The history of the Edmonton Oilers began in a hurry – they joined the National Hockey League in 1979-80 and wasted no time in making their mark. The team didn’t miss the playoffs for more than a decade from NHL inception, put multiple banners in the rafters, and many names on the Stanley Cup. In those years, some incredible achievements occurred, and although it’s been four decades, many still stand amongst the best ever.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, will always be the greatest Oiler, and holds more records than all the rest combined. His rookie card recently set another record when it sold at auction for $1.29 million, but he isn’t the only Oiler to set markers that no other will achieve. Below are three examples of impressive statistics that will sit atop the record books for the foreseeable future.
The Best Defence Is an Offensive Defenseman
Bobby Orr owns five of the top ten highest goalscoring seasons by a defenseman in league history, but he doesn’t own the top spot. That belongs to Paul Coffey, who had the luxury of playing on the 1980s Oilers. He came close in 1983-84 when he broke the 40-goal mark, good enough for the second-best season of all time. Two years later he broke Orr’s record, scoring 48 goals in 79 games played.
Coffey played – and won Cups – with both Gretzky and the Magnificent One, Mario Lemieux, and also captured the Norris Trophy on three occasions, but it is his prolific scoring which places him at or near the top of any all-time list of defensemen. The only time a D-man has broken the 30-goal mark in the 21st century is when former Oiler Mike Green got 31 in 2008-09 and while Green managed the feat in just 68 games played, even an entire 82-game schedule scoring at that rate wouldn’t be enough to catch Coffey’s total.
Today’s brand of hockey is so much more defensibly responsible that it’s unlikely someone playing Coffey’s position would even have an opportunity to score at such an incredible rate, so, while former Oiler Tom Gilbert did eclipse Coffey’s less impressive team record for points (32) by a rookie defenseman in 2007-08, the big one should stand the test of time.
Impressive Team Totals
Everyone scored more in the 1980s, with combined goals averaging between seven and eight each night. Whether it was due to inferior goalie skill, smaller and heavier goalie equipment, or a simple lack of some of the training tools available to today’s goalies, the average goals per game was significantly higher back then. None were better at scoring than the Oilers, who broke the 400-goal barrier five times (no other team has ever accomplished the feat). Their highest total was in 1983-84 when the team potted an amazing 446 goals over the regular season.
The Great One’s 87 goals were obviously a part of that, as were his 118 helpers, but it’s worth noting that the team produced 241 other goals that season where Gretzky was not involved statistically. That year, Edmonton had eight 20-goal scorers on its roster. For comparison, the 2019-20 Oilers, with the league’s top power-play, produced a team total of 225 goals last season and the closest any team has come in terms of total goals in recent memory was the 2009-10 Washington Capitals, who managed 318. It’s safe to say this record will stand the test of time.
Point Production From the Back End
A lesser-known record held by an Oiler, which is unlikely to ever be broken is Grant Fuhr’s single-season assist total. As a 1980s goaltender, Fuhr was often left high and dry by his teammates, forced to make acrobatic saves to preserve a 6-5 lead, but an unforeseen advantage of having most or all of his skaters at the other end of the ice is that his zone clearing stretch passes often turned into points.
At his best, in 1983-84, he was credited with 14 assists. The next closest total is another Oiler alumnus, Curtis Joseph, who recorded 9 assists in the 1991-92 season with the St. Louis Blues, meaning Fuhr is the only goalie in NHL history to break double digits in the category. Adding to his impressive record is the fact that he is tied for the third-best season total (8) and 10th best (6) with a number of other netminders.
Until this summer, Fuhr also shared another impressive record. That record, which was not his alone but looked as though it could never be broken, was the single-season playoff win total of 16.
With 16 wins being traditional path teams took to a Cup championship, that level of perfection looked matchable but unbeatable, that is until the COVID-19 pandemic altered everything about our daily lives and caused the NHL to utilize a five series, 24-team bracket in 2020. Andrei Vasilevski, of the Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, now holds the single-season playoff record of 18 wins and it is unlikely anyone will get the chance to top that in our lifetimes.
So there you have it. Gretzky may hold or share more than 60 NHL records but he isn’t the only Oiler whose feats are unrivalled. And while one must acknowledge that these other records occurred while the Great One was on the team, that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment of the players in question. The Oilers of the 1980s had seven other future Hall of Fame players on their roster and each contributed to the dynasty in their own way.