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WHA Teams: Edmonton Oilers

By Wikipedia

The Edmonton Oilers are a professional ice hockey team based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They play in the National Hockey League (NHL).

At a glance...
Franchise Facts
Established 1972
Located Edmonton, Alberta
1983-84, 1984-85, 1986-87,
1987-88, 1989-90 (all NHL)
Alberta Oilers (1972-73)
Edmonton Oilers (1973-present)
Northlands Coliseum

In 1972 the Alberta Oilers joined the World Hockey Association (WHA) as a founding member. The team was originally owned by Bill Hunter. Hunter had previously owned the Edmonton Oil Kings and founded what would become the Western Hockey League, but his efforts to bring professional hockey to Edmonton had been rebuffed by the NHL. Originally, the team was named the Alberta Oilers as it was planned to split their home games between Edmonton and Calgary after the Calgary Broncos folded. For various reasons, possibly financial or the possibility of allowing easier expansion of either the NHL or WHA to Calgary, the team played all of its games in Edmonton, and changed their name to reflect this the following year.

Despite mediocre results in the standings, the team proved popular with the fans, behind stars such as defenseman and team captain Al Hamilton, star goaltender Dave Dryden, and forwards Blair McDonald and Bill Flett. The team's performance would change for the better in 1978, when new owner Peter Pocklington scored one of the greatest trades in hockey history, acquiring already-aspiring superstar Wayne Gretzky as an under-age player (consequentially, his first year of WHA experience didn't make him an official 1979-80 NHL rookie), as well as goaltender Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll, from the Indianapolis Racers for a token sum. Gretzky's first and only WHA season, 1978-79, saw the Oilers shoot to the top of the WHA standings, posting a league-best 48-30-2 record. However, Edmonton's regular season success did not translate into a championship, as they fell to the rival Winnipeg Jets in the Avco World Trophy Final. Young Oilers enforcer Dave Semenko scored the last goal in WHA history late in the third period of the final game.

The Oilers joined the National Hockey League for 1979-80, with fellow WHA teams Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and the Jets. Of these four teams, only Edmonton has avoided relocation and renaming; the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995, the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, and the Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997.

The 1980s: Dynasty Years

1978 Edmonton program.

With an incredible core of young players, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, and Kevin Lowe, the Edmonton Oilers became one of the greatest teams in hockey history with their domination of the NHL in the mid-to-late 1980s. Many experts consider the Oilers from that decade not only to be the best team ever in the long history of the NHL, but also one of the best sports teams ever, as evidenced by a recent Sporting News poll in February 2006 when the 1987-88 Oilers were listed as one of the top-five teams from the last 120 years.

The Oilers made a name for themselves very early, making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their first NHL season (1979-80), but were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers three-games-to-none. After a five-point improvement in the 1980-81 regular season, the Oilers stunned the hockey world by sweeping the heavily-favored Montreal Canadiens in three games. In the 1981-82 season, the Oilers became one of the league's strongest teams. Gretzky became the third NHL player to score 50 goals in 50 games, joining the New York Islanders' Mike Bossy from the previous season and Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice Richard from 1944-45. But youthful lapses of discipline led to a first round defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings. In 1983 they made it to their first Stanley Cup Final, but were swept in four games by the three-time defending champions, the New York Islanders, who had already-greats like Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Denis Potvin. A year later, however, Edmonton would defeat the Islanders in five games, four-to-one, to capture their first Stanley Cup.

Edmonton repeated Cup success in 1985 against the Philadelphia Flyers and star netminder Pelle Lindbergh, who died later that year after a car crash. However, their bid for a third straight championship came to an end in Game Seven of the 1985-86 Smythe Division Finals against the Calgary Flames. In the third period of a 2-2 tie, rookie defenceman Steve Smith banked his breakout pass off goaltender Grant Fuhr's left skate and into the Oilers' net. The goal stood as the game- and-series-winning goal. In 1987, Edmonton returned to the Stanley Cup Final and again defeated the Flyers in a tense seven-game series, overcoming a Conn Smythe Trophy winning performance by Philly rookie goalie Ron Hextall. But in the midst of the celebrations, blueliner Coffey dropped a bombshell: Pocklington had bought out his contract and sold it to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team in which Mario Lemieux was the main star.

In 1988 the Oilers made their strongest run to the Cup without Coffey, losing only two playoff games, and sweeping the Boston Bruins to win their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. In doing so, the Oilers left their mark as one of the greatest teams of all time. A unique event in Final history occurred in Game Four on May 24. With the score tied 3-3 in the second period, a power outage struck the legendary Boston Garden, forcing cancellation of the whole game. Then-NHL President John Ziegler ordered the game to be re-scheduled, and, if necessary, played in Boston after the originally scheduled Game Seven in Edmonton. The Oilers would win the next game (originally scheduled as Game Five) back in Edmonton 6-3 to complete the series sweep. All player statistics accrued in the aborted Game Four in Boston are counted in the NHL record books. After the Cup-clinching game, Gretzky gathered his teammates, coaches, trainers, and others from the Oilers organization at center ice for an impromptu team photo with the Stanley Cup, a tradition since continued by every subsequent Stanley Cup Champion.

