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.