Even as hockey leagues all over the world take a hiatus, the Last Word on Hockey team is still devoted to publishing quality content in the absence of live sports. Such begins a new series: the NHL Rivalry Breakdown.
Each article will take a look at two longtime rivals and break down how the rivalry came to be, how the teams stack up against each other currently, and how the matchup may look down the road. The first edition takes a look at two sensational franchises from the 1980s: the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.
NHL Rivalry: Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames
The true beginning of this rivalry came in 1980. The Atlanta Flames made the decision to move to Calgary, Alberta. Also in Alberta was the Edmonton Oilers, who had joined the NHL in the merger with the WHA in 1979. Alberta was devoid of NHL hockey up until this point. Not only would the two franchises bring the NHL to Alberta, but they would bring some of the best there was to offer.
Edmonton was one of the prized jewels of the WHA when they joined the NHL. They brought with them the best player to ever lace up the skates- Wayne Gretzky. Alongside other legends such as Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Jari Kurri, Gretzky would deliver several championships.
While Calgary never had quite the same amount of success as Edmonton in the 1980s, they still had a formidable lineup. Al MacInnis, Lanny McDonald, and Joe Nieuwendyk were all crucial components to a Stanley Cup-winning roster in 1989.
These two franchises represented the Campbell Conference every year from 1983 until 1990 in the Stanley Cup Final. An Alberta franchise would win six Stanley Cups over the eight-year span. Edmonton dominated this rivalry for many years, beating Calgary in the playoffs four times from 1983 until 1991. The 1984-85 Oilers were also recognized as the best team of all time by the NHL in the 100-year celebration.
Edmonton: The Dynamic Duo
Prior to the suspension of the NHL season, Edmonton had the best pair of forwards in the NHL. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the most prolific scorers in the NHL when they take the ice together. McDavid was on pace to hit roughly 113 points and Draisaitl would have hit nearly 127 points. Of the 604 points scored by this team in 71 games this season, these two combined for 207. Just over one-third of all points scored came from the sticks of two of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL.
When healthy, Edmonton’s roster looks something like this.
Depth is a major issue for Edmonton. They have terrific scoring on the top two lines from two players. The problem is that they lack major sources of offence outside of the top two lines. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 61 points this season. After the top three options, there is a steep drop off. No other player has more than 34 points. All out offense can win titles in the NHL and we have seen it happen. But this roster does not have enough of it to be a title contender.
Calgary Flames- Fast and Physical
The Calgary Flames have one of the most interesting lineups in the NHL. Players like Johnny Gaudreau bring the finesse, talent, and speed every modern roster needs. He won’t hold up in the physical game, however. That is where players like Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic come in. While not everyone is suited to play this game, the two of them do it best.
When healthy, the Flames lineup looks something like this.
One thing that makes the physical aspect of this lineup so important is the fact that they are contending with the Edmonton Oilers. We have seen what happens when these two franchises get into it. Zack Kassian and Matthew Tkachuk reignited a rivalry that has just been ok for some time. When these teams get together, hitting is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
The Future of the Flames Oilers Rivalry
This is a young rivalry. There are some veterans on the rosters of each organization. But the biggest stars are young. Johnny Gaudreau, Noah Hanafin and Matthew Tkachuk are all under the age of 27. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are just getting their careers started as well. There are sure to be fireworks for these two teams for some time.
Looking short-term, the Flames have a better set up. Players like Mark Giordano play a prominent role in the lineup but are nearing the back end of their careers. They do have young talent, but not to the same level as Edmonton does. They rely more on the aging veterans than Edmonton.
Edmonton has far more long term potential. McDavid and Draisaitl will carry this team as long as they have to. While they do need to bring more talent in, they have the superior young firepower. Neither team is really ready to make a cup run yet, but the core talent is there. The Flames Oilers rivalry is looking to heat up more.