It’s a good thing the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen are meeting in the third round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. So they can show their NHL counterparts how it’s done.
These days, the only NHL news coming out of Alberta is bad bordering on monotonous. Calgary Flames lose, trade away their long-time captain along with their star defenceman. Try to trade their star goalie but he won’t leave town. Team officials promise to do everything possible to make Flames better moving forward.
Also, no playoff berth.
Meanwhile in Edmonton, the Oilers lose, fire their general manager. Team officials reshuffle their ranks and promise to do everything possible to make the Oilers better moving forward.
Also, no playoff berth.
Welcome to the mild, mild West, where the economy is good but the NHL season is shorter than expected. While the Flames were always a long shot to qualify for the playoffs, the Oilers had hoped to challenge with a late and daring push. Instead, it’s been a total collapse – five losses in a row, including one to Calgary - which led to Monday’s announcement that GM Steve Tambellini had been fired and replaced by former Oiler head coach, Craig MacTavish.
Right away, the skeptics screeched: “The Oilers are citing the need for changes then hiring MacTavish and another former team official, Scott Howson? Who’s next on the payroll – Jari Kurri and Sven Butenschon?”
MacTavish said all the right things – that the team needed more depth, more competitiveness - and acknowledged the proof was in the doing, not the gabbing. Still, it’s been seven years without a playoff appearance by the Oilers and, with all that young talent in Edmonton, that next step in their development needs to happen next season.
To that end, MacTavish promised to be bold and take some chances, maybe sign some free agents, because the thinking is they’ll be happy to come to Edmonton now, where a flush owner (Darryl Katz) and a new downtown arena project will make the Alberta capital an attractive destination spot.
As for the Flames, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, they’ve gone on record saying they’ll do anything they can to get better. Make some moves; maybe sign some free agents, because the next step in the team’s post-Jarome Iginla development needs to happen quickly, or else Calgary GM Jay Feaster will draw the Tambellini treatment.
Two teams, similar issues, similar rescue plans, too.
Being a hockey fan in Alberta once included watching Stanley Cup parades. Then it slipped to seeing the occasional Stanley Cup run. Now it’s about two non-playoff squads in a frantic race to rebuild. To borrow from Simon and Garfunkel: “Where have you gone Wayne Gretzky and Lanny McDonald? A province turns its lonely eyes to you.”
At least the Oil Kings and Hitmen are still playing and bound for head-to-head action.
Their series starts Thursday. It’ll be spirited and promising, something both the Oilers and Flames hope to be once again.