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GENE'S BLOG: That's a Wrap

In his latest blog, Gene Principe wraps up the Oilers season

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - As the playoffs begin Wednesday night, it will feel a little lonely for fans of the Edmonton Oilers. 

They won't have their favourite team to cheer for during the opening evening in the chase for the Stanley Cup. It's not what the organization wanted or expected. There isn't a single one of the 31 teams that doesn't believe they will be in the chase for the Cup. When the squads get whittled down to a more manageable 16 there are still 15 who are left standing on the outside. The Oilers are one of them this season but I firmly believe they won't be one next season. 

Video: RAW | Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky

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GENE'S BLOG: Uncovering Connor

In his latest blog, Gene tells the story of when Sam Gagner was asked to skate with a young and almost undiscovered Connor McDavid

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - "Connor McDavid, remember that name" was a call made by legendary play-by-play man Bob Cole after Connor had scored one of his 128 NHL goals.

They are five simple words which include the name of the game's greatest player or one of the greatest. The purpose of those five words isn't to start a debate on who is hockey's best but to set up a story on the Edmonton Oilers player who first saw Connor McDavid on the ice. 

While he was been watched from the youngest of ages all the way to present day, the one who uncovered Connor was Sam Gagner.

"My trainer at the time was Dan Ninkovich. He was training some minor hockey teams and he said there's this kid you should see," Gagner recalls. "He (Dan) said, 'Do you want to skate with him? Because he is going to be the next best thing. He is at a different level.'" 

Well, give Dan credit because he had an eye for talent even back then. You have to remember this was a decade ago when Gagner took Ninkovich up on the offer.

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GENE'S BLOG: Friends and Foes

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about friends-turned-foes Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon dropping the gloves

by Gene Principe /

ST. LOUIS, MO - It was about 25-30 minutes after the game on Tuesday night when standing outside in the hallway having a chat were Zack Kassian and Pat Maroon. 

Not something out of the ordinary. Former teammates and current friends having the chance to catch up and find out how their respective seasons are going. Check in on the kids, with Pat having a boy named Anthony, and Zack recently becoming a father with Ellery. It was something you see around the League with every team. You often hear athletes of many sports say they're friends off the ice but not friends on the ice. Well, I think there was a great example of that from Kassian and Maroon on Tuesday. 

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game at STL 03.19.19

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GENE'S BLOG: Benning-ficial

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about Matt Benning's performance in his past few outings

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - Matt Benning has had quite a week. 

In fact, quite a season for the local boy.

Lots have been going on this year and one way or the other he's been able to take it all in and push forward to playing the best hockey of his young career. During a time where the Oilers want stability on defence the young man has been able to provide it. He certainly has benefited from the return of Andrej Sekera but having a veteran saddled up beside him has allowed Benning to relax and feel more confident. Anyone of us would or should be better at our jobs when we get some help and that help allows us to take our time and do things right. It's what Benning has been doing to finish off this season.

Video: NJD@EDM: McDavid gets 100th point on Benning goal

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GENE'S BLOG: Road Trip

In his latest blog, Gene Principe looks back on the team's successful five-game trip

by Gene Principe / Special to

It started February 24th and ended March 5th. In the wee hours of the morning, the Edmonton Oilers were scheduled to arrive home from the last leg of their trip. After four hours and two thousand one hundred and sixty five miles in the air, the journey was complete or least the trip was. The journey continues for Edmonton. Unlike the NHL schedule, which is laid out in the summer and tells you exactly where you'll be, when you'll be there and what time the puck will be dropped, this journey is different. It can only lead the Oilers to one of two places: it's either the playoffs or the off season.

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GENE'S BLOG: Deadline Day Draisaitl

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about Leon Draisaitl's performance against the Predators on Trade Deadline day

by Gene Principe /

TORONTO, ON - A long day seems to always be the way it goes for NHL Trade Deadline day. 

