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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Best Moments From the Decade of Darkness

The Decade of Darkness is over. The Edmonton Oilers have clinched a playoff spot after going ten straight seasons without making the playoffs. Oilers fans have seen a lot since they saw their team lose in the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2006. Their best player requested a trade immediately following the end of the season. Attempts to acquire top-line talent either didn’t work or almost resulted in a potential barn fight. Numerous coaches and general managers have come and gone (and come again), and realistically, the Oilers gave their fans plenty of reasons to stop watching or show up to games. Fans stuck around and were rewarded with a few memories that weren’t completely awful. Let’s recount some of those.

Cogliano’s Three Straight Overtime Goals

Back when the Andrew Cogliano-Sam Gagner-Robert Nilsson line was considered a kid line, Cogliano netted three-straight overtime winners against Columbus, Chicago, and St. Louis to set an NHL record. Cogliano’s rookie success, coupled with his emerging linemates, gave Oilers fans promise that the future is back on track. All three were having strong rookie seasons, and were 22 and under. Gagner was producing well for an 18-year old,  Cogliano showed exceptional speed and goal scoring for a 20 year-old out of college, and Nilsson was making the Smyth trade slightly more palatable. The Oilers would just miss out on the playoffs by a few points, but you could easily see them improving with a year’s worth of NHL-experience under their belt.

Ben Scrivens’ Historic Shutout

Ben Scrivens was a saviour in a season where the Oilers played six different goalies. After Devan Dubnyk had his worst career season and Jason LaBarbera couldn’t stop the bleeding, the Oilers signed Ilya Bryzgalov, but the team realized they needed a longer term solution than the quirky Russian. Scrivens was having a fantastic season covering for an injured Jonathan Quick, and the Los Angeles Kings also had prospect Martin Jones setting the minors on fire. Scrivens was 27, showed promise on a good Kings team and terrible Leafs’ teams, so he seemed like a good investment when the Oilers traded a 3rd-round pick for him before the trade deadline.

Scrivens provided stability in net, including this brilliant performance against San Jose. Any game where you accumulate 59 shots is a game you should generally win. Considering how bad that Oilers team was, it was a miracle Scrivens didn’t let in a single goal. Scrivens gave the Oilers a win, and seemed like a decent bet for the starting job going 9-11-0 with a .916 save percentage down the stretch. With Scrivens in net for the future, there was no way they’d be worse next season!

Ryan Smyth’s Last Game

Ryan Smyth should have been a career Edmonton Oiler. He wasn’t, but his return and eventual last game proved to be a memorable moment during a tough time in Edmonton. Smyth might be one of the very few to request a trade back to Edmonton, and his desire to be an Oiler and lunchpail style made him a fan favourite. Smitty’s last game came against Vancouver at the end of the 2013-14. Smyth had already rebounded from a tough lockout-short season the year before, and entered his final game tied with Glenn Anderson for most power play goals at 126. The Oilers also gave Smyth the captaincy to wear with Andrew Ference injured, as Smyth oddly never wore it during his time in Edmonton.

The night featured the Oilers comically trying to set up Smyth for sole possession of the record. Virtually every pass went right to Smyth or to his feet in an attempt to get him that goal, but they were unsuccessful despite Smyth staying on for most of the power play time. The Oilers lost a lot of games, but they won an important one 5-2 to send off an Oilers legend.

Jordan Eberle’s First Goal

Jordan Eberle’s  first NHL goal was a brilliant one. Eberle drags and dazzles on a 2-on-1 and scores a highlight reel (shorthanded) goal in his first career NHL game. The fact that it was against the Flames didn’t hurt either. Both 2010 1st overall pick Taylor Hall and Eberle were playing the first games of their careers, and it represented a new hope for Oilers fans. The Oilers drafted Eberle 22nd overall in 2008, and he already had name for himself during his World Junior heroics the years prior. Eberle was a skilled player the Oilers desperately needed at the time, and his debut reflected that. He would finish the night with two points and four shots on net in a win against Calgary.

