Prediction: The kind of hideous franchise melt down we are now witnessing in Calgary — and have also experienced in Edmonton in the past — will not hammer this edition of the Oilers.
I say this even as veteran hockey writer Stan Fischler predicts McDavid will not stick around in Edmonton. “If Johnny Hockey can leave the sweet city of Calgary and scorn Fort Knox kind of Flames riches, what does that tell you? It tells you that sooner or later Connor McDavid is going to do a sayonara to the Oilers… Do you think that King Connor is going to want to forever drop anchor in excruciating cold Edmonton? Wayne Gretzky stopped California dreaming and beat it to L.A. then to St. Lou. And, finally allowed, ‘I always wanted to play in New York.’ And so he did. And so will Connor McDavid.”
I don’t see the connection between Gaudreau leaving and McDavid leaving. The two situations are not similar. Nor is McDavid’s situation similar to the one Gretzky faced.
A number of crucial factors of the Flames and of the old Edmonton Oilers imploding are different and don’t apply to the current Oilers team.
- Why did the Gretzky era Oilers break up? Mainly due to one big reason, the financial woes of owner Peter Pocklington that pushed him to sell off Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in cash/player deals. Not only does current Oilers owner Daryl Katz not have the same financial woes as Pocklington (though Katz has other woes at this moment), it’s no longer possible to sell players in the NHL. Even if he wanted (and he doesn’t) Katz could not sell McDavid for $100 million or Draisaitl for $70 million.
- The current Oilers owner is all-in, with far more financial resources than previous Edmonton owners. Katz isn’t Pocklington, nor is he the large Edmonton Investors Group contingent, admirable as they were but still frugal when it came to things like paying for an Oilers-exclusive AHL farm team. Katz has spent to the cap every single season it’s been needed. He has also spent tens of millions of extra dollars to help his Oilers. He bought the Oilers their own American Hockey League affiliate team and he’s often paid for expensive AHL players to stock that team with solid veteran leaders and scorers. He’s dumped weaker NHLers, such Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne and Ben Scrivens, on expensive contracts in the AHLers. He has agreed on numerous trades where the Oilers have moved out front-loaded contracts, where the Oilers have already paid a high percentage of the contract, sometimes for back-ended contracts (In 2019, the Cult’s Bruce McCurdy estimated the Oilers have lost about $20 million in five such major transactions). He’s been been willing to sign off on expensive buy-outs of players, including on the deals for Andrej Sekera, Benoit Pouliot, Lauri Korpikoski, and Eric Gryba. He’s also paid heavily for two or three more managers in hockey operations, as well as paying for fired coaches and managers, from Pat Quinn and Todd McLellan to Peter Chiarelli and Dave Tippett.
- For a team of superstar players to stay together, they’re going to have to win a Stanley Cup together, I will suggest. We’re seeing that right now in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin all deciding to play out their careers together. This Oilers team has yet to win a Stanley Cup and there will be considerable difficulty in beating the mighty Avs of Colorado, but with the core group of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnall Nurse now supported by the Five Million Dollar Men cohort of Evander Kane, Jack Campbell, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, and with a strong drafting and farm system built by Chiarelli, Keith Gretzky and Ken Holland now supplying a steady stream of young and talented players, Edmonton is a decent bet to win a Stanley Cup at least once in the next three years. That time frame is crucial because three years is how long that Draisaitl has left on his contract, with McDavid signed up for four more years. This kind of team success is something that the Calgary Flames might have aspired to achieve, but their collective confidence in such a glorious fate had to take a major hit with the thumping the Oilers gave them in the Battle of Alberta this year.
- Of course, Gretzky’s Oilers won plenty together and that team did not stick together. Chris Pronger’s Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup finals and he still wanted out. But Pronger wanted out for personal reasons, namely his American wife Lauren wanting to move back to the United States. And Gretzky might well have stayed in Edmonton if not for Pocklington’s push to move him out. A similar pull as worked on Pronger’s wife appears to be largely responsible for American players Johnny Gaudreau and Matt Tkachuk wanting out of Calgary, just as a reverse pull took John Tavares back to Toronto. Where will such gravity pull McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse, the three close friends and hockey stars at the core of the Edmonton group? One hopes that the possibility of winning Stanley Cups together will be the main gravitational force at work. Draisaitl isn’t from Canada but it hardly seems likely he’d be drawn to play in home country Germany or any much lesser European league. It’s worth noting that as a teen Draisaitl chose to play in Prince Albert of the Western Hockey league so he’s not exactly averse to the pure hockey experience of western Canada. This area has been his home for a decade. Might he want to try his hand in New York or Los Angeles? Possibly. And that would be his right as a player. But if he wants to win with McDavid and Nurse — who is now signed up for eight more years — it’s highly unlikely that happens anywhere but in Edmonton.
- To many American and eastern Canadian writers, the notion that McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse might well choose Edmonton long-term seems peculiar, even bizarre. But if you’re looking for a cold, northern industrial city that has succeeded in building world-beating teams, Edmonton did so in the 1980s (when players admittedly had less choice about where they would play). Then there’s Manchester, England, which has has done it for many decades in world football, both at Manchester United and Manchester City. Manchester is to Barcelona, Paris and Rome what Edmonton is to Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. If Manchester can find a way to build magnificent teams, why not Edmonton?
- One factor that certainly won’t hurt Edmonton’s chances is that the Oil’s place fo work is absolutely top drawer. In 2019, a poll of NHL players by ESPN saw them vote the visitors’ dressing room at Edmonton’s downtown arena to be the best in the league. If that dressing room is special, it’s not quite as fine as the team’s home quarters. Edmonton has a hockey home as fantastic as any other city in the NHL, and far superior to anything found at the Calgary Saddle-dump, which looks to be that team’s home for many years to come given the incompetence of Calgary city council.
Of course, no one can say for sure that this Oilers team will win a Cup or two and be able to negotiate new deals for Draisaitl and McDavid. But I’m going to say there’s a 80 per cent likelihood that will happen.
Do those odds sound reasonable to you? What would you place them at?
At the Cult
Edmonton Journal Headline News
Sign up to receive daily headline news from the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You may unsubscribe any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300