Oilers open new arena versus rival Flames
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers have a brand new state-of-the-art arena, but it doesn't feel like home just yet.
The Oilers played four preseason games at the new, 18,500-seat Rogers Place. But it's not enough time to get used to a new ice surface, new boards and all of the idiosyncrasies of a new arena that give a team its home-ice advantage.
The brand new arena is part of a $614 million downtown revitalization project that also includes a community arena, a Winter Garden common area and transit corridor.
The opponent for Wednesday's home opener will be the Oilers' fiercest rival, the Calgary Flames. Both teams missed the playoffs in 2015-16 -- in fact, the Oilers haven't been to the playoffs since they lost to Carolina in the 2006 Stanley Cup final.
"For the Battle of Alberta to get back to what it was, you need the teams to get back in the playoffs," Flames defenseman Mark Giordano said. "I think both teams are optimistic with their young players. Obviously, it'll be exciting. That first one is going to be a fun one, we get to go into a new building and they'll be excited."
The one advantage for the visiting Flames -- and any team that travels to Edmonton in the first couple of months of the regular season -- is that Rogers Place still feels new to the home team.
"I think we're starting to get it figured out," Oilers goalie Cam Talbot said. "I think everyone knows that there will be some bounces here that aren't going to be favorable, sometimes off the boards the puck comes off pretty quick. The ice gets pretty bad near the end of the period and the puck is just bouncing everywhere."
So, while the new arena has luxury suites, a loge level where food is brought right to the fans' tables, and a home dressing room that looks like the ready room of the Enterprise, the one negative is the choppy ice.
Remember that the Oilers' old arena, Rexall Place, was consistently hailed for having the fastest, smoothest ice in the NHL. So, there might be an adjustment period for offensive stars like 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Connor McDavid and his projected first-line mates, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic.
According to Talbot, the Oilers will need to adjust to a surface where simple passes can hop over sticks and lead to turnovers.
"You just have to take it into account that the ice is going to be bad and make the simple plays," he said.
Oilers center Leon Draisaitl agreed.
"It'll take a little while, for sure," Draisaitl said. "We were in the other rink for so long, so it will take a little while to make this our home. But we're really on a good way here, we're on the right track. I can just feel it will be a great home for us."
But the Oilers can look to the New York Islanders, who moved to the Barclays Center last year and sported an excellent 25-11-5 home record. Growing pains can be overcome.
Roster news came fast and furious during the day before the season opener.
The Oilers signed defenseman Eric Gryba to a two-way deal. Center Anton Lander, who scored just once in 61 games for the Oilers last season, was placed on waivers this week. Left winger Matt Hendricks and right winger Iiro Pakarinen will start the season on injured reserve.
The Flames came to terms Monday with left winger Johnny Gaudreau (30 goals, 48 assists last season) on a new, six-year, $40.5 million contract. Calgary waived Brandon Bollig, the left winger who scored twice in 54 games the previous season.
The Flames also sent right winger Linden Vey, who played 41 games for the Vancouver Canucks last season, down to its American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton, Calif.
Kris Versteeg, who spent the preseason with the Oilers on a tryout basis, could play in Wednesday's game -- as a member of the Flames. The veteran right winger signed a one-year deal with Calgary immediately after deciding not to sign with Edmonton. Oilers coach Todd McLellan said the club offered Versteeg a deal, but the winger turned it down.
The Flames also added defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who played 58 games for the Arizona Coyotes in 2006-07.
Earlier in the week, the Oilers signed defenseman Kris Russell, who played 198 career regular-season games for the Flames between 2013-16.
"There's no friends on the ice," Flames center Matt Stajan was quoted as saying on the team's website. "We wish him well. But come Wednesday, we're enemies."
After the teams face each other in the opener, they head to Calgary for Friday's rematch.