Gretzky statue outside of Rexall Place.

That summer, however, left a bitter taste in the mouths of Oiler fans in the midst of the celebrations again. On August 9, 1988, Gretzky, along with popular players Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million, two rising young players (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas), and three first-round draft picks. Kings owner Bruce McNall said some very convincing words to Oilers big boss Pocklington — "Money, money, money" — which Pocklington did get, for The Great One. Carson only played two seasons in Edmonton before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings. Gelinas played five years for Edmonton, never scoring more than twenty goals. The Oilers traded the 1989 pick (Jason Miller) to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Corey Foster, then used the '91 and '93 picks to select Martin Rucinsky and Nick Stajduhar, respectively, neither of whom were major contributors during their time in Edmonton.

The 1989 season was a troubled one, and for the first time since 1982, the Oilers were out of the playoffs in the first round, losing a seven-game series to Gretzky's Kings; the Cup was ultimately claimed by their provincial Alberta rivals, the Flames. Gretzky and Jari Kurri had been the dominant offensive pairing of the 1980s, and many, said that Kurri without Gretzky would be ordinary — even worse, maybe nobody, or nothing.

It was the beginning of the end for Edmonton's brilliance. 1990 seemed set to continue the troubles for the Oil. All-Star and future Hockey Hall of Famer, starting goaltender Grant Fuhr, was charged with possession, use, and abuse of cocaine. He would be thrown to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1991 after publicly acknowledging his problem. But the team rallied behind backup Bill Ranford, and despite finishing third in their division behind Calgary and Los Angeles, the Oilers, and Adam Graves, Gιlinas and Joe Murphy, their "Kid Line" (not to be confused with the 1931-32 Leafs' Harvey "Busher" Jackson, "Gentleman Joe" Primeau, and "Big Bomber Charlie" Conacher) won their fifth and, to date, final Stanley Cup by again defeating the Bruins, this time in five games. Ranford won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff Most Valuable Player for his brilliant goaltending.

The Rebuilding Years

However, the Oilers weren't doing something very easy by now — because they simply had no choice. After the 1990 Stanley Cup, they were like squid trying to stay alive in a regular freshwater puddle. The Gretzky trade had opened up a new reality of rapidly climbing salaries in the NHL, and small-market teams like Edmonton simply couldn't compete with salaries offered in large U.S. cities. Messier, Kurri, Fuhr, Anderson, and later Craig MacTavish all left the team in rapid succession, leaving behind an underdeveloped base of young players and unproven prospects, exposing the Oilers' poor drafting through the dynasty years. Despite appearances in the Conference Final in 1991 and 1992, the Oilers were nowhere near the powerhouse that had dominated the previous half-decade. In 1993 the Oilers missed the playoffs for the first time since they entered the league. They would not return for four years, despite the emergence of young centremen Doug Weight and Jason Arnott.

Trouble followed the team off the ice as well, as the Gainers meat-packing industry owned by Pocklington failed amidst charges of scandal and corruption. For most of the 1990s, the Oilers were desperately trying to stay alive. In 1998, the team was nearly sold to Houston interests who sought to move the team, but before the sale was finalized, and with just hours left on the deadline, the Edmonton Investors Group, a consortium of thirty-seven Edmonton-based owners, raised the funds to purchase the team, vowing to keep the Oilers in Edmonton. The Oilers received support in this endeavor from the NHL, which was deeply troubled by the loss of two Canadian teams in short order, the Winnipeg Jets and the Quebec Nordiques.

Oilers "rigger" shoulder patch logo, 1996 — present.

In 1997, the Oilers returned to the playoffs and emerged victorious again, defeating the Dallas Stars in an exciting seven-game series. Riding on the hot goaltending of Curtis Joseph, the Oilers completed the upset with the final goal coming on a breakaway by Todd Marchant in overtime. Another highlight of that playoff series was on April 20. Down 3-0 with just under four minutes to go in Game Three, the Oilers rallied for three goals in the final three minutes of the third period to tie the game and eventually win 4-3 in overtime on Kelly Buchberger's game-winning goal.

