A Messy, Pointless Battle

Today is Hockey Day in Canada, the once yearly day when all six Canadian NHL teams play other Canadian teams, and when the CBC, the NHL broadcaster in Canada, shows all of the games and makes a big deal of it. It’s a made-for-TV event, but one that works reasonably well. Unfortunately, this game also represents an all-time low in a once-great rivalry.

Calgary, my hometown, and Edmonton are about three hours apart. Like so many cities that close together they have very different feels, and they don’t get along very well. Hockey is important to both cities, so the rivalry between the Oilers and the Flames has been heated and very intense ever since the two teams joined the league.

The rivalry was at it’s best from about 1983 until 1993. Edmonton was the best team in the league for a good portion of that time, winning five Stanley Cups. They won five of seven between 1984 and 1990. Both times they failed to win they were eliminated by Calgary. In 1986 the upstart Flames upset the Oilers in one of the great series in league history. Calgary went on to host the Olympics in 1988 and win their own Cup in 1989 when they again upset Edmonton, but for many sports fans in the city the best moment ever was beating Edmonton in 1986 – even though they went on to lose to Montreal in the finals.

I could go on, but the point is this – this was once a great, great rivalry – every game mattered, and mos were instant classics. What we will see on Saturday, though, couldn’t possibly be any further away from what we used to see in the heyday of the rivalry. Both teams, to be frank, suck, and there is nothing to make us think that this game will be even remotely watchable. The Oilers have lost 12 straight games, and only have one win in their last 20 games. Calgary has dropped nine straight, and 11 of their last 12. Neither team can score with any regularity, the players of both teams are unsettled, the coaches are wildly unpopular in their cities, and the management is making desperate tweaks to their teams in an attempt to save their jobs. From a fan perspective in both cities things are bleak. In Calgary, the GM is the coach’s brother, so there isn’t likely to be a change made, and the GM is very committed maintain the core of this team no matter how many times they show how lousy they are. In Edmonton, no change will be made either because the team spent a fortune bringing in a high profile head coach – Pat Quinn – and a high profile assistant – Tom Renney – at the start of the season. Bleak. The only good news for these teams in this incredibly awful game is that one of them has to win.

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