Dear Oilers fans,
Hi! I’m a Leafs fan.
*pauses for chorus of boos*
Yeah, I get that a lot.
Look, I just wanted to say congratulations on making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Seriously. I mean it. No sarcasm involved, no sinister scheme, and no strings attached. I genuinely feel happy for you that, for the first time since 2006, you get to watch the Oilers play playoff hockey.
As a Leafs fan, I feel like we can really relate to each other. Fans of other teams just look at it as a “playoff drought” coming to an end.
No, no. It’s much more than that.
Suffering. We get suffering. Fans of other teams understand losing but they don’t quite understand suffering like we do. They don’t get being a laughing stock year in and year out like we do. They don’t know a brutal trade like we do. They don’t get finding new and more soul-crushing ways to lose like we do.
A few of my friends, who are Oilers fans, brought me to a game between the Leafs and Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 29, 2013. I was so excited. Walking up to the building, seeing all the fans, and obligatory shots yelled at me about how Ontario is the garbage capital of trash.
Randy Carlyle was behind the bench for the Leafs. Dallas Eakins was behind the bench for the Oilers. It was a different time.
Phil Kessel put the Leafs up 1-0 1:08 into the first period and I will never forget how all the hype, all the enthusiasm, and all the “rah rah, go team” attitude in the building immediately switched to despair, self-deprecation and drinking to forget.
Anton Belov had the most ice time among Oilers defenders. Dennis Grebeshkov had the least. Richard Bachman allowed four goals. It was a dark, dark time.
For a while it looked like things were looking up for the Leafs at the time. Nope. They went down. All the way down.
Did we do all this? Did we inflict this on ourselves? These terrible teams with terrible results. No. Brutal management did. We didn’t trade good players for plugs, we didn’t whiff on draft picks year in and year out, and we certainly didn’t meddle with hockey decisions from above.
Through all the futility, mediocrity and downright failure, we both understand optimism too. After all, it takes a bit of optimism to cheer for a team that has been bad for as long as the Leafs or Oilers. All it takes is a little glimmer of hope and the what ifs and maybes start.
Remember Jordan Eberle‘s first NHL goal?
Remember when Yakupov tied it?
Remember Scrivens’ 59 saves?
Now – remember how those moments made you feel?
Remember how each draft lottery win made you feel, hoping that this year’s guy would finally be that guy?
At long last, Connor McDavid is that guy…
And then McDavid broke his collar bone.
But that was last season, in a little time period we’re going to refer to as “The Past”.
This season, McDavid has a legitimate shot at a scoring title and winning league MVP. You could argue that Cam Talbot should be a Vezina candidate. Leon Draisaitl is having the greatest season of any German-born player in NHL history. Patrick Maroon has a legitimate shot at 30 goals, and even if he doesn’t get there, he’s already hit 25!
The list goes on and on but here’s all that matters:
The Edmonton Oilers are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And I’m happy for you guys. I really am.
I’m happy for you in the same way UFC fighters touch gloves at the start of a round before they resume punching each other senseless. It’s nice to see you guys in the playoffs, but…
It would be even nicer to meet you in the playoffs.