“It’s been said in the past about these Edmonton Oilers that they haven’t won anything yet! Well they look like a happy group down there now, they’ve won something now. Folks there’s a new bunch on the block in the National Hockey League, the Edmonton Oilers by name. The Oilers have won the Stanley Cup!” – Bob Cole, CBC
It was a beautiful scene that filled the Northlands Coliseum in the final moments of Game 5 of the 1984 Stanley Cup Finals as the seconds ticked away in a 5-2 Oilers cup clinching win. Proud Edmontonians counted the seconds down in convincing fashion as players, trainers, coaches and even fans flooded the Oilers zone to celebrate the city’s first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. It was the start of a new dynasty that would forever change the way hockey was played.
Gone was the old guard of the Montreal Canadiens then-22 Stanley Cup reign that seemed to be the norm of the 1950s-1970s. Gone was the short-lived Broad Street Bully era and now gone was a 4-year repeat of championships by the New York Islanders led by Bob Nystrom, Mike Bossy and goaltender Billy Smith. The Oilers had arrived to issue in a new era of firewagon high offense hockey that reignited hockey fans interest in the excitement of the game that was lost at the time. The Oilers were a young group that had been drafted and collected over a few short seasons that came together to form one of the greater roster depths in NHL history.
Led by the megastar that was Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers had assembled a roster of success based off the draft table, more importantly their first three drafts in the NHL from 1979-1981.
A huge player in the Oilers success is the much maligned former head scout Barry Fraser who struck gold in his early drafting years in Edmonton only to struggle later and take much of the blame for the teams lack of success at the draft table and poor on-ice performance when they tried to replicate the draft strategy again in the early 1990s.
In 1979 for the Oilers first NHL season after moving over from the now-defunct WHA, the Oilers built the foundation of their roster around defenseman Kevin Lowe (21st), center Mark Messier (48th) and winger Glenn Anderson (69th). In 1980 the Oilers would add a future offense dynamo of a defenseman in Paul Coffey (6th), a little known goal scorer from Finland named Jari Kurri (69th) and a goaltending diamond in the rough in Andy Moog (132nd) through the draft. The last pieces was a superstar goaltender and local product in Grant Fuhr (8th) and a stay-at-home defenseman who would debut during the 1984-85 season in Steve Smith (111th).
1984 Edmonton Oilers
Goaltenders: Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog & Mike Zanier
Defenseman: Paul Coffey, Randy Gregg, Lee Fogolin, Charlie Huddy, Don Jackson & Kevin Lowe
Forwards: Glenn Anderson, Pat Conacher, Wayne Gretzky, Pat Hughes, Dave Hunter, Jari Kurri, Willy Lindstrom, Ken Linseman, Dave Lumley, Mark Messier, Kevin McClelland, Jaroslav Pouzar & Dave Semenko
Management: Peter Pocklington (owner), Glen Sather, Bruce MacGregor, John Muckler, Barry Fraser, Peter Millar, Barrie Stafford & Lyle Kulchisky
Coming into the NHL the WHA Oilers of Avco championships was no more, they were gutted and dismantled by their NHL expansion and many players left unprotected. This was a huge blow to the Oilers initial entry into the NHL as they struggled to keep pace but in the long-term best thing that ever happened because it allowed the Oilers to adapt a new strategy of building through the draft.
Eventually as the team worked itself through mediocrity they surprised many with a playoff upset of the perennial contending Montreal Canadiens in the 1980-81 season, but failed to capitalize on the run. The Oilers will also forever be infamous for their collapse in their Smyth Division series against a ragtag group of journeymen that made up the 1982 Los Angeles Kings in what will forever be remembered as the “Miracle on Manchester”. The Kings would shock the Oilers with five unanswered goals in the third period to erase an Oilers 5-0 lead. Darryl Evans would eventually score the winner and the Oilers never recovered losing the series to the Kings who would eventually be bounced by another cinderella team the Vancouver Canucks who would go on to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champions the NY Islanders.
The Oilers finally seemed destined to arrive in 1982-83 when they marched through then-Campbell Conference enroute to a battle of mega powers against the three-peat champions the New York Islanders, but the series proved to be one sided. The Islanders would win their fourth and final Stanley Cup of their dynasty years by sweeping the Oilers 4-0.
Then there is always the story that forever lives in Oilers folklore about a deflated Gretzky, Messier, Coffey and several other players walking past the champion Islanders dressing room and seeing the players fatigued, covered in ice packs and licking their wounds. The Islanders weren’t celebrating but rather showed insight into what it truly meant to pay the price to win as a team. This was a defining moment and lesson to the Oilers who would enter the 1983-84 season ready to pay that price.
The Oilers won the Smythe Division banner with 119 points, 37 more points to the eventual runner-ups the Vancouver Canucks. What may be more impressive is that the ’84 Oilers went 31-5-4 for 66 points on home-ice at the old Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place). The best home-ice record from the 2013-14 NHL season? The Boston Bruins went 31-7-3 for 65 points, not a bad comparison for the Bruins.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 19, 2014
The Gretzky Effect
In 1984 the Oilers would break the NHL total goals in a season marker in the second of two consecutive seasons when they registered 446, an NHL record that stands to this day. That broke a previous record set a 424 goals in a season. To put that into perspective compare that to the 2013-14 league leading 267 goals scored by the Chicago Blackhawks, that number is astounding!
