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Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Pie in the Sky

With all of the pessimism and downright misery around here for the decade leading up to last season’s return to the playoffs by the Edmonton Oilers, I’m not going to jump on anybody for doing some pie-in-the-sky dreaming out loud. The mood, after all, has been mired at the other end of the spectrum too long around here. Fans in this NHL outpost are passionate and do, from time to time, get carried away.

I’ve got to admit, though, I always cringe a little bit when I read or hear comparisons or references to post-1980s editions of the Oilers with teams that won the first four Stanley Cups in Edmonton. That was a special time with special teams, 1983-84 to 1987-88, that we will never see again. Start with the greatest player ever to lace on the blades and go down the list of HHOF names on those teams – for my money, the last true dynasty in the NHL.

There was a big slab of that pie offered up by Kurt Leavins at the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal in the wake of Leon Draisaitl’s signing of an eight-year, $68-million contract with the Oilers Wednesday. The crux of the item was the significance of having two elite players like Connor McDavid and Draisaitl to build around and the success teams have had with talented tandems like them on the roster. Several great teams, including the 1980s Oilers, were mentioned. Here’s the part that jumped out at me.

“Yes, there is a long way to go for these two young Edmonton Oilers stars, still just 20 and 21 years old, to do all that, and then…start to reach the status of the truly legendary clubs and players from Montreal, Toronto and previous Edmonton clubs listed above. There are many more parts required to complete the picture. And it’s a dicey game, to say the least, to put McDavid and Draisaitl in the same conversation as Richard, Howe, Mahovlich, et al, just yet.

“But with each of these two franchise players now locked in for so long with a single team, at such a young age, and already having accomplished so much in a short period of time… it’s fun and reasonable enough to start to dream, and dream big.” For context, the entire Leavins item is here.

THE WAY I SEE IT

Mar 1, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Leon Draisaitl (29) before a game against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Again, given how long everything was upside down and on fire in the ditch for Oiler fans until Edmonton drew the golden ticket and got the right to select McDavid, I don’t see any downside to having McDavid and Draisaitl locked up long-term, even if the dollars are pretty steep. That’s the price of doing business in the NHL today. GM Peter Chiarelli has taken a big swing here. He might hit it out of the yard. He might go down hacking. We’ll see.

Mercy, thinking back to all the lean years when the Oilers sold-off their stars or let them leave town because owner Peter Pocklington couldn’t afford to keep them, I’ll take what some are calling a bit of an overpay on Draisaitl any day. Likewise, when GM Glen Sather couldn’t shop the unrestricted free agent market for any UFA seeking more than a ham sandwich for a contract. Yes, in a salary cap world, little overpays here and there can add up to a big problem if they go unchecked. Granted. That said, I not going to lose sleep over $21 million per season for McDavid and Draisaitl.

I’ll take it, as I Tweeted Wednesday, “all damn day.” It’s just any references to dynasties and all those powerhouse Oiler teams that make me squirm. It’s fine to set the bar high, especially when it’s been buried in the mud for years and years. That said, taking a nostalgic stroll down memory lane that leads to those teams is setting the bar at a level that simply isn’t attainable now. Tossing around the D-word before this team has won even a single Stanley Cup? Let’s start with one parade and see what happens, no?

If the Oilers can stay anywhere near as healthy on their top end as they did last season, I don’t see any reason why this team can’t improve on the 103 points they amassed. I think, with the best player on the planet in McDavid and Draisaitl emerging, they’re capable of going more than two rounds in the playoffs. Could the Oilers reach the Western Conference final this season? Sure. Might they play for the Cup? Sure. Win it? Maybe. Each of those steps involves varying degrees of optimism. Nothing wrong with that in the place of miseries past.

But the D-word? Let’s see McDavid and Draisaitl and the rest of this group that is being assembled win one Cup first. Hell, even if this team manages to get one in the books in the next year or two, I say let’s leave Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and the faded glory of days long past out of it. Their history is secure. It’s time to start looking ahead again instead of back.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Hemmercules

    I’m never one to get too optimistic but having these two here for the next 8 years is something to be really happy about. I thought if Chia could get them both at $20 that would be solid. 1 mil over that isn’t a big deal assuming the cap continues to rise even a little year after year.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      I agree this is ideal but together they were the most dominant duo in the NHL last year. So even if no one else can step up this year and they are paired together again they have a good chance of again being the most dominant duo in the NHL. The fact that this will be an option for 8 years it is hard not to be optimistic about want may come.

    • Serious Gord

      Excellent point – drai is a HUGE overpay if he is just mcds winger.

      That makes it all the more obvious that RNH has to become a scintillating first or second line winger or he needs to be moved.

      And that means it is pointless to have rnh do anything but start camp and the season on the wing.

