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Are the Oilers really the best the rest of Canada has to offer?

Let the Edmonton Oilers be Canada's Team; the Vancouver Canucks are for Canucks fans.
Vancouver Canucks' J.T. Miller reacts after scoring against Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner as Darnell Nurse looks on.

Every Canadian hockey fan has seen the insipid Boston Pizza commercial inundating the airwaves during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

You know the one: “Team up for the Cup,” it says, a “why can’t we be friends” paean encouraging fans of disparate Canadian teams to band together and cheer for the Stanley Cup to return to Canada, even if it means in the hands of a hated rival.

It’s a message likely to fall on particularly deaf ears on the west coast, as fans of the Vancouver Canucks well remember the rest of Canada rallying behind the Boston Bruins in 2011. 

“Canucks as Canada’s team? No thanks” read a headline in the National Post at the time, disparaging the Canucks as unworthy of national support. Why? The list of reasons given inexplicably included the eminently likeable Sami Salo as a reason to hate the Canucks and also labeled the Sedins as “bland” and called Dan Hamhuis a “head-hunting hypocrite.”

So, it’s not going to be easy for Canucks fans to hold hands and sing kumbaya with fans of other Canadian teams and cheer them on to win the Cup after those hands were all too eager to slap them in the face in recent memory.

It’s also interesting to see which teams get the “team up for the Cup” treatment. Just look at the recent controversy when a Boston Pizza location in Penticton, BC — supposedly Canucks country — put up a “Let’s go Oilers” message on their street-side sign, only changing it to “Let’s go Canucks” after a backlash on social media.

Surely the Oilers are Canada's only hope for the Cup, right?

But why not? Why shouldn't they back the Edmonton Oilers? If the goal is to bring the Stanley Cup back north of the border, aren’t the Oilers the best bet for Canada?

They must be. After all, it can’t be the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are in crisis mode after failing to make it out of the first round for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.

It can’t be the Winnipeg Jets, whose likely Vezina-winning goaltender put up an .870 save percentage in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche. 

It can’t be the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, or Montreal Canadiens, because they didn’t even make it to the playoffs.

Who else could it be? Because it certainly couldn’t be the Vancouver Canucks, who just made the playoffs — the real playoffs because the 2020 playoffs in the bubble apparently don’t count — for the first time since 2015.

No, it’s the Oilers who are Canada’s only hope. They were a popular pick at the start of the 2023-24 season. Heading into their second series against the Canucks, they had the best odds to win the Cup, according to the B.C. Lottery Corporation, and the Canucks, the worst odds.

And yet, it’s the Canucks who are up 2-1 in the series.

The Oilers could rally to win this series, though they’d need to win three of four games to do it. Considering they’ve won just one of seven games against the Canucks across the regular season and playoffs and needed overtime to do it, that might be too much to ask.

But the Canucks are relying on their rookie, third-string goaltender, Arturs Silovs, and they’re not getting much of anything from their franchise forward, Elias Pettersson. Surely the Canucks can be beaten, right?

An Oilers team mired in mediocrity

Even if the Oilers do beat the Canucks, do they really have what it takes to win two more rounds and hoist the Cup? Can these Oilers really beat the Dallas Stars or Colorado Avalanche to take the West and then defeat the Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, or Carolina Hurricanes? Is this really the best the rest of Canada has to offer?

This is an Oilers team that despite having the best player in the world on their roster — selected with their fourth first-overall pick in a six-year span —  has been mired in mediocrity for a decade. They were mired in far worse than that for the previous decade.

This is an Oilers team that reminisces about past glories from the eighties and holds up former players from that era as winners, even as they presided over the darkest era in Oilers history, whose best advice is, "Get your balls on the crest of your jerseys" — that's an actual quote.

This is an Oilers team that was gifted Connor McDavid and has yet to even win their division a single time, while he’s led the league in scoring five times and won three Hart Trophies. 

It shouldn’t be possible to be this bad with McDavid on your roster but doing the impossible is truly the greatest thing the Oilers have accomplished over the past decade.

Surely, this is the season the Oilers would figure it out

Of course, this season was supposed to be different for the Oilers. This is their ninth season with McDavid and they’ve learned from their losses in past playoff runs. They’re an official Cup Contender™ now.

This season, the Oilers finally had figured out their goaltending woes, handing the starting job to Stuart Skinner, with one-time Vezina pick Jack Campbell as his backup. Except Skinner has been one of the all-time worst goaltenders in playoff history, with an astonishing .793 save percentage in three games against the Canucks, bringing his career playoff save percentage down to .881.

Since 1991, the only goaltender with a worse save percentage in the playoffs across at least 20 starts is Dan Cloutier and Canucks fans are very aware of what that means. Skinner won’t start Game 4 and neither will Campbell, who got sent down to the AHL; instead, it will be journeyman Calvin Pickard starting his first ever NHL playoff game.

This season, the Oilers finally had a reliable defence corps, with Evan Bouchard emerging as a number-one defenceman. 

Only, the Oilers’ highest-paid defenceman, Darnell Nurse, has been on an almost comically bad defence pair with their fourth-highest-paid defenceman, Cody Ceci. That duo is bleeding chances and goals against at an astonishing rate. 

This season, the Oilers finally had depth, with strong two-way forwards in their bottom-six that could contribute at both ends of the ice to make them more than a one-line team.

Except, faced with a Canucks team that ought to be eminently beatable, the Oilers have resorted to playing McDavid and Leon Draisaitl nearly 30 minutes a night together on the same line, with their other lines contributing little to speak of.

The Oilers can't be the best that Canada has to offer

If not for some overwhelmingly strong performances on both sides of special teams, this Oilers team doesn’t seem like much of anything at all. They’re power play merchants, who have been out-scored at even-strength in the playoffs.

Even if they get past the Canucks, what happens when a team like the Stars solves their penalty kill or the Rangers figure out their power play? What do they have left?

If this is the best that Canada has to offer, no wonder the Stanley Cup has applied for U.S. citizenship. 

So no, there will be no teaming up for the Cup. Canucks fans won't be backing "Canada's Team" and they won't be asking anyone else to back the Canucks. As always, the Canucks will be for Canucks fans.

If and when the Canucks win the Cup, they'll hoist it alone.