This blog has taken a lot of crap over the years for being a very "negative" place at times. I would argue that "critical" is a more appropriate description of the attitude of some of our staff, but for much of the last nine years, those two things have often meant the same thing.
That's why I'm actually quite pleased (and, to be honest, a little shocked) to be writing this article today...
On April 15, 2015 I published this piece where I made no secret of my frustration at Craig MacTavish's blatant willingness to flush the 2015/16 Oilers season down the drain in the name of development before even making an attempt to improve his roster during the off-season. That was 29 days ago and it might have been the lowest point for me as an Oilers fan during the entire near-decade long horror show that has been inflicted upon Oiler fans since the Cup Final run of 05/06. Not only had we endured nine years of agony and failure, but at that point in time, it appeared that MacTavish would remain as GM over the summer and his words left little doubt that the plan was just to continue to wait for things to get better all by themselves.
Then something strange happened...
There were 3,225 days between Game 7 of the 05/06 Stanley Cup Final and the 2015 draft lottery. During that entire time, there were maybe a 20-25 days where being an Oiler fan has been fun. If that's an exaggeration, it's only a slight one. But I can't be alone in wondering if maybe 3,225 days was the length of time it took to reach the other end of the long, dark tunnel we apparently fell into back in June 2006. Because beginning on day 3,226 it feels like things started to change.
Of course, first came the draft lottery win, but the draft lottery actually accounts for most of the good days Oiler fans have had in the last decade. Still, this time was different because this time Connor McDavid was the prize. It was a game-changer, and the ramifications were felt immediately.
@OilersNation may McDavid be with you— Ryan Lauder (@lauder16) April 24, 2015
The very first business day after Bill Daly showed the world that golden card with the Oil Drop on it Bob Nicholson was named as CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group. He made it clear that he was the new #2 man next to Darryl Katz himself. I don't know if what has come next was Nicholson's plan all along, or if the timeline was accelerated by the McDavid lottery win, but within 48 hours of being named, he began alleviating nearly a decade of anger and frustration when it was revealed that Pete Chiarelli was in town and he was being targeted to join the Oilers front office. Two days later, the nightmare regime of the Boys on the Boys officially ended when Chiarelli was named President and General Manager of the team. Oiler fans didn't get the official firing of Lowe, MacTavish and others as they had hoped, but short of that, this was everything they had been asking for.
But it didn't stop there...
.@tsnbobmckenzie on Babock landing spots: "Take Detroit out of the equation, and I put Edmonton number one."— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) April 30, 2015
Less than a week after Chiarelli arrived came word that the marquee coach available this summer likely had Edmonton on his list of possible destinations. That was quickly followed by Todd McLellan being linked to the Oilers and calling the potential of coaching the Oilers next season "enticing". That's the two top dogs on the coaching market being linked to the city that has been told for years that nobody would ever want to come to their town.
While all this was going on, the Oilers themselves of course were not on the ice, but many of the team's top assets were. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle were (and still are) playing great at the World Hockey Championships, both earning promotions to play on the top line with Sydney Crosby. Anton Lander and Oscar Klefbom have been playing significant minutes for Team Sweeden and have looked good in doing so. Then there are the kids...
We got to see Leon Draisaitl lead the Kelowna Rockets during a dominant performance through the WHL playoffs, Darnell Nurse captained his #1 CHL ranked Greyhounds on a playoff drive of his own until he ran up against the force that has been Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters. The series got lots of national TV exposure and both players were easily the best for their team most nights, with McDavid's team coming out on top and "McJesus" netting 43 points in just 17 games on his way to the OHL Final. Good lord.
Then, yesterday happened. Nothing as earth-shattering as the back-half of April, but again, pretty much better than most of the days in the 9 years that came before it...
So McClellan as the Oilers next head coach is basically done. I don't know about this world where good things keep happening with this team.— Ryan Batty (@ryan_batty) May 13, 2015
Oh yeah, and then the kids all played again, with Nurse now playing in the AHL playoffs for the OKC Barons...
- Darnell Nurse had 3 assists for the Barons in a win to even their series at 2-2.
- Leon Draisaitl was named MVP of the WHL Playoffs as his Rockets won the title and clinched a spot in the Memorial Cup
- Connor McDavid had 1 goal and 3 assists in an OT loss to the Generals. His outstanding run in the playoffs is down to a 3-1 deficit against Oshawa, but the kid has been incredible.
It's important to note that other than the lottery win and Chiarelli being hired, not much has ACTUALLY happened yet. McDavid is not yet property of the Oilers, McLellan is not yet the new head coach and outstanding performances outside of the NHL don't guarantee NHL success, just ask Justin Schultz...
This game 7 is great, but must ask...has this last 30 days been the best month the #Oilers franchise has had since 2006? Has to be, yes?— Alan Hull (@alanhull) May 14, 2015
Has to be.
If you had told me the day of that ridiculous MacT press conference that a month later I would be as optimistic about the Oilers as I have been since 2006, I'd have laughed at you and probably considered punching you in the throat for making fun of me while I was at my lowest point as a hockey fan, but one month later, here we are.
@alanhull as @jamiemclennan29 said on our show this morning...the Oilers are having the best playoffs of any of the Canadian clubs.— Wil Fraser (@FraserTSN1260) May 14, 2015
Things could still go horribly wrong. Chiarelli could sign Justin Schultz to a $30 million contract extension...he could repeat the Tyler Seguin trade and give away Taylor Hall for spare parts...someone could convince him the Oilers need help on defence so they should take Noah Hanifin instead of Connor McDavid!
Here's the thing though, for the first time in a long time, I'm not incredibly worried that any of those absurd things are going to happen. It feels odd...
I've spent nine years living in fear of the stupid thing that the team would do next. I'm not sure how to deal with feeling the opposite.— Ryan Batty (@ryan_batty) May 13, 2015
Me neither, but I'll take it.
I'm not sure if this last month has been the "30 days that changed the Oilers" or if 3,225 days was the amount of time it took for the dark cloud to lift from over the City of Edmonton, but for the first time in a very, VERY long time, I'm hopeful, and it feels great.