The legacy of a sports franchise can be long and storied or (with apologies to Thomas Hobbes) nasty, brutish, and short. In the case of the Edmonton Oilers, their legacy is somewhere in the middle. It’s been over 40 years since the Oilers joined the WHA and while there was a great deal of success in the early years of the Oilers’ foray into the NHL, the last decade has been nasty and brutish (and terribly long).
It has been 9639 days since the Oilers won a Stanley Cup (1990, against Boston). In the 26 years since the Oilers hoisted the Stanley Cup, the world has changed appreciably and is so much different than Oiler fans of 1990 could have ever imagined. In that time, the Oilers have had some stretches of success, capped off with the Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2006. The last decade, however, has been frustrating at best and futile at worst, leaving very little to be excited about. Connor McDavid is the lone exception in that abyss; his otherwordly talent should provide Oiler fans with enough fodder for their dreams, rather than their nightmares.
What Is A Legacy?
What seems to be common within the Edmonton Oilers organization is a Gatsby-esque longing for the past, one that serves to curtail progress and keep fans wanting more. With the opening of Rogers Place, the Oilers have a perfect opportunity to break away from the past and create a name for themselves based on their on-ice performance rather than on the backs of their aging alumni. Instead, Wayne Gretzky was named partner and vice-chairman of Oilers Entertainment Group, a role that seems to have less to do with hockey than it does with preserving the collective memory of the Oilers dynasty years. There is no denying that Wayne Gretzky played an integral role in the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, but he’s been gone from this organization for 28 years and it doesn’t seem that there was anything necessary about bringing him back. Instead of moving forward, with new personnel and fresh ideas, the Oilers are once more tethered to the glory years, with nothing to show for it except
four a couple first overall picks and more than a handful of losing seasons.
It’s Planting Seeds In A Garden You’ll Never Get To See
You can’t repeat the past.
Why, of course you can
The problem with holding onto the past for dear life is that neither the present or future can be stopped. No matter how much the Oilers organization wants to bring back the heroes of its heyday, there is still business to be attended to in the present. There is still a glut of LH defenceman and a dearth of RH defenceman on the roster. There is still a woeful lack of depth at both centre and right wing. One long-term injury among the top-6 forwards, and the team’s hopes are probably sunk. Hiring Wayne Gretzky does nothing to address what happens on the ice, and there’s a danger in thinking that it does.
The ceremony at Rogers Place on Wednesday is a perfect example. Instead of a quick acknowledgement of the new building, a ceremonial faceoff and maybe the promise of auctioning off warm-up jerseys and game-used sticks or pucks , the Oilers put on a celebration for a building that hasn’t seen any long-term success yet. The game, slated to start at 8 pm MT, was pushed back to make way for a ceremony that spent as much time looking forward as back.
Rather than a celebration of a building, it would be nice if the Oilers could win some games, and win them well.
It is high time for the team to stop giving away games in the third period, and to capitalize on other teams’ weaknesses instead of being run roughshod by nearly every opponent.
It is time for this team to be competitive in October, and November, and in every month until April.
It is time for this team to put its money where its mouth is, and show fans that when the players and coaches and management say “this year will be different” they actually mean it.
It is time for this team to reward the hope and optimism with which they are greeted at the beginning of a season, and break free from the shackles of the 1980s and the collective memory that paralyzes us all.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.