Is this the NHL season the Battle of Alberta returns to the furor of old-time proportions?
The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers meet for the first on Saturday at Calgary and the outcome will be watched closely.
The rivals are built differently, but the expectation is the distance between them in final standing won’t be in double-digits as it has been in recent seasons. The shortened season will help that, however, many suspect Alberta’s teams could be neck-and-neck all season.
The Flames have had more points than the Oilers each of the past eight years including the last four when they’ve been separated by 16, 32, 28 and 13 points going back to 2008-09.
Having had 12 players playing either in Europe or in the American Hockey League during the Lockout, the young Oilers feel they are poised to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are off to a better start than the Flames by three points with both having played three games. Youngsters Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner and others have suffered through the growth phase and are eager to turn up the heat in the West. They are augmented by rookies Nail Yakupov and defenseman Justin Schultz plus a host of veterans.
The Flames have a veteran-laden lineup again led by captain Jarome Iginla, who has topped the team scoring charts the last 11 years. Only a handful of Flames played during 119-day work stoppage and none of the accomplished veterans. One player, who did play, 20-year-old Sven Baertschi, some assess will eventually be the team’s top scorer. The left winger from Bern, Switzerland teased the Calgary crowd late last season when came up from his junior team, Portland Winterhawks, producing three goals in his 5-game cameo. The 20-year-old had 6 goals and 18 points playing 21 games with Abbotsford in the AHL. He missed a month of action with an upper body injury returning as the lockout was ending. He’s still seeking his first point of this season with the Flames. Off-season free agent signing, Jiri Hudler, makes his Flame debut Saturday after returning from the Czech Republic where his father passed away last week.
Rarely have the Alberta rivals been close in standing. The closest they’ve ever been in regular-season points was in the Flames first campaign in Calgary in 1980-81. They were separated by a single point but it was the only season in which they played in different divisions after the Flames moved from Atlanta and for one year were part of the East conference.
For the most part, the team with the most point’s season-by-season has gone in cycles.
While the Flames have had more points than the Oilers the past eight years, the Oilers were on top the previous seven. The Flames had a pair of four-year runs as the leader 1992-93 thru 1995-96 and 1987-88 thru 1991). The Oilers dominated for six-consecutive seasons back in the glory days from 1981-82 to 1986-87 when they won three of their five Stanley Cups.
The greatest bulge in any one season has been 37 points. The Oilers held that edge over the Flames in 1983-84 while Calgary returned the favor in 1991-92.
It’s been a playoff drought for the rivals in recent years. The Oilers have missed for six seasons. It’s the past three for the Flames.
The 2006 is the last time the Alberta clubs made it to the post-season together. One more Flame win that April in the first round over Anaheim would have seen them clash in a playoff series for the first time since 1991.
Can that 22-year wait end this spring in the Wild Rose Country?
That would definitely bring the rivalry back to a fever pitch.