    • GK1980

      For sure, but Todd Mac already stated drai will be used as he sees fit as the game dynamics change. If the oil are down 2-0 why not stack the top line and go for it.

    • Randaman

      Not just Chia. We all better hope Drai can elevate and drive his own line. We already know McLellan will mix and match but I think we see him on the second line more than last year after that performance in Round 2 (still think we got robbed in that series by the way)!

      • QuitForRealThisTime

        Robbed indeed, but just like the 83 Oilers they learned the commitment that it takes to win in the playoffs. The commitment to game and the game within the game. And exactly like the Oilers in 83 they will enter the following season with a new level of confidence and will take their game to new heights. And just like the 84 Oilers (this ones for you Robin) the new dynasty will begin!

        • OilBlood

          Agreed 100% we were robbed but they need to learn to keep the outcome of the game out of the refs hands they can’t be relied on to win a game.

          Oilers let themselves get in to that position and hopefully they learned not to let that happen ever again.

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        We wuz robbed. Every time I think about Kesler’s glove on Talbot’s pad, I want to punch a duck. At the same time, there was that huge lead that disappeared. Hopefully that’s this generation’s Miracle on Manchester lesson.

        • HOCKEY83

          certainly had nothing to do with Anaheim easily figuring out McDavid and him playing like a scared little boy. Draisaitl is the far better playoff player.

          • DerpSolo

            Bruh, were you even watching? One of the reasons McDavid was shut down is because they stuck their top defensive forward on him, and their top D line. Draisaitl matched up against the second line and pairing. McDavid would likely have a similar playoff had he not had Kesler spooning him the entire time

    • Hemmercules

      Cheers to that. I heard instant negativity abut the Drai contract from every Shames fan I know and even some Oiler fans.

      Oil fans climbed through miles of crap to get to this point. The way this team plays for each other and bounces back after a bad night is truly something special.

  • ponokanocker

    I agree that some fans are getting way too carried away. It’s awesome we have both players locked up long term, but now they need to win. Their contracts are going to make it a challenge to compete for the cup every year and I’m hoping Chia can find a way to do it. It’s going to mean a revolving door of players though, similar to Chicago and Pittsburgh.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      Agreed but at some point you have to go all in on a core of players. Chia clearly believes that Drai and Conner are the best chance this team will have to win a cup. Even if they do not win, and untimely follow a myriad of other teams that also went all in on the players they currently have that they truly believe would bring they the cup, the decision has to made. Lowe and company made the same play when they signed the trio of $6mil youths, was it the wrong play at the time? The big difference with this gamble is that the hand Chia was dealt has Conner (as close to a sure things as the the current NHL has).

  • madjam

    Not to many , if any top clubs do not have a couple of big contracts in todays NHL . If your top contract is only 6-7M then there a good chance you are not realistically a top contender to begin with .

    • OTOF2

      So by your logic, it’s a good thing Drai didn’t sign a cap friendly bridge deal for $6 or $7M because that would have left only one player (Connor) at or above $8M and therefore The Oil would be less of a contender. Ok. Sure.

      • madjam

        Try not to speak for me . Chia expects Draisaitl to be an elite player and has rewarded him for that assessment . Until Leon shows otherwise , the contract is sound and indicactive of an elite talent in todays market . I have more faith in Chia’s assessment than yours . Show me any clubs with no big contracts that are realistically top contenders , for I can find none .

  • Spoils

    cups have gone to teams that include either a stud d or the unicorn 3rd scoring line. we do not, and will not have a stud d. for that reason I think Drai being successful (without McD or Hall) is key. And Nuge getting man strength and getting adult onset scoring like Bergeron did is also key.

    I remain confident both Nuge and Drai can drive their own lines.

    I think we will need that to win.

    • Spoils

      SOOOO many ways to line it up, but I always come back to wanting a little more FW scoring:

      Maroon-McDavid-Strome
      Lucic-Draisaitl-Kassian
      Jussi-Nuge-Jesse
      Cagiula-Letestu-Slepyshev

      Ideally we add one more scorer to drive competition. The risk that one of Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi, or even Luc or Maroon, underwhelm is pretty real. Not saying they will. Frankly I think the aura of McDavid will raise everyone’s game – just like Gretz… but I’d feel better with one more – Kassian as a 2nd line winger?

          • madjam

            Doubt it from a contract point of view . If he is not producing at a decent rate he may be dealt , but not necessary even next year when McDavid contract comes in force . Far more likely Fayne gets dropped or takes a mimimum salary to stay . Fayne , overlay reduced 5M and Korpikoski off books gives team 9.65 M more to play with next year , and that includes Hopkins, Lucic , Leon and Connor . Any left over from this year will be added (Believe we have 2M +) as well as any increase in cap limit . We are not that bad off to be honest , certainly not cap hell as some seem to postulate or over assume . Chia has the space to sign current players to new contracts next year if he so chooses .

