Deconstructing Myths: NHLers Don't Want to Play in Edmonton

Nick FrostCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

27 Jan 1995:  Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.  The Ducks won the game, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello  /Allsport

The glass is half empty.

It's times like this that being a fan of the Edmonton Oilers frustrates me to no end.

Like numerous others on Tuesday night, I bought the ticket, met the height requirement, and rode the vomit-inducing roller coaster of rumour and innuendo that was the Dany Heatley-to-Edmonton saga—even having to pop a few Gravol halfway through, when the disgruntled winger said he would take their offer and “sleep on it.”

Close to 48 hours after the fact, I finally took a step back from my refresh button, dejected and furious. Once again, our beloved Oilers had tried to land a hockey megastar, only to be told that Edmonton is too whatever-people-think-is-wrong-with-Edmonton to be a suitable fit.

During my downtime afterwards, however, I tried my best to think about Heatley's implied decision rationally within the bigger picture, as it seems a large number of insecure Oiler fanatics struggle to during similar instances of cold-hearted rejection.

And why shouldn't they take it personally?

A well-known hockey player has once again indicated to North Americans that our backwards, attraction-free, sub-zero, pseudo-big city has too much “je ne sais quoi” and not enough everything else to fulfill his needs six-to-eight months of the year (minus, of course, time spent on the road and at the summer home.)

He's not the only one who's felt that way, either.

Chris Pronger and his family got tired of being bored in Edmonton; Michael Nylander turned us down at the last second when he found out that his wife could tolerate the climate of Stockholm, but not that of Edmonton; Marian Hossa, meanwhile, wanted to win a Stanley Cup, but Miss Cleo told him that he wouldn't be able to do it here.

If four people don't want to be Edmonton Oilers, surely we can apply the same label to every other player and call it a day, yes?

Admittedly, it's hard not to feel something similar to what I've just illustrated when news like this first breaks. We, as a city and fanbase, have a knack for taking things personally.

But then, someone intriguing came along.

His name is Nikolai Khabibulin—he's a Stanley Cup winner, an Olympic bronze medallist, and a four-time NHL All-Star. He helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to last year's Western Conference final. He's a certifiable number-one netminder, and still one of the best in the league.

And, oh yeah, he chose to sign a reasonable long-term deal with the very same Edmonton Oilers that Heatley couldn't commit to.

But wait, I've uncovered some juicy relics!

Two summers ago, Sheldon Souray signed a multi-year deal with the Oilers, in spite of the fact that he could've either resigned in Montreal as they had originally offered, or waited for an offer from a California team in order to be closer to his wife and children.

That same offseason, restricted free agents Dustin Penner (fresh off of a Stanley Cup triumph in Anaheim) and Thomas Vanek (an All-Star and two-time 40-goal scorer) both accepted offer sheets that would've seen them move to Edmonton. Of course, the Buffalo Sabres matched the offer for Vanek, and we all know what happened with Penner.

Why, then, did those four players decide to come here (or, at least, want to) and the other ones didn't? For that answer, let's consider what the common thread was with each of our antagonists—they were either acquired, or came into negotiations, with their own agendas.

Heatley is now on the second trade request of his career (granted, the first one from Atlanta was to escape the emotional turmoil he was entangled in following the death of teammate Dan Snyder). Pronger and his wife, Lauren, were known for playing big roles within the community in St. Louis, her hometown—if they were forced to leave there, why wouldn't they want to move to the biggest community possible to upkeep their socialite lives? And if Hossa's intention was to win a Stanley Cup right away, realistically, it was probably never his intention to sign here, no matter how many conversations he had with owner Daryl Katz.

So it might not be that Edmonton is a bad city to be in, after all; perhaps it's just that, in the hunt to land a big fish, Oilers management just keeps going after a blowfish.

Because, after all, people do exist that consider Edmonton to be an attractive place to play hockey—and, if nothing else, it's always an interesting place to be a hockey fan.

The glass is half full.