It's become a huge event on Sportsnet as we hit the TV airwaves at 8:00 AM ET/6:00 AM MT. A cast of thousands (or so it seems) are deployed on our panels with people also located all across Canada and for that matter spots in the U.S. 

It's the kind of day you don't want to lose and you prefer to win. That could be said about every team in the NHL. In Edmonton's case, they didn't lose (any players) and didn't win any deals. None were made as Keith Gretzky and company held true. They weren't making a move if it didn't help the future. All was quiet from the Oilers.

An Oiler who wasn't quiet and certainly hasn't been is Leon Draisaitl. 

Video: EDM@NSH: Draisaitl pots SHG to open the scoring

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GENE'S BLOG: What a Weekend

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the Oilers busy weekend

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - Well, what a 48 hours it was for the Edmonton Oilers. 

It was two games and two trades done on the East Coast. All of it happening in a pair of places with Stanley Cup implications. 

One was full of pain and suffering. The other started like that but eventually grew into triumph and glory. It was the way it went in Carolina and New York (even if they were in Brooklyn and not Long Island). 

A whirlwind of emotions captured on a weekend where the Oilers were on the move to help themselves clear cap space, keep an eye on the future and not turn away from the present. A lot to try and get done on a Friday and Saturday. 

It was not long after the game versus Carolina as I departed PNC Arena (every time I go into that rink I can't help but think of Game 7 in the 2006 Final) I saw Cam Talbot on the phone. It's not out of the ordinary for a player in the post-game window to be chatting to someone. 

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game @ NYI 02.16.19

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GENE'S BLOG: Catching up with Connor

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the leadership Oilers Captain Connor McDavid has displayed of late

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - A player wants to play but when he doesn't and is a healthy scratch they get the opportunity to watch the game in a different way. 

It's supposed to give them a perspective that can be used effectively once they get back in the lineup. Broadcasters want to broadcast but on Sunday, I was a 'healthy scratch' replaced by Shawn McKenzie. In fact, our entire Sportsnet crew was replaced. Garry Galley taking over for Louie DeBrusk or Drew Remenda and Dave Randorf calling the action, not Kevin Quinn. Instead of watching the game from Montreal and the Bell Centre I was in the cozy confines of my home. It was interesting to watch others talk about Connor McDavid instead of me and my normal tv partners. 

With that in mind, what did I learn? I learned that I (we) aren't the only ones who gush over the captain. Sometimes you feel like, 'OK I have to stop this,' but then Connor does something and before you know it, you're back to gushing again. Like Saturday and the goal he scored versus Philadelphia. He played keep away from three Flyers who were within feet of him before roofing one over Carter Hart (sidebar: I met the Sherwood Park born netminder after the game and he seems like a really nice kid). Again, he finds ways to redefine his greatness and things that literally no one else in the game can do. 

Video: EDM@PHI: McDavid holds off defenders for 30th goal

Alright, back we go to Sunday. It was Garry Galley who mentioned when Connor was introduced, the fans cheered. Alright, I get them booing because he's the best player on the opposing team. Instead, they cheered because he's the best player in the League. Not sure that would happen often in any building or city but in one where fans have appreciated some of the greatest players of all time, they know greatness when it's in their presence. Montreal is a stage like no other. Whether it's in English or Francais the languages both have plenty of words, phrases, sayings to describe Connor McDavid. Graceful (gracieux), thrilling (palpitant), captivating (captivant) and so many more in either of Canada's official languages. 

Connor has crept up in the scoring race slowly but steadily, moving up to where he starts this week tied for second in the Art Ross Trophy race. He and Patrick Kane sitting at 76 points, which is four back of Nikita Kucherov. As impressive as that is and continues to be, a lot of what has really grabbed my attention lately has been his words and not his on-ice wizardry. It hasn't been an easy time for the franchise and people in the room, people in the stands, people everywhere look to No. 97 for leadership. He has provided it with his lead by example approach but he's also done it by what he's had to say. In the aftermath of the loss to Carolina, he said if you don't want to be here, there's the door. At the All-Star break while others were answering questions about their favourite places to go on holidays, Connor was being grilled about the change in the Oilers GM position. Again, he stood up and said we will prove people wrong.

