I remember waking up the morning of June 19, 2006 in Raleigh, North Carolina certain the Edmonton Oilers would waltz past the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final to complete a balls-out joyride and claim the most unlikely championship in franchise history.
Having barely snuck into the playoffs before upsetting the Detroit Red Wings in six games, taking out the San Jose Sharks in six and the Anaheim Ducks in five, we flew into Carolina on the heels of a 4-0 drubbing of the Hurricanes in Game 6 despite the loss of starting goaltender Dwayne Roloson. The Oilers, in my mind, would seal the deal in Game 7.
Well, we all know how that turned out. The rollercoaster ride ended with a thud in a 3-1 loss to the Hurricanes, putting an end to the last stand-and-shout playoff run we’ve seen, save for going two rounds deep three years ago. This is not written to pick at that scab yet again, but rather to think back to what a wonderful run 2006 was and contemplate how anything — at least just about anything — is possible if you can just get into the post-season. That got lost in the immediate disappointment of the defeat.
I thought about that today with the St. Louis Blues trying to put the finishing touches on an even more remarkable Stanley Cup run against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 tonight. Dead last, rock bottom, in NHL standings the first week of January, the Blues are one win away from sipping champagne from the Cup for the first time in franchise history. I’m not as sure they’ll win as I was that the Oilers would pull it off in 2006, but, win or lose, just getting this far has already provided a helluva storyline.
HERE AND NOW
I’m not saying just getting into the playoffs is the bar any organization should set when it comes to building a team, but being a long shot is better than having no shot when the post-season begins. Smart money bets on the favourites, on the teams that are consistently at the top of the standings. They don’t always sip from the Cup — San Jose was a pretty good example of that for years and years — but I’d rather be a front-runner. Still, teams like the 2006 Oilers and this edition of the Blues are compelling.
That brings me back to the Oilers of today. You’d have to be optimistic in the extreme to think new POHO and GM Ken Holland is going to somehow address all the shortcomings and flaws Peter Chiarelli left him in one off-season. He’s already spoken to that. This organization isn’t going to turn on a dime no matter what Holland does this summer, no matter what new coach Dave Tippett does this season with the players he’s provided.
Fans would love it, of course, and they damn sure deserve it after having just one playoff appearance to cheer about in the last 13 seasons, but it simply isn’t realistic to expect the Oilers to go from also-ran to powerhouse, a Cup favourite, in one off-season. There’s not a good enough supporting cast for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl up front. The defence needs work. The goaltending is at best a question mark. All this we know.
I wonder, though, if this off-season might allow Holland to address enough needs to push the Oilers back into the playoff mix next season. Not a finished product, not a powerhouse, but a team capable of landing a top-eight spot in the conference. Again, aiming for that can’t be seen as a final destination, but it is one of those necessary steps along the way to getting where you want to go, and it’s a helluva lot of fun. Is that possible?
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’m guessing the fans in St. Louis will be yelling their faces off tonight just like Oilers fans did in 2006, and they should. The Blues are the latest Cinderella story in the NHL and a terrific one at that with the result of Game 7 still to come. They, like Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky from that 2006 team that broke your hearts, aren’t supposed to be here.
I’ll take making the playoffs and playing for the Stanley Cup as a long shot and losing every day of the week no matter how it sucks at the time over having no shot at all, which is what fans here have had to endure for 12 of the last 13 seasons. Get to work, Ken. Just get in. That’s a start.
THE 2019 DRAFT PARTY
- Where? At the Canadian Brewhouse (Lewis Estates – 1320 Webber Greens Dr NW)
- When? Friday, June 21st, doors open at 4:30 pm
- How much? $10 per ticket
- What do you get? Free pizza card from the Brewhouse, $10 Oodle Noodle promo card, Nation stickers, chance to win a signed RNH jersey provided by ATB Financial and draw prizes.
- Where can I buy? Get your tickets here before they sell out!
- Why? Because we love to party
Tickets are available here and will be on sale straight through until the date of the party. Thanks so much for the support and we look forward to seeing you there.