Though Edmonton would lose to defending Cup champ Colorado Avalanche in the next round, fans were ecstatic about the Oilers' return to the playoffs. In 1998, Joseph led the Oilers to another first round upset, this time knocking off the Avalanche in seven games. Dallas and Edmonton met again, but this time, the Stars were the victors. This was the start of one of the most unusual rivalries in hockey: between 1997 and 2003 the Oilers and Stars played each other in the playoffs six times, five of them first-round matchups. The only year in which they did not meet was 2002, when neither team made the playoffs. In fact, considering the Stars' previous incarnation in Minnesota, the last time both teams made the playoffs and did not meet was in 1990, the last time the Oil won Lord Stanley's Mug. This streak was not formally ended until 2006, when the 4th-NHL seeded Stars were eliminated in the first round by the Avalanche, while, for the first time in 16 years, the 15th-seeded Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Final.

On November 22, 2003, the Oilers hosted the Heritage Classic, the first outdoor hockey game in the NHL's history. The Oilers were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in front of more than fifty-five thousand fans, an NHL attendance record, at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

On July 23, 2004, the team announced that its American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Roadrunners would play the 2004-05 AHL season at the Oilers' home arena. The decision, an unusual one for a North American professional sports organization, was likely influenced by the expectation that the 2004-05 NHL lockout would wipe out the 2004-05 NHL season. After an unsuccessful year, the Edmonton Road Runners were suspended, and as of 2006, have not yet been revived in any form. Those plans have all but been terminated as the Oilers long-planned push to own an expansion Western Hockey League major-junior franchise were granted on June 27, 2006. That team will begin play in the 2007-08 season.


Alternate logo from away jersey (1975-79)

The original 1972 design featured the traditional colors of blue and orange, but reversed from their more familiar appearance in later seasons, orange being the dominant colors and blue used for the trimming. For the first few games of the 1972 season, player names weren't displayed on the uniform; rather the word 'ALBERTA' was written in that space. Once it became clear, however, that the team would play exclusively in Edmonton, the player names made their appearance. These jerseys also featured the player numbers high on the shoulders, rather than on the upper sleeve.

In 1975-76 the jersey was changed to the more familiar blue base with orange trim, but with some minor differences. The logo that appeared on programs and promotional material remained the same, however the logo that appeared on the home jersey had a white oil drop, on a dark orange field, with the team name written in deep blue. The away jersey featured the orange-printed logo that many mistakenly attribute to the entire history of the WHA Oilers. In every other facet, though, the jerseys were identical to the dynasty-era form that is known throughout the hockey world.

When the team jumped to the NHL in 1979, the alternate logos were discarded and the jersey took its most famous form, though the logo did appear slightly different on a few vintages of the jersey (1979, 1986, 1990). The essential design remained untouched until 1996, when the blue and orange were replaced by midnight blue and copper. Other changes made to the jersey at that point were the removal of the orange shoulder bar and cuffs from the away jersey, and the addition of the "Rigger" alternate logo to the end of the shoulder bar on the home jersey, and the equivalent position on the road jersey. A year later, the shoulder bars were removed from the home jersey as well, giving the Oilers' sweater its modern look.

Alternate logo from home jersey (1975-79)

In 2001, the introduction of the third jersey featuring a logo designed by Spawn creator and Oilers co-owner, Todd McFarlane, and Brent Ashe, was a controversial move, given the negative reactions to many other teams' designs. While there remains some disdain towards both the "rigger" logo and McFarlane's "Blades" logo — meant to symbolize elements of the Oilers' past — the navy, silver, and white design is generally considered a success, though there are no plans for it to become the basis for the team's primary jerseys, as has been done previously by the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks. The jersey became a a big hit with the fans and became the best selling third jersey in NHL History. McFarlane spoke about the jersey to the Edmonton Journal on the day it was unveiled, saying, "We wanted it to be a hockey jersey but also a good wear if you were just walking down the street." The logo was designed to represent what the Oilers were all about. "Sharp, blade-like shapes signify the blades of a hockey skate... the five rivets around the oil drop represents the five Stanley Cups won by the Oilers... inner and outer gear shapes signify force and reinforce the concept of teamwork and industriousness." McFarlane also mentioned "The oil drop is derived from the original logo. It's turned on its side to suggest speed in the new logo and it has been given a highlight to emphasize the difference from the original."

Season-by-Season Records

Alberta/Edmonton Oilers (WHA, 1972-79)

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes

Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1972-73 78 37 35 6 80 259 250 843 4th, West Did not qualify
1973-74 78 44 32 2 90 332 275 1273 3rd, West Lost Preliminary Round
1974-75 78 36 38 4 76 279 279 896 5th, Canadian Did not qualify
1975-76 81 27 49 5 59 268 345 991 4th, Canadian Lost Quarterfinal
1976-77 81 34 43 4 72 243 304 1319 4th, West Lost Quarterfinal
1977-78 80 38 39 3 79 309 307 1296 5th, WHA Lost Preliminary Round
1978-79 80 48 30 2 98 340 266 1220 1st, WHA Lost Avco World Trophy Final
Totals 556 264 266 26 554 2030 2026 7838 — —

Edmonton Oilers (NHL, 1979-present)

