Trademark or not, the provincial rivalry known as the Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames has been reduced to a We Suck Less Than You Do skirmish of weaklings and have-nots for too long. Might that change next season? I think it will.
Given that the Flames finished 35 points ahead in the standings and are in the process of getting filled in by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the playoff while the Oilers missed the post-season for a ninth straight year, that probably sounds far-fetched. Calgary fans certainly think so.
While the Flames made fools of pre-season prognosticators and scoffed at the advanced stats crowd by somehow winning 45 games and finishing eighth in the Western Conference with 97 points, the Oilers won just 24 times and finished with 62 points as bragging rights stayed south yet again.
The only thing worse for Oiler faithful than seeing their team suck again is seeing the Flames suck less – far less, this season. Let’s face it, the popular rallying cry, Eat Shit Flames, here in Oilersnation loses a lot of steam when the people wagging their gums have been fed a steady diet of same since 2006 to guffaws from down the QE II.
NOT MUCH OF A BATTLE
In terms of the standings, The Battle of Alberta has been a battle in name only since the Oilers went to the 2006 Stanley Cup final. While the Oilers have yet to get a sniff of post-season since they lost Game 7 in Carolina, the Flames have been in the post-season four times in the same span.
The Oilers have managed 40 wins just once (41 in 2007-08) since 2006-07 while the Flames have had 40 or more wins six times. Calgary has finished ahead of the Oilers in eight of the last nine seasons, the exception being the abbreviated 2012-13 season when Edmonton had 45 points and Calgary 42.
- The Oilers haven’t had much success head-to-head with the Flames the past nine seasons, going 17-30-7. That record includes being swept by the Flames in five meetings (4-0-1) this season and seven straight losses dating back to the last two meetings of 2013-14.The Oilers have won the season series with the Flames just one in this stretch, going 3-2-1 in 2008-09.
- The Oilers have had six different coaches — Todd Nelson, Dallas Eakins, Ralph Krueger, Tom Renney, Pat Quinn and Craig MacTavish — the past nine seasons. The Flames, meanwhile, have been through four with Bob Hartley, Brent Sutter, Mike Keenan and Jim Playfair.
A REAL RIVALRY
For the most part, talking about the Battle of Alberta has largely been lip service since the 1980s, unless you think sucking less counts. For the BOA to mean anything beyond blah-blah-blah, both teams have to be competitive – how often has that been the case in the last 25 years?
Rivalries are forged in the playoffs and the Oilers and Flames haven’t met in the post-season since 1991, when Edmonton prevailed 4-3. While I don’t see that changing next season, I do see the Oilers, given what’s unfolded already this off-season, taking a sizeable step toward respectability.
The Flames, obviously, are already there, having rebuilt on the fly while the Oilers have stalled after taking their rebuild down to bare metal. Hartley has pushed the right buttons. The Flames have reloaded with exceptional young talents in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. They have one of the top four defensemen in the NHL in Mark Giordano, a solid blue line group overall and are set in goal with Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo.
The Flames are far from set, as we’re seeing in the series with Anaheim, but they’ve got far fewer holes to fill than the Oilers do. Calgary’s young core of players already has more playoff experience – you can’t have less than none – than Edmonton’s main building blocks, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. The holes in Edmonton’s roster, we already know.
That said, it doesn’t take a vast intellect to understand that winning the lottery and the right to draft Connor McDavid is a game-changer. MacTavish is out as GM and Peter Chiarelli is in. The Oilers have already talked to Todd McLellan about a job as head coach. Flaws and all, the Oilers showed some progress under Nelson, who could stick as an associate.
The Oilers have draft picks, including a second first-round pick, to barter with this off-season. While it’s a stretch to suggest Edmonton has suddenly become a destination of choice for unrestricted free agents, it’s easy to argue it’s a better looking stop than it was when the season ended.
RETURN TO CONTENTION?
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not from Edmonton, although it’s been home for 26 years, and the nature of my job for most of that time has taken the fan out of me. I don’t live and die with the successes or failures of either team likes fans in both cities do.
What I do hope for is a return to the days when both the Oilers and Flames were at or near the top of the heap, when the road to the Stanley Cup had to be travelled through Alberta and when the teams went at each other like there was no tomorrow. When the Battle of Alberta really was one.
We’re not close to that, yet, but my sense, knowing how rightfully tough selling hope is around here, is that the Oilers are going to take a more significant step toward getting back into the fray next season than a lot of people expect. It’s past time the BOA meant something again.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.