The decade of darkness in Edmonton is feeling more and more like a long-forgotten memory. Ever since Connor McDavid arrived on the scene via the draft lottery in 2015, hope in Oil Country has grown exponentially. It’s kind of nice to see the tables turn after years of jerseys being thrown on the ice, opposing fans openly mocking the Edmonton Oilers, and even pundits acknowledging that Edmonton was a place where no players wanted to be traded to.
It’s now at the point where Edmonton has legitimately become a preferred destination for players from around the league. On the June 2 segment of Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer, respected hockey insider Brian Lawton mentioned that many of the players he speaks with often mention Edmonton as a destination of choice. The biggest reasons? Well, there are two: 1) To play with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and other great players 2) To have a chance to win a championship.
Oilers Are Inching Closer to a Stanley Cup
It’s been a quiet but interesting offseason for the Oilers after losing in the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Vegas Golden Knights (A team I believe will win the Stanley Cup over the Florida Panthers). The talk on local radio shows in Edmonton such as Lowetide and Jamieson on TSN 1260 and Oilers Now on 630 CHED has been about what moves Oilers general manager Ken Holland needs to make to get the Oilers to the promised land. It’s been mentioned that Holland has had his hands tied with the salary cap since he arrived in Edmonton four years ago. But he did pull off the best trade of the 2022-23 season when he brought in Mattias Ekholm from Nashville at the trade deadline. Coincidentally, Ekholm has expressed a real interest in Edmonton and is happy to be here. And it seems there are more players like him out there.
Edmonton Has A Great Hockey Culture
If I was an NHL player, I’d probably want to live in Tampa in January and go golfing rather than scrape ice off of my windshield on a minus-30-degree Celsius morning. But there’s something about winning a championship in Canada and more specifically in Edmonton that is truly special. Just ask Wayne Gretzky. In a co-interview with McDavid for GQ Sports in 2020, he mentioned that “In Edmonton, I could look across the stands and see the same people every night…I think the biggest difference about winning in Edmonton compared to bigger cities is that when you win…they (the fans) are as excited about it as you are.”
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When McDavid asked Gretzky if Edmonton was his favourite place to play in his career, he said, “Yes, cause when you win, it’s the best, right?” That’s really what it’s all about for players with a drive to win the Stanley Cup, and right now with McDavid, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Ekholm, and more the Oilers keep knocking on the door. Eventually, they’re going to break it down and win a Stanley Cup. Players around the league and their agents are recognizing this.
Oilers’ Window for Winning is Now
The window for winning in Edmonton is right now. McDavid and Draisaitl are still under contract for at least two more years, and they are in the prime of their careers. The key is going to be balancing a tight salary cap with a mix of affordable veterans and prospects who are trending up. Not an easy task for Holland and the Oilers’ management group. They need to be committed to team defense right from the get-go. Head coach Jay Woodcroft and his staff need to bolster the Oilers’ 5-on-5 play. And young guys such as Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway need to seize the day and step up.
Somehow another “Kid Line” like the one featuring Joe Murphy, Martin Gelinas, and Adam Graves from the 1990 Stanley Cup Oilers needs to emerge. Maybe there are players out there who are just waiting for their agents to make a deal with the Oilers once free agency season begins in July.
2023-24 NHL Season Can’t Come Soon Enough
There was a time when almost no one wanted to come to Edmonton. Now it looks like the tide has turned. It seems like September and the opening of training camp is light years away. But the start of the 2023-24 season can’t come soon enough for some Oilers fans who believe the team is closer than it’s been in decades to winning it all. It’ll be interesting to see the free agents or players willing to accept a trade to Edmonton who believe the same thing. There are more of them out there than Oilers fans have seen in decades.