The Battle of Alberta is one of the NHL’s biggest rivalries. Year in and year out, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers seem to save their best for each other and give their fan bases hope that this will be the year their favorite team wins the Stanley Cup.
However, the Oilers and Flames have looked like anything but Cup front-runners so far this season.
It’s true that Calgary and Edmonton have had stretches this season in which they show the ability to be big-time playoff performers, but there have also been stretches where they look like they might be out of the playoff mix altogether. And if their consistency does not improve for the better, it’s possible the Flames and Oilers make significant roster changes.
Edmonton and Calgary squared off three times this season, with the Oilers holding a 2-1-0 advantage over the Flames. But all three games were decided by a single goal, and neither side held a clear advantage over their arch-rivals.
And in the bigger picture, Edmonton and Calgary are thoroughly mediocre, which is why both teams are side-by-side in the Pacific Division standings. Both teams have played 39 games, and Calgary has one more standings point (based on their 18-14-7 record) than Edmonton (20-17-2).
Moreover, the Flames and Oilers have been inconsistent of late: Calgary is 5-4-4 in their past 13 games while Edmonton is 4-4-2 in their past 10. In that span, Edmonton's lost to teams under them in the standings (including Anaheim, Vancouver, St. Louis and Nashville). Calgary's lost to Columbus, Montreal, the Canucks and the Blues.
The Albertan clubs occupy both wild-card spots in the Western Conference, but the Colorado Avalanche have three games in hand and are only one point behind Edmonton and two behind Calgary. The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators are less of a threat at the moment, but they could be soon if they suddenly pull more wins together.
There’s no telling which Flames or Oilers team is going to show up on any given night, which is why Calgary GM Brad Treliving and Edmonton counterpart Ken Holland are likely to be buyers before the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline.
A trade won’t come easily for either the Flames or Oilers. Calgary presently has $1.4 million in salary cap space (as per CapFriendly), and by the time the deadline rolls around, they’re projected to have $6.2 million in space.
The Oilers, on the other hand, currently have no cap space whatsoever, and by the deadline, they’ll have only $1.5 million in space.
For that reason, it’s safe to say there won’t be a blockbuster deal happening for either club. Both franchises are more or less stuck with the inconsistent goaltending they have right now, and it’s more likely that Holland and Treliving make deals primarily addressing their team’s depth on forward and on defense. But they’ll have to give up something of note to get that depth. As the Oilers and Flames have their first-round draft picks in each of the next two seasons, it’s safe to say their first-rounders will be in play in any trade.
All-in-all, these two squads need the players currently on their roster to straighten out for the better. In some ways, they’re fortunate, as they have star players at key positions. But there’s a scenario out there where not just one but both of them miss the playoffs.
Imagine the disaster that would be, especially if Connor McDavid sets a career high in points. And after Calgary acquired Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri to save the team from a rebuild.
In the past couple of years, the Battle of Alberta has been about which team is on the rise. This year, it looks like the BoA is about which team can avoid missing the playoffs despite heightened expectations for both heading into this season. That’s a marked difference in fortunes, and it makes for one of the NHL’s most intriguing headlines for the rest of the season.