June 17th, 2006. Why is that date significant? Well the fact is that most Oiler fans know that date very well. That was the day that game 6 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final took place. The Oilers flat out curb stomped the Carolina Hurricanes 4-0 to tie the final at 3 games a piece. What followed for the Oilers and there fans was 9 seasons of absolute dog shit.
I’m sorry I couldn’t come up with a better term than dog shit, but that’s what it’s been. The misery of losing a game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. Chris Pronger, just 10 months after signing a 5 year contract to play in Edmonton and just a week after nearly leading the Oilers to the Stanley Cup demands a trade.
A lot of guys left Edmonton via free agency after that season, but none of them were as bad as Pronger…or the guy who was dealt 8 months later. Ryan Smyth, one of the most popular Oilers of the post Gretzky era was dealt to the New York Islanders. The centerpiece of the return for Smyth was a kid named Ryan O’Marra who at the time looked like a can’t miss prospect. He missed. In fact he never came close.
Incompetent management might not even come close to describing how bad this franchise was run. Kevin Lowe would tell everyone how things were about to change and a blockbuster trade was just around the corner, or else a huge free agent signing was coming on July 1st. Nothing like overselling and under delivering.
Then Daryl Katz bought the team. Finally, it looked as though the dark days were about to end. Steve Tambellini was brought in as the new GM, Kevin Lowe was President of hockey ops, things looked up. Who would have guessed that day things would get MUCH worse. But they did.
After just missing the playoffs in 2009, they went whale hunting again. Marian Hossa and Jaromir Jagr had turned them down the year before, but this time it was through a trade and the target was disgruntled Ottawa Senator Danny Heatley. Only problem was that Heatley had a no trade clause, and after it had been reported that he would be ok with going to Edmonton, he told the Senators no after they worked out a trade with the Oilers. Management then proceeded to literally beg him. They even went as far as to send Heatley a DVD on the city of Edmonton, like the whole thing hadn’t been humiliating enough for Oiler fans.
The 2010 season went as badly as chasing Heatley went. Injury after injury after injury that crushed any hope of competing for a playoff spot after a 6-2 start. Management finally admitted that they had been going about things all wrong and that a complete rebuild was needed. They heavily invested into developing their draft picks and were going to take the draft a lot more seriously. This was exactly what Oiler fans had been clamouring for.
Management has stayed true to their word. But the problem with that is they have no clue of what players value is around the league. So from the outside looking in, it appears that they’re terrified to make a trade and won’t pony up. Tambellini is shown the door near the end of the 2013 season after failing to make a splash at the 2013 deadline with the Oilers actually in playoff contention.
Enter old boy clubber Craig MacTavish. MacTavish comes in and basically says Tambellini didn’t have the balls to make a big trade and uttered those infamous words: “bold moves”. So we are back to overselling and under delivering.
Dallas Eakins is brought in as head coach and after all the shit the fan base got put through, perhaps the most humiliating and darkest days in the franchise history was about to take place. I personally wanted to give Eakins every chance, and it wasn’t all his fault, and I never forgot that Dallas, the Rangers, and the Canucks all wanted to hire the guy in the summer of 2013. But it became clear after he was let go that he was an unbelievable disaster. Stories leaked out about him taking away things like the players ping pong table in the dressing room, and many players started to perform either as many had expected them to, or back to the level they had been at.
The Todd Nelson coached Oilers of 2015 had some character. They played for each other and they played for their head coach. They brought this every night they stepped on the ice. The organization, as f***ed up as it was, didn’t look to tank while other organizations (perfectly within their rights) did so.
Karma. As I say in one of the other pieces today, the fans really deserved this, and the team to an extent did as well by playing hard and not looking to accumulate better odds. Does management deserve this after being clearly incompetent for so long? No, and neither does the owner. They have been a flat out disgrace and that won’t be lost on me in the weeks and months to come.
But after 9 horrific years, this die hard fan base that won’t quit buying season tickets and won’t quit watching the games (I think of a couple buddies of mine like Jeff Patterson and Nahreman Issa who support the team literally no matter what), karma finally kicked in and gave them something (in this case someone) to really get excited about.
The team caught a break. Very likely the first real break since Cory Stillman fanned on this pass….
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