The Edmonton Oilers and their fans are saying goodbye to Rexall Place tonight. It was originally called Northlands Coliseum. “Thumbs up” to Northlands Coliseum. “Thumbs down” to Rexall Place. Never mind that they’re one and the same building, they’re different when it comes to fond memories.
Northlands was home to Wayne Gretzky and it was the arena that saw four of the Oilers’ five Stanley Cup celebrations. If I can pick just one of those, it must be the seventh game of the 1987 Stanley Cup final, because it was the first time in 16 years that the NHL season went to its very limit. And it wasn’t certain the Oilers would lift the Stanley Cup for the third time in four years until Glenn Anderson scored with less than three minutes left to close out Conn Smythe winner Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1.
There is an endless list of other great moments that occurred at Northlands.
Rexall Place? A list could begin and end with the 2006 run to the Stanley Cup final under coach Craig MacTavish. Since then, the Oilers have missed the playoffs 10 straight times, and so the best that will be said of the place called Rexall is that it was Connor McDavid’s first NHL address.
Some NHL arenas are better than others because of location, architecture, sightlines, comfort, amenities, ice surface, scoreboard etc., but above all, they are remembered for the players and the teams that occupied them, and for the games they hosted.
The Oilers would love it if McDavid could do for their new Rogers Place what Gretzky and company did for Northlands. McDavid and his teammates should have no trouble topping the best of what Rexall Place delivered.
He’s not Connor McDavid, but if the scouts are correct, Auston Matthews will be an NHL star that will be of immediate help to the winner of the NHL draft lottery.
So which team needs him the most?
That’s a better discussion than trying to decide how the lottery balls will emerge. Who knows if the 30th place team with the best odds will prevail?
If you’re following the “tank wars”, keep in mind that Toronto is in the driver’s seat and home free if it fails to get a point in its three remaining games.
And Toronto is a candidate for “team most in need of Auston Matthews”, except that if Matthews joins Wlliam Nylander, Mitch Marner, and, dare I say, Steven Stamkos in Toronto next season, no other team is feeling sorry for the Leafs.
Matthews to Arizona makes all the sense in the world if you’re trying to fit the Scottsdale, Arizona-born Matthews with his hometown Coyotes. Arizona is the franchise that wants and needs Matthews the most, but the actual team has its own promising future with or without the number-one draft pick.
No case can be made for Edmonton needing or deserving more lottery luck of the sort that delivered McDavid.
Columbus? Well, okay, the Blue Jackets haven’t picked first since they took Rick Nash in 2002, and a team that has never won a playoff series should probably pick first again.
But my thumb is up fastest and highest if the last name called by lottery barker Bill Daly is that of the Vancouver Canucks. If not Auston Matthews, who is going to score goals for the Canucks when it’s time to turn the page and look into the future past the Sedins?
Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen are this season’s only 20-goal shooters in Vancouver’s anemic offence. Ironically, Hansen’s 20th—last Thursday’s game-winner in San Jose—was the beginning of the end of the Canucks’ shot at the most favourable lottery odds. Two more wins since then have lifted them all the way to 26th place.
But the Canucks could still land Matthews, and they should if he’s to go to the team that needs him most.