March is just around the corner, the smell of thawing dog crap is in the air and the Edmonton Oilers are headed out on the road with 58 games in the books and rolling toward their first playoff spot since 2006. Craig MacTavish was head coach, Jason Smith was captain and Connor McDavid was nine years old. Remember when?
Where were you and what where you doing when the Oilers took their surprise roller-coaster ride to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes, breaking hearts far and wide with a 3-1 loss? Remember watching it all unfold? A first-round upset over Detroit that was nothing short of stunning. Coming back from a 2-0 games deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks in six. Slapping aside the Anaheim Ducks in five. Mercy, it’s been awhile.
My youngest son, Sam, wasn’t even born on this date 11 years ago. Hell, he wasn’t even born when I flew out of Raleigh the day after the Oilers lost Game 7 trying to digest what I’d seen. Now, he’s in Grade 5. Sam tells me Sean Mendes, whoever that is, is cool. He helps the old man figure out how his Smartphone works. There’s been a lot of water pass under the bridge for everybody since then. Twitter hadn’t even launched. There was no Oilersnation.
Yet, here we are today, Feb. 17, 2017. Through 58 games, the Oilers are 31-19-8 for 70 points after beating the Philadelphia Flyers 6-3 on Thursday. McDavid is all grown up and the Oilers will have to fall off the face of the hockey world in their remaining 24 games not to end a stretch of 10 frustrating years out of the playoffs. It’s going to be a lot of fun the rest of the way – if we can remember how.
THAT WAS THEN
For the record, the Oilers of 2005-06 were 30-20-8 for 68 points after 58 games on this date. They’d finish 41-28-13 for 95 points, the same total as seventh-place Colorado, but with two fewer wins, leaving them eighth, three points clear of the Vancouver Canucks. The Oilers weren’t exactly a juggernaut, even with the additions of Chris Pronger and Michael Peca in the off-season and the mid-season acquisitions of Dick Tarnstrom and Jaroslav Spacek.
Even when GM Kevin Lowe acquired Sergei Samsonov from the Boston Bruins for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second-round pick that became Milan Lucic on March 9, after plucking stopper Dwayne Roloson from Minnesota for a first-round pick that summer and a third-round pick in 2007 the day before, I didn’t see the Cup run coming. That’s what made it so much fun and had people dancing in the streets with every win. The rest we know.
I’d argue there’s more anticipation about what this edition of the team is capable of from this point on than there was on this date 11 years ago. Are McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Patty Maroon, Jordan Eberle and Lucic better now than Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smyth were then? What about the blue line group? Does Cam Talbot have a Roloson-like spring in him?
Despite what he’s said, is GM Peter Chiarelli looking at making the kind of significant trade deadline moves Lowe made 11 years ago, moves that might push this group over the top? Is the mix right? Is there a way to capture that lightning in a bottle a second time? Is it a year or even two too early to reasonably expect that? Remember what it felt like as everything unfolded back when? Now, as then, I don’t have the answers.
What I do know, with 24 games to play, another March trade deadline looming and Sam already almost as tall as his mom, is it’s a lot more fun to contemplate the possibilities, far-fetched as they might seem, and buckle up in anticipation than it is to watch this team death march to the finish line on its knees yet again. It’s about damn time.
WHILE I’M AT IT
Fans and media alike, as they tend to do, had all kinds of things to say about Brandon Manning of the Flyers heading into last night’s game after all the fuss over what had been said and done between him and McDavid. Manning, of course, ended up scrapping with Maroon.
Whether you believe this kind of payback makes any real difference or not – I believe it sends a message to not only the other team but your own – Manning looks like a stand-up guy to me. Good on him for answering the bell and good on Maroon for ringing it. Now, as Maroon said after the game, let’s move on.
- McDavid responded to Sidney Crosby’s three-point game with three points of his own Thursday and he now sits with 19-47-66, two points up on Crosby. Draisaitl hits the road with 22-29-51, good for 16th in NHL scoring.
- Back to the 2005-06 team, Hemsky led the Oilers with 19-55-77 in regular season, followed by Horcoff with 22-51-73, Stoll with 22-46-68 and Smyth with 36-60-66.
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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