Though last season’s 30th overall finish certainly represents a low point in the history of the once-proud Edmonton Oilers franchise, this year offers fans plenty of reason for optimism. With three new fresh, exciting faces in the line-up to start the season in the form of #1 overall draft pick Taylor Hall, Swedish phenom Magnus Paajarvi and former Regina Pats and Canadian World Junior hero Jordan Eberle the Oilers should improve quickly, much like the Chicago Blackhawks did over the last few years after drafting a pair of players by the names of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Though the future certainly looks bright for the young Oilers they have their work cut out for them if they want to come close to the glory years of the 1980s. Over their relatively short NHL existence the club has boasted some of the biggest legends in NHL. So who are the best Edmonton Oilers of all time? Read on as I count them down:
10 – Doug Weight
This guy has been around the NHL so long that some might have forgotten that he once played for the Edmonton Oilers. Enjoying a renaissance year right now with the New York Islanders, Weight is showing glimpses of the incredible talent he had in his prime in the 1990s. He enjoyed his best years as a member of the Oilers and put up an impressive 577 points while with the club, including a career high 104 in 1995-96.
9 – Esa Tikkanen
This agitating Finn is best known for getting under the skins of his opponent. Tikk could chirp with the best of them. Too bad none of his targets had any idea of what he was saying. Though his talents as a pest are legendary it was far from his only contribution as an Oiler. Tikkanen was one of the best shutdown men of his era, and was routinely assigned the task of shadowing the other team’s best players (including Wayne Gretzky after The Great One moved on to join the Los Angeles Kings). Though he was great without the puck, he was just as good with it. He scored numerous highlight reel goals during his tenure with the club and managed to rack up a respectable 436 points in just 522 games during his time there.
8 – Kevin Lowe
Though the high-flying Oilers of the 80s were best known for providing offense, and lots of it, they did have a few hard-working defensive defensemen helping batten down the hatches in their own end. Guys like Charlie Huddy and Craig Muni certainly did their part during the Oilers’ glory years, but no blueliner was more effective on the defensive side of the puck than Kevin Lowe. Lowe was a rock on the blueline for all five of the Oilers’ Stanley Cups, and even put up some decent numbers, potting nearly 400 points during his time there.
7 – Ryan Smyth
If anyone can challenge Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier for the title of most popular Edmonton Oiler of all time it is this man. Ryan Smyth gave his heart and soul to the franchise for a decade before moving on to continue his career with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. Though certainly not as skilled as many other Oiler legends he was a warrior that would sacrifice his body and do whatever it took to help his team win. He topped the 30 goal mark on three separate occasions with the club and his 551 career points put him 7th on the list of all time Oilers scoring leaders.
6 - Glenn Anderson
Recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Glenn Anderson was a no-brainer for a spot on the list of the best Edmonton Oilers of all time. Anderson twice broke 50 goals, and topped 100 points on three separate occasions, and was a fixture on Mark Messier’s right wing for years, making a habit of cutting fearlessly to the net to score highlight reel goals. Anderson’s most impressive trait, however, was his ability to elevate his game when it really mattered. He is one of just a handful of players with more than 200 career playoff points, and made a habit of scoring playoff overtime goals during his days with the team.
5 – Grant Fuhr
Though some would argue the Oilers could have put a shooter tutor in net in the 80s and been just as successful, those who remember just how many high quality chances this team gave up know differently. Fuhr’s numbers might not be as impressive as some of his contemporaries, but few of his peers had Fuhr’s incredible knack of making a huge save exactly when his team needed it. Sure, he’d let in 5 goals in a game, but with his team clinging precariously to a 6-5 lead late in the game Fuhr would inevitably stop a 2 on 1, or make one of his signature glove saves to preserve victory for his team.
4 – Jari Kurri
Yes, he did have the benefit of playing the bulk of his Oilers days as Wayne Gretzky’s wingman, but this Finnish hockey legend is more than deserving of the high spot I’ve awarded him on the list of the greatest Edmonton Oilers of all time. In the mid-80s, Kurri challenged Mike Bossy for the title of the greatest sniper in the game, scoring 50+ goals in four straight seasons, including a whopping 71 in 1984-85. For those who claim Kurri would have been a mediocre player without Gretzky just look at his stats in the year following Gretzky’s trade to the Kings – 44 goals, 58 assists for 102 points – a 9 point increase from the year before.
3 – Paul Coffey
In the opinion of most hockey fans, Bobby Orr is the greatest offensive defenseman of all time. However, if there is another blueliner for whom one could make an argument it is certainly this smooth-skating Oilers rearguard. Coffey is arguably the greatest skater the sport has ever seen and he pulled fans out of their seats on a regular basis with his electrifying end to end rushes. As great as Edmonton’s forwards were during their championship years in many cases it was Coffey, not Gretzky or Messier that was the straw that stirred the drink, backing opposing defenders up with his great speed before finding an open teammate with a tape-to-tape pass. Coffey put up staggering numbers with the Oilers, breaking the 100 point mark three times, including in 1985-86 when he scored an NHL record 48 goals and notched 138 points (one shy of Bobby Orr’s record).
2 – Mark Messier
Some call him the greatest leader in professional sports history and they have a compelling argument. Though during the bulk of his time with the Oilers “The Moose” dwelled in the enormous shadow of Wayne Gretzky, he was every bit as important as #99 during those dynasty years. Messier topped 100 points on five separate occasions with the Oilers, earning a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Hart Trophy during his tenure, but he brought a lot more than offensive production to the table. He was as feared an opponent as there was in the game during the 80s, as likely to beat you with his stick or his elbows as he was to beat you on the scoreboard. When Gretzky was traded to L.A. Messier got his chance at the captaincy and made the most of it, leading the team to their 5th Stanley Cup in 7 years in 1990. Though he’d move on to join the New York Rangers, Mess is still a legend in the city and an easy pick for second on the list of the all-time Oilers’ greats.
1 – Wayne Gretzky
Well, surely this comes as a surprise to exactly nobody. Gretzky is the greatest player in the history of the NHL. It only stands to reason he’d top the list of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time. Gretzky rewrote the NHL record book during his career, and he enjoyed his peak years while as a member of the Oilers. Four times he topped the 200 point mark with the club. No other player in NHL history has accomplished the feat once (though Mario Lemieux came pretty damn close at 199). He shattered Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy’s shared record of 50 goals in 50 games, accomplishing the feat in a mere 39 contests. He had a mind-boggling 51 game point streak, challenging Joe DiMaggio for the title of the greatest streak in professional sports history. These are just a sample of the incredible things he achieved while playing for the Oilers. With 4 Stanley Cups, 2 Conn Smythe Trophies, 7 Art Ross Trophies and 8 Hart Trophies as an Oiler it would be ridiculous in the extreme for anyone else to claim the title of greatest Edmonton Oiler of all time.