Off the Top of My Head
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
After rolling to the top of the Pacific Division with 111 points last season, it looked like the wheels might come right off the Calgary Flames this summer when Johnny Gaudreau bolted for Columbus as a UFA and Matthew Tkachuk made it known he’d had enough of Cowtown.
As you’d expect, the possibility of seeing the Flames bandwagon upside down and on fire in the ditch didn’t generate any sympathy here in Edmonton, where fans just watched the Oilers steamroll Darryl Sutter’s team in the second round of playoffs on the way to the Western Conference final with the Colorado Avalanche.
Well, not so fast on the trainwreck. Enter GM Brad Treliving. Instead of curling up in the fetal position wondering what went wrong, he responded to the July 13 departure of Gaudreau by trading Tkachuk to Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar July 22. Treliving then inked Huberdeau to an eight-year ticket worth $84 million.
Not done there, Treliving sent forward Sean Monahan and a conditional 2025 first-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for future considerations, which freed up enough cap space to sign UFA Nazem Kadri to a seven-year deal worth $49 million. When the smoke cleared, the Flames gave up some years in the deals, but that’s still some pretty impressive work by Treliving.
May 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) shake hands after the game in game five of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The vast majority of the fanbase in Edmonton wasn’t going to lose any sleep if Sutter and his Flames hit the skids with the losses of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but as somebody without that kind of skin in the game, I cheer for storylines. One of the best I can think of is having a Battle of Alberta that actually matters and a matchup in the playoffs. We got that this season. I’ll happily take more of the same.
“You deal with it,” Treliving told Eric Francis of Sportsnet. “It’s not just me, it’s our staff. You dig in and get to work and say, ‘how do we make our team better?’ The last month has probably been a bit more dramatic with the people and players involved. You can curl up and play woe is me or dust yourself off and get after it, and that’s what we did.”
From where I sit, Treliving and Oilers counterpart Ken Holland have had great off-seasons so far. I thought Holland did a helluva job getting UFA Evander Kane re-signed for four years on a value AAV – I figured there was zero chance he’d be back. Landing Jack Campbell to share the crease with Stuart Skinner with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen gone looks like a smart bet.
I see both teams back on top of the Pacific Division next season, with the Oilers coming out ahead this time. The schedule sucks this season as the teams face each other just three times (they don’t meet after December 27), but I can put up with that as long as both outfits are good and go at each other with some gusto. It looks like that’s what we’re going to get.
WHILE I’M AT IT
Former Oiler Ladi Smid offered his take on Twitter Friday about what he’d seen at the World Junior Championship after Canada’s semi-final win over Czechia, and I thought he summed it up pretty well. “Just again the atmosphere was just brutal considering this is the semifinals. But I know this is not the fans’ fault. It’s just sad and disappointing. Really sucks for the players…”
Yes, it does. Participants played in front of empty seats for most of the tournament – average attendance for 20 preliminary games was 1,319 – and the reasons why had nothing to do with them. The issues we know: staging the tournament in August instead of December-January, scheduling Team Canada games in the afternoon during the week, outrageous ticket prices and the stench of the Hockey Canada sexual assault scandals hanging over the event. Sponsorship waned. Fans stayed away.
Hockey Canada needs a major rebuild to address issues that have plagued the game far too long. Writer Gare Joyce put it this way in an item written by Kevin McGran: “(Hockey Canada’s) priority was protecting the business and protecting the brand.
“They were worried about a stain on their logo, now that logo is a stain. They’re going to have to change all of that and rebrand. They were doing everything they could to protect the brand, and now in doing that they’ve killed the brand.”
What a beautiful and unforgettable outpouring of love for Ben Stelter Friday. From fans lining the street outside of Rogers Place as his funeral procession passed to the gathering of family, friends and loved ones for his celebration of life, what a tribute it was to the special little boy who loved the Oilers, and especially Connor McDavid, long before we met him.
Condolences to Ben’s mom and dad, Lea and Mike, Dylan and Emmy, and the rest of the Stelter family. God bless you, little one.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
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