This is a wrap.
After 82 games, the Edmonton Oilers regular season is over. And even by Oilers standards, this was unruly.
An organization that was famous for never being boring — making headlines for raising too many Stanley Cups, winning too many sweepstakes, missing too many playoffs or firing too many coaches — has done it again.
They flew around the emotional spectrum like drunks in a bouncy castle, striking nearly every nerve in Edmonton before finally settling on their current trajectory – screaming towards post-season as one of the hottest teams in hockey.
It was just a rehearsal. With Friday’s 3-2 final regular season shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks in the books, things are about to get even more intense when the Oilers and Los Angeles Kings eliminate a decades-old rivalry in the first round.
“This will be my first playoff in front of the fans and I’m excited,” said Kyler Yamamoto, Oilers’ 20-goal man. “Talking to older vets, they say this town is crazy when it comes to hockey. They say the fans are incredible.
“I’m really looking forward to it. Hope it’s deep and fun.”
If anything feels like the regular season, expect the unexpected, because the last 82 games have been anything but one surprise after another.
No one expected the Oilers to start like the league they owed money, as they jumped to the top of the NHL rollercoaster after 21 games (16-5-0). Once they made everyone believe in him, no one expected that they would fire their coach after two months.
Once they had all been scraped and bloodied from the uncontrollable velocity fluctuation that had sent them sliding down the asphalt until they were six points away from a cut-off, no one expected that they would go into the entire Terminator and come back stronger than they were before.
And when they ignited the mid-season news cycle with the signing of controversial winger Evander Kane, no one expected the man who had barely played in a year to turn the shift and turn into exactly what the Oilers needed: a threatening power forward to score in a. 40 goal tempo.
Did someone say 40? Who puts their fortunes in a 40-year-old goalkeeper, and asks everyone to relax when this goalkeeper falls off the face of the earth, then shrugs his shoulders carelessly and says “Hey, that’s Smitty, he’s a fighter”, when he was 40- goalkeeper The old one goes 9-0-0 by saving 0.951 and two hits when his team needs it most?
Suspicion of the elderly was not limited to Smith, either. The airwaves were full of anger and disdain when GM Ken Holland replaced 38-year-old Duncan Keith, but he was exactly what Edmonton wanted, a gritty and steady man adding a seasoned calm in the room.
Holland have been in a lot of heat this year, starting in the summer when they didn’t get a goalkeeper, culminating in February when he made his first season launch of his career and flaring up again when cap restrictions left him handcuffed at the trade deadline.
But with his team running 18-4-2 all the way to securing ice at home in the first round, and subtle moves like Cody Cisse, Brett Colak and Derek Ryan showing their worth, he ended up with a 100-point team with legitimately high expectations for post-season.
“The most important thing is balance in every squad,” said Kulak. “We have a good mix of everything you need. There is a little bit of that in every line. That would be a winning formula for us – the depth we have.”
Bring the first game. While the 82 game appetizer appetizer is good, it’s time for the main course.
“All over the plaza, you can feel that noise all over town,” said Ryan Nugent Hopkins. “It has already begun.”
The best part of VALOR
With nothing at stake except for a potential injury, the Oilers’ team Conor McDavid, Leon Drysitl and Smith sat on Friday. In a season with so many twists and turns, playing it simply wasn’t worth the risk.
“We talk about it as a coaching staff, as a management group, and then we talk to our players about it,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “We just think it’s a smart move heading into qualifying which could start as early as Monday.
“I think it’s just about making sure that their full energy levels and safety is where they should head into the Final Series.”
So McDavid finished his seventh season in the NHL with 123 points, more than enough for a fourth Art Ross Cup in his young career. With Wayne Gretzky and Jordi Howe winning just four scoring titles at the age of 25, there aren’t even enough players to make Mount Rushmore from players who have accomplished such an amazing feat.
For Draisaitl, 110 points equal his career high and his 55 goals set a new one.