Yakupov’s Goal against LA

Nail Yakupov’s Oiler career didn’t exactly go as planned, but his tying goal and subsequent celebration will live in infamy.

The Oilers tied the game a minute prior on a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal, but the goal was overturned after the referees determined Sam Gagner impeded Jonathan Quick’s ability to make a save. This wouldn’t be as controversial now, Gagner was definitely pushed in by Rob Scuderi, but this was during a time when goaltender interference wasn’t a reviewable play after the fact. They called it back nonetheless. “I don’t remember seeing a goal called back in such a delayed fashion,” TSN’s Chris Cuthbert remarks during the broadcast, in a time before the Coaches Challenge and long reviews.

The Oilers and their fans were rightfully upset, but Rexall Place erupted after Nail Yakupov batted the puck in mid-air to tie it, again, with 4.7 seconds left in the game. The 2011 first overall pick slid the down the ice in celebration after scoring an epic, emotional goal in his third ever career game. The Oilers would go on to win the game in overtime on a Sam Gagner power play goal, and everything was alright in Oilers Nation.

 Gagner’s 8-point Night

Looking back, it still seems absolutely ridiculous that Sam Gagner scored eight points in a single game. Gagner’s feat was only matched by 10 players prior to that night, and those named included some elite company in Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Brett Hull. The then-Oilers center scored four goals and four assists to boost his point total from 22 to 30 in one night.

Gagner factored in on every Edmonton goal that night for a historic win against the Chicago Blackhawks. He wasn’t able to usurp Darryl Sittler for the NHL-record of 10 points in a game, but he did tie a Gretzky record, which is almost unheard of nowadays. Gagner would go on to score three points the next night against the Detroit Red Wings, and provide hope to Oilers fans that just maybe the 22-year old center was starting to put it all together.

Stefan’s Empty-Net Miss

With 14 seconds remaining, what should have been an easy empty net goal turned into a legendary moment for the Oilers and Ales Hemsky. Stefan missing the empty net from that close is impressive by itself, even though the puck was wobbling and Stefan caught an edge, but Jarret Stoll sending it back up the ice for Hemsky’s eventual game-tying goal all within eight seconds seems so impossible.

The Oilers would ultimately lose in the shootout, but Stefan’s miss and Hemsky’s goal will live on through highlights shows forever. Peter Loubardias and Ray Ferraro combine for the call, as Ferraro exclaims, “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Patrik Stefan, you should be embarrassed for what you just did. That does not belong in the National Hockey League”. Ferraro said he would call it differently, but isn’t tired of hearing himself lambast Stefan.

McDavid’s Goal against Columbus

Connor McDavid’s goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets might be the best moment of the last decade. McDavid, after missing 37 games due to a broken collarbone back against the Flyers in November, returned to action with all-time highlight reel goal. Let’s acknowledge the two defencemen he splits are Jack Johnson and Justin Falk, but it’s incredible nonetheless. McDavid’s return represented a time when Oilers fans still had hope that this 19-year old could push them back into relevance, and this goal just highlighted how McDavid was robbed of completing a truly remarkable rookie season. McDavid would rack up 3 points in his return, including this goal, and give Oilers fans belief that he would one day lead them out of the basement.

The Oilers didn’t give their fans much to cheer for during the Decade of Darkness, but there were still a few moments that made them forget about all that losing.

  • walljordan

    I totally forgot about the ‘Nuks coming back out to shake Smytty’s hand. That was classy. Also, that was just a few years about and like 80% of the guys in that video aren’t starting for us anymore. Amazing turnover.

  • Sean17

    Great list of memories… and now for some of the worst…

    Ralph getting fired via Skype
    Eakins removing Oilers history and donuts
    the Swarm
    Taylor Halls head as a cutting board
    Hall fightingredients Dorsett and blowing up his ankle
    The draft after round 1
    MacT throwing Dubnyk under the bus
    National games on HNIC.

    a couple of highlights missed though…
    RNH hat trick against Canucks
    Hall douching Eakins with water bottle toss
    The golden ticket reveal for McDavid

    • Hemmercules

      My all time worst memory has to be when they fired Tambo and revealed MacT as the new GM. Just a sad sad time and not even all that long ago. MacTs first presser after taking the job and he basically says the team will be garbage again the next season. Season is barely over and the guy just steps into the job and he was already writing off the next season.

