THE BATTLE TURNS

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(Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

After a decade of being the second-best team in the Battle of Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers have, at long last, not only pulled eyeball-to-eyeball with the Calgary Flames, they have clearly surpassed their NHL cousins from down the QEII during the course of this season.

Here and now, Jan. 22, 2017, the Oilers are the better team, and for the first time in a very long time, it’s up to the Flames to play catch-up after being drubbed 7-3 by their provincial rivals Saturday in a loss that saw the team from Cowtown swept by the Oilers in a season series for the first time since 1985-86. The Flames have got some work to do. It’s their turn to chase.

How very sweet that is for fans of the Oilers, who have had to choke back the dung of defeat – that’s a PG version of the popular ESF saying that’s so popular around here — as their team has finished behind Calgary in the standings in nine of the previous 10 seasons, a stretch in which the Flames have reached the post-season four times.

Saturday’s application of shoe leather to Calgary backside at the Saddledome leaves the Oilers with a record of 26-15-8 for 60 points. They are nine points up on the Flames, who are now 24-22-3 for 51 points. That’s the tight shot. Bigger picture, the Oilers, starting with Connor McDavid, are the better outfit top-to-bottom right now from where I sit. That’s been a long time coming.

ONE-SIDED

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(Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Just once since the Oilers went to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final against Carolina have the Oilers finished ahead of the Flames in the standings. That was during the shortened 2012-13 campaign when the Oilers went 19-22-7 for 45 points, while the Flames finished at 19-25-4 for 42 points. The other nine seasons? Ugly up north.

In 2006-07, the Flames finished 25 points ahead of the Oilers. No contest. It was the same thing in 2009-10 (28 points), 2010-11 (32 points), 2011-12 (16 points) and 2014-15 (35 points). Along the way, the Flames grabbed those four post-season berths. The Oilers, meanwhile, waited for the lottery balls to drop.

Long ago reduced to the dusty and dated “We’ve won five Stanley Cups, you schmucks only have one” taunt while watching the Flames be better during this Decade of Defeat, Oiler fans today have something besides ancient history to crow about and hang their hats on. It’s been awhile.

This turn of events began with the Golden Ticket and McDavid, of course, but it doesn’t end there. With GM Peter Chiarelli running hockey ops and coach Todd McLellan behind the bench, the Oilers finally have competent hands at the wheel. We’re watching Leon Draisaitl emerge. Cam Talbot has become the No. 1 goaltender Chiarelli bet on. More size. More grit. More depth. The overall mix is better. The work-in-progress is finally showing some.

MORE THAN A NAME

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(Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Straight up, the Oilers are the better team right now.  That’s not to suggest Calgary’s line-up is chopped liver or that hockey ops and the coaching crew down the road is some sort of clown show steering the whole works into the ditch upside down and on fire – I’ll leave that to those so inclined – because it just isn’t so.

Led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and rambunctious Matt Tkachuk, the Flames boast some of the better young talent in the league. No question. Do the Flames have all the pieces? Obviously not. Do the Oilers? Not yet. That said, for the first time in a long time, I’d take Edmonton’s roster over Calgary’s every day of the week. Not by a lot – McDavid aside — but every day.

My hope, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched given how both teams are put together, is that The Battle of Alberta returns to its roots, the time when both teams were so damn good and so damn tough that watching them go at each other was an absolutely stunning spectacle. You’ve got to be pushing 40 to remember that, so it’s about time for an encore. Big picture, long term, that works for me.

Here and now, that sweep has fists pumping and fans slinging slang at their red-cheeked counterparts down south. The Oilers aren’t only better in the standings, they’re the better team. Fans who’ve waited this long to be able to say that are damn sure enjoying the moment, and they should. Over to you, Calgary.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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    • KenBone18

      If they hired me I’d take the job.

      I’m smarter than Tre.

      First things first I’d lock up Tkachuk to a long term deal – I’d do a 6x 6 mill. Overpay in the first year but then it’d be a value contract from years 2-6.

