During this down time my hockey fan mind has been wandering. I'm left thinking about games from the past. I think about great teams like the legendary 1980s Oilers. Any hockey fan who lived during this time remembers this infamous juggernaut. Lots of fans jumped on the bandwagon and enjoyed an amazing ride. The rest of us were jealous but respected how great those Oilers teams really were. I recall 1987 and 1988 when my Red Wings were a good team under their fiery head coach, Jacques Demers. The Red Wings faced off against those Oilers teams and were clearly outmatched both times. I was just happy my Red Wings made it to back to back Conference Finals. I remember hearing how after the Wings beat the Oilers they all got drunk at the bar celebrating. I guess they knew they wouldn't win again.
I mean how could any team hope to beat the Oilers in those days? Gretzky and Kurri followed by Messier and Anderson? What? 50 goal scorer Paul Coffey on defense? I used to call him the best left winger in hockey. Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog in net? Moog was eventually traded for some guy named Bill Ranford. You know, the 1990 Conn Smythe trophy winning, Bill Ranford. Do we forget just how great of a GM Glen Sather really was in those days? It seemed like everything he did turned to magic.
It always seemed to me the only team who could have any realistic chance of beating the Oilers was their arch rival Calgary Flames. My Dad was a huge boxing fan during the Golden Age of boxing, in the 60s and 70s. His favourite boxer was Smokin' Joe Frazier. He used to always tell me "Styles make fights." Edmonton versus Calgary was basically Ali versus Frazier. The dancer versus the puncher. Calgary seemed to always know how to play the Oilers. They'd frustrate them by getting in their face. But the Flames had the skill to hang with the Oilers too. I recall 1988 when the Flames went 8-0 versus the Oilers during the regular season. They matched up in the playoffs and my hockey coach told me Calgary would win. Well my 12 year old self said "no way. The Oilers want revenge for 86! They'll win that series!" It was the best 5 bucks I ever won!
How great was the Battle of Alberta? Joel Otto was the only player I ever saw literally psyche out Mark Messier. These were always great games especially in the playoffs. It sure made for some great hockey. The 86 Oilers may have been the best Oilers team of them all on paper. But Steve Smith scoring on his own goalie Grant Fuhr in Game 7 sealed their fate. I always felt bad for Smith because the Oilers still had half a period to tie that game up and they didn't. The Oilers were talented, cocky and used to just toy with teams. I can still recall the late Richard Beddoes scolding Glen Sather after the Oilers dismantled the Leafs. "You have no right coming into Maple Leaf Gardens and embarrassing the Toronto Maple Leafs like this." 😂
Styles really do make fights. The Flames could beat the Oilers but the Jets could beat the Flames. But the Jets couldn't beat the Oilers in the playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets were a very good team as well but lived under the shadows of Edmonton and Calgary. Does anyone really believe the Habs would've had any chance of eliminating the Oilers in 1986? I don't. No offense to Patrick Roy who was amazing. When I first started watching hockey as a 6 year old, the New York Islanders were the NHL's best team and their dynasty gave way to the Oilers dynasty. The Oilers learned to win by losing to the Isles in 1983. Does anyone recall how ol' Slats would always add defenseman Reijo Reutsalainen for each playoff run? He was an excellent skater.
I recall watching the 1984 Canada Cup where it seemed like half of Team Canada were Oilers and the other half were Islanders. They hated each other and struggled early. But they eventually came together and won the tournament. Back in the 80s I could only watch this Oilers juggernaut in the playoffs. And sometimes CBC wouldn't show the overtime! Ever wonder how Dave Hodge was replaced by Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada? That's how they did things around there. 😉 But I sure did enjoy watching those Oilers teams move the puck. They were ahead of their time. It looked so easy. Paul Coffey is still the best skater I've ever seen. Just effortless. Smooth. We all know how great Gretzky and Messier were. But how about Kurri and Anderson? Did any Oiler score more clutch goals than Glen Anderson did?
Oilers bankrupt owner Peter Pocklington started dismantling his team when Coffey was traded for Craig Simpson. Now Simpson was an excellent player and he was especially good in the Oilers 1990 playoff run. But trade Coffey? What? We all remember the infamous Wayne Gretzky trade. It took me a week to believe that actually happened. Who's Martin Gelinas I wondered? But it didn't end there. Mark Messier leads a Gretzky-less Oilers team to a 5th Cup win for Edmonton and you trade him? Bernie Nicholls? What? Then the mass exodus ensues. Kurri, Fuhr, Tikkanen, Lowe, etc out the door. Who's Steven Rice? It was horrible.
I always felt bad for Oilers fans. Sure they were spoiled. We were all jealous of them. But how many Cups could those Oilers teams have won had they been able to stay together? Would we have seen a Gretzky-Mario Cup Final? Back to back perhaps? I believe they would've won at least 2 more Cups. Don't forget that the 1994 Cup winning Rangers had 7 former Oilers on its roster. Hockey history would've been much different had that Oilers team remained intact. Similar to how different hockey history would've been had those legendary 1950s Red Wings teams stayed together. Would the great Habs win 5 consecutive Cups? No way. 2 or 3 likely. But not 5. The Oilers won 5 Cups in 7 years which was impressive enough.
But it was the exciting brand of hockey they displayed and how they changed the game are what I'll always remember about those great Oilers teams. Their brand of high tempo offensive hockey made the NHL better. Someone once asked me if I thought the 90s Red Wings would've beaten the 80s Oilers in a playoff series. I quickly answered "No way." The Oilers were in a league of their own and will always hold a special place in NHL history.
This Oilers dynasty existed before salary disclosure and the Salary Cap. Before the Instigator Rule and the shootout. Some fans will say the quality of opponents weren't as strong as they are now. Goaltending wasn't as good. But this team dominated its era in ways few teams in NHL history ever did. And they should be respected for that. So here's to you 80s Dynasty Oilers. One of the greatest teams of all time. I can still see Wayne Gretzky beating Mike Vernon on that infamous slapper in 1988. Great players. Great teams. Great memories. 😊