It’s been a lifetime since Dave Manson felt at home in the Edmonton Oilers’ dressing room. So long ago that Connor McDavid wasn’t yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye. So far back that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hadn’t learned to walk, let alone skate. So many spins around the sun that even the Oilers’ elder statesmen, Mike Smith, was just in pewee hockey.
Manson said goodbye to Edmonton on March 15, 1994, when the Oilers dealt their No. 1 defenseman to the Winnipeg Jets. At the time, Manson had just turned 27. Nearly 28 years later, he’s back.
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On Thursday (Feb. 11), the Oilers announced changes to their coaching staff, relieving head coach Dave Tippett and assistant coach Jim Playfair of their duties and replacing them with Jay Woodcroft and Manson, respectively.
Of all the former Oilers who have found a way back to the franchise in their post-playing career, Manson must now hold the record for “return, longest in the making”.
There is a generation of Oilers fans who know of only one Manson, and that’s not Dave, but his son Josh, a defenseman with the Anaheim Ducks. But the senior Manson has also faded from the memory of those who had season tickets at Northlands Coliseum back when he was wearing orange and blue, perhaps because Manson’s time in Edmonton came during a not-so-fondly recalled era of the franchise.
Now that he’s got the passcode to the home locker at Rogers Place, it’s time Manson received some long-overdue appreciation for what he meant to the Oilers in the early ‘90s.
Manson Arrives in Edmonton
After the Oilers were beaten 4-1 by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1991 Campbell Conference championship series, Edmonton general manager Glen Sather took a sledgehammer to the core of his team, which had won five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990. In the span of just a couple of weeks, Sather traded away three future Hall-of-Famers (Glen Anderson and Grant Fuhr to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Mark Messier to the New York Rangers), and also shipped All-Star defenseman Steve Smith to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The latter transaction, completed on Oct. 2, 1991, saw Edmonton acquire the 6-foot-2 Manson, a 24-year-old veteran of five seasons, who had racked up 127 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 330 regular-season games with the Hawks.
Manson Finds Footing with New Team
Two days after the trade, Manson made his Oilers debut in their 1991-92 season opener. He went pointless over his first 8 games with his new team before erupting in Game No. 9, Oct. 23, 1991, when he tied the franchise record (which still stands) for assists by a defenseman in one period, recording three apples in the opening frame of a 6-5 loss to the Washington Capitals at Northlands Coliseum. He then scored his first goal as an Oiler in Edmonton’s next game, potting the game-winner with less than four minutes remaining to complete a 5-4 home comeback win over the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 26, 1991.
Manson appeared in 79 of Edmonton’s 80 regular-season games, ranking first among all Oilers blueliners in goals (15) and points (47), while leading Edmonton with 220 penalty minutes and firing 206 shots, second on the team behind only All-Star forward Vincent Damphousse. The Oilers finished third in the Smythe Division standings to extend their streak of 13 consecutive seasons qualifying for the playoffs since joining the NHL in 1979-80.
Manson Steps up in Postseason
The 1992 Playoffs proved to be the last hurrah of the Oilers’ glory era, and it was the star defenseman making his first trip to the postseason that played a huge part in Edmonton reaching the conference championship round for a remarkable eighth time in 10 years.
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Manson led the Oilers in shots (47), ranked first among defensemen for points (12), and was second on the team with nine assists, in 16 playoff games. He had six points in Edmonton’s 4-2 Smythe Division semi-final victory over the Los Angeles Kings and four points in six games against Vancouver in the Smythe Division championship. In the Campbell Conference final, the Oilers ran up against Manson’s former team and were swept by Chicago, with Manson recording two points in the four-game series.
Manson Emerges as Edmonton’s All-Star
Throughout a season of roster upheaval, Manson was the constant for Edmonton in 1992-93; he led the team in games played (83), penalty minutes (210) and shots (244) and was first among all Oilers defensemen in goals (15), assists (30) and points (45).
Fittingly, Manson was the lone member of the Oilers selected to the 1993 NHL All-Star Game, a well-deserved honour that saw the bruising blueliner suit up for the Campbell Conference at the midseason classic in Montreal where he recorded an assist and was the only player to receive a penalty in the game.
Edmonton struggled from the outset of the 1992-93 season, and as the trade deadline approached, Sather made a flurry of deals that plunged the Oilers headfirst into a rebuild. The Oilers finished near the bottom of the standings, missing the NHL postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Manson Becomes Leader for Oilers
With the Oilers starting from the bottom following a decade at the top, this challenging period of transition called for leadership to maintain stability and establish culture.
Though he’d been in Edmonton for just a year, Manson was tapped for this critical role; he was named an alternate captain prior to the 1992-93 season and wore the ‘A’ for the remainder of his time in Edmonton during Craig MacTavish’s tenure as captain.
Manson Acquired by Jets
Six days prior to the trade deadline of the 1993-94 season, Manson was dealt to Winnipeg with a 1994 sixth-round draft pick in exchange for Mats Lindgren, Boris Mironov, and first- and fourth-round picks in the 1994 Draft.
At the time of the trade, Manson had 16 points in 57 games for an Edmonton team at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings. The comments from both himself and others spoke volumes of Manson; while he was busy taking responsibility for the Oilers’ lack of on-ice success (which wasn’t expected of a team going through a full-on rebuild, anyway), his GMs, former and new, effusively praised the defenceman’s character.
“I know I didn’t play up to my capabilities (in Edmonton). There are a lot of excuses, but really none in my mind,” Manson said.
“Glen (Oiler GM Sather) said Dave’s as good as a team player as the Oilers have ever had. That’s quite a statement,” Winnipeg general manager John Paddock said. (From ‘Manson Moved’, The Edmonton Journal, 3/16/94)
Manson’s Long Road Back to Edmonton
Manson went on to play eight more years in the NHL, including stints with the Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, and a second go-round in Chicago. He retired following the 2001-02 season with career totals of 390 points in 1,103 regular-season games. He currently ranks 13th all-time in the NHL with 2,792 penalty minutes.
Manson has been in coaching ever since, first as an assistant and later as associate coach of the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders, before taking a job as an assistant coach on Woodcroft’s staff with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League.
Woodcroft and Manson made their debuts behind the Oilers bench in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders at Rogers Place on Friday (Feb. 11). It was exactly 27 years and 11 months to the day from Manson’s last game as an Oiler.
This time, he only had to wait three days for Edmonton’s next game, on the road against the San Jose Sharks on Monday (Feb. 14).
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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.