      Then, I’d trade Johnson for Price.

      Then, I’d package Backlund or Ferlund and Weideman for either Doughty or Peitrangalo.

      Then I’d look at getting a solid skill RW for the 1st line that can finish – maybe get Vrbata from Arizona for a 2nd round pick.

      Then I’d create a machine to catch all the Oilers fans tears in the 2017-2018 season. That way, when my team wins the cup, I can bottle up the salty liquid, and sell it in Calgary as popcorn seasoning at the Saddledome.

      Burke if you are reading this look me up on LinkedIn

      • Spydyr

        After last nights result it is understandable you are drunk today.

        ” I’d package Backlund or Ferlund and Weideman for either Doughty or Peitrangalo.”

        $hitfaced drunk.

      • HockeyRulz

        “Then, I’d package Backlund or Ferlund and Weideman for either Doughty or Peitrangalo.”

        LOL that was funny…good stuff.
        Wait a minute, You are joking right? I mean, you for real?

      • Blackgold

        First off you know nothing of being a GM in the NHL. You don’t lock in a player on an Entry Level Contract. Under league rules you can’t pay a second year player $6 million. You have to wait to extend a rookie player until the ELC expires.

        Second, the trades you mentioned are not even in the dreamworld. Sure Montreal would trade Price for Johnson and you sure wouldn’t get a bag of pucks for Backlund and Weideman, let alone a Doughty.

        You wouldn’t even be allowed to do those trades under EA Sports NHL 2017.

      • McDavid's Comet

        This guy has to joking around, holly heck that is hilarious however to add icing on the cake I would have added: trade johnny g for McDavid straight up. ?????

      • someguy

        LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!

        You honestly believe that Montreal will trade you Carey Price – the best player on their team by a country mile – straight up for Johnson?

        You truly are delusional.

        You honestly believe Doughty or Pietrangelo are actually available in trade for inferior Flamers?

        More delusions.

        Wanting the sign the 2nd coming of Sam Gagner for $6 million a year? Even more delusions.

        Believing Burke actually gives a sh*t about your fanboy opinions…..

        Mental illness confirmed.

  • @Hallsy4

    Brownlee thanks for the article bro beans been a tough few years eh bro flames have still sacked just not quite as bad. Loved that game last night ohhhhh yaaaaaaaa baby. Beauty read Rob boy thanks my man.

  • @Hallsy4

    I like what’s going good on right now this team is playing for OUR CITY they are showing some PRIDE for the jersey and playing for the FANS. Loved the game yesterday they played like they knew what was on the line against the hated flames. Finally a team who PLAYERS I can SUPPORT because they put the TEAM FIRST. What say you Robin? Look out to the rest of the league this is our HOUSE

  • Pouzar99

    I loved the 80s, when the Oil and the Flames were fighting over the Cup, especially as we won 5 to their 1. It was still okay when the rivals were scrapping over the last playoff spot, but it sucked when we were reduced to fighting over the first overall pick, though we were better at tank(ing) warfare, apparently. Right now we are better and will likely stay that way at least until they get a goaltending upgrade. I would love to see a knock down, drag out playoff series between these two, but it’s risky. Ask the 1986 Oilers or the 1988 Flames. Heated rivalries seem to wok for the underdogs. Anyway, Bring Back the Battle of Albera!! It’s time to end California dominance.

  • Will

    Not sure we Oiler fans should be planning the route down the QE 2 to proclaim our dominance just yet.

    The Flames had a rocky start to the year with new goal tenders, a new coach, and an injured Gaudreau.

    Galutzen took a lot of time to force TJ Brodie, one of the best D men in the league and getting better, to become the guy who hauls around the boat anchor known as Wideman. And do it in a tough minutes role that limits his offence. Instead giving those minutes to Gio and Hamilton, in order to make Hamilton’s contract worth it.

