Oilers, Flames Rivalry Renewed

For hockey fans of a certain vintage, the phrase “Battle of Alberta” jogs up glorious memories from the past. Unfortunately, it has been so long since both teams have been good at the same time, most fans have no idea at just how intense the rivalry between the organizations and their fan bases used to be. No question the game has changed quite a bit in the 25 years since this matchup meant something but it appears as though we are about to be treated to the modern-day version of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames going head-to-head when it matters most.

While the two sides have not faced off in a playoff series since their epic 1991 battle, last season marked the first time both the Oilers and Flames took part in the post-season at the same time since 2006.  In fact, the time prior the two provincial rivals were in the playoffs together dates all the way back to the aforementioned clash of more than a quarter of a century ago. Hard to fathom but here we are.

Both are coming off extremely successful and somewhat surprising seasons in 2016-17 and were ceremoniously bounced from the post-season by the Anaheim Ducks. Let’s not forget, the year prior Edmonton finished the 2015-16 campaign at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with 70 points and Calgary wasn’t far behind with mere 77 of their own.  Fast forward to the present day and these two franchises look as though they will be the teams to beat in the Pacific Division for the foreseeable future and it is about damn time.

Connor McDavid, Upper Deck, CIBC, Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Oilers Have Turned the Corner

Regardless of where teams geographically sit, being successful is an absolute must in order for a rivalry to form in North American sport and that is exactly where we are headed with the Battle of Alberta. With the Oilers coming off their first 100-point season since 1986-87 and Connor McDavid going nowhere for at least the next nine years, this team is all but guaranteed to be among the league’s most proficient franchises during that time frame.

With No. 97 in tow, Leon Draisaitl just starting to scratch the surface on what he might become and Jesse Puljujarvi still a baby, there is plenty to be excited about in the Alberta capital. Mix in a variety of contributions from veterans like Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the potential is obvious. Not too shabby and that doesn’t even take into account the newly acquired tandem of Jussi Jokinen and Ryan Strome or youngsters Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev.

Having the best player in the game certainly gives the team wearing Orange and Blue the upper hand going into most games but Calgary has put together a pretty darn impressive roster of their own…albeit in a different fashion. With the quartet of T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Travis Hamonic and Dougie Hamilton anchoring their backend, one would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of teams with a Top Four that rivals what the Flames will be throwing over the boards on a nightly basis next season.

Though they do not have a forward in the same stratosphere as McDavid on their roster and possibly no one as good as Draisaitl, it is a lineup that has quite a bit of talent up front. Be it the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, youngsters Sam Bennett and Matt Tkachuk or the extremely underrated but absurdly efficient trio of Mikael Backlund, Micheal Ferland and Michael Frolik, the Flames have loads of depth and potential of their own.

Mikael Backlund and Cam Talbot. (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Flames Have Forward Depth

On the flip side of the equation, with a healthy Andrej Sekera in the mix, Edmonton has a solid top three of their own along the blue line in Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and the Slovak rearguard. Add to that a pair of kids in Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse, and the Oilers might just have something brewing on defence. As far as goaltending goes, at this stage in their respective careers, Cam Talbot has the edge on Mike Smith but getting out of Arizona might give the 35-year old a new lease on life and see him rebound with Flames…at least in the short-term.

While no one should expect the Ducks or San Jose Sharks to go quietly into the night, the emergence of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers into perennial Western Conference powerhouses is certainly a blast from the past and a welcome sight for hockey fans everywhere. Now, all we need is for the two to square off in a seven-game series in April or May and we will be off to the races when it comes to writing the next chapter in the Battle of Alberta.

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