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
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.