Oilers Can Learn Hard Lesson From Nordiques History

There is a lot that can be said about the last six years in Edmonton for fans of the Oilers. The big thing is that this whole rebuild has gone completely off the rails with Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan coming in with a fresh outlook trying to get this back on track. There aren’t very many players that are safe, including former first overall selections Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

It is entirely possible that the future of the Oilers could be without one, two or even all three of the former consecutive first overall picks from 2010-2012. Hard to fathom the Oilers, let alone any team in sports, can draft first overall three years in a row and then trade all three in just a few short years.

The only ever team in NHL history that has had three consecutive first overall picks were the Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) who selected Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Eric Lindros from 1989-1991. All three were traded within five years of their respective draft year as seen below:

Quebec Nordiques Acquire:

F Chris Simon

F Mike Ricci

F Peter Forsberg

D Kerry Huffman

D Steve Duchesne

G Ron Hextall

1993 1st Round Pick
(G Jocelyn Thibault)

1994 1st Round Pick
(D Nolan Baumgartner)


Future Considerations




Philadelphia Flyers Acquire:

F Eric Lindros











Quebec Nordiques Acquire:

F Wendel Clark

F Landon Wilson

D Sylvain Lefebvre

1994 1st Round Pick
(D Jeff Kealty)




Toronto Maple Leafs Acquire:

F Mats Sundin

D Garth Butcher

D Todd Warriner

1994 1st Round Pick
(D Nolan Baumgartner)

Colorado Avalanche Acquire:

D Sandis Ozolinsh





San Jose Sharks Acquire:

F Owen Nolan


Oiler fans shouldn’t be expecting a Lindros-like return in either of these cases but a lesson can be learned from the past. The Nordiques were a struggling franchise in their rebuild, similar to the Oilers in today’s NHL, they had a great group of young players but the rest of their team was lackluster. They got missing pieces to round out the roster by moving out young star forwards who went on to become key pieces for other franchises. They used the return to get to the next stage, icing a competitive NHL team and ultimately a Stanley Cup contender and champion in 1996 and 2001.

Related: 20 Years Later: The Eric Lindros Draft Kills Quebec and Changes The NHL forever

The Oilers are at the same crossroads, this time with Hall, RNH and Yakupov.

Righting The Nordiques Failure

If there is anything the Oilers can learn it’s that winning doesn’t begin and end with nailing a first overall pick (pardon the pun). The Nordiques who became the Colorado Avalanche and eventually won a Stanley Cup in 1996 were built with a mix of good drafting, solid trades and adding the right free agents to round out the roster.

The 1992 NHL Draft was peculiar as the whole Lindros saga played out and cast a shadow over the draft. Everyone knows the story by now, Lindros refused to play for the Nordiques so he requested a trade, the Nordiques robbed the Flyers with a Kings ransom and added several valuable pieces including a top prospect in Peter Forsberg. Chris Simon and Mike Ricci played depth roles on the Avalanche’s eventual Stanley Cup win in 1996.

When The Nordiques dealt Sundin at the 1994 NHL Draft they moved a big 23-year-old No. 1 center coming off a 32 goal 85 point season. They had a No. 1 center already in Joe Sakic who led the team with 92 points and a top prospect in Peter Forsberg in the pipeline destined to fill the No. 2 role. Having all three was tantalizing but ultimately didn’t help fill out the rest of the roster. This trade however blew up in the Nordiques face as the return didn’t net them two top six forwards or two future top-four defenseman as they had hoped. Regardless they attempted to flesh out their roster and won two Stanley Cups without Sundin.

The three-headed monster was hard to pull off, even then it might be harder to pull off in the long-term in today’s salary cap era.

Related: Why a big Oilers trade is a matter of when, not if

Finally there is the Nolan-Ozolinsh swap in October 1995. The Avs ended up with a plethora of forward depth but needed to round out their defense. In the swap they got a solid defenseman that played a key role for several seasons.

The point is nothing was working for the Nordiques after selecting 1st overall three years in a row from 1989-1991. They finished last in their division and didn’t qualify for the playoffs in six of eight seasons from 1988-1995. Yes they made the playoffs twice and were bounced in the first round, but they weren’t favorites to win their series either. They moved some key personnel.

Learning From The Past

Since the selection of Taylor Hall at the 2010 NHL Draft the Oilers have not once qualified for the playoffs. The additions of RNH and Yakupov did little to help the team in the short-term, whether it’s too many players of the same ilk; smaller skill players or the fact they just don’t have the right mix.

The Nordiques/Avalanche had a star to build around in Sakic and acquired a stud that plays a bigger game in Forsberg. It worked for the Nords/Avs who added some great depth centers in the No.3/4 spots to make them a contender. The Oilers have two solid No.1/2 centers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Moving RNH could end up like the Sundin return which blew up in the Nordiques face, but it could also turn out to be the necessary move to land the Oilers a much needed top-pairing defenseman, like the one that landed Ozolinsh for Nolan.

Moving Yakupov will undoubtedly get you the weakest return of all three but a move that’s absolutely needed. Throughout his time with several coaches in Edmonton he had struggled to find a place in the roster and doesn’t exactly fit into the Oilers top six or their bottom six. Hall has been cheered and jeered by the franchise but would net you a solid return next to RNH that could right this franchise.

RelatedThe Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Effect

Either way this is not a lambasting of the Oilers and demand to trade all three former 1st overall selections, but history repeats itself. Oiler fans should ready themselves for the reality that one, two or even all three of these guys might not be here that much longer and it might be out of necessity.