It's hard to do what Connor does because his God-given talents and tireless work ethic make him an extreme case in excellence. It's easier to just listen to him and believe in what he says and his commitment to pursuing the playoffs. I believe Connor McDavid has uncovered and is now displaying his leadership qualities out in the open for everyone to see. It's been an interesting few weeks and, for that matter, years watching the growth of this teenager into a young man as we all are enjoying the opportunity of catching up with Connor.

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GENE'S BLOG: Easy as 1, 2, 3 points

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about the Oilers being just three points away from a playoff spot

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - So what did you do with your All-Star break? I know what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl did. After that, I don't know who did what. 

I know I spent it in Edmonton. After the constant travel, it's nice to stay home for a few days and have nothing to do work-wise. Catch up a little bit with the family, watch a movie or two (A Quiet Place) and just enjoy watching some skills and thrills with the NHL All-Star Game and Weekend. It was an interesting event accented by McDavid's speed and Draisaitl's hands. They make quite a pair. It looked like fun for the two and about time they enjoy themselves at the rink. 

It's been a tough season for Connor and company. You wouldn't know it by looking at their individual numbers. The captain sits tied for 3rd in NHL scoring and only 5 points back of the leader. While his all-star mate is tied for the ninth spot in the scoring race with 61 points. The individual success is nice but you know not one but both want to tie in their spot in the scoring race with Edmonton's positioning in the playoff race. This is where as an Oiler fan you can take two approaches. Glass half full or glass half empty.

Video: ALL-STAR | McDavid & Draisaitl

If you are a glass half empty guy or gal then you'll see their 49 pts in the West and lament how only two teams, Chicago with 45 points and LA with 44, are the only two below them in the conference BUT if you take the glass half full approach you'll see those same 49 pts and realize the Oiler are only three points back of Dallas and Colorado for the two wild card spots in the West. It wasn't the way Edmonton had planned their all-star placing but it's where they are and what they face when everyone regroups in the Alberta capital for the last 32 games of the season. 

Here's the way I look at the 2018-19 season so far for Edmonton. Over the course of October, November, December and January they have made a move behind the bench, they have gone a different direction from their GM, they have lost their number one defenceman for 19 games and they are still only three points out of a playoff spot. Listing off those three major events would make me think they were maybe double digits back of any hope of being in the top eight for their conference. Instead, that's not the case. As Connor said in San Jose: "Lost in all this is we're only three points back."

Let me be clear this is not the predicament Edmonton expected to be in this season but when they reconvene for practice on Thursday and play their first game on Saturday vs. Philadelphia this is where they are. A lot has happened and a lot is still to happen from Feb. 2 to April 6. I think for everything I saw and heard out of San Jose over the last few days what might have resonated the most for me was the captain acknowledging the Oilers situation and saying, "We're going to prove people wrong." We'll see if it's as easy as one, two, three points to the playoffs.

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GENE'S BLOG: Takin' Khaira Business

In his latest blog, Gene Principe writes about Jujhar Khaira's solid performance against the Canucks in front of family and friends

by Gene Principe /

EDMONTON, AB - It never hurts to come home and score and win. Jujhar Khaira did all of the above on Tuesday night. What a night it was for the Edmonton Oiler and for his team. The cherry on top would have been Khaira providing the winner in the shootout but that won't stand in the way of a joyous return to Vancouver for the west coast winger. There were fans in the stands who were cheering the Oilers and some specifically who were there to see and support, as Kevin Quinn said on Sportsnet during the game, "a local boy making good." He's serious and stern in his look but the sly smile on the outside would have been even bigger on the inside. 

Video: EDM@VAN: Khaira spins and pots slick shorthanded goal

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