Oilers Need to Restore 1980s Glory Days

The Edmonton Oilers have not made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season. Prior to that they had not made the playoffs since 2005-06 season when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes. This is a stark contrast to when the team was winning five Stanley Cups from the 1983-84 season to the 1989-90 season.

Related: The Return of Grant Fuhr

One of the main reasons that they were able to win these five Stanley Cups was the fact that they had Wayne Gretzky on their roster. He was joined by Mark Messier who was drafted 48th overall by the Oilers in the third round. Unfortunately for their fans, the team has not won a Stanley Cup since the five that they won during the 1980s. There have been very few teams in the history of the league to have two more talented players on the same team at one time.

Gretzky holds every major offensive record for the Oilers. With 583 goals and 1,669 points, Gretzky led the team with the help of Messier and Jari Kurri. Defenseman Paul Coffey was also on the roster during their dynasty and anchored the defense alongside Charlie Huddy. It is hard to live up to the career of Coffey, and as such, Huddy flew under the radar. All the same, he helped the Oilers win their five Stanley Cups.

That is not to mention the Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr. He played 10 seasons for the Oilers and won the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the league for the 1987-88 season. Fuhr played for six All-Star teams and was nominated to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 after being drafted eighth overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft.

Grant Fuhr, Edmonton Oilers
Grant Fuhr of the Edmonton Oilers makes big save against the Boston Bruins in the 1988 Stanley Cup Final. (NHL.com)

It is not fair to compare the talent on the Oilers during the 1980s to the talent that is on the current roster. Butit is not far-fetched to say that the Oilers teams of the 1980s had some of the most talented rosters in the history of the NHL. “Talent-wise, I think it was. Record-wise, it wasn’t,” Messier told Mark Spector of Sportsnet. “But it would be hard to say that wasn’t one of the better teams, with balance and talent on every line. (Rexi) Ruotsalainen was great. Kent Nilsson was a very good addition. We were an excellent skating team, but we had size, and grit, and toughness and skill… It was a pretty good team.”

Rebuilding the Oilers’ Dynasty

So, what do the Oilers have to do in order to get back to being close to the dynasty they had in the 1980s? They have arguably the best player on the planet currently on their roster in Connor McDavid, like they did with Gretzky. They have also drafted Leon Draisaitl third overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft out of Cologne, Germany.

For his part, McDavid has also led the league in most major statistical categories in the same way that Gretzky did. The only offensive category that he does not lead the league is shooting percentage. At 15 percent, he ranks 10th in shooting percentage for active players.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ross D. Franklin)

The general manager of the Oilers Ken Holland acquired Andreas Athanasiou from the Detroit Red Wings in order to make a push for the playoffs in February. They gave up Sam Gagner and two second-round draft picks in exchange for Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner. This is proof that the Oilers are trying to improve their roster in order to not waste McDavid and Draisaitl’s careers. The difference between the dynasty of the 1980s and the team’s roster now is not only the number of Hall of Famers and the fact that there was not a salary cap during the 1980s run.

This was set up in order to spread the talent of the league to more teams. As mentioned previously, the goaltending position is one that needs to be addressed in the near future. Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen split games for the Oilers this season and Smith is not expected to return next season if you believe what Holland said recently. The speculation is that Holland would not be willing to spend much money on a backup goalie.

Related: Oilers’ Doug Weight Trade Revisited

On Sept. 10, Pierre LeBrun of Sportsnet reported that the Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins have had talks about a trade for the Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, but that the Oilers felt the asking price for Murray was too high.

In his season-ending press conference, Holland was asked three different times about the defensive play of McDavid and Draisaitl. Holland said that “We’re making progress. Everybody wants all the progress to happen now. So they are learning. They are getting better. They bought into Dave. Dave Tippett asked them to work harder away from the puck. I watched it. They did play harder away from the puck,” according to David Staples of The Edmonton Sun.

McDavid and Oilers Miss Playoffs Again

With the NHL being played in a bubble this playoff season due to COVID-19, the Oilers being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Return to Play format can be explained away as just a one-off. Whatever the reason, the Oilers need to improve their roster. They do not want to waste the career of the most talented player they have had on their roster since Gretzky. McDavid is certainly that.

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