When I last looked at five trades that defined a collapse of Edmonton Oiler hockey, I took a look at a dynasty team and how it turned it into, in many ways, the running joke of the NHL. Few, if any teams fell from grace in a way the Oilers did. Trading names like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Doug Weight and Chris Pronger would be tough on any team and the Oilers suffered tremendous hardship in the years that followed. As rough as it was, perhaps unfairly, I ignored trades that netted a positive result for the franchise.
To consider the other side, it’s fair to say that not every trade ever made by the Edmonton Oilers after Gretzky was a bad hockey trade. There were also a number of years in the mid to late 90’s that Edmonton was still a playoff team. Sure, if the Oilers had it to do all over, many of the names traded during their downfall may have been traded much later or finished their careers in Edmonton, but there were trades that brought in some fabulous players.
— Pro Am Sports (@ProAmSports) March 11, 2016
The Graves/Klima Trade
November 2, 1989 – Oilers acquire Adam Graves, Petr Klima, Joe Murphy and Jeff Sharples
After it became apparent that Jimmy Carson, the centerpiece of the Gretzky trade, was not going to work long-term in Edmonton, the Oilers tried to make hay and moved Carson and Kevin McClelland to Detroit. Carson was a good player, reaching 100 points in the one full year he spent in Edmonton, but he never achieved that level of success again. He toiled around in Detroit for three years with mediocre success, moved onto the Kings and Canucks and finally finished in 1995 with the Hartford Whalers. Meanwhile, Adam Graves, Klima and Joe Murphy were integral parts of the 1990 Stanely Cup win in Edmonton. Klima made an immediate impact as a 20-plus goal scorer every year and Murphy and Graves were part of the depth that became key in that 1990 cup victory.
Graves went on to have his best seasons after being moved to the Rangers, but he was one heck of a player and for Edmonton to get three key pieces to another championship made this one of the best trades the Oilers ever made. Nothing will ever be a fair trade for the best player in the game (Gretzky), but if you look at it in terms of Graves, Klima, Murphy, and three first round picks as the return for the “Great One”, it’s a bit easier to swallow.
The Doug Weight Trade
March 1993- Oilers acquire Doug Weight for Esa Tikkanen
We went into depth about how losing Weight was one of the five most defining trades for the Oilers in a negative way. That’s because he did so much for the franchise in the nine seasons he was an Oiler. Weight became Edmonton’s top player, while Tikkanen moved onto the Rangers, had one good season of 54 points, then moved around the NHL, playing for multiple teams and fading into retirement. Weight was a great example of prospecting the potential of a player, moving out an asset on the downturn of his career for one on the upstart. By almost every measuring stick, Edmonton nailed this trade.
Weight was easily Edmonton’s biggest superstar between 1993 and the arrival of Chris Pronger in 2006. He was a leader, point producing machine and overall was a good person who had a tremendous influence on the Oilers roster in a time when it was easy to be down. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he was one of the few things that saved hockey in Edmonton after the Messier era.
The Curtis Joseph Trade
August 4, 1995 – Oilers acquire Curtis Joseph for two first round picks
Cujo was arguably the Oilers best goalie post-Bill Ranford. His time with the Oilers spanned only two seasons and change before being signed to a big free-agent deal in Toronto, but Joseph made a major impact in those two-plus seasons. He helped Edmonton reach the playoffs in both 1995 and 1996, and was a bonafide starter playing in 70-plus games in each of his full seasons with the team.
Cujo posted incredible numbers in the Oilers two playoff appearances and almost single-handedly took the team past the first round. He was also a huge part of the community and well liked by fans and teammates. I’m sure the Oilers would have loved to have kept Joseph on long-term, but the money being offered in Toronto was about twice what he was being paid in Edmonton and understandably, he took the contract offered to him by the Maple Leafs.
— Connor Halley (@ConnorHalley) July 6, 2016
The Jason Smith Trade
March 23, 1999 – Oilers acquire Jason Smith for two later round draft picks
Know as “Gator”, Smith became well known as a guy who played through pain and injury nightly. Jason Smith literally bled orange and blue for the Oilers for eight years and while he was never much of an offensive weapon, he was sound defensively and tough as nails. During a time that Edmonton couldn’t compete in terms of on-ice talent, Smith defined what it meant to be a grinding hockey team trying to manage wins with sheer will and effort.
Smith was also known as one of Edmonton’s great captains in Oiler history. He was passionate, committed and unselfish in the way he played the game, leading by example on the ice. Despite being less talented than many of the defenseman that came before and after him, he was able to carve out a long career based upon hard work. He also became extremely active in the community and in a time that saw the Oilers with little money to spend on players, Smith personified the type of player Edmonton needed to compete and keep the fans engaged in the team.
The Chris Pronger Trade
Oilers acquire Chris Pronger in the summer of 2005
Pronger wound up being a whipping boy in Edmonton, but before he became the ire of the fans, he produced one heck of a season in Edmonton and was brought in as the biggest acquisition in years. In 80 games, he posted 56 points and came exactly as advertised. Big, mean, tough, talented, experienced, edgy and a little unethical in the way he played hockey were all terms you could use to describe Pronger. He clearly made the entire team better just by being a part of it.
There wasn’t a defenseman in the NHL who would make the impact on a team the way Pronger did with the Oilers in 2005-06. If not for Pronger, Edmonton doesn’t make the playoffs that year and they definitely don’t go onto the finals. His issues with the Oilers were active for quite some time before the season ended, but he played hard up until his final game. Like him or not, he gave his everything on the ice for the team.
Not long after his time in Edmonton, Pronger would go on to play a major role in the Anaheim Ducks Stanley Cup Championship. Outside of the way he talked about Edmonton, his success was one of the reasons he became so hated by Oiler fans. Pronger ranks up there with some of the greatest defensemen in the last twenty years of NHL hockey.
The 2006 Season Leading to the Cup Finals Run
There were six significant additions in the 2006 season Edmonton went to the Stanley Cup Finals. Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek, Dwayne Roloson, Dick Tarnstrom, Sergei Samsonov and Michael Peca.
Pronger and Peca came in as summer acquisitions that would help turn the franchise in a positive direction and they did just that. Peca specifically, was an unsung hero who did so much of the heavy lifting for Edmonton including taking key zone face offs, playing key roles defensively and finding the most opportune times to contribute on the scoresheet. His tenure with the Oilers was short-lived but he was an unbelievable depth get for the team.
Samsonov came in for Marty Reasoner at the trade deadline and played key minutes and produced offensively near the end of the season. 16 points in 19 games during the regular season and 15 points in 24 games of the playoffs, he was a big time rental that worked out well for Edmonton. In the end, Samsonov was merely a rental, moving on to Montreal, Chicago, Carolina and Florida before leaving the NHL in 2011.
Dwayne Roloson was huge in the net for Edmonton. His goaltending was a reason for the Oilers playoff success and had he stayed healthy (he was knocked out the playoffs early in the series finals) Edmonton may have won the cup that year. Roloson was given an extension after that playoff run and he turned into a solid, but not spectacular goaltender for the Oilers. That run was Roloson’s shining moment with the franchise. Edmonton didn’t make the playoff again after he became their starter.
The Oilers made some hard trades which wound up producing players that helped the team and they made trades that took Edmonton from a franchise dynasty to a lottery team. Clearly, the Oilers made more of the trades they probably regret than the positive ones, but today Edmonton is once again considered a team on the rise.
Will a time ever come that they need to face tough decisions as a Stanley Cup Champion again? That’s difficult to say and feels like light years away, but with Connor McDavid, fans are starting to believe.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”