“To finally win the Stanley Cup, we really didn’t know what to expect. We wre kids living that dream of wanting to win the Stanley Cup like Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe, Dave Keon and here we were getting a chance to win the Stanley Cup. It was so unique.” – Wayne Gretzky, via NHL.com
The Oilers were lead by Gretzky (87), Anderson (54), Kurri (52) and Coffey (40) who all broke the 40-goal mark. The remarkable thing about Kurri’s 52 goal season was that it came in an injury-plagued 64 game season for a 0.81 GPG average. Not to be outdone the Oilers had almost five 100-point players that year with, once-again, Gretzky leading the way with 205 points. Anderson had just missed the cut with 99-points.
The last Gretzky stat that will amaze people is the fact that at the age of 23 and in his sixth NHL season Gretzky had already amassed 1,018 points in just 465 games (2.18 PPG). Compare that to other young stars in their first seasons:
– Mario Lemieux (1984-1990) 838 points in 427 games (1.96 PPG)
– Eric Lindros (1992-1998) 507 points in 360 games (1.40 PPG)
– Sidney Crosby (2005-2011) 572 points in 412 games (1.38 PPG)
– Dale Hawerchuk (1981-1987) 631 points in 479 games (1.31 PPG)
– Alexander Ovechkin (2005-2011) 614 points in 475 games (1.29 PPG)
– Mark Messier (1979-85) 445 points in 430 games (1.03 PPG)
– Steven Stamkos (2008-2014) 426 points in 410 games (1.03 PPG)
– Patrick Kane (2007-2013) 424 points in 446 games (0.95 PPG)
– Gordie Howe (1946-1952) 343 points in 368 games (0.93 PPG)
OILERS: Kevin Lowe and Wayne Gretzky Announced yesterday that all the players on the 1984 Stanley Cup team would… http://t.co/wtQtNa87ES
— 100.3 The Bear (@1003TheBear) August 20, 2014
Fuhr/Moog Tandem One of the Best of All-Time
Non-Oiler supporters will always point out the Oilers “Gretzky” effect but forget that the team possessed one of the best one-two goalie tandems in the league at the time and maybe one of the better tandems in league history with Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr platooning.
Fuhr was only 21-years-old at the time of his first Stanley Cup Championship, the youngest goalie at the time to win a Stanley Cup. That title would later be bested by Patrick Roy (20) in 1986 when the Canadiens would beat the Flames in an All-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. Fuhr’s backup at the time was Andy Moog who had just turned 24-years-old mid-season. Together the two accounted for the 57 wins the Oilers had in the regular season.
Fuhr was however a polarizing figure in Edmonton. He had his ups and downs but at the end of the night he gave his team a chance to win. In the early part of Marc-Andre Fleury’s career there were heavy comparisons between Fuhr and Fleury for that reason. Fleury however has fizzled in his later years and will unfortunately never achieve the type of success Fuhr had in his career. Fuhr would remain in Edmonton winning four Stanley Cups in five years before a 1991 trade to Toronto along with Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube. In exchange the Oilers would acquire Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing, Scott Thornton and Luke Richardson most of whom remained for short-stints during the early-90s rebuild.
Moog on the otherhand would eventually be shipped to Boston for Bill Ranford who would win the Conn Smythe trophy backstopping the 1990 Gretzky-less Oilers to the Stanley Cup against Moog for irony sake. The 1990 final would pit two storylines, one of Moog trying to prove he could backstop a team without the Oilers firepower to a Stanley Cup and the second that the Oilers themselves could win a Stanley Cup without Gretzky.
Moog would forever be tied to the Oilers as another trade that sent Moog to the Dallas Stars saw Moog play the Oilers again in the 1997 Western Conference Quarter-Finals where the Oilers would upset the Stars with Todd Marchant’s OT breakaway goal in Game 7.
All together Moog and Fuhr had seven Stanley Cup rings between the both of them as a dominant duo in the early 1980s.
The Run of A Lifetime
Finally the Oilers would arrive in 1984 winning their first Stanley Cup after knocking off the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames and Minnesota North Stars en route to the finals.
There are defining moments such as Mark Messier’s spliting of the Islanders defense and sliding one past Billy Smith in the high slot in what is now known as “The Goal”.
What made the 1984 run so special was the fact that this emerged as a team and not just a Wayne Gretzky team. Messier outplayed Gretzky down much of the final stretch of that playoff year and emerged as the Conn Smythe trophy winner. It was his play in Game 3 with the series tied 1-1 headed back to Edmonton when Messier split the defense and slid it past Smith. It was a monumental moment that shifted the tide in the Oilers favour for the remainder of the series as they outscored the Islanders 14-4 in games three and four.
In winning the Stanley Cup the Oilers became the first WHA team to merge into the NHL and win both the Avco and Stanley Cup.
The Boys Are Back On The Bus
On October 10th, one day removed from the home opener of the 2014-15 season against the Flames, that the entire 1984 team being reintroduced to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their cup win rubs off on the new bunch of Oilers on the block.
“Hopefully this will be a rub off on the new team with us being there for the home opener and having the excitement of the fans, hopefully we can pass that legacy onto the new players. We had a really special group. We beat a really great hockey club (Islanders), a dynasty team that taught us how to win from the previous year. When anyone scored, we all felt like we all scored. We were such an unselfish group.” – Wayne Gretzky, Oilers.com
This is also an opportunity to unite the older generation of Oiler fans with the newer younger generation. The generation that grew up on Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey and Fuhr meets the generation of fans growing up with Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Schultz and Scrivens. The commemoration of the 30th anniversary will be a great evening for Oiler fans and the city of Edmonton.
The reunion event will also have charitable beneficiaries with the Oilers Community Foundation assisting with proceeds going to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. Fans can buy tickets for $99.00 when they go on sale in two days on August 22nd. A once in a lifetime event to meet the team that started it all.