Despite the 2015-16 season not playing out in the fashion they had hoped, fans of the Edmonton Oilers have always had next week’s home-ice finale circled on their calendars. As we all know, Wednesday’s tilt with the Vancouver Canucks will be the last NHL game to be played at Rexall Place and not surprisingly, it is a pretty big deal in this neck of the woods. While there will be a ton of alumni on hand for the festivities, it is a group which will likely not include one of the best players to have ever worn an Oilers uniform in Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger.
Hope Chris Pronger is at #FarewellRexallPlace . He was responsible for the last good memories I have of the arena. Oilers '06
— NateInVegas (@NateInVegas) April 2, 2016
Before diving into this, I have come to clean. Were it not for the tweet from my pal @NateInVegas, which I happened to see while watching last night’s Boston Red Sox vs Toronto Blue Jays exhibition game in the former stomping grounds of my beloved Montreal Expos, the idea of Pronger not being part of the “Farewell to Rexall Place” celebration was something that did not even cross my mind. As a life-long Oilers fan, that upcoming game against the Canucks does hold special meaning…as the memories that came out of this old building were seemingly endless.
The Northlands Coliseum Years
In my defence, I had the privilege of watching Wayne Gretzky and company do their thing throughout the 1980’s and because of it, Edmonton’s magical run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final is not the first thing that comes to mind when I reflect back on the greatest moments in Oilers history. You have to understand, to this very day, whenever I watch highlights from those early days or hear one of the legendary calls from Rod Phillips or simply see something that triggers a memory from that time in my head…I still have chills run throughout my body as if I were still a little kid.
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For me, that is the era my mind automatically reverts back to when I think of the building that was Northlands Coliseum all those years ago. With that said, when it comes to recent vintage, nothing comes to close to what that group of players accomplished during the 200o6 post-season and the Dryden, Ontario native was the straw that stirred the drink. So after reading the aforementioned tweet, it got me thinking about whether or not this organization even made the attempt to reach out to Pronger and see if he would consider returning for the event.
Lowe did a masterful job in 2005-2006 acquiring Pronger, Peca, Roloson, Spacek and others. The #Oilers were 1 game away from Cup number 6.
— Paul Almeida (@AzorcanGlobal) December 12, 2015
While the complete list of attendees has yet to be revealed, my guess is no one within the organization even gave the notion a thought…which really is unfortunate. Despite his departure not being the smoothest of exits, the fact of the matter is good old No. 44 is the best player this franchise has had since Mark Messier left Edmonton following the 1990-91 season. His performance during the latter part of the 2005-06 campaign and throughout that year’s playoff is arguably as fine an all-around showing as we have seen from a blueliner in ages.
Pronger Was Amazing In 2006 Cup Run
From start to finish, Pronger put that team on his back and helped carry them into Game 7 of the finals. While it was far from a one-man show, the former St. Louis Blues rearguard was the guy head coach Craig MacTavish could ill-afford to lose from his lineup. He did it all during that playoff run, leading the team in scoring with 21 points in 24 games, averaging just under 31 minutes of ice-time a night and playing in all situations. The former Hart Trophy winner teamed with Jason Smith to form the Oilers top pair on the backend and anchored both special teams.
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While his playoff showing fell short of reaching the historic showings No. 99 delivered on an almost annual basis, it was among the most impressive in franchise history. Considering this organization has won five of the seven Stanley Cup Finals they have taken part in and had six of their homegrown players find their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame, suggesting Pronger’s performance was among the best in club history is saying something. He may have only been an Oiler for one year but his impact cannot be denied.
Yes, his departure wasn’t pretty and it was handled poorly by all parties…the club, player, and fans. It was an ugly situation for all and this organization has been a mess ever since he left. Unfortunately, this is why we will likely not see Chris Pronger at the “Farewell to Rexall Place” extravaganza and it really is a shame. There is no guarantee the fans would swallow their pride and put the past behind them to give the guy the ovation he so richly deserves but my guess is the chance of that not happening would be next to none. Let’s just hope someone within the Edmonton Oilers organization thought this through and did the right thing…because it would make for fantastic theater.
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.