There are plenty of items on the Edmonton Oilers’ Christmas wish list for Santa this year: a No. 1 goaltender, top-six forward, third-line centre, depth scoring. And, of course, good health.
That’s a lot to fit on Santa’s sleigh, even if the Oilers are on his nice list. But jolly ol’ Saint Nick has been good to the Oilers in the past, bringing the team and their fans some unforgettable gifts during this most wonderful time of the year.
Gretzky’s 50 in 39 Record
The Great One scored an incredible five goals that night: two in the first period, one in the second, and two in the third. He scored his milestone 50th goal with just three seconds remaining, firing the puck into an empty net to seal a 7-5 win for the Oilers.
It was a moment that will never be forgotten by the 17,490 lucky fans who had packed Northlands Coliseum that long December night. Of all Gretzky’s milestones, 50 goals in 39 games is the one that will likely never be touched. Only eight times in NHL history has a player scored at least 50 goals in 50 games, and the closest anyone has come to Gretzky’s record was Gretzky, himself, scoring 50 in 42 in 1983-84.
The holidays didn’t start off so happy for the Oilers in 1997, but a late present ensured it would be a very happy New Year in Edmonton.
The Oilers were in the middle of an eight-game winless skid and sliding down the standings on Dec. 30, when they traded for top-pairing defenseman Roman Hamrlik, a former No. 1 overall pick, from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Edmonton also received Paul Comrie in the deal for Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, and Bryan Marchment.
With Hamrlik in the lineup, Edmonton went 25-14-1 over its final 40 games to clinch a spot in the 1998 NHL playoffs, where the Oilers upset the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. The following season, Hamrlik was the lone Oiler selected to play in the 1999 NHL All-Star Game.
Hamrlik was the gift that kept on giving. After racking up 22 goals and 91 assists in 196 games over parts of three seasons with the Oilers, he was dealt to the New York Islanders for Eric Brewer, Josh Green, and a second-round pick in what is considered one of the best draft-day trades in Oilers history. Brewer would eventually be part of the Oilers’ trade for Chris Pronger, a pivotal acquisition that set Edmonton on the path to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
In December 2000, while Santa’s elves were packing up the last toys for Santa’s flight, the Oilers were making a late pitch to sign junior sensation Mike Comrie, a hometown hero drafted in the third round in 1999. Comrie, a forward with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, needed to sign by Jan. 1, 2001, to be eligible to play in the 2000-01 season. If the Oilers failed to come to terms with the Edmonton product, Comrie could become an unrestricted free agent in June 2001. (From “Comrie close to signing with Oilers,” The Globe & Mail, 12/28/00)
After months of negotiations with the Oilers, Comrie agreed to a three-year contract on Dec. 30, 2000, and made his debut that night on Hockey Night in Canada. As a 20-year-old rookie, Comrie totaled 22 points in 41 regular-season games. In Game 4 of the first round of the 2001 playoffs against the Dallas Stars, he scored the overtime winner, an iconic goal in Oilers history.
Comrie led the Oilers in games (82), goals (33), and points (60) in 2001-02. The following season he notched 20 goals, including a team-leading six game-winners and 31 assists in 69 games. He became a restricted free agent in 2003 and was traded to Philadelphia Flyers. Comrie returned to the Oilers for the 2009-10 season.
Brewer and Smyth’s Olympic Selection
Hearing their names included in the Olympic roster announcement was like receiving that one present you most wanted but weren’t sure you’d get until the moment of ripping off the wrapping paper. Smyth was recovering from an ankle injury that would keep him sidelined until the New Year, and Brewer was only just emerging as a defenceman that belonged in the national team conversation.
They helped Team Canada capture gold in February, ending the country’s 50-year drought as Olympic champions in men’s hockey. Brewer and Smyth are the only Canadians to have won Olympic gold while playing for the Oilers.
2020-21 Schedule Announcement
On Dec. 23, 2020, Edmonton got the best present it could ask for: the gift of hockey, with the announcement of the 2020-21 NHL season. The league unveiled a 56-game schedule to start Jan. 13, 2021, with the Oilers opening against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place.
After the COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2019-20 regular season to an early end and forced the 2020 postseason to be contested in a bubble environment several months later, getting on with the 2020-21 season represented the beginning of a return to normal.
That process continues today, and with the NHL currently paused amid a surge in cases, the greatest gift this festive season will once again be the Oilers returning to the ice.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.