    They are still not out of the woods with their tender, and I think that is a significant difference. Talbot is simply the best player behind McDavid, no question. He has been the reason for more 1 goal wins, and Bettman points than any other player on the team.

    Calgary simply no longer has their Kipper, Edmonton just now got theirs.

    On defense, I think Calgary is primed for a better team with Gio, Brodie, and Hamilton. Those guys are capable of 40+ point seasons each. Who was the last Oiler D man to break 40? Pronger? Souray? Maybe Klefbom this year. But that’s only one.

    At forwards, it’s not much of a contest. I have to admit Gaudreau is excellent at finding open space and capitalizing on chances. But he doesn’t have the size for controlled zone entries. He tries to put the team on his back and skate through six guys, but just can’t do it. He is much like Eberle in that way.

    Monahan, while good, is no McDavid. I wouldn’t even call him a Draisaitl, though he does play with a bit more of an edge. Tkachuck is looking great, but compared to Lucic or Maroon, I don’t know cause it’s early days. After that Backlund, Frolik, Stajan, Versteeg, it’s a lot of meh. Not to mention the team does not have a single blue chip like Puljujarvi.

    Ultimately, while they are getting some cap relief, and have their core under contract, I think Calgary is building a bubble team once again. Good enough to just make the playoffs, not good enough to win anything while there.

    • Been there

      I will agree with a lot of what you say except about defense.
      Our defense is younger, but I see it becoming one of our strong points soon. Yes we need one strong offensive point man but I like Klefbom, Larrsen, Nurse, Benning, Davidson if he stays, Sekera is good as well, and Jones, Bear, Simpson all coming up through the ranks, and we still have Osterle. Young but improving so long term I think we are looking good. If Ellis and Brossoit become the goalies most think they are then we are set there in the future as well.
      As for forwards, you forgot that we have Kassian and Khaira as well, both young and great physical players with speed and hands.
      I don’t think the Flames are as bad as their record but I don’t think they have a team identity nor cohesive chemistry either. Outside of Gio, they need more leadership.
      That is where Lucic, Maroon come in, both have cups if I am not mistaken, know what it takes.
      Just my opinion

      • Will

        I would agree with all that.

        I love what Kassian brings. I am also pumped about the young guys like Kaharia, Shlepyshev, Cagguila, and Pitlick.

        I think the team has literally the best fourth line centre in the NHL, and the cheapest for what he brings by a wide margin. Replacing Letestu is going to be a huge challenge for Chirelli.

        Hendricks has been a warrior, even if he’s lost a step.

        I too like our D a lot. It’s a D by committee, with a lot of young guys who look to be stepping up. I think our PP answer could lie with Klefbom. I do hope Larssen can find some offense and be like a 30 point guy. In that he would become similar to Vlasic, but not quite at that caliber. If they can ever upgrade the number 2 RD position with a guy who can quaterback a PP, then it’s full steam ahead really. I look at Mike Stone as a guy who could fill that role, and maybe be had for cheap in free agency given his downturn on a crap team this year.

        However, to say that young core is better, or will develop into something better than Brodie, Gio, and Hamilton, is putting a lot of expectation on them. Again, all 3 of those players are 40+ point guys. That is rare for any team to have a single one of those guys, let alone 3. Hamilton is developing, while both Gio and Brodie could easily be top pair number one guys. Gio is locked in reasonably and long term. Brodie is young and in my opinion highly underrated in the NHL. He’s having a tougher time this year adjusting to his role, but he’s been coming on strong since December.

        I would not trade Edmonton for Calgary, but I have to give credit where it’s due, and in that I am envious of Calgary’s back end. That came out wrong.

        • Been there

          I like Gio and Brodie, but Hamilton like so many above average offensive d-men also brings a lot of defensive miscues and lacks a physical edge, a certain level of nastiness I prefer in defenseman. I agree add a Stone or Fowler and I think we take a huge step towards contending. I also think Johnson would make a very good back up goalie for a deep playoff run.