        • Spoils

          i can see that. lots of ways to line it up. it will come down to chemistry. i’m just liking the size of the Luc/Drai/Kass and the support of Jussi for Jesse.

    • Redbird62

      I wouldn’t assume the Oilers won’t have a stud D. The start of Klefbom’s career is comparable to the start of Duncan Keith’s career. In his first two seasons playing for a bad hockey team, Keith played well but did not really break out until his 3rd season when he was already 24 (effectively the same age Kleblom will be this upcoming season. I can’t say Klefbom will definitely become an all-star defenseman but it is too early to say he won’t. He has the potential.

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I was going to say something similar; however, I do think Keith’s got a mind for the game that few D or forwards possess. His Conn Smythe playoff year (and all his Cup winning playoffs) is a thing of beauty. If Klef gets close to that level he’ll be a stud.

  • Comparisons of teams and players from different generations of the game is the stuff of fools, or in new language…. The Athletic.
    I am not surprised you take a measured approach Robin, your elevator makes it all the way to the top floor, “all damn day”. It’s refreshing.

  • the reasonable person

    I’m gonna go ahead and make the unpopular prediction that Nuge will stay and Maroon will go. I know you all have a boner for Maroon but come on, Nuge is better and we have plenty of toughness. Trash me and watch this happen. I like Maroon a lot too and wish both could stay.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Given the singular metric of age, you may be right. I love Maroon but what’s the likelihood of a player at his age improving–McDavid factor notwithstanding.

      • AJ88

        Too many variables in play to say what happens to Nuge. I know you have a strong dislike for Nuge, but I agree with a previous post suggesting the possibility of Maroon may be playing his last year with the Oilers, what is he going to ask for next year? And as much as you do not like Nuge the coaching staff must have a different opinion than you as he still played the toughest minutes in 16/17. Are you totally confident Drai and/or McD will take on that role this year? I still think you may see McD and Drai start the year on the same line with Nuge eventually getting more opportunity to get his offense moving in the right direction. Just too many signings need to happen in the next 2 years and who knows they may ask a few to give up their NMC. Your comment “boy playing in a mans league” just doesn’t add up compared to the way he is played by the coaching staff, period.

      • Dwayne Roloson 35

        I wouldn’t say he’s regressed every year. He’s been given more defensive responsibility each year. His first year, he had the most O-zone starts and least D-zone starts of his career. This year he had the least O-zone and Most d-zone starts of his career.

        The 13-14,14-15 and 15-16 season were all at a 50pt+ pace.
        MClellan said he wants Nuge to take more risks to create offence.Time will tell but i think he’s going to rebound this upcoming year.

  • Abagofpucks

    are we gonna be a dynasty team like the 80s probably not but this team and management has great potential for a real chance at the cup every year for the next 8 to 9 yrs who knows what are up and comming playes will be like but the 10 yrs of hell is over that i know for chizzel lol

    • madjam

      At least you recognize the decade of futility finally seems over , and club climbs up the standings expectations also soar as they should . Some are slow to adjust for fear they might jinx club , etc. To those superstitious types they prefer to avoid things like talk of dynasties , mentioning shutout before game over , keeping expectations low instead of high , etc.. Silly superstitions many have . Enjoy the team and hope for them to reach yours and their lofty expectations – makes things far more enjoyable . Embarrassing that Flames and it’s Nation and writers appear to have higher expectations of their team than a lot of ON have .

    • HOCKEY83

      You have a different type of 10 year hell to come as far as being able to sign a barely decent supporting staff to your 2 stars. Talbot is going to want at least 7 mil per. what do you have 11 UFA and RFA next season and 60 mil already set for just 13 players. good luck with that.

      Sure you’ll may make it to the playoffs every year for a while but McDavid has proven he’s easily shut down down. Where as Malkin, Crosby, Kessel and now Guentzel there is no shutting those guys down. That’s what makes a player the best in the league. It was no different in Calgary…Gaudreau played like a scared little boy in the playoffs. Doesn’t matter how many points a player gets in the regular season. Claiming McDavid is now the best player in the league is just so Moronic an such a fanboy statement with no intelligent thought at all.

