EDMONTON, Alberta — Doug Weight and Jason Chimera have made many trips back through this city before. But Tuesday’s game here against the Oilers held some extra significance for both the Islanders coach and its oldest player.
Weight spent nine seasons with the Oilers, the last two as captain and Tuesday was his first game as a head coach in the city where he became an elite NHL player. Chimera played his first three NHL seasons in his hometown and Tuesday was his first back as an Islander and first in the spanking-new Rogers Place.
And Chimera recalled his first NHL game, on Dec. 9, 2000 in what was known then as Skyreach Centre but is probably best known from the Oilers dynasty era as Northlands Coliseum. His captain? A guy who’s now his coach.
“You know you’re getting older when that happens,” Chimera said. “It’s not the first time. Adam Oates was my linemate in Edmonton for a year and he was my coach in Washington. Now Dougie’s my coach. It’s kind of cool you’re still kicking around to have that happen.”
Chimera crossed the 1,000-game plateau for his NHL career earlier this season and he’s doing more than just kicking around. His 16 goals are fourth on the Islanders and fourth-most of his 17 NHL seasons, putting him on pace for a career-best 21 goals at age 37.
“He’s one of those enigmas physically, 37 and he’s still flying around the rink,” Weight said. “He has a goal in mind as well – he’s very professional but also knows when to speak up. It’s important because we have a pretty quiet group. He’s been huge for this team. It’s tough, we lost three core people and that’s the world we live in right now. These guys came in with a lot of pressure. In the last 35 games, (Andrew) Ladd and him have 30 goals. Chimmer’s a huge piece of our team on and off the ice.”
Weight has had his moments in the sun in Edmonton following the March 1993 trade from the Rangers for Esa Tikkanen — the famed shopping-cart deal made when the Oilers were set to play in Madison Square Garden that night and Weight trolleyed his gear down the hallway in said shopping cart.
Weight came to an Oiler team exiting its Stanley Cup era but there were still some big moments in his time there.
“I came at a young age to a team that had that tradition but they were in flux, so to speak,” Weight said. “Glen Sather decided to keep our core together and I learned from the (Craig) MacTavishes, the (Kevin) Lowes, Kelly Buchberger, guys like that who are still friends of mine. They put a lot of responsibility on my plate and I learned via them, that trust they showed me. Great city, great sports town and a real great chapter of my life that I still feel very proud about, that we made the playoffs six straight years.”
Weight’s task on Tuesday was to stop the Oilers’ new cornerstone player, Connor McDavid. He put Adam Pelech back in the lineup in place of Scott Mayfield on defense to make the Isles a bit more mobile against the Oilers’ speed.
McDavid was just out of diapers when Weight’s Oiler career ended with a trade to the Blues before the 2001-02 season, so the current Oilers captain can’t be blamed for not recalling the Weight era in Edmonton.
But in a room that overlooks the street in the new building is an Oilers Hall of Fame, a glass case where McDavid’s No. 97 hangs right near Weight’s No. 39. McDavid is on pace to break the 90-point plateau this season and he’d be the first Oiler to do so since Weight had 90 in his final Edmonton season.
“I’m sure he’ll get it eventually, whether it’s this season or the next 10,” Weight said. “He’s a special player. Not a lot of guys are that fast without the puck and he gets faster with it.”