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When the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers, founded in 1972, made the move to the NHL for the 1979 season, no one could have guessed the success that would follow in the next decade. The Oilers defined hockey in the 1980s. Their legacy is still felt throughout the league today, and is something that the current team is desperate to recreate.
Though financially stable, the club’s play in the WHA was mediocre. However, their time in the WHA bore two major assets which would be huge for the organization going forward. First, the acquisition of Glen Sather as a player turned into a relationship which would see him work with the team for more than 20 years to come as a player, coach, and general manager. Second, the Oilers were able to secure from a team that was folding a young player by the name of Wayne Gretzky. He would, of course, go on to become known as the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of skates. Upon entering the NHL, the team’s mediocrity continued, which would allow them to take full advantage of their draft position. Over the next few seasons, the Oilers were able to bring in tremendously talented players in Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, and Glenn Anderson.
If putting all of these players together on one team seems unfair, add Wayne Gretzky into the mix and it is not hard to see why Edmonton was the most dominant team of the decade. By 1983, this young team had reached the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals. After being swept by the New York Islanders (the last championship in their dynastic run), the Oilers would return to the Finals and beat them in five games the next season. However, it did not end there. The Oilers would win five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and change hockey forever. As players got older and left the team, either through trades or retirement, the team cooled off in the 1990s.
A surprise trip to the Finals in 2005 ended one game short of another title, as the Oilers fell in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. A long postseason drought would follow. Edmonton failed to qualify for the playoffs for the next ten seasons. They broke that streak in 2017, however, when the new regime not only made it to the postseason, but advanced to the second round before being eliminated by Anaheim in seven games. Dropping from a 47 win team in 2017 to a 36 win team in 2018 was a bitter pill to swallow for the Oilers faithful. Head Coach Todd McClellan was eventually relived of his duties, ushering in a new era in Edmonton with veteran NHL coach Ken Hitchcock behind the bench for the Oilers. He knows that his team has the capability to come back and make a splash again this season.
Led by superstar Connor McDavid, the youngest player to ever captain an NHL team is the clear leader in the Edmonton lineup. Playing alongside him are talented stars in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. Veteran Milan Lucic provides a strong presence in the locker. The defense is anchored by Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. Edmonton fans were pleased to see a healthy Darnell Nurse make another leap forward in his game. After the trade of Cam Talbot to Philadelphia, the starting netminder for Edmonton is Mikko Koskinen. The young Anthony Stolarz serves as his backup now and may eventually earn the starting role. Expect great things from this young team.
A resurgence of Oilers hockey is just what the fans in Canada need. Seeing this club back in the postseason has everyone excited. The team has a united mindset and plays one game at a time, hoping to reach hockey’s ultimate plateau. A lot of legendary players who have worn the Oilers jersey serve as inspiration for this young squad. Among them are Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, and Glenn Anderson. For additional information about the Edmonton Oilers hockey franchise click here.