Last night was one of those evenings that fans of the Edmonton Oilers will never forget. Be you a fan from the days of the inaugural Alberta Oilers squad in the WHA, the Stanley Cup winning sides of the dynasty years or the most recent vintage of the Orange and Blue, there was something for everyone during yesterday’s “Farewell to Rexall Place” celebration. Heck, they even managed to close out the old barn on a winning note courtesy a 6-2 spanking of the Vancouver Canucks.
"Last Minute of Play at Rexall Place" Standing ovation. "Let's Go Oilers" at playoff volume. Oilers win 6-2.
— Terry Jones (@byterryjones) April 7, 2016
It seemed almost fitting to see the duo of Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid register three-point nights in final NHL game to be played in the building that housed the greatest offensive team in hockey history. Despite their recent struggles, this franchise still looks to be headed in the right direction but yesterday was not about tomorrow. Instead, it was about reflecting back on the players who have suited up for this organization over past four decades and giving them the opportunity to say thanks to the great hockey fans across Oilers Nation.
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It was certainly a special evening for those of us who were fortunate enough to be in attendance but my guess is it was just as special for those watching on the tube. While the quintet of Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky were the star attractions, as were the plethora of former tough guys in attendance and fan-favourite Ryan Smyth, it was awfully neat to watch so many players of yesteryear be introduced and make their way to their spot surrounding the Oilers logo at centre ice. It truly was a magical moment.
An Evening To Remember For Oilers Fan
Not surprisingly, there were many a great Oiler who were not part of the festivities, with scheduling conflicts likely playing the biggest part in most of those cases, but the absence of one individual in particular stood out. Of course, I am referring to none other than Craig MacTavish. For a guy who currently holds the role of Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations with club and played nine seasons with the organization, was a member of three Cup-winning sides, coached for another nine seasons (eight as head coach and one as an assistant) and spent an additional two years as general manager, it really was a shame that he was not part of what we were lucky enough to witness last night.
There is no question part of the reason the organization continues to wallow in the bottom of the NHL standings year-after-year falls at the feet of both Kevin Lowe and MacTavish. However, it is my opinion, the venom surrounding both of these men in this market is what played the biggest part in him being a no-show. Yes, the organization can go on about both he and Kelly Buchberger being absent due to their scouting assignment at the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida but that doesn’t hold water with me.
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With that said, we can be sure this was a decision that was made by one individual and that was Craig MacTavish. Don’t kid yourselves, not being part of what we saw unfold at Rexall Place is something he will, and probably already does, regret but last night was not about him. While the fear may have been his presence could have somehow put a damper on the proceedings, it was his notable absence that wound up accomplishing just that. Too bad because my guess is the vast majority of this fan base would have loved the opportunity to say thanks for all the good he has done for this organization over the years and not simply focus on his recent missteps.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.