Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to review. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 teams’ most important game. This is the Edmonton Oilers biggest game. The full series is found here.
Some Oilers History
The lead up to the Edmonton Oilers biggest game requires some background. From 1983–1990, the Oilers iced one of the most dominant teams in NHL history. Fronted by NHL icons Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the franchise was able to capture five Stanley Cups (four with Gretzky) in seven years.
Not only did the Oilers success put the franchise on the map — Gretzky’s dominance also helped grow the game significantly in the coming years.
His eventual move to the Los Angeles Kings further inspired more Americans to take interest in the game of hockey. As a result, many believe “The Great One” influenced a new generation of American players (Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrick Kane) to emerge and make a huge impact in the NHL today.
The Dynasty Build Up
Ever since entering the NHL in 1979, Gretzky immediately made an impact as an 18-year-old. He scored 137 points in 79 games and the league quickly took notice.
Despite the early individual success of “The Great One”, the Oilers were never really able to get over the hump.
Meanwhile, the Oilers were busy assembling a fine collection of young players. The core included names likes Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, and Gretzky of course.
Eventually, these players would play a huge part in cementing the team’s dynasty.
Edmonton Oilers Biggest Game
Considering how dominant the Oilers were during their dynasty years, it may be hard to pick one game that stands out.
But if we had to choose one, the Oilers first Stanley Cup win in 1984 might take the crown.
On May 19, 1984, the Edmonton Oilers biggest game came when they defeated the New York Islanders 5-2 to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
The Oilers finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL, with 57 wins and 119 points. They did not face must adversity in the first three rounds of the playoffs aside from a seven-game series against the Calgary Flames.
The real test was against the Islanders in the Final — a rematch from the previous spring in which the Islanders dominated and swept the Oilers in four straight.
But this time around, things began a lot different. The Oilers split the first two games of the series in New York and started to take over the next two games. They dominated the Islanders in Games 3 and 4, outscoring them 7-2 in both outings.
In attempts to secure their first championship, the Oilers did not hold back in Game 5. Gretzky came out and scored two goals in the first period. Then Ken Linesman and Jarri Kurri added two more in the second to give the Oilers a 4-0 lead heading into the third.
Pat LaFontaine came out and scored two quick goals for the Islanders in the first 35 seconds of the third period. Unfortunately, that was as close the Islanders would get. Andy Moog and the defense secured the lead the rest of the way to help the Oilers clinch their first championship.
Mark Messier went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Oilers became the first former WHA team to win the Stanley Cup.
Gretzky and the Oilers Finally Arrive
In many ways, the victory was a major turning point in history for the Oilers and Gretzky’s career.
On top of that, it transitioned the league into a new era. It represented Gretzky and the Oilers dynasty taking over the NHL – a league that was dominated by the New York Islanders for much of the early 80s.
The Oilers not only avenged their finals loss to the Islanders a year prior, they essentially ended New York’s dynasty to start to their own as well. In retrospect, this win would springboard the Oilers into them one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history.
The Dynasty Years 1983–1990
During the seven-year period, the Oilers were simply one of the most dominant franchises in professional sports.
They captured five Stanley Cups in seven seasons!
Aside from their championships, several players stacked up individual accolades to cement their own legacy.
Gretzky hit the 1,000th point plateau in only his 424th game. In 1984-85, he had the best season of his entire career. He lead the NHL in goals, assists, and points with 73, 135 and 208 respectively.
Kurri scored over 52 goals and 108 points for four straight seasons. As a defenseman, Coffey averaged over 121 points for three straight seasons. And Grant Fuhr accumulated over 170 wins as the Oilers’ goalie.
Gretzky Gets Traded
Then the inevitable happened in the summer of 1988.
The Oilers traded Gretzky to Los Angeles Kings along with Marty McSorley and center Mike Krushelnyski for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, the Kings first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993 and US $15 million cash.
It was a huge turning point for the organization. Gretzky’s departure left a lot of uncertainty amongst the Oilers franchise.
Ironically, the Oilers lost in the first round to Gretzky and Kings the following season in 1989. This marked the first time they were eliminated in the first round since 1982.
Sather Rebuilds on the Fly
It was a move that improved the team’s overall depth. Add that to the emergence of Bill Ranford, was enough for the Oilers to capture another Stanley Cup in 1990.
During that run, the Oilers were able to sweep Gretzky and the Kings in the second round.
The Dynasty Crumbles in the Summer of 91
All good things must come to an end. In many eyes, the summer of 1991 marked an official end to the Oilers’ great dynasty.
Major transactions that occurred that summer included:
Adam Graves signing an offer sheet with the New York Rangers. Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson were traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jari Kurri was traded to LA and Mark Messier being dealt to the New York Rangers.
From 1992 to 1999
Despite making the Western Conference finals in 1992, the Oilers were a far cry from the team they were in the late 80s.
Shortly after that, the Oilers suffered through some tough rebuilding years. Despite the tight budget constraints, they were able to develop a few young stars including Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth.
In short, the budget constraints only allowed the Oilers to put together semi-competitive teams that weren’t good enough to be serious contenders.
Years following the Edmonton Oilers biggest game, younger hockey fans have witnessed the Oilers major struggles.
Despite one Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2006 and a second-round exit in 2017, Oilers fans had to go through a lot of pain during this time.
From 2000 to 2019, they missed the playoffs 14 times in 20 seasons, including a ten-year playoff drought from 2006- 2017.
The dark times saw them get four first overall picks in six years, along with countless coaching changes.
Perhaps the only silver lining was that they were able to land Connor McDavid. But having one of the best players in the game does not guarantee a Stanley Cup.
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