The 11-season drought has mercifully come to an end for hockey fans in the Edmonton City. Their beloved Oilers have qualified for the NHL postseason, for the first time since the 2005-2006 season.
After defeating the Los Angeles Kings by a 2-1 margin on Tuesday evening, the Oilers picked up their 42nd win of the 2016-2017 season. That marks their highest win total since the 1987-1988 season when Craig MacTavish was still an NHL player, and Hall of Famer Mark Messier was the team captain.
Back in 2006, not many people would have believed the idea that the Oilers would endure more than a decade’s worth of time before returning back to the postseason. The team had made the playoffs in seven of their past nine seasons, culminating in a Stanley Cup appearance. They lost that series to the Carolina Hurricanes by a 3-1 margin. Head coach Craig MacTavish led the underdog 8th-seeded Oilers to upsets over Western Conference powers such as the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks, en route to said appearance.
But in the decade-plus in between, MacTavish was fired, and the team cycled through five more head coaches between 2008 and 2015. Just eight years after appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Oilers went through a three-season stretch where they lost 131 games in three years. They finished with the third-lowest point total among all teams in the NHL after the 2015 season.
It was at that point that Peter Chiarelli, the new General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, was brought in to rebuild the team back into a club that this city could be proud of. As fate would have it, Edmonton City also happened to win the NHL Draft lottery that offseason, giving them the #1 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and the rights to select prized prospect Connor McDavid. Touted as a generational prospect along the lines of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby, McDavid represented the new cornerstone upon which the Oilers would be rebuilt.
In only his second season, it appears that McDavid may very well prove everyone who believed he was a franchise player correct. After only turning 20 years old just over two months ago, McDavid already leads the NHL with 88 points and was named the youngest team captain in NHL history. Just a few days after his 20th birthday this past January, McDavid tallied his 100th career point, becoming the fourth-fastest active player to reach 100 points.
Of course, Chiarelli’s postseason-bound team comprises much more than just McDavid. Center Leon Draisaitl, the team’s top draft pick in 2014, built on his breakout effort in 2015-2016 by hitting the 70-point mark this season. McDavid and Draisaitl join Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins as the only teammates to both rank among the top 10 in scoring in the NHL. In addition, Milan Lucic a key free agent acquisition by Chiarelli this past offseason, adds a combination of scoring, grit, and experience that will help this team as the regular season comes to an end, and the postseason begins.
With six games left to go in the regular season, the Oilers are right in the middle of the dogfight for positioning in the Western Conference playoffs. They’re currently in fifth place with 93 points, but only three points behind the Minnesota Wild, who currently sit in second place in the conference. At the same time, the Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators, and St. Louis Blues are all within two points of the of the Oilers as well.
If they fall short of another Stanley Cup appearance this year, the fans of Edmonton City will still get to enjoy two things: that there will finally be postseason hockey in Rogers Place, and with the young nucleus of talent Edmonton City team has, there will likely be much more to come.