Imagine going to the movies to watch that blockbuster you’ve been waiting for years to see. It’s a reboot of your most beloved franchise flick. It has your favourite stars playing roles they were destined to be in. It’s everything you’ve hoped for, the director and producers got it right. There are heroes, villains, action, and suspense. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat, knowing the movie is getting close to the end, you know something big is about to happen when BAM! The screen goes blank, the lights come on, and ushers come in to start cleaning. For Edmonton Oilers fans, they don’t have to imagine this terrible night out, it is happening – right now.
Before I go any further, we all know the NHL did what it had to do when it paused the season. This article is not to question that decision, but instead to imagine where Oil Country would be right now in a non-coronavirus world, while looking ahead to when (or if) the season resumes.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
When the credits roll on this movie, there would be a montage of players taking a lap with hockey’s Holy Grail raised above their heads. Yes, the Oilers were writing a script that could’ve brought the sixth Stanley Cup to Edmonton. I know many of you just scoffed, and you think this just turned into a fairytale movie. Fair enough. But we all know anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Oilers have firepower, grit, and an electrifying home-ice advantage.
Like so many great movies, the Oilers have two leading men. Move over De Niro and Pacino, or DiCaprio and Pitt, we’ve got Driasaitl and McDavid lighting up the silver screen in this flick. These two were putting together incredible performances before the screen went dark.
Related: Edmonton Oilers’ 2003-04 Season
Leon Driasaitl has tallied 110 points in 71 games – including 43 goals. With 11 games to go, Driasaitl was on pace to add nearly 20 more points, and the stats say 6.67 goals. Yes, the math says he would’ve been oh-so-close to a second straight 50-goal season. When this movie was paused, Driasaitl was going to win the Art Ross and was undoubtedly making a case to win the Hart and the Ted Lindsay Trophies as well.
Connor McDavid wasn’t even supposed to be in this movie. In the last game of the 2018-19 season, McDavid was on the ice after slamming into the net at 40 kilometres per hour, knee first. “I thought my leg was in two pieces,” he later would say, describing the injury. He was scheduled for surgery, and he would’ve missed the season. However, he turned this movie into a superhero film with his rehabilitation that put him back on the ice for the season-opener. With 97 points in 64 games, McDavid has put together a season worthy of the Masterson, Hart, and Lindsay Trophies.
No story is complete without an evil, wicked, and easy-to-hate villain. This script has one, it is red and breathes fire. It has a history with the heroes of the story that is long and full of drama. The Calgary Flames have long been the rival of the Oilers, but the 2019-20 season had reignited the contention and raised it to a whole new level. This movie was headed to an epic climax that would have these two meet again in the regular season and destined to meet in the playoffs.
This script includes several characters who have backstories that make you cheer for them. Some were throwaways and left behind, while others were just getting started.
Mike Smith, at 38 years old, was picked up as a free agent after the villains of our story, the Flames, did not re-sign him. I’ve personally loved this guy since I covered him playing for the Sudbury Wolves. He spent the first couple of seasons bouncing around in the minors, but never gave up. He even earned himself a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Smith is forever cemented in the Battle of Alberta history books due to a rare goalie fight. He is big, strong, and steady in the crease. However, he is in the twilight of his career and who knows how many more chances he will get to make a Stanley Cup run.
James Neal was left for dead by the villain Flames. After a 25-goal season in Vegas in 2017-18, Calgary signed him to a big deal, but he only put up 7 goals in 63 games.
He scored seven goals in his first four games with Edmonton. He had taken Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, and his experience would’ve been vital in the final scenes of the Oilers movie.
Zack Kassian has become the heart and soul of the Oilers. His comeback story has been well-documented, and every game it was like he was showing the Oilers they made the right choice giving him a second chance. He was a changed man since his battle with substance abuse. Big 44 had wrecking ball shifts, sweet-handed scoring shifts, and chirping shifts. But every time he was on the ice, Kassian was observed by the opposition and cheered by the fans. Kassian was the key figure in the battle against the villain and to watch him in the playoffs again, well, that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.
These are just a few of the epic storylines that paused when the season did on March 12. We hoped it was just a glitch. Someone in the theatre would hit the projector and the screen would light back up. Now we’ve been sent home without a refund, but ready to return.
Hopefully, it’s just a cliffhanger and we pick up the story where we left off.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.