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Why now for the Edmonton Oilers? A primer on the Stanley Cup hopes of Canada’s northernmost NHL team

Canada’s northernmost NHL team is seeking to do what none of its peers on this side of the border have been able to do during the lifetime of Connor McDavid: Take home the Stanley Cup.

The McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers will have a chance to do that starting this Saturday, when they will face off against the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup finals.

Feeling a bit rusty on your knowledge of all things Oilers? Here’s a quick review of some of the team’s past glory days and a look at its 2024 playoff run so far.

How long has it been?

Since Edmonton has won the Cup? More than 30 years.

For any team from Canada, also more than 30 years — though the Montreal Canadiens won the Cup in 1993.

It goes slightly further back than that for the Oilers.

Since the Gretzky era?

WATCH | When No. 99 went to L.A.: 

The day Wayne Gretzky was traded to L.A.

36 years ago

Duration 0:29

Knowlton Nash tells viewers about the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles.

Not quite that long — Wayne Gretzky won his last Cup while playing for Edmonton in 1988. (Then there was that whole trade thing.)

But the Oilers won another Cup in 1990, without No. 99 being a part of the team.

They were pretty good back then?

The Oilers won five Cups in a span of seven seasons.

They won back-to-back championships in both 1984 and 1985, and again in 1987 and 1988.

Their fifth time as champs was the post-Gretzky run of 1990.

Esa Tikkanen is seen dousing then-Edmonton Oilers coach John Muckler with champagne in the aftermath of the team's fifth Stanley Cup victory in May of 1990.
Edmonton Oilers coach John Muckler, right, is doused with champagne by Esa Tikkanen after the Oilers won the NHL championships May 24, 1990. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

What about since then?

Following the 1990 Cup win, the Oilers have returned to the post-season on 15 occasions — including the current playoff run.

Edmonton made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in a seven-game series.

Just a handful of Canadian teams have been to the finals since then: Montreal did in 2021, while the Vancouver Canucks made it in 2011. The Ottawa Senators had their own shot at a Cup in 2007.

But none of these teams have managed to haul a Cup north of the U.S. border this century.

That’s better than the Leafs, right?

The Leafs haven’t been part of the Stanley Cup final since 1967, the last year they won the Cup — not that anyone mentions the 57-year-long playoff drought all that much.

What about Florida?

Since joining the league three decades ago, Florida has made it to the finals twice — last year, and also in 1996 — but lost on both occasions.

How do things look for the Oilers?

The Oilers won 49 games during the regular season, putting them behind four of their Western Conference peers that won at least 50 games.

Yet Edmonton prevailed over its fellow conference members during the post-season, including the 50-game winning Vancouver Canucks, whom the Oilers took out during the second round of the playoffs.

An Edmonton Oilers team watches the team warm up ahead of a second-round playoff game against the Vancouver Canucks.
An Edmonton Oilers team watches the team warm up ahead of a second-round playoff game against the Vancouver Canucks. (Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

The Eastern Conference’s Panthers — the team the Oilers will fight for the Cup — won 52 games during the regular season.

Like Edmonton, Florida has clawed its way through three rounds of playoff play to get to the finals — though it has needed less time on the ice to do so.

To get to this point, the Panthers have managed to dispatch their opponents in 17 total games across three rounds — whereas the Oilers needed 18 post-season battles to get here.

Who will the Oilers look to?

Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman celebrates scoring a goal during an NHL playoff game against the Dallas Stars.
Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman — seen celebrating after scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars last month — has put the puck past opposing goalies 14 times during the first three rounds of this year’s NHL playoffs. (Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press)

McDavid, the Oilers’ captain, the leading point-scorer to date in this year’s playoffs, and the reigning league MVP, for one.

The second- and third-ranked playoff point scorers are also on the Oilers’ roster: centre Leon Draisaitl and defenceman Evan Bouchard. Then there’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s tied for the fourth-highest playoff point total heading into the finals.

There’s also Zach Hyman, the veteran winger who scored 54 goals for Edmonton during the regular season, along with another 14 — three via a first-round Game 1 hat trick — during these same playoffs. He’s No. 7 on the playoff points list.

Edmonton’s Stuart Skinner appears set to be the man between the pipes for the Oilers, coming off a strong end to the third-round series with Dallas.

What about the Panthers?

Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovksy is seen blocking a shot by Danton Heinen of the Boston Bruins during a second-round playoff game in Boston last month.
Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovksy is seen blocking a shot by Danton Heinen of the Boston Bruins during a second-round playoff game in Boston last month. (Michael Dwyer/The Associated Press)

Florida will rely on star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to stop whatever Edmonton is bringing to the net. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner has stopped 377 of 415 shots made against him during the playoffs.

In terms of offence, winger Matthew Tkachuk has led the way with five goals and 14 assists during Florida’s own push along the rungs of the playoff ladder. Those 19 points put him sixth on the list this post-season.

Following him in terms of playoff contributions are teammates Aleksander Barkov (six goals, 11 assists) and Carter Verhaeghe (nine goals and eight assists).

How long will the series go?

The first team to claim four wins will then win the Stanley Cup.

If either team manages to sweep the other, it’ll be over on Saturday, June 15 — the fourth game set in the schedule.

The next three games — which each would only be played if necessary — would fall on the next Tuesday (June 18), Friday (June 21) and following Monday (June 24), respectively.

Perhaps, if things go well, the Oilers will have the opportunity to play La Bamba — the famous Ritchie Valens song — as the playoffs roll forward. 

The song was a favourite of Joey Moss, a long-time Oilers locker room attendant who died in 2020. The team later played it after team wins at home, in a tribute to him following his death.

That connection continued with a young Oilers fan named Ben Stelter, whose catchphrase “Play La Bamba, baby!” became an inspiration for team members. He died of cancer in 2022.

And when the Oilers punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Cup’s official feed on X had a message for fans: “Play La Bamba,” it said.

Where can I watch the games?

All of the Stanley Cup Games are being broadcast in Canada on CBC-TV, Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

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