With the New Year right around the corner, we’ll wave goodbye to the 2010s, a decade filled with ups and (many, many) downs in Oil Country. Let’s jump in the time machine and go back through all of the things that defined this decade of Oilers hockey. Today, we have the farewell to the Northlands Coliseum.
Drafting Connor McDavid immediately flipped everything upside down for the Oilers.
Though they had three first overall draft picks in a row and multiple other high selections throughout the decade, nobody had the franchise-changing talent than McDavid had. Like Sidney Crosby a decade before him, he was a once-in-a-generation talent. As poorly as the Oil Change had gone the past five years, drafting McDavid completely wiped the slate clean and created a new sense of hope.
Shortly after winning the draft lottery, Craig MacTavish was promoted from his role as general manager to Vice President of Hockey Operations, making room for former Boston Bruins general manager and 2011 Stanley Cup winner Peter Chiarelli to become the team’s PoHO and GM. A month later, Todd McLellan, the long-time coach of the San Jose Sharks, was brought in to be the team’s head coach.
In just a month, the Oilers were completely flipped on their head. The best player to come along in a decade was their new franchise cornerstone, there was a new general manager with Stanley Cup pedigree, and a new coach with a wealth of experience. Just a year after that, they would also be playing in a new arena for the first time in franchise history. That new arena project that had caused so much animosity earlier in the decade was nearing completion and the 2015-16 season would be the final one played at the Northlands Coliseum.
That meant McDavid’s first season as an Oiler would coincide with the last one played at the stadium that housed all of the franchise’s accomplishments throughout time. It seemed fitting that the team do something special as the stars aligned and the old crossed with new.
But this is the Oilers we’re talking about. Nothing can be that simple. The team dropped their first four games of the season and sat with a 4-8-0 record at the end of October. Then, to add insult to injury, or, well, injury to injury, this happened…
While killing a penalty, McDavid picked up the puck at his own blueline and worked it up ice against some defenceman named Brandon Manning. McDavid deked him out and drove the puck wide, but Manning slammed him into the boards. The result was a broken collarbone that would keep the young prodigy out of the lineup until February.
By the time he came back, the Oilers were 20-26-5 and the playoffs were pretty much out of reach. Still, McDavid did what he could to make the season memorable. In his first game back from injury, McDavid returned with a bang, scoring what, to this day, might be the nicest goal of his career…
A few days later, he followed it up with a dominant five-point performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs, which was his true introduction as a superstar in the NHL…
When it was all said and done, McDavid finished his rookie year with an impressive 48 points in 45 games. Though he wasn’t able to carry the team to the playoffs in his rookie year, he helped the Oilers pound the Canucks in the final game ever played at Northlands, giving the stadium the send-off it deserved.
The farewell to the Northlands or SkyReach or Rexall or however you choose to remember it was certainly one of the most emotional moments of the decade. As frustrating as the team can be and as painful as they can be to watch sometimes, the Oilers bring this city a tremendous amount of joy, and pretty much all of us have fond memories at that rink.
Beyond all the Stanley Cups and the Hall of Famers and the legacy, Northlands is a place Oilers fans became, well, Oilers fans. Whether it was attending your first NHL game as a kid, slamming too many infamous Rexall Beers for the first time, going wild at a playoff game, or just a random, cold, winter night with friends, that stadium saw its fair share of good times.