Much like the Canadiens-Leafs series last year, this is why the NHL rejiggered its playoff system nearly a decade ago. To get things like the Edmonton Oilers vs. the Calgary Flames in the playoffs. OK, Gary Bettman’s NHL was only really concerned with getting Penguins-Capitals as often as possible and never really does anything to boost Canadian teams, but it’s at worst an indirect result. The league wanted more established rivalries happening in the playoffs, so they pinned all the divisions together to make it happen more often and not leave it up to the chance of conference-wide seeding. But unlike the Habs-Leafs last year, this “Battle Of Alberta” will take place in front of two full, ear-piercing buildings that will come as close to the bloodlust of the Roman Colosseum as we’ve seen on this continent in some time. That’s what happens when you get this series between two teams whose fanbases hate the other more than anyone else by miles for the first time in 31 years. Which says a lot about the fortunes of these two teams for decades, only adding to the frenzy both teams and fanbases will feel.
Oilers-Flames promises to be great theater for a variety of reasons. One, it has the best player on the planet, who just single-handedly pulled his flawed team’s ass out of a sling in the previous round, as Connor McDavid is definitely “on one.” The Flames barely survived the chloroform rag that is the Dallas Stars, but are looking at their first serious playoff run since 2004. For fuck’s sake, we’re putting Matthew Tkachuk in the middle of one of the league’s biggest rivalries as it’s but on broil. Ever give your kindergartner Jolt Cola? Multiply it by a factor of 12. There are Flames fans in my life who I know are absolutely slobbering at the idea of turning Mike Smith inside out and odd colors in the sun after his one year in Calgary and then defecting to Edmonton after (mostly because he shat on Jarome Iginla’s jersey retirement night. No greater crime could take place in Calgary. You could release a noxious gas into every night of the Calgary Stampede and people wouldn’t be as upset).
The Flames are one of the most fun teams to watch in hockey. There is no greater show than McDavid right now, and it’s probably true neither team is good enough defensively to shackle either of those aspects (to be fair, there probably isn’t a defense that can do anything about McDavid right now). This should be a time. But there’s one aspect missing, and Gary Bettman must decree this today: The Edmonton Oilers must wear their 80s jerseys for this series.
The greatest decision made by a hockey team in the past few years wasn’t any signing or trade. It was the Flames’ call to go full retro for both home and away jerseys. The dumbest one was the Oilers’ decision to not follow suit. Even worse, they’ve been wearing this, nighttime-wear-for-a-cult third jersey look for the playoffs.
I understand that the ennui and lack of feeling conveyed by these Tron-knockoffs matches the feeling of either being an Oiler or watching the Oilers for the past 25-30 years. I acknowledge the symbolism. But these are a crime, and bigger one considering what this Flames-Oilers series could look like every night. Look at this array of color, joy, and life!
Except now we’d get all this in HD! Tell me that wouldn’t pop off the screen in every bar that has it on. We can call upon the NHL’s history, and Flames-Oilers used to define the league as a whole, while also celebrating its exciting present thanks to its look. Make McDavid streaking down the wing look exactly like when Gretzky did it (ok Gretz didn’t really “streak” anywhere but you get it). Make Tkachuk driving the entire city of Edmonton into a blind rage look just like it did when Joel Otto did it. You could have one of their Stanley Cup playoff ads on the ice 5-7 seven times, linking the present and future to the past that the NHL loves so much.
Instead, at the moment, even the vibrant and life-fulfilling Flames red will be dulled by having to go up against the void of what the Oilers are wearing and making everything and everyone feel like an Alberta winter. The Oilers drab Star Trek maintenance crew outfits are the cock block/beaver dam to a true celebration of vibrance and beauty. Don’t let this light be extinguished, Gary. Do what’s right, you know it to be true.