Prior to the start of this season, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers had very different expectations.
The Oilers fan base was expecting the team's first playoff berth since the 2005-2006 season while the Flames were entering a franchise rebuild after trading cornerstone Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline the previous season and losing long-time starting goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff to retirement.
On Saturday night, the Flames skated to an 8-1 romp over the Oilers in Edmonton, leaving many to wonder which team was further ahead in the race for the playoffs next season.
Not surprisingly, the Flames currently sit well outside of a playoff spot with most fans showing the patience and support for the rebuild that president of hockey operations and interim general manager Brian Burke has asked for.
The Oilers, on the other hand, now sit last in the Western Conference, six points behind the Flames and mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a fan base fed up with a fifth straight losing season. President of hockey operations Kevin Lowe pronounced the team to be "poised for greatness" last season, yet that greatness remains to be seen.
With both team already looking toward next season, the question in the Battle of Alberta is which team will make the playoffs first: the Flames or the Oilers?
On paper, it would appear the advantage is with the Oilers. The team has three former first-overall draft picks on their roster and two other first-round picks in Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Their goaltending tandem is set for next season with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth and the team has their 2013 first-round pick, Darnell Nurse, developing in the OHL. However, the Oilers recent struggles has surrounded the team with question marks, including entertaining thoughts of trading one of the young stars to meet another need.
The Flames appear to be on a much steadier course, trusting in Burke to put together a team that will enter the playoffs in the near future. Burke's history with rebuilding the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs inspires confidence that, with time, the team will reach the playoffs. Burke also put the finishing touches on the Anaheim Ducks that propelled them to a Stanley Cup.
"I think I add a value. I've been able to fix just about every team I've worked for, sometimes quicker than others." Burke said when he was introduced as a member of Flames organization.
Burke also inspired confidence with his 2013 first-round draft pick Sean Monahan. Monahan is second on the Flames in goals this season with 19 and fifth on the team in total points with 31.
Both the Oilers and Flames will likely be in the draft lottery this season with a chance to select first overall, a disappointment for Edmonton and an expectation for Calgary.
"I'm an impatient guy. We have to do some bold things to move this team forward in a rapid fashion. We have to a better job arming our coaches and our core players with a group to get us to a highly-competitive level," Craig MacTavish said when he was introduced was the Oilers' general manager last season.
Moving forward, the Battle of Alberta may be turning into a race to see which team will make the playoffs first. Will the Flames' steady rebuild pay off with a post-season entrance before the Oilers find a solution to their recent woes? Or will the Oilers' embarrassment of young talent come together and deliver the playoff appearance fans are growing restless for?
So, which team will make the playoffs first: the Oilers or Flames?
As always, it's Your! Call.