The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs will meet for the first time this season on Dec. 14 at Rogers Place. If you’ve ever stepped foot in Edmonton’s arena when the Maple Leafs are in town, you’ll notice a sea of blue and white jerseys roaming the hallways. In the stands, it’s a 50/50 vocal battle between fans of each team with “let’s go Oilers” versus “go Leafs go” chants.
However, on the ice, there’s been a rivalry that’s been brewing between the two Canadian clubs. Since both the Oilers and Maple Leafs were fortunate to have selected players first-overall in back-to-back years — Connor McDavid (2015) and Auston Matthews (2016) — there’s been a connection between the two teams that has developed.
Several headlines stir the pot— from McDavid being an Ontarian and the assumption that he wants to play for his favourite childhood team, to the debate that Matthews should be in consideration for “the best player in the world” title with the Oilers captain. Nonetheless, the budding rivalry between two great Canadian franchises is great for hockey and the growth of the sport. Let’s take look at three reasons why their feud will continue to grow this season.
Zach Hyman Playing Against His Former Team
In what can be described as salary cap mismanagement by the Maple Leafs, the team didn’t have enough cap space to re-sign Zach Hyman. On July 28, 2021, the Oilers signed him to a seven-year $38 million contract. Hockey analyst, Steve Dangle described him in his departure as a “smart, no quit-warrior” and one his former organization adored.
So far, he’s proving to be exactly what the Oilers needed in their top six. He’s a hard worker, who is dogged on the puck, and seems to bring the sandpaper that’s the perfect complement to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In 26 games, he’s scored 11 goals, added eight assists, and he’s on pace for 60 points— which would be the highest point total of his career.
Hyman is versatile in the lineup who often plays with McDavid on the top line, and he’s also been a warrior on the special teams. No. 18 is cerebral in his role on the power play, by retrieving loose pucks and being hard to handle in front of the net. Moreover, he and Nugent-Hopkins often team up as a pair on the Oilers’ penalty-killing unit, which ranks ninth in the league. They’ve proven to be a threat to score short-handed, like his goal on Oct. 21 against the Arizona Coyotes.
Signing with the NHL’s northernmost team now adds to the already heightened rivalry, as he’ll want to prove to the Maple Leafs that they should’ve made the money work, in order to keep him. In the nine games he played against the Oilers last season, he was a thorn in their side, having scored four goals, and adding three helpers. He’ll be depended on to be as troublesome against his former team — the Maple Leafs — who see a player that was once a friend on the ice, now turned into a foe. Hyman left the ice last Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes with an apparent injury. If he’s unable to play against his former club on Dec. 14, he’ll have another shot in the new year on Jan. 5
The Memory of the Oilers Being Swept in 3 Game Mini-Series
Because the Oilers and Maple Leafs are in separate conferences, they normally face each other twice a year in a normal season. Last season both clubs played in the North Division and unfortunately, fans weren’t able to attend games live and in person due to COVID-19. However, they were treated to nine games between the two teams, which had many glued to their televisions.
Yet, the result didn’t bode well for the Oilers. In the nine games, they dropped six to the Maple Leafs while being outscored 31-19. Notably, from Feb. 27 – March 3, the two clubs played a three-game mini-series that turned into an abysmal outcome for the orange and blue. Edmonton lost all three games and were outscored 13-1 in that span. It was the first time in franchise history that they lost three regular-season games to the same team, and at the same time, McDavid was held pointless in each outing.
The memories of the North Division will live on with the core players of each team, but for the Oilers, what’s most significant is the battering they took from the Maple Leafs. It’s a lasting memory that will fuel the fire between the two franchises. Alternate captain, Draisaitl, said about losing three games in a row to Toronto, that it’s something “you can’t forget about” (from “No Push-Back as Oilers Dismantled by Leafs For Third Straight Game,” Edmonton Sun, 3/4/21).
McDavid, Draisaitl, Matthews & Marner Are Entering Their Prime Years
Despite being over 3400 kilometers away from one another, both teams have certain similarities. According to a recent article published by Forbes, both franchises rank top 10 in most valuable teams, at the same time, both haven’t been able to deliver in terms of on-ice success. But one of the biggest similarities is the plethora of raw talent and skill up and down the lineup.
When the two teams meet, they bring the best out of each other. From McDavid, Draisaitl, Matthews and Mitch Marner, there’s an excess of high draft picks that want to outdo the other and show that they’re the top dog in the league. The nine games they played last season may have been lopsided, but there wasn’t a lack of skilled plays and the “did you just see that?” moments.
In a game on Hockey Night in Canada on Jan 30, Edmonton had lost to Toronto just two nights prior. Known for his flair for big game moments, McDavid scored one of the best goals of his career. He danced through four Maple Leaf players on the power play and scored on a partial breakaway— with a defender’s stick lodged in his skate. Not to be outdone, Matthews responded with his own highlight-reel goal only two minutes later, when he shot one upstairs on Mikko Koskinen from a sharp angle, in an almost “anything you can do, I can do” moment.
The two clubs combined for “must-see” television last season, and with the superb talent between the two rosters, they’ll undoubtedly look to surpass their performances. With both team’s core players set to enter their prime years, and the window to win a Stanley Cup closes ever so slightly, the fiery competitiveness should only increase.
The pair of Canadian teams have a date with one another on Dec. 14 at Rogers Place, but it’s worth noting that they’re trending in opposite directions. The Maple Leafs are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, while the Oilers have dropped five straight since their hot start to the season. A game with talented rivals might be what Edmonton needs to rise to the occasion, to help them get off their winless streak.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.