As the 2021 Stanley Cup Final has wrapped up, with the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Montreal Canadiens in five games to repeat as National Hockey League champions, focus shifts to the next big event on the National Hockey League calendar, the expansion draft on July 21.
The Seattle Kraken will select 30 players, one from each NHL team excluding the Vegas Golden Knights, as they begin assembling a roster for their inaugural season in 2021-22.
This will be the tenth expansion draft that the Edmonton Oilers have been part of, including 1979 when they joined the NHL along with the Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. Here’s a look back at some fun facts and trivia from Edmonton’s history in the NHL expansion draft.
Captain, Their Captain
In 1999, the Oilers left their captain of four seasons, Kelly Buchberger, unprotected in the expansion draft, and the Atlanta Thrashers swooped in to pick up the veteran forward.
Drafted by Edmonton in 1985, Buchberger had suited up for 785 contests over 12 seasons. He twice won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers and was named the ninth captain in franchise history on Oct. 6, 1995.
Prior to Atlanta’s inaugural season, 1999-00, the Thrashers made Buchberger their first-ever captain. Fittingly, he scored the first goal in franchise history.
Thanks for the Memories
Buchberger isn’t the only long-serving player the Oilers lost during an expansion draft. They also said goodbye to Charlie Huddy in 1991, when the defenceman was selected by the Minnesota North Stars during the Dispersal and Expansion Draft with them and the San Jose Sharks. A veteran of 694 games over 11 seasons with the Oilers, Huddy is one of only seven players that was part of all five of Edmonton’s Stanley Cup-winning teams (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990).
Both Buchberger and Huddy rank top 10 all-time on the Oilers for regular-season games played and are two of the nine players (soon to be 10, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins set to join them in 2021-22) that have appeared in a game for the Oilers in at least 11 different seasons.
The Strange Story of 1991
That’s not a typo that Huddy was picked by the North Stars in the 1991 Expansion Draft, even though the Stars had been in the NHL since 1967-68 and 1991-92 was going to be the inaugural season for the San Jose Sharks.
Long story short: Stars owners George Gund and Gordon Gund sought to relocate their club to the Bay Area but were denied permission by the NHL. Instead, the sides reached an agreement for the Gund brothers to sell the North Stars, after which they would be awarded an expansion franchise in San Jose.
On May 30, 1991, the league first held a dispersal draft, in which the Sharks selected 14 players from the Stars, followed by an expansion draft, in which the Sharks and Stars each picked 10 players from the league’s other 20 clubs.
As it turned out, Huddy never played for either the Stars or Sharks. Less than a month after acquiring him, Minnesota shipped Huddy to the Los Angeles Kings as part of a trade during the 1991 NHL Entry Draft.
Four members of the Oilers’ 1990 Stanley Cup championship team ended up leaving Edmonton to join an expansion team: Buchberger, Huddy, as well as forwards Mark Lamb and Anatoli Semenov.
The latter two were selections in the 1992 Expansion Draft: Semenov, an Oiler since making his NHL debut in the 1990 playoffs, was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Ottawa Senators helped themselves to Lamb, an Oiler for the previous five seasons, who had centered Adam Graves and Joe Murphy on the “Kid Line” during Edmonton’s 1990 championship run.
We Hardly Knew Ye
On the flip side of Buchberger and Huddy are forward Doug Friedman and blueliner Griffin Reinhart, two expansion draft picks who barely had a cup of coffee in Edmonton. Friedman appeared in 16 games with the Oilers in 1997-98 before being taken by the Nashville Predators in 1998, while Reinhart was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 after suiting up 29 times in 2015-16 and once in the 2017 playoffs for Edmonton.
In Nashville’s inaugural season, Friedman got into two games with the Predators, which would turn out to be the last NHL action of his career. Reinhart hasn’t appeared in an NHL game since leaving Edmonton and is now playing in Europe.
The One That Got Away
Players like Friedman and Reinhart disappeared from the NHL altogether, and veterans such as Buchberger or Huddy were on the back nine of their careers and retired a few years after exiting Edmonton. But there is one player lost to expansion that would long haunt the Oilers; Scott Mellanby, who went on to record 243 goals and 318 assists in 927 games after being selected by the Florida Panthers in 1993.
Mellanby had just turned 27 and already was a four-time 20-plus goal scorer with 504 regular-season games and 66 playoff games of NHL experience when Edmonton left him exposed, allowing the Panthers to acquire the winger who became part of their franchise’s fabric.
In 1993, Mellanby scored Florida’s first goal. In 1996, he was selected to the NHL All-Star game and helped the Panthers reach the Stanley Cup Final in just their third year. In 1997, he became the franchise’s second captain and wore the ‘C’ until being traded to the St. Louis Blues in 2001. Mellanby would later serve as captain of the Thrashers before retiring. He ranks 31st all-time with 1431 games in the NHL.
Back to the Beginning
But enough about who the Oilers have lost, what about the players they added via the expansion draft in 1979, when Edmonton joined the NHL after merging from the World Hockey Association?
“On the whole, I’m really pleased with the draft,”– Glen Sather (From ‘Edmonton Oilers shore up blueline at NHL expansion draft with four young defencemen’, The Edmonton Journal, 06/13/79)
Edmonton general manager Larry Gordon and coach Glen Sather selected 16 players on June 13, 1979, eight of whom would play for the Oilers, though only three spent more than one season in Edmonton: defencemen Lee Fogolin, Doug Hicks, and Pat Price.
Price was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1981, and Hicks was dealt to Washington a year later. But Fogolin, who Edmonton selected from the Buffalo Sabres where he had spent the first five seasons of his NHL career, would go on to become an all-time Oilers great.
Fogolin was the third captain in franchise history, serving from 1981 to 1983 and a member of Edmonton’s first two Stanley Cup championship teams in 1984 and 1985. He represented the Oilers in the 1986 All-Star Game. Fogolin was traded back to the Sabres in 1987, after skating in 568 regular-season and 78 playoff games for Edmonton.
With ample intrigue around who Edmonton will protect and which Oilers the Kraken have their eyes on, there’s an excellent chance that the 2021 Expansion Draft will produce another item for this list. Until then, Edmonton anxiously awaits to learn who will be bidding farewell on July 21.
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.