      • Dwayne Roloson 35

        ” I’ll say, there’s one other guy I believe in hockey today, that is still working in the game, that has won more Stanley Cups than me, so I think I know a little bit about winning if that’s ever a concern.”

        This one was pretty good. Lowe was a decent player but i could have won stanley cups riding the Gretzky,Messier,Coffey, Anderson, Kurri train.

  • UnderOil

    Props for posting this article…I tried to recalling some of the things above for my kids last night…timely. I’m not saying I would want to go back – but as (hopefully) dawn on a new era let’s remember we did see a lot of players give it their all for copper and blue. There were some good times…like Georges’ hatty.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBsfoeJer_c

    Now they know the old man ain’t so silly. I also like Georges hatty.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Great article. For the past couple of months, as it became more and more obvious the Oilers were going to make the playoffs, I was really hoping there would be one go to over the (positive) highlights of the last 11 years. A “Post-Mortem of the Positive,” if you will.

    To me, the two unifying themes in all or most the highlights chosen for this article is how they’re mostly individual moments of greatness from players … and how well attended Oiler games were over the last 11 years. We certainly held up our end of the bargain, didn’t we? That didn’t always happen in those dark years between 1992 and 1997.

    Here’s my personal list of positive highlights from the last 11 years:
    – Winning lottery/drafting McDavid. ‘Nuff said.

    – Oilers’ training camp in Grande Prairie in fall of 2006. I grew up there and, trust me, the city was on Cloud 9 for a week. (Fun fact: A few weeks after camp ended, the City of Grande Prairie got an official letter from the Oilers gently advising it should consider using brighter bulbs in the twin-ice arenas that the Oilers used. Some of the goalies in camp had complained about the dim lighting).

    – New downtown arena finally built. We can all debate the economics of the new barn, but for those of us old enough to remember the battles in the 1980s and 1990s between Peter Pocklington and Edmonton city council over renovations and/or replacement of the old barn, it was nice to see something finally get done. I think the arena’s going to do great things for the team and the downtown. And let’s not forget: It’s not the House that Connor Built – it’s the House that Edmonton Built.

    – Omark’s shoot-out goal. It ruffled the feathers of the NHL establishment for a week or so. Plus, it happened on my birthday.

    – Eberle’s first NHL goal. Against the Flames, no less.

    – Gagner’s eight-pointer. For some reason, the Oilers always played well against Chicago in the DOD.

    – Ryan Smyth’s last game. I was there to see it. The Oilers really did this night right.

    – Ben Scrivens’ big game. I was there to see it, too. The Oilers had no business winning that game but Scrivens certainly did.

    – Yakupov’s game-tying goal against the Kings. Another one that ruffled the feathers for a little while, thanks to his exuberant (and fairly innocent) celebration. And, they won in OT. I really thought Yak would turn into a player. Oh well, not all of them do.

    – Patrik Stefan’s gaffe and the Oilers’ goal that resulted. This would have been higher on the list if the Oilers had won in OT.

    – Cogliano’s 3 straight OT winners in early 2008. Not only were they historic, they came not long after then-Edmonton-Sun-columnist Scott Haskins said he’d eat a copy of the newspaper if the Oilers made the playoffs. After briefly surfacing in a playoff spot during their run, they ended up missing by six points. It’d take another nine years to get close to them.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    The best moments were not on the ice. They were the draft lottery wins. The HOPE before a season started (RIP Linus!). The hilariously amateur front office firings and hirings. The sarcastic @FakeOilersGM takes.

    Time is a funny thing… this decade has been miserable, but it’s kind of heartwarming to look back on with other Oilers fans who have lived through it and put up with it.

    *cheers!*