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From First to Worst: The Legacy of the Edmonton Oilers

Wayne Gretzky lifts one of several Oilers' Stanley Cups in the '80s Wayne Gretzky lifts one of several Oilers' Stanley Cups in the '80s

The Edmonton Oilers may have been the NHL’s greatest dynasty in their heyday. The Montreal Canadiens of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s and the New York Islanders of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s were great teams as well, but they didn’t have quite the flare of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and company.

But what has happened to the once great franchise? The Oilers were the worst team in the NHL in 2009-10, and have suffered long and hard with few exceptions for nearly the whole 21st century so far.

In the ‘80s, Wayne Gretzky changed everything. Without question, he is hockey’s greatest player of all time. Having a once-in-a-lifetime talent like that on a team does much to explain the Oilers' dominance in the fabric of sports history. But the Oilers won a cup even after Gretzky’s departure for the L.A. Kings in the late ‘80s.

Of course, then they had Mark Messier, who retired second to Gretzky in career NHL points. But one man does not a team make. The likes of Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr would have been the #1 player on any team other than the ‘80s Oilers. And the supporting cast of Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy, and Kevin Lowe, along with Fuhr’s respective predecessor and successor between the pipes, Andy Moog and Bill Ranford, played huge roles as well. Even tough guy Dave Semenko was a key piece in those great teams.

Perhaps it started at the top in the Oilers organization. Glen Sather was a true mastermind at one time. He may have been the best drafter ever, having picked Coffey, Kurri, Moog, Fuhr, Tikkanen, and standout defenseman Steve Smith.

Since the glory days when they won five Stanley Cups in seven years, the Oilers have been a shadow of their former selves. They have missed the playoffs six of the last eight years. Ironically, in 2005-06, they played in the Stanley Cup finals, losing in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes – one victory away from being champions again.

So what’s the key to getting the once proud Edmonton Oilers back into shape? In the salary-cap era, it comes down to the same thing it does for everyone else – building through the draft. If the Oilers want another Stanley Cup any time soon, they can learn from the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. That means they have to capitalize on the high draft picks these lean years yield, and set themselves up for a return to glory that would make Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and Paul Coffey proud.

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Last modified on Friday, 01 July 2011 09:37

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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