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, OTL = Overtime Losses, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes

Season GP W L T OTL Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1979-80 80 28 39 13 — 69 301 322 1528 4th, Smythe Lost Preliminary Round
1980-81 80 29 35 16 — 74 328 327 1544 4th, Smythe Lost Quarterfinal
1981-82 80 48 17 15 — 111 417 295 1473 1st, Smythe Lost Division Semifinal
1982-83 80 47 21 12 — 106 424 315 1771 1st, Smythe Lost Stanley Cup Final
1983-84 80 57 18 5 — 119 446 314 1577 1st, Smythe Won Stanley Cup
1984-85 80 49 20 11 — 109 401 298 1567 1st, Smythe Won Stanley Cup
1985-86 80 56 17 7 — 119 426 310 1928 1st, Smythe Lost Division Final
1986-87 80 50 24 6 — 106 372 284 1721 1st, Smythe Won Stanley Cup
1987-88 80 44 25 11 — 99 363 288 2173 2nd, Smythe Won Stanley Cup
1988-89 80 38 34 8 — 84 325 306 1931 3rd, Smythe Lost Division Semifinal
1989-90 80 38 28 14 — 90 315 283 2046 3rd, Smythe Won Stanley Cup
1990-91 80 37 37 6 — 80 272 272 1823 3rd, Smythe Lost Conference Final
1991-92 80 36 34 10 — 82 295 297 1907 3rd, Smythe Lost Conference Final
1992-93 84 26 50 8 — 60 242 337 2027 5th, Smythe Did not qualify
1993-94 84 25 45 14 — 64 261 305 1858 6th, Pacific Did not qualify
1994-951 48 17 27 4 — 38 136 183 1183 5th, Pacific Did not qualify
1995-96 82 30 44 8 — 68 240 304 1709 5th, Pacific Did not qualify
1996-97 82 36 37 9 — 81 252 247 1368 3rd, Pacific Lost Conference Semifinal
1997-98 82 35 37 10 — 80 215 224 1690 3rd, Pacific Lost Conference Semifinal
1998-99 82 33 37 12 — 78 230 226 1373 2nd, Northwest Lost Conference Quarterfinal
1999-00 82 32 26 16 8 88 226 212 1344 2nd, Northwest Lost Conference Quarterfinal
2000-01 82 39 28 12 3 93 243 222 1287 2nd, Northwest Lost Conference Quarterfinal
2001-02 82 38 28 12 4 92 205 182 1267 3rd, Northwest Did not qualify
2002-03 82 36 26 11 9 92 231 230 1203 4th, Northwest Lost Conference Quarterfinal
2003-04 82 36 29 12 5 89 221 208 1220 4th, Northwest Did not qualify
2004-052 — — — — — — — — — — —
2005-063 82 41 28 — 13 95 256 251 1178 3rd, Northwest Lost Stanley Cup Final
Totals 2076 981 791 262 42 2266 7643 7042 41158 — —
1 Season was shortened due to the 1994-95 NHL lockout.
2 Season was cancelled due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
3 As of the 2005-06 NHL season, all games tied after regulation will be decided in a shootout; SOL (Shootout losses) will be recorded as OTL in the standings.

Notable People

  • Peter Pocklington was the owner of the Oilers from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s. Pocklington had a number of business deals that went sour and was responsible for "the trade" of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.
  • Joey Moss has the official title of Dressing Room Attendant. Moss was born with Down Syndrome and was asked by Wayne Gretzky in the early 1980's to come work for the Oilers. Every year an intra-squad game called the "Joey Moss Cup" is held in early September. In 2003, Moss was honored by the NHL Alumni Association with its “Seventh Man Award”, honoring those for their dedication and service behind the scenes.
  • Todd McFarlane, artist and creator of the comic book Spawn, is a part-owner of the franchise. In late 2001, McFarlane revealed a new logo for the Edmonton Oilers. This logo is featured on the team's Third Jersey. His company McFarlane Toys also makes action figures for the NHL.

WHA Bibliography
The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association by Ed Willes
The Complete Historical and Statistical Reference to the World Hockey Association by Scott Adam Surgent
WHA Pro Hockey '75 - '76 by Dan Proudfoot
WHA Media Guides (each team published one each year)

These and many other WHA items can be found at eBay - check our links on the far right of this page!

Share Your Memories!

We have a WHA Forum! Our sites have always been by you and about you. If you check our TV Forums or our Technology & Science forums, you'll find literally thousands of messages from fans of 1970s TV shows, survivors of hurricanes or aircraft accidents, etc. from all over the world sharing their memories, asking questions, making comments. Our baseball section is new, but don't let that stop you from sharing your memories of WHA games you saw, now-forgotten stadiums, etc. Of course you can also ask questions, post trivia, or just read what others are saying.

--Patrick Mondout



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