Between the National Hockey League expansion draft, entry draft, trades and transactions, and the rumor mill running ‘round the clock, it was easy to overlook the 2021-22 schedule released on Thursday (July 22).
With 2021-22 being the NHL’s return to normal schedule length and divisional alignment and the first season with the expansion Seattle Kraken in the Pacific Division, there is a lot to be excited about and much to watch for. Here’s a look at some of the highlights of the Edmonton Oilers’ 82-game regular-season schedule.
It’s Been a Long Time
The Oilers open the season hosting the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place on Oct. 13, in what will be their first regular-season home game with fans in attendance since a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on March 11, 2020, a span of exactly 83 weeks or 581 days.
That night, while the Jets and Oilers were playing, the National Basketball Association had suspended its season because of a player’s positive COVID-19 test. Word spread quickly, and as the game progressed at Rogers Place, there was a growing sense that this would be the last NHL action anyone would see for a while. No one would have ever guessed it would be quite so long.
Edmonton’s last 65 games – comprising exhibition, regular season, and postseason – have all come in front of empty stands, whether home or away. Fans were not permitted for any Canadian teams’ home games in the abbreviated 2020-21 season.
The actual first opportunity fans will have to cheer on the Oilers in person at Rogers Place will come during Edmonton’s four home preseason games: Sept. 28 vs. Seattle, Oct. 2 vs. Winnipeg, Oct. 4 vs. the Calgary Flames, and Oct. 7 vs. the Vancouver Canucks.
Let’s Get Kraken
The Kraken visit the Oilers on Nov. 1 in what will be the first regular-season game between the two franchises, and also the return to Rogers Place of former Oilers alternate captain Adam Larsson, who signed as a free agent with Seattle on Wednesday (July 21) after five seasons in Edmonton.
The new Pacific Division rivals also meet twice in Seattle, Dec. 3 and 18, at Climate Pledge Arena. Edmonton’s first trip to Washington state will come during the preseason, Oct. 1, when they take on the Kraken at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.
The Bolts Are Back
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning drop by Rogers Place on March 12 for their first regular-season game in Edmonton since Dec. 22, 2018. The Bolts, of course, have skated on Rogers Place ice much more recently than that: they competed inside the Edmonton playoff bubble last summer, defeating the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Final and beating the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.
Other notable visitors to the Alberta capital include Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 1 and Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on March 9.
They Meet Again
After playing all 56 of their 2020-21 regular-season games against the other six Canadian teams, the Oilers will see a lot less of their Northern neighbors in 2021-22.
Edmonton plays two games each (one home, one away) against the Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers meet Winnipeg three times and will take on the Flames and Canucks four times apiece.
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The Battle of Alberta is set for Oct. 16 and Jan. 22 in Edmonton and Dec. 27 and March 26 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
With Rogers Place hosting the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, the Oilers will clear out of town for a whopping eight-game road trip spanning both Christmas and New Year’s, beginning with a visit to the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 22 and concluding in Toronto on Jan. 5.
Seven of Edmonton’s eight games prior to the extended road trip will be at Rogers Place, and upon returning, the Oilers play seven of their next eight games at home.
While participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics has not yet been decided, the NHL schedule includes a break from Feb. 7 to 22 that would allow its players to compete in Beijing.
In a statement, the NHL said talks are ongoing between the NHLPA and the International Ice Hockey Federation. The league said if players don’t participate in the Beijing Games, the schedule will be revised.
“The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association will retain full authority to decide not to participate should COVID-19 conditions worsen or otherwise pose a threat to the health and safety of NHL Players, or for any other reason that may warrant such decision.”NHL Statement
As it stands, the schedule features an unprecedented span of more than six weeks without the Oilers playing at Rogers Place. After hosting the Nashville Predators on Jan. 26, the Oilers have a three-game road trip before the Olympic break. They then open the post-Olympic break schedule with five straight games away from home before finally returning to host the Habs on March 5 in what will be the first of six straight contests at Rogers Place.
So while the 2021-22 NHL season represents a return to the norm, Edmonton’s schedule is one of the wildest in Oilers history. But all that really matters to Edmonton fans is that they will have 41 opportunities to cheer on Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the rest of their favorites, which is 41 more than they had last season.