SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers on upswing while Flames hit skids

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:01 PM ET

Surely, the Saddledome faithful could’ve gritted their teeth through two more home losses.

And hey, a few more goals would have provided a bit of excitement.

Maybe rooting for those sad-sack Edmonton Oilers this season wouldn’t have been so bad after all.

There might be more similarities than you realize.

Both teams posted mediocre records on home ice, with the Flames skating to a 20-17-4

mark at the Saddledome and the Oilers, who were absolutely awful on the road, going 18-19-4 at Rexall Place.

Both teams struggled to score, with the Flames registering a Western Conference-worst 201 tallies heading into Saturday’s late game in Vancouver and the Oilers having deposited 212 pucks in the net prior to their season finale.

And both teams will be booking tee times and beach retreats when the Stanley Cup playoffs start later this week, a fact the folks in Edmonton have had oodles of time to come to grips with and something that’s still sinking in here.

The big difference between the Flames and Oilers? Only one squad, you could argue, is on the upswing.

And Flames fans will need to head north on QE2 to see them in action. Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff are still the biggest stars in this province, but the balance of power seems to be shifting.

Sometimes, the best way to rebuild is to start with a demolition project.

Sure, the current edition of the Oilers resembles an NHL squad on Take Your Kid To Work Day — about a dozen bonafide big-leaguers being chased around by a pack of peewees — and they’ll likely struggle for another season or two, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism at Rexall Place.

The Oilers already own the rights to a pair of world junior stars — Canada’s Jordan Eberle and Sweden’s Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson — and enter the draft lottery with the best chance to snag another in highly-touted Taylor Hall.

Flames prospect Greg Nemisz, meanwhile, managed just one point at this year’s junior tourney, while the squad doesn’t have a first- or even second-round selection in June’s NHL Entry Draft.

Between Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule, the Oilers’ equation includes three talented forwards in their early 20s, all with more than 200 games of NHL experience already under their belts.

Besides late-season call-ups Mikael Backlund and Brett Sutter, the Flames’ youngest forward is Nigel Dawes, a

25-year-old waiver-claim who’s coming off a career season but will never be mistaken for the next big thing.

The Oilers even have Linus Omark, the Swedish sniper whose highlight-reel dekes have fans flocking to online video-sharing sites and pencilling him as a future shootout ace.

As for Calgary’s YouTube sensation? That’d be Abbotsford Heat coach Jim Playfair, who made headlines with his stick-smashing meltdown behind the bench a couple of weeks back.

If the Flames had shown that much emotion during the stretch drive, they might be preparing for a first-round playoff clash. Then again, even if they’d managed to sneak into the post-season as a low seed, smart money would’ve been on a fifth straight early exit.

The Flames backpedaled into the playoffs last spring, only to be eliminated in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that beat them four more times this season.

Ah, yes, those Blackhawks.

It wasn’t that long ago the crew from the Windy City was a non-playoff team for five consecutive seasons, a streak of futility that allowed them to stock the shelves with sure-fire stars such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

And look at ’em now.

Makes you wonder what the Oilers’ future has in store. And whether the Flames can keep up.


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