I was not living in Edmonton during the Stanley Cup glory years and like many who weren’t I was very jealous of Oiler fans. I mean, those Oilers were really too good! Unfair almost. Even after moving here and listening to people at work and other locals comment on how fun it was back in the day, it didn’t make it easier to swallow. The wild 2006 playoffs is also used as a point of excitement. While I appreciate the enthusiasm and listen intently, it’s with a little resentment if I’m being honest and you will understand why moving forward.
Growing up in Southern Ontario, I like most was forced to hear all things Leafs and yet, I didn’t grow up to be too crazy. Well, maybe so, but I’ll get to that later. As a kid, I was into the OHL and my hometown Kingston Canadiens (now Frontenacs) and watched a lot of Jr hockey. It was here in 81-82, I first became a fan of a ferocious, hard-hitting Dman playing out of the Memorial Cup Champ Kitchener Rangers. When the Washington Capitals selected Scott Stevens in the 1982 draft I instantly became a Caps fan. Now imagine being a fan of a club that has only ever gotten past the second Rd twice in its history and you’ll appreciate why I have some resentment towards the very successful history of playoff success of your local Oilers.
Stevens made the team as an 18-year-old and scoring in his first game, on his first shot, and going on to help the Caps make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history that season. Though I still remember the day the Caps let him sign with St. Louis as a RFA as my personal Gretzky leaving moment, I had made my loyal allegiance and stayed with my Caps to this date. Hence, why I just may be crazy after all. And while the Caps never went as long as the Oilers did in franchise history for consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, I would take Edmonton’s history including the playoff drought all day long!
Moving Edmonton in fall of ’08 allowed me to escape Leaf nation and while forever will I cheer for the Capitals, I have learned to appreciate living here in Oiler nation. At least now that they finally have actual proper management in place that is. Even as a non-invested fan living in the city it was painful watching this organization for awhile. For those in Oiler nation, I do have a side of me who certainly wants good times for the Oilers again. It’s way more fun in this city now than it has been last 10 years! And I enjoy the new rink just the same. While as a Caps fan I certainly wasn’t feeling sorry for the playoff drought (aren’t there enough Cups to go around in this city), I appreciated the frustration of where the team was and I relish the opportunity to see this team closeup as they stand today new arena and all. They are fun to watch. Much like my Caps.
Connor McDavid is entertaining. Period. I feel lucky to be able to watch 97 and his career up close. And as a non-biased Caps fan going to Rogers Place to watch live hockey is all about 97 for me. I feel blessed to be able to have closely watched Alex Ovechkin his whole career and know not to take for granted what legit superstars do during the regular season or otherwise. Yes, I know, I know the Great 8 hasn’t gotten it done in the playoffs. I urge you to first look at his career stats for playoffs and then we can at least debate the merits of that. But for any to suggest at all, in the context of entertainment, that Ovie isn’t worth the price of a ticket they can’t appreciate the value of being entertained. I would argue Nicklas Backstrom is just as entertaining but I digress. He’s McDavid without the speed.
Now watching Connor McDavid is an entertaining event. Like grab some popcorn and keep things away from you in case you jump out of your seat entertaining. Watching him play hockey is like nothing I’ve seen before when you factor in his seemingly nonstoppable speed game. As a Caps fan, I remember Mike Gartner being fast but this is different.
Because the Caps had drafted Andre Burakovsky in ’13, I watched a lot of Erie Otters games during 13-14 which gave me the now great opportunity to follow along McDavid’s jr career as well. Like anyone who watched him in Erie, it was easy to see whoever drafted him was getting a generational superstar. At times it wasn’t even competitive for him it seemed.
Whether he is making Drew Doughty laugh mid-game trying to defend him or having opposing forecheckers need to adjust positionally a style to how they play against the Oilers because of him, it’s easy to succeed he is the best player to watch in the game right now for my liking.
Scary thing is he will only get better. Whether it be taking faceoffs or shooting more (I find myself thinking he should shoot more when watching – only to discover he leads the team in shots, go figure) he will know doubt improve his deficiencies while enhancing even further his existing strengths. Wait till his shooting percentage inevitably rises a bit! His ability to improve the play of those around him is not questioned (can I say Yakupov here or is that too sensitive still?) and what is less talked about is the way that defending NHL coaches and teams have to change the way they defend breakouts vs Edmonton now. 97 has created a situation where his matchups are opening space for teammates (ask Patrick Maroon) and it helps the Oilers D with more options while escaping trouble. Anyone debating the Oilers have not looked like a different team on the breakout this year? One could argue the Oilers system is just to get the puck to 97, but we don’t want to over simplify things do we. That’s no fun! It’s why I don’t agree with the notion that Cam Talbot, albeit playing outstanding, is the Oilers MVP this year. Would anyone want to take out McDavid for a 15 game stretch or Talbot? For me it’s easy.
Recalling that when I first became more closely tied to Oiler nation when moving here in fall of ’08, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner were the young future centre pieces of the club. How things have evolved. A number 1 draft pick Taylor Hall has come and gone and the entire organization has morphed into a team with a new plan from top to bottom. As a Caps fan, I appreciate playing a Chiarelli led team and always respected playing the Bruins and their style.
The Oilers next best positional right-hand guy to 97 is the perfect compliment to the wonderkid. While decent players Gagner and Cogliano are, they aren’t McDavid and the now ever enticing Leon Draisaitl. It seems funny to even relate the two pairs. Leon, while struggling a few games, is a star in his own right. With his size and skill set, he has the tools to be a dominating forward. He’ll be the centre on his own line in the future Oiler attack creating an awesome 1-2 punch down the middle in Northern Alberta for years.
So yes it looks like the Oilers have finally turned the corner as a perennial playoff team. And with that being the expectation for this organization now for the next few seasons, it’s will shift to becoming more about building a case to being a Stanley Cup contender. With 97 anything is possible and so becoming a legit Stanley Cup favourite may not be far off. Could the Oilers win this year? Why not. Should they? Probably not. However, at this point in the today’s NHL playoffs it’s open season. Everyone in this city only need to refer to ’06 for that to be validated.
I for one will be subjecting myself to the craziness that is anther Capitals run at the Cup. Who knows, maybe the Oilers can make it easier for me to travel to see the Caps in the Stanley Cup final if they play here at Rogers Place!! So good luck to the Oilers and welcome back to the dance.
… Man, is it fun to watch 97 play. Oh, did I say that already….