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 Oilers’ return to the playoffs.
At times, it felt like it would never happen again. But we got there. After 10 long years on the outside looking in, the Oilers returned to the playoffs.
After having a full year to assess the team, Peter Chiarelli really made his stamp on the Oilers. Shortly after the 2016 NHL draft, Chiarelli sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey in the infamous One For One trade. In return, he got Adam Larsson, who was supposed to give the team a much-needed, rugged, top-pairing defenceman. The trade received a lot of criticism as most felt Chiarelli undersold an elite talent in Hall and that Larsson wasn’t the game-changing defenceman the team needed. Regardless, that was apparently the price you had to pay.
In trading Hall away, the torch of the saviour was officially passed on. Back in 2010, the Oilers tanked and selected Hall with their first-ever top draft pick. He was supposed to be the saviour, the one to turn things around for the struggling franchise, and be the one who lifted the Stanley Cup with the “C” on his jersey. When McDavid was drafted, he became that guy, and Chiarelli ultimately deemed the former saviour expendable.
A few days later, Chiarelli made another big move, inking Milan Lucic to a seven-year deal worth $42 million in total. Chiarelli was familiar with Lucic as he played a unique role on the Boston Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup team as an old-school power forward who could score goals and intimidate opponents. The Oilers had drafted coke machines like Mitch Moroz and Cam Abney in the early 2010s with the intention of finding the next Lucic, and none of them worked out, so Chiarelli just out went and got the old Lucic instead.
So in just a matter of a few days, Chiarelli made the Oilers a completely different team. Though it came at quite the cost, the rugged defenceman and intimidating forward the team that had notoriously been so easy to play against throughout the rebuild were finally here. The new-look team also got to make their debut at the brand-new Rogers Arena in downtown Edmonton against their provincial rivals from Calgary, and they didn’t disappoint…
The Oilers christened their new home with a 7-4 spanking of the Flames in front of an ecstatic crowd. McDavid, in his first game as captain, buried two goals, Lucic got into a fight with Flames’ tough guy Deryk Engelland, and Adam Larsson logged 21:20 steady minutes en route to the win. Things seemed different this time around.
The Oilers would go on to win seven of their first eight games, but, as per tradition, that was quickly met with a come-down-to-earth slide. The team dropped eight of ten in November, bringing the Oilers to .500 after a month of play. But, this time, the team rallied and avoided another prolonged losing streak. It was in the second half of the season the Oilers would really solidify themselves as a playoff team, as they won nine of 13 in January to pull them up the standings.
Though it had been clear for a while the Oilers were legit this season, the moment they clinched their playoff spot in late March was something special…
Just how long had it been since the Oilers last played a playoff game? A really, really long time. After all of that waiting, the fans were certainly ready for it.
The Oilers would go on to beat the San Jose Sharks in six games (it was 2006 all over again!) in the first round thanks in part to David Desharnais unexpectedly becoming a playoff overtime hero. In the second round, the Oilers got edged out by a pesky Anaheim Ducks team who had some help from the referees who didn’t want to upset Corey Perry. I won’t go into any more detail about what happened in that series. I think it still stings too much.
The loss in the second round was absolutely gut-wrenching, but it was hard not to enjoy the noticeable buzz around the city that summer knowing that the Decade of Darkness was over and the Oilers were back.