Lowetide: Could this be the ultimate Edmonton Oilers season?

In the 1980s, Edmonton Oilers fans were spoiled. Five Stanley Cups in seven seasons, the best player on the planet playing for the home team for one decade and record-breaking feats on a near-nightly basis.

The big problem for fans was holding on to the excitement. There were times, and this is astonishing based on what has happened since, when Oilers fans would get bored with the wins.

What does a historic dynasty team do to excite fans when the pinnacle has been reached time and again?

The Oilers’ solution was to sell Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings and then win another Stanley without “The Great One.”

That was then, this is now.

If a single Oilers season were to embody the entire history of the franchise, it would have to include historic individual feats, followed by unthinkable devastation (to honour the decade of darkness), a period of recovery and then a long run to the Stanley Cup.

If the script were to be completely true to the experience, a major player would request a trade after the Stanley Cup Final.

This year’s Oilers are one-half brilliance, one-half wreck on the highway.

The story could develop into the most compelling in team history. Here’s why.

Wild roster machinations

Oilers fans have become familiar with roster moves forced by cap pressure and mistakes by management resulting in overpaid veterans.

In recent seasons, Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto have been traded with sweeteners, as management offloaded cap dollars on other clubs in exchange for assets.

Buyouts in recent times include Andrej Sekera and James Neal.

The 1980s had their own challenges.

There were no buyouts 40 years ago, but there was contract strife.

Glenn Anderson was an annual contract issue and Paul Coffey’s negotiations got so heated owner Peter Pocklington reportedly said the defenceman had “no guts” and derailed talks already at the breaking point.

Mark Messier had holdouts in 1987 and 1991, the final one producing a trade to the New York Rangers. Andy Moog held out and played for the 1988 Canadian Olympic team, forcing a trade to the Boston Bruins.


There are some things this season has in common with the Oilers’ first championship.

Even Oilers fans who were around for the first Stanley Cup victory will have forgotten much of what transpired during the day-to-day business of the 1983-84 season.

Two veteran walk-ons made the opening-night lineup (Reg Kerr and Tom Rowe) but only Kerr played in any (three) games.

The current team has Sam Gagner and Adam Erne representing the PTO group, both men more successful at hanging around than their fall 1983 counterparts.

Jim Playfair, a 1982 Oilers pick, and Ken Berry, who came over from the Vancouver Canucks in the trade for Blair MacDonald, also made the team.

There were 11 rookies in 1983-84; there have been just two (James Hamblin and Raphael Lavoie) so far this season with current recall Phil Kemp ready to step in if needed.

Pat Conacher was the only freshman to play as much as half the season in 1983-84; Hamblin is on track to be the only current Oilers player to match that feat.


If the Oilers’ season results in the Stanley Cup, and that’s a major projection from this point in a roller-coaster campaign, there will be legends built around this season.

A famous example from 1983-84: After running with Wayne Gretzky and Ken Lineseman as the main centres through the early months of the year, coach Glen Sather made a change.

A season that saw the club run Conacher, Marc Habscheid and various others in the middle behind Gretzky and Linseman suddenly changed direction on Feb. 15, 1984.

Sather inserted Mark Messier into the centre position permanently and the rest is history. Edmonton would be Stanley Cup champions for the first time 63 days later.

The 1984 Stanley Cup winners had 10 names procured by the organization, either by Barry Fraser and his staff or by signing undrafted free agents: Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, Randy Gregg, Charlie Huddy, Jari Kurri, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, Andy Moog and Jaroslav Pouzar.

If this year’s Oilers win it all, the homegrown list will be Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Stuart Skinner, Ryan McLeod, Vincent Desharnais, James Hamblin, Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg. That’s 11.


Glen Sather made an astute trade in December 1983 for big centre Kevin McClelland. He provided grit and did some enforcement, along with scoring what might be the biggest goal in Oilers’ history. It was McClelland who scored the lone goal in Game 1 of the 1984 Stanley Cup Final, and combined with Grant Fuhr’s stellar work in net, Edmonton took a lead in the final that would lead it to victory.

The deadline was relatively quiet in 1984.

