The Edmonton Oilers’ Stanley Cup Finals appearance has raised hopes that a Canadian team will win for the first time in 31 years, but the challenge of the Florida Panthers will be hard to overcome.

Odds-makers like the Panthers (-130) over the Oilers (+115) to win the Stanley Cup Final, meaning it would take a $130 bet on the favored Panthers to win $100, while a $100 bet on the underdog Oilers would net $115 if they win. Essentially, the Panthers have a 57.5 percent chance of winning the series.
Those odds sound right to Rod Pedersen, host of the online Cats ‘n Bolts podcast and his eponymous sports talk show on Game TV. The small-town Saskatchewan boy grew up an Oilers fan but now lives 21 miles from the Panthers’ Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida.

“The Panthers have an edge in the coaching department. They have an edge in the goaltending department. They have an edge in the blue line department. I think the only checkmark goes to the Oilers because of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl,” Mr. Pedersen told the Epoch Times in an interview.

Mr. McDavid, the league’s most valuable player in 2022-23, became the first player Since 1991 to get 100 assists this season. His 132 points left him third in scoring, while Mr. Draisaitl’s 106 points placed him seventh.

Florida Panthers players celebrate after defeating the New York Rangers in Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference finals in Sunrise, Fla.  on June 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Florida Panthers players celebrate after defeating the New York Rangers in Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference finals in Sunrise, Fla. on June 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
After three rounds of NHL playoffs, Mr. McDavid led with 31 points, followed by Mr. Draisaitl’s 28. Oilers Evan Bouchard and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins followed with 27 and 20 points, respectively. The highest-scoring Panther is Matthew Tkachuk with 19 points, followed by Oiler Zach Hyman with 18 and Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov with 17.

Related Stories

Oilers Back in Cup Final, and Fans From Arctic Circle to Philippines Celebrate
Oilers Edge Stars To Set Up Stanley Cup Final Showdown With Panthers

Concordia University sports professor Moshe Lander says Mr. Tkachuk and Mr. Barkov represents a “big drop off” in talent from Mr. McDavid and Mr. Draisaitl, something it pains him to say as a Calgary Flames fan.

“Unless Florida can figure out a way to negate those two, I don’t know that they have enough firepower,” Mr. Lander said in an interview.

“Florida doesn’t really have the counter for Connor McDavid.”

The Oilers seemed unlikely candidates for success last fall, when they began the season with three wins, eight regulation losses, and one overtime loss. Then, the November hiring of Kris Knoblauch as head coach and Paul Coffey as defensive coach set the team on fire.
The Oilers won 16 straight games in December and January and finished the season with 49 wins, 27 regulation losses, and 6 overtime losses for 104 points.

“It really is a tale of two seasons for them,” Mr. Lander says, adding that it proves that “coaching matters.”

“It’s how to motivate that talent. It’s how to get the most out of it. It’s how to have a vision and getting your players to buy into that vision that matters.”

While Mr. Knoblauch and Mr. Coffey is NHL rookie coach, Panthers coach Paul Marice has the second-most wins in NHL history (1,848), having previous experience with Hartford, Carolina, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

Mr. Pedersen calls Mr. Marice an underrated “magician.”

“He’s on another level intellectually. But it is having the temperature of his dressing room, knowing when to push, knowing when to pull, knowing when to ease off, being on top of technology, using analytics as a tool,” he said.

“They [the Panthers] do change their game within the game a little bit, and he will mix up his lines. But he still uses emotion as good as anybody in a TV timeout, reading the riot act to his players and then seeing them go score a goal on the very next shift.”

Florida and Edmonton are the two most southern and northern teams in the league, with their arenas 4,825 km apart. But long regular season travel schedules aren’t all the teams have in common. They both overcame 2-1 series deficits in their conference finals to win at home in Game 6. They also both lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in last year’s playoffs, the Oilers in round two, While the Panthers fell to the Knights in the Stanley Cup finals.

Coming so close has made Florida hungry and focused, Peterson says, and although they’ve never won a Stanley Cup since entering the league in 1993, the Oilers and their fans have been waiting even longer. Edmonton won five cups in its first 11 seasons, but none since 1990. The only Oilers finals appearance since then came in 2006ending in a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

This time around, the Oilers haven’t surrendered a shorthanded goal in their last 10 games, having killed 28 straight penalties.

Mr. Lander credits many cup wings to a “hot goalie theorem,” and notes Oilers netminder Stuart Skinner has had a “hot hand.” Mr. Skinner, who grew up in Edmonton, won six of his last eight games with a 1.81 goals-against average and a save percentage of .919.
Even so, Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has comparable stats, winning five of his last eight games with a goals-against average of 1.81 and a save percentage of .926.

Mr. Pedersen says the Oilers will need sharp goaltending, disciplined play, and Mr. McDavid to be dominant.

“They’re outmatched in almost every category. So they need to play smart, which they have been—ie not taking bad penalties, not coughing up the puck in their own zone. And Stewart Skinner needs to be the best Stewart Skinner has ever been,” Mr. Pedersen said.