Team Canada, and Babcock, who will meet with Detroit GM Ken Holland and owner Mike Illitch in the next day or two.
Of course, there’s a chance that neither McLellan nor Babcock will end up standing behind Edmonton’s bench next season. Babcock might opt to stay in Detroit or see an opportunity he prefers elsewhere. McLellan might be a better bet and he’s far from a consolation prize.
The bottom line is Chiarelli is already here, McDavid is on the way and no matter how it plays out, Edmonton is in the running for McLellan and Babcock. It’s been forever and a day since the Oilers were in that position. That much we all know.
Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun reported this morning that Chiarelli has convinced MacTavish to stay on as his No. 2 man in hockey ops.
“He’ll be No. 2 in all aspects,” Chiarelli told Jones. “He’ll be my eyes and ears in all areas. I want to have strong people with strong opinions.” The entire item is here.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.