This year’s Oilers team will make some loud noises at the deadline, but there have been relatively few roster shuffles through the first three months of the year. Ironically, a McClelland type (right-handed centre, fourth line, physical, outscorer) is on the acquisition list in 2024.


It has been 40 years since the Oilers won the first Stanley Cup.

The team that breaks through and wins the sixth Stanley in Oilers history will walk together forever, to borrow a line from Fred Shero.

The 1980s Oilers remain icons in this city and throughout the hockey world. Gretzky, Messier and the rest are hockey’s version of The Beatles, famous forever and connected to each other in a material way.

Ken Holland’s legacy will be even greater than it is today. For the general manager to arrive in 2019 and win five years later, added to his Detroit Red Wings resume, will cap an exceptional career. He was not an impact goalie, but the record will show Hall of Fame credentials in the scouting and management departments over many decades.

The Oilers would also gain notoriety for being one of the final NHL teams to win Stanley while being built without a true analytics department. The elevation of Brad Holland and the hiring of Michael Parkatti finally indicated the organization’s willingness to modernize. It happened late in the McDavid era, ironic since the birth of hockey analytics took place on Oilers blogs, but the “better late than never” adage applies here.

If owner Daryl Katz remains devoted to analytics, the next Stanley Cup will arrive much sooner than the sixth one (should it come to pass).

For Katz, a Stanley Cup would represent the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Like many Oilers fans his age, Katz was heavily influenced by the golden era Oilers of the 1980s. Since taking over ownership of the franchise 16 years ago, it’s been a long, hard road with plenty of lessons learned.

A great coincidence could occur if Edmonton wins the Cup in 2014. The player former owner Pocklington reportedly called out decades ago is part of a defensive fix that has worked wonders on a previously wayward group.

Detroit owner Mike Ilitch purchased the Red Wings in 1982, and made many mistakes along the way before reaching the pinnacle 15 years later. Oilers fans may be surprised, but Katz’s route to Stanley is in the range of the Ilitch timeline.

The players on the roster will be the big story should Edmonton win Stanley.

McDavid may be the best player all time when he retires, and he’s won every individual award available save for the one he was robbed of by the Philadelphia Flyers defence (the Calder Trophy).

The Stanley Cup, more than any other trophy, represents the ultimate in team sports.

McDavid winning it, with Draisaitl, Nurse, Nuge and the rest, seems inevitable despite so many disappointments since 2015.

Who gets the Stanley after McDavid? 

We’re way out on a limb in discussing this, but the running order for the skate around the ice with the Cup is one of the fun conversations surrounding an Oilers victory in the final.

McDavid would receive it from Gary Bettman, the crowd booing mercilessly home or away.

There are several candidates. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the elder statesman. Darnell Nurse arrived as an Oilers regular in McDavid’s rookie season and is part of the inner circle of this team’s centre cluster.

Draisaitl is the obvious candidate to skate around second, followed by Nurse, Nuge and the rest.

Sentimental reasons lead one to hope for an early appearance for Sam Gagner. His career with the Oilers spans the decade of darkness and all of the moments of daylight since, although he’s been traded a time or two.

The bottom line

All discussion of the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup is verboten in some circles, but this season has a chance to live in infamy for specific reasons.

This team was picked to win the championship by many, including the author of this piece.

Edmonton fell to last so quickly fans barely had a chance to grab a seat at Rogers Place.

The unthinkable (Jay Woodcroft firing) happened, followed by a bounce that has sustained for almost two months. The team’s performance is repeatable, and the holes in the roster are less than what it appeared not so long ago.

The Oilers need some help, and that is likely to come via trade.

The stories fans will remember are partially known (McDavid’s stunning surge toward the top of the scoring race, Bouchard’s emergence as an impact player, Zach Hyman’s race to 50 goals, Draisaitl’s spike when Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele joined his line, Skinner’s December to remember) but there are miles to go on this season.

Oilers fans have endured many years of bitter disappointment. At a time when things are going well, contemplating this season’s possible outcome is pure pleasure.

If it comes true, this Oilers team will be remembered forever. Warts and all.

(Photo of Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

Originally Appeared Here

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