Edmonton - May 17, 2013 - Wednesday afternoon's announcement that an agreement had finally been reached between Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz and the City of Edmonton to move forward with plans to build a state of the art Downtown Arena Complex, left Oilers fans ecstatic with the news.
It was an agreement which took seven long years to reach but it eventually got done.
Obviously turning a profit is and should always remain a massive part of the equation for anyone running a sports franchise.
Having said that, for those which take great pride in wanting to be the best of the best, championships are what truly matters. Hockey is a results driven business and if you don't produce, generally, you do not hang around long enough to get a second or third kick at the can.
Forcing many a GM and coach to adopt whatever system they deem necessary, to keep their team competitive. However, in my mind, employing that mindset comes with a rather hefty price tag...the entertainment level of the game itself.
The current era of NHL player is superior to any before them. As a whole, they are bigger, faster and stronger athletes, that have pushed the pace of the game to levels never seen before. When played in its purest form, you would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting game on earth. Yet here we sit in the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs and on many night, the game leaves me wanting more.
While the vast majority of teams do not have the necessary collection of high-end talent to play a more entertaining brand of hockey, many have decided to bring the game to a grinding halt. Instead of seeing exciting free-wheeling hockey, on most nights, we get a boring chess match. Successful teams have always had structure to their approach but at what point does that structure become harmful to the on ice product?
Here in Edmonton, it is a slightly different scenario. With players such as Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov already in the mix, this roster has its fair share of elite offensive talent. While all of these guys are still young and finding their way as NHL players, the sky appears to be the limit for them as a collective unit.
Clearly this group needs to gain more experience and have a better surrounding cast placed around them but there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel .General Manager Craig MacTavish was brought on board to do one thing, improve the roster. While his job will be far from easy, it is pretty straight forward. Improve the overall mix with better players. Simple but again...far more difficult to accomplish.
For argument sake, let's say MacTavish was able to re-jig this roster and bring in the necessary players to make an immediate impact. At that point, do the Edmonton Oilers become like 95% of the NHL and do whatever is necessary to win games or do they become part of that 5% and try and change how the game is played?
It is a pretty tough call, especially in a city that has not seen the post-season since that magical run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. On the other hand, many in this city have had the privilege of watching not only Wayne Gretzky during his heyday but also one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.
While I am in no way shape or form comparing this team to the Dynasty Era Oilers of the 80's, they do have the necessary firepower to open up games and dictate how they will be played. The days of all-out firewagon hockey are a thing of the past but teams in recent years, like the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, have shown you can still play a solid all around game in today's NHL but remain entertaining to watch.
Not everyone needs to play like the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers or St. Louis Blues, just to name a few. Organizations must recognize what they have in house and bring in coaches who will compliment those pieces...not stunt their growth. Just as you would not ask a bottom six banger to lead your team in scoring, you should not expect the likes of an Eberle, Hall, RNH or Yakupov to suddenly turn into a defensive stalwart.
Of course players need to be defensively responsible but not at the expense of what they can create at the other end of the rink. Be it in the here and now with Ralph Krueger or whomever this team employs as a head coach down the road, the willingness to play a bit of a risky style, has to be part of the equation. If you have the horses, why not allow them to leave the stable on occasion?
As previously mentioned, MacT and company have a fair amount of work to do before this team is ready for prime time but the top end of this roster is constructed in such a way, that the reigns need loosening for them to reach their full potential. There will definitely be more growing pains but in my mind, the Oilers owe it to their fans and to a certain extent, the NHL as a whole, to play a free-flowing style of game.
It will be up to teams like Edmonton, the Colorado Avalanche and New York Islanders to join the Blackhawks and Penguins, as teams wanting to push the game into a different direction.
Let's hope the Edmonton Oilers stay on course and continue to build towards becoming one of those teams and not just your run-of-the-mill NHL franchise. At the end of the day, it is all about winning but in some instances, this being one of them, how a team gets there does matter.