Imagine a team with the second-best offence in NHL history somehow flying under the radar.
In a sense, that is what has happened to the 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers, despite playing in the middle of the Oilers’ Stanley Cup dynasty years.
A recent example of this is the NHL’s Top 10 Greatest Teams fan vote competition as part of the League’s Centennial celebrations. Plenty of great Oilers teams from the 1980’s made the list, including the 1984-85 squad that was declared the NHL’s Greatest Team. However, since the contest was limited to Stanley Cup champions, the 1985-86 Oilers were ignored.
— NHL (@NHL) June 5, 2017
Whether it is deserved or not, the 1985-86 team is remembered more for how its season ended than anything it achieved. When rookie defenseman Steve Smith’s own goal stood up as the game-winner in the Oilers’ Game 7 loss to the archrival Calgary Flames in the 1986 Smythe Division Final, it interrupted a run that could have been five-straight Stanley Cups (the Oilers won the Cup the following two seasons).
It was a second-round series. There was still plenty of hockey to play had the Oilers advanced, and no guarantee they would have toppled the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens with rookie phenom Patrick Roy in net.
A Dominant Regular Season
There is a reason why many believe the Oilers would have won their third straight Cup had they beat Calgary. Simply put, it was one of the most accomplished NHL teams of all-time.
For starters, the 1985-86 Oilers’ 56 wins were just one shy of the team record held by the 1983-84 team, but both those editions of the Oilers share the franchise record for highest regular season winning percentage (.744).
The 1985-86 Oilers also had the third-best goal differential in team history (+116), and their advantage in goal differential over the next best NHL team was also third in franchise history.
Like all of those great Edmonton teams, this squad’s calling card was offence. It finished with 426 goals, the second-highest regular season team total in NHL history. Cup or no Cup, any team that can claim that deserves some recognition.
Individual Performances for the NHL Record Books
It’s no surprise that a number of individuals enjoyed standout campaigns that season. Let’s begin with the “Great One”.
This was the season Wayne Gretzky established the single-season individual points record with 215 points. His 163 assists that season (also still an NHL record) were 28 assists more than the next-best single-season total, also held by Gretzky.
This was also the campaign when Paul Coffey established the NHL single-season mark for goals by a defenceman (48). His 90 assists in 1985-86 are tied for second-most in League history, while his 138 points that year were just one shy of Bobby Orr’s record.
Right winger Jari Kurri’s 68 goals led the League, while fellow winger Glenn Anderson had 54 goals, tying his best goal-scoring campaign. In fact, this Oilers’ outfit was one of only two teams in the Gretzky Era to finish with three 50-goal scorers. Coffey was just two goals short of making it four.
The 1985-86 Oilers were also one of three clubs in franchise history to have four players with at least 100 points. If that wasn’t impressive enough, this team was one of two Oilers squads to finish with three players among the top four in League scoring. This is also the only team in NHL history to have three players record at least 130 points in the same season.
The ’80s Oilers’ Legendary Shooting Percentages
In terms of modern analytics, the Oilers of the 1980s managed to sustain a very high PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage) during that period, meaning it was likely indicative of repeatable skill as opposed to luck. In any case, the 1985-86 Oilers had a PDO of 105.0, the second-best in team history behind only the 1983-84 Oilers. It helped that goalie Grant Fuhr had his third-best save percentage with the Oilers in this particular campaign to complement the uncanny shooting percentages of those Oilers teams.
Regardless of what the 1985-86 Oilers accomplished, the infamy of their playoff exit will continue to take some of the lustre off any achievements from that season. That doesn’t change the fact they were one of the most dominant teams the NHL has ever seen.