Last night, the Edmonton Oilers were officially eliminated from playoff contention. It was more of a formality, really, since the Oilers owned the second worst record in the league going into last night. They have been unofficially eliminated for quite a while now. Last night’s loss, however, saw the frustration of the season and seasons past reach its boiling point, as the Calgary Flames came into Edmonton last night and put an 8-1 beating on their Albertan rivals. Multiple fans threw their Oilers jersey onto the ice, an Edmonton player and coach had a minor altercation on national television, and the NHL was treated with one of the more bizarre spectacles in the league this year. Last night’s game was simply a cumulation of everything that has gone wrong for the Edmonton Oilers in recent history and for the fans, it was the last straw and a chance to make a statement.
The Oilers night did not start as bad as it ended. An early powerplay opportunity saw the team go up 1-0 off a wicked slapshot goal from defenseman Jeff Petry. Shortly after the goal, a fight between Calgary’s Kevin Westgarth and Edmonton’s Luke Gazdic would shift the momentum. The two would drop the gloves at 7:34 of the first period and less than a minute later, Calgary captain Mike Giordano would tie the game with a slapshot of his own. Both teams would exit the period with a goal apiece, but the tension was palpable in the stands. Calgary would blow the game open in the second period, scoring four goals in just over three minutes and adding three more in the third. By the time the eighth goal was scored, fans could barely put forth an effort to make a groan of frustration, so drained by the occurrence on the ice.
However, they did show their frustration in other ways. During one of the TV timeouts, one Edmonton Oiler fan threw his jersey onto the ice near goaltender Ben Scrivens. It was a sign of protest, a sign of being fed up with watching a team that had accumulated multiple first overall draft picks continue to fail to find success on the ice. It was the last straw. Scrivens took offense at the thrown jersey, using his goalie stick to pick it up off the ice and fling it back into the stands.
“I take pride in wearing that jersey,” said Scrivens. “You’re a fan, you get to say and do whatever you want. Call me whatever name you want. But when it comes to that logo, that’s a sacred thing to us.”
It was not the first instance of protest from Oiler fans. Earlier in the season, a similar thrown jersey incident occurred, which caused the Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins to comment on it after the game, claiming that “for the fan to show that he’s quit, that he’s thrown in the towel, that speaks volumes about the individual.” Eakins may believe it is an issue with the individual fan, but recent events have shown otherwise. Oiler fans have also pooled their money together and rented a billboard, put up along the main highway running through Edmonton. On it, it calls for the firing of general manager Kevin Lowe, claiming that “This is as ‘Lowe’ as we go!”
The frustration of last night’s game was not limited to the fans. Eakins and Edmonton forward Taylor Hall were a part of the spotlight in the game, after a minor altercation on the bench in the second period. Hall, frustrated with the events of the game, slammed his water bottle onto the ground, causing it to burst open and soak his coach from head to toe. Eakins, visibly and understandably upset, grabbed a towel, dried himself off and threw the towel at Hall. The two exchanged words shortly after. Both sides attempted to downplay the incident after the game.
“It was frustration and emotion,” said Eakins. “Sometimes they happen out in the open, sometimes they happen behind closed doors. I’ve had bigger run-ins with players than that this year…If you’re not able to move on, you’ve got problems.”
Hall agreed, saying simply that “things happen in a game” and “we all get a little frustrated with how it’s going.” He added that “Eakins and I, we have a great relationship.”
The frustration is being felt all throughout Canada at the moment, as the Oilers are one of six other Canadian teams that appear to be missing the playoffs this year. Only the Montreal Canadiens appear to be a lock to make the playoffs, with the Toronto Maple Leafs being the only other Canadian team that has even a remote chance. It is going to be a long offseason for most of Canada, who has not had a home team bring home the Stanley Cup since the early 90s. For Oiler fans, however, it has been longer than that. And with performances like last night’s 8-1 loss to the Flames, that does not appear to be changing anytime soon. If the Edmonton Oilers do not change their losing ways, this jersey throwing will become a more regular occurrence from their fans.
This article is one in a daily series, providing coverage, analysis and predictions to NHL fans.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: