For the first time since 1990 Detroit Red Wings fans will not get the chance to see their team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as Edmonton Oilers fans will finally get a chance to see the post season for the first time since 2006.
For the past 25 seasons the Red Wings had made the playoffs every year, even making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final six times (1995, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008 & 2009) during that span. They won the Stanley Cup four times in those six appearances (1997, 1998, 2002 & 2008).
Red Wings Captain, Henrik Zetterberg said, “Right now it is hard to talk about it.” This is the first-time Zetterberg, who broke into the league in 2002 with Detroit, has missed the post season. Even though he has had a good season stat wise, he is still beating himself up for not being able to help the team take that extra step to clinch the postseason.
Being the team’s leader, he emphasized most of the season that making the playoffs was not for the purpose of keeping the streak alive, but to compete for the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup.
Assistant general manager, Kris Draper said, “It stinks that there is not going to be playoff hockey.” Draper played for the Red Wings from 1993 through 2011 and never missed the post season during his time with the club.
He added, “I know when I was a player, March Madness, the Masters and Red Wings playoff hockey, that was the favorite, favorite time of year for me. Now it is as if, `One Shining Moment’ won’t play at the end of the NCAA Tournament, or the azaleas won’t bloom at Augusta.”
The final time the octopi will have the chance to be tossed on the ice at Joe Louis Arena, will be when the New Jersey Devils help the Red Wings close out the building during the season finale on Sunday, April 9.
Senior Vice President, Jimmy Devellano, who has been with the franchise since 1982, when the late Mike Illitch purchased the club said, “No one is ever happy when you do not make the playoffs. But as I told our people, we have a lot of company. Sixteen teams make it. Fourteen do not make it. We have given the fans wonderful hockey for a quarter of a century. It had to happen. It had to happen.”
The last time the Red Wings made the post season they finished last in the Norris Division and second from the bottom in the Campbell Conference. 10 teams, including the Vegas Golden Knights, were not even established in the National Hockey League yet.
Detroit’s record was 28-18-14, with the third column being for ties and not overtime or shootout losses. Not one current NHL player, had begun their NHL careers the last time Red Wings missed the playoffs. 15 current Red Wings were not even born at that time.
18 of the franchises 25-year streak, they finished in the top four of their conference. The Boston Bruins streak of 29 seasons, from 1967 through 1996 is still the NHL’s longest consecutive streak. The Chicago Blackhawks hold the second longest of 28 seasons, from 1969 to 1997. The St. Louis Blues, like the Red Wings also had a 25-year streak, from 1979 through 2004.
The Oilers who had not made the post season since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, became the first Canadian team to clinch a berth in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season no team from Canada made it in to the dance for the first time since the 1969-1970 season.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the battle with the Los Angeles Kings, and the Oilers up 2-1 at Rogers Place, the fans could not hold their emotions hold their emotions in, and began chanting “We want playoffs.” It was only expected as they have waited almost 11 years to strike oil between playoff appearances.
The last post season action the fans in the Alberta, capital was game seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final as the Oilers fell to the Carolina Hurricanes. Many quiet summers, leading to the organization stocking up on good draft picks have helped to turn around those 11 years of heartbreak.
Jordan Eberle, the longest serving member of the team said, “These fans have gone through a lot over the last little bit, and they have done a great job to stick with us.”
At the end of last season, the Oilers closed out their longtime arena, Rexall Place (formerly Northlands Coliseum, Edmonton Coliseum and Skyreach Centre), as they opened their new downtown home arena, to begin the 2016-2017 season.
Center, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said, “It has not always been the easiest years but at this point right now you kind of forget it. Those years do not really matter come tonight.”
Nugent-Hopkins, along with Eberle and left wing, Matt Hendricks and defenseman, Oscar Klefbom are the four Oilers from this season’s team who have played in Edmonton prior to the 2014-2015 NHL season.
Oilers head coach, Todd McLellan, had a better second season with the club than his first one turned out to be. After having coached the San Jose Sharks, for seven seasons, McLellan was brought in last season to help turn the franchise around. 2015-2016 was not very a successful one as the Oilers finished with 70 points and 29th in the league.
McLellan said, “First thing was coming in [and] trying to establish boundaries and a work ethic. The second thing we tried to do was work on the mental part of the team, staying in games longer and not folding your hand.”
He continued, “Then we tried to reduce the gap between goals for and goals against, and while we were doing all of that we were changing things with our team. Peter [Chiarelli, Oilers general manager] and his staff have done a tremendous job in retooling the team quite quickly. There was progress on those issues this season. Now we have accomplished another task, getting back into the playoffs. Believe it or not, 10 years later, that is probably the easy job. The task gets tougher.”
When the Oilers hit a little slump late in the season, veteran forward Milan Lucic became a voice of calm and reason in the room. Lucic signed on with the Oilers as an Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1. He said, “You are going to have some adversity and rough patches throughout the season, but us overcoming a lot of them was a sign that we were giving ourselves the best chance to be in this position at this time of the year. Obviously, it is a great feeling to clinch a spot here with six games left. It is a huge first step for our team and the organization.”