Although Saturday night’s contest between Calgary and Edmonton is an exhibition and one of many games to be played against each other this year, it does mark the beginning of another season in the ongoing battle of Alberta hockey supremacy. The Flames have come out on top in each of the last seven seasons, finishing ahead of the Oilers who have been in a rebuilding period since their Stanley Cup run in 2006. The last time the Oilers finished the regular season with more points than the Flames came in the 2002-2003 season and although that is a long stretch of dominance, the Flames mediocrity over that period has more or less set themselves up to win the battle but ultimately lose the war. Edmonton’s failures during that time have turned into gold as they have accumulated an enormous wealth of young talent while the Flames continue to plug away with veteran players who in the case of Oli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay, come and go and then come back again.
A quick look at the two rosters and it is easy to see which direction the two clubs are headed. Calgary’s top guns, while no means ancient, are getting up in age and despite the fact that they continue to push for the playoffs, the word stale may be something that describes them best. The likes of Jokinen, Tanguay, Rene Bourque and yes even the franchises’ most important players over the past decade Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff continue to play well for the Flames but certainly do not strike anyone as a group of players that will be able to get the team over the hump in the near future.
The Oilers on the other hand are a cup contender in waiting. Their struggles have given them an embarrassment of riches with names like Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi and Nugent-Hopkins all below the age of 22 and all destined to reach superstar status in the NHL. There is even a wide distinction in the two club’s supporting casts. The Flames only regular player under the age of 25 a season ago was center Mikael Backlund while the Oilers had 11 regulars 25 and under and have a bevy of others pushing for a roster spot this year.
It is indeed a fine line to walk between young and old. You can choose to completely rebuild and endure hardships in the form of losing season after losing season with the hope that there will be greater things to come on the horizon. Or you can continue to press on as a playoff fringe team who may please the fan base from time to time but leaves them with no realistic of a championship. The Flames have chosen the latter and even though they may come out on top again in 2011-2012; it won’t be long before the tables are turned and the Oilers are the ones looking down at their Alberta neighbours in the standings.