      • DerpSolo

        Lol, nice comments bud. But flames have only one goal this season: win at least one playoff game. Or when mike smith and hamonic get injured they’ll focus on the draft…oh wait, they traded away all their picks for the injury prone bums. McJesus and the boys will have fun drinking out of lord Stanley’s mug, flames will have fun watching them do it from their couches

  • The Whispererer

    Madjam
    I would like to share your optimism, but would need to know where you are finding your numbers.
    CapFriendly shows the Oilers with 13 players under contract for 2018-19 for a total of ~$60.8 million. This does not include any potential bonus ( which might be as high as $2.5 for Pulujaarvi and ??? for Yammamoto or other ELCs ) ). Even if you assume a 5% escalator and no bonuses, that would leave ~$18 million to re-sign or replace 3 UFAs ( Maroon, Letestu, Jokinen ) and re-sign or replace 7 RFAs ( Nurse, Benning, Strome, Slepyshev, Caggiula, Pakarinen, Brossoit ). How do you manage that while paying RNH $6 million ?
    By the way, if you under spend the Cap one year you don’t get to carry the difference forward to next year.

    • madjam

      I used cap friendly as well . As an example (using your figures/estimation) , I believe if you doubled salary of all the resigns it adds up to about 18.5 M of current roster. Now , we know/should agree that is very unlikely Chia will be doubling all those salaries to be honest . In a nutshell , we should be able to sign them all and even add another 6M contract to team for the next year . I am fully aware you can not carry the difference forward . Deadline and LTIR might also be of benefit . I look at the resigns and realistically see not much more than 10M being added .

        • madjam

          Toronto more likely to be in cap hell that year than we will be , trying to fit in Marner , Nylander and Matthews . Conversely , why does Arizona remain so far under the cap – 16M ? I do not for see a problem in next two years unless we have another elite player break thru that could command a big salary . Jesse is only one I think that could reach that status , but he’ll probably need to have a Draisaitl type year this year to do it . Serious , the sky is not falling in Oilerland .

          • HOCKEY83

            madjam…You have absolutely no sense of what will happen next season. If you wish to retain Talbot you need to resign him next season and not when he’s UFA. He’s going to want at the very least 7mil per and The Oilers will need to take that into account when trying to sign the upcoming ufa’s and rfa’s. Regarding the 11 UFA and RFA players you have wanting to get paid even if they were all just making 1 mil each that equals 22 mil if you double it not 18 but some are making more. Nurse, Benning, Strome, Letestu and Maroon…These guys will be looking for very big raises. You are living in a dream world if you don’t think you will have a constantly shifting roster of sub par or not quite matured players to support your two 21 million stars.

  • Pouzar99

    I couldn’t agree more, Robin. There is plenty of reason to be excited about the new young Oilers, but they are not a match for the Oilers of the 80s, arguably the greatest NHL club ever. I believe this team has an excellent chance of winning a Cup in the next few years, maybe more, but I don’t want to hear the ‘D’ word. That word should never be used until a group of players has at least won multiple Cups.

    • madjam

      Love talk about dynasties , as we are presently in one now with the Penguins . Dynasty means different things to different people , does not always have to be 4- 5 years in a row , often it is more 4-5 Cups in a decade . It starts with one and Oilers getting closer .

  • madjam

    There is a lot for Oiler fans to be excited about with Katz and Chia locking up elite talent and guaranteeing Oiler fans will probably be watching the best entertainment value wise in the NHL for several years to come , along with a nice new arena to house it in . Time to soar and get out of the doldrums of past decade .

    • HOCKEY83

      Are you people seriously that clueless to how incredibly close the parody of teams is the west is. Are you all such outrageous fan boys that you can’t seriously see the other great teams in the west. This is what you all appear to sound like”I’m an oiler fan duuuuhhhhh no one else has a good hockey team”. I love great hockey and am a Flames fan…have always been but love to watch all the great teams in the west including Edmonton but these teams are so close that if any of these teams have one serious injury to any of their stars this season that could potentially cost them a playoff spot. It will easily be a 10 team fight very close in points all the way down to the last wild card spot. Jesus grab some hockey intelligence.

      • madjam

        Time for Oiler fans to smell the roses , not meander in your dandelion patch of over blown hockey intelligence . Go tell it to your other Flame fans . How relevant and entertaining Flames might be this year is very questionable .

      • Reg Dunlop

        Flames are the only parody of a NHL team I can think of. And really, why would a flamer fan spend a summer day on Oilernation trying to convince everybody that McDavid is comparable to Gaudreau? Get a girlfriend. Or a boyfriend. Or a pet sheep.

      • DerpSolo

        I believe what hockey83 is suffering from is McEnvy. It’s ok tho. When McDavid retires with 5 cups with the Oilers, and stops raping the flames, it’ll get better

  • foureyedmike

    Better to be capped out on Drai and McDavid than on Penner and Horcoff.

    You have to pay to keep elite players.

    Edmonton’s done a better job lately of finding complementary, reasonably-priced players like Kassian, Maroon, etc. to round out the lineup.