By Suneil Sachdeva, September 4, 2014 —
The heated rivalry between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers has long been one of hockey’s most anticipated matchups, but the Battle of Alberta has lost its fire as of late.
Five years have passed since either team earned a spot in the post-season and a few more since either had any meaningful playoff run. While emotions remain high when the two clubs clash, a lack of relevancy has left fans wanting more. But it seems that may be about to change.
While the Oilers’ rebuild has been closely watched due to an absurdly long string of premier draft picks — including Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — the Flames have spent years held back by aging players and prospects that showed little promise for the franchise. But as the 2014–15 season approaches, the Flames’ youth movement is set to kick into high gear.
For the first time in decades, Calgary is home to young prospects with enough skill and potential to garner attention from the entire hockey world.
First among them is Sean Monahan. After putting together an impressive 22-goal rookie campaign with the Flames last year, Monahan will look to become one of the club’s most important leaders. Soon enough, he’ll play with highly touted Boston College alumni Johnny Gaudreau — who was recently awarded the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player — and 2014 draft pick Sam Bennett, who the Flames nabbed with the fourth pick despite many rankings positioning Bennett as the No. 1 prospect in his draft class. With such a formidable trio taking the ice, it seems the Flames finally have the talent to stack up against their cross-province rivals.
While both teams boast a trio of skilled young forwards, new goaltenders and formidable secondary scoring, their defensive acumen will define their success. Though Edmonton arguably has more raw talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Calgary has something they don’t — a strong, skilled, puck-moving defenceman capable of taking the team on his back. Los Angeles had Drew Doughty. Chicago had Duncan Keith. Boston had Zdeno Chara. Few teams have hoisted the hallowed Stanley Cup without suiting up a player who fills this role on the defensive end. For Calgary, that player is Mark Giordano.
While Giordano is not quite on the level of those previously mentioned, the new Flames captain has quietly improved over his eight-year career. He even warranted consideration from Hockey Canada brass for the Sochi Olympics.
With a steady presence manning the blue line and providing balance for the now-young club, the Flames hope to have a smoother transition out of the league’s basement than the Oilers and into the light of relevancy once again. After years of languishing near the bottom despite their elite talent, the Oilers hope to finally do the same.
While it will take time for both of these clubs to grow into legitimate contenders, we’re poised to see them grow up together, pushing each other forward towards the ultimate goal — bringing the Stanley Cup back to Alberta.
Regardless of how these two organizations grow, we can be sure of one thing: a new era of the Battle of Alberta has begun.