This was supposed to be a big season for the Edmonton Oilers. They had close to $25 million in cap space during the offseason, and somehow they find themselves 10 points back of their provincial rivals, the Calgary Flames, with 20 games to go in the regular season. How did this happen, Oilers fans? How did the Flames, a team that finished 17 points behind the Oilers last season, zoom past them so quickly this season?
I think this can be answered in two words: Brad Treliving. The Flames general manager brought back head coach Darryl Sutter midway through last season, and he has made some very smart moves in terms of trades and asset management so far this season.
In a little over a month, Treliving has brought in Tyler Toffol and goaltender Michael McNiven from the Montreal Canadiens and forward Calle Jarnkrok from the Seattle Kraken. Meanwhile, Ken Holland has brought in future considerations from the San Jose Sharks for goalie Alex Stalock. There’s still time for Holland to act before the March 21 trade deadline and pick up that steady starting goalie the franchise has desperately needed. However, from all accounts, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
Flames All-In to Win This Season
The 2021-22 season was going to be the time that the Oilers made the leap into the Stanley Cup contention. With all of the offseason cap space and with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the prime of their careers, this was supposed to be the Oilers’ year. Instead, the Flames are the real contenders in the province of Alberta.
Treliving and Sutter have made fast work of turning the Flames around from last season, and things are looking eerily similar to 2005 when the Flames made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Treliving has made the right moves at the right time with his club this season, while Sutter has his group believing. Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Markstrom have led the Flames’ resurgence this year. Gaudreau is currently in fourth place in the NHL points race and in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, while Markstrom is looking like a favourite for the Vezina Trophy.
The Oilers? Well, they’ve been on a roller coaster since November when they led the league in points. They struggled in December and early January, fired head coach Dave Tippett, fell out of the playoff picture in February, and are now back in third place in the Pacific Division. How the final stretch run will go is anybody’s guess. The only certainty for Oilers fans is that McDavid is currently playing some of his best hockey of the season, and this alone could help solidify a playoff spot for the Oilers.
An Oilers/Flames Playoff Matchup Would Be Great For Fans
The Oilers and Flames will battle for the final time in the regular season on March 26 on Hockey Night in Canada. It won’t have a significant effect on the Pacific Division standings, but it could be the prelude to the playoffs. You have to go back all the way to 1991 to find the last time the two Alberta teams met in the playoffs.
The Oilers finished 20 points behind the Flames in 1990-91 but managed to win their playoff series when Esa Tikkanen scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 7. Could history repeat itself? Possibly, but the Oilers have to make the postseason first. To do so, their goaltending will need to come through.
Holland Taking A Risky Gamble on His Goaltenders
In the two-plus seasons that Holland has been at the helm of the Oilers, he has been stubborn regarding his goaltenders. It’s reminiscent of Holland’s time with the Detroit Red Wings, where he felt that a solid defence could make up for goaltending that wasn’t as strong as other teams. Holland doesn’t have Nick Lidstrom on the back end in Edmonton like he did in Detroit, and it looks very clear that he has thrown his full support behind the tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.
Even if Smith or Koskinen got hot, could they beat a Flames team that has been on top of their game all season? I hope we get the chance to find out. It would be more than a new era of the Battle of Alberta. It would also be a test of the Oilers and Flames management teams to see whose philosophy is the best. Right now the Flames are looking like they’re clearly ahead on the ice and in management. But when the playoffs start, it’s a whole new season. You never know what will happen, and that’s what makes it great.
D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.