When I say it out loud, I understand how counterintuitive it may sound. Aren’t die-hard Calgary Flames fans supposed to hate the Edmonton Oilers with the fire of a thousand suns? Is the rejuvenated Battle of Alberta not the perfect excuse to heap excessive criticism on our Pacific Division rivals to the north? I’ve heard that the first words spoken by babies born in Calgary are often “Oilers Suck!” So, what’s the issue with the Flames faithful wanting nothing but pain and misfortune to befall the Oilers?
Once a Rivalry for the Ages
Here’s the deal. I’ve lived in Calgary since 1993, which not only makes me incredibly old, but it also means I missed the heyday of this once incredible rivalry. Between 1983 and 1990, either the Flames or the Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and both teams lifted the Cup during that era. That’s how competitive the Battle of Alberta once was. That’s how important it was to the province.
The fact that the Oilers had the greatest hockey player to ever play the game on their roster, and won an impressive five Stanley Cups to Calgary’s decidedly less impressive one goes a long way in explaining why many Flames fans still hold a grudge. I get it. Edmonton was the one impediment preventing the Flames from enjoying their own dynasty. Yet, I‘m here to tell you that rooting for the Oilers to fail is the best way to kill the Battle of Alberta.
The Oilers Were So Bad for So Long
The Flames and Oilers haven’t met in the playoffs since 1991 and while both teams have had their ups and downs since then, it’s safe to say that the Oilers have easily been the worst of the two clubs. Both teams pulled off miracle Cup runs in 2004 and 2006, but Calgary has dominated since then, winning most of their regular-season series.
Not only were Flames fans crowing about beating the Oilers all the time, but they were also making fun of how bad Edmonton had to be to keep receiving the first-overall pick (and many other really high ones.) What was the result of poking fun at the once-revered “City of Champions?” The Battle of Alberta became irrelevant. Hating on the Oilers wasn’t even sporting anymore.
A New Rivalry Emerged
If you spent time at the Scotiabank Saddledome during those down years, you would have noticed how heated the rivalry between the Flames and Vancouver Canucks became.
The feud was fueled by a surreal line brawl in 2014 just two seconds into the game, plus some very engaging playoff matchups in 2004 and 2015. This hammers home my point that it’s hard to generate bad blood when one side of a rivalry dominates the other, especially when the games don’t matter, which is what happened between the Oilers and Flames. For years, we asked when would the Battle of Alberta matter again?
The Battle of Alberta is Back With a Vengeance
Matthew Tkachuk’s multi-game beef with Zack Kassian in 2019-20 made the rivalry between the Flames and Oilers must-see TV again. Fans and players from around the league tuned in to see what would happen next.
But wait, there’s more! David Rittich’s victorious post-shootout stick-toss celebration made the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl hot under the collar; Sean Monahan dropped the gloves for the very first time against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and even an incredibly lopsided goalie fight between Mike Smith and Cam Talbot has all but ensured the intensity of this rivalry will continue to ramp up when the NHL resumes in the New Year.
All of these theatrics aside, the Flames and the Oilers simply can’t take this feud to the next level without both of these teams actually being… GOOD. Thankfully, Calgary and Edmonton are currently pretty good teams, and that makes a huge difference. If both of these franchises are not playoff teams, there is only so far they can take this rejuvenated Battle of Alberta. Right now, the hatred between the two clubs is palpable, but I bet you dollars to donuts that hate would grow exponentially outside of the regular season. To truly see some fireworks, this grudge match needs a big stage, and it doesn’t get bigger than the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Rooting for the Oilers to Suck Won’t Keep This Rivalry Going Strong
Let me be 100% clear, I’m not asking Flames fans to cheer for the Oilers, but I think they should get down on their knees and thank the hockey gods that the Oilers don’t suck anymore. When the Oilers are terrible, the Battle of Alberta fizzles and we won’t be able to see it materialize in the playoffs. That’s where it matters most and where we could see a return to the epic battles of the 1980s and early 1990s.
How much fun would it be to see the Flames faceoff against the Oilers (who just so happen to have the best player in the world on their roster) and exact some long-awaited revenge for all of those playoff losses at the hands of Gretzky and company?
Here’s hoping we find out exactly how much fun that would be sooner than later. Nobody wants to wait another three decades before we see this classic rivalry return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I don’t think even the most ardent Oiler-haters want that.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and Facebook.