Edmonton Oilers | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are a hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) and are based in Edmonton, Alberta. The Oilers have won five Stanley Cup championships.
Gretzky, Wayne
Wayne Gretzky holding the Stanley Cup aloft for the Edmonton Oilers, the most exciting team of the 1980s (courtesy Edmonton Journal).
Gretzky, Wayne
Wayne Gretzky at the Los Angeles press conference following his trade to the LA Kings (courtesy Edmonton Sun).
Edmonton Oilers, logo
(copyright NHL)

The Edmonton Oilers are a hockey team in the National Hockey League (NHL) and are based in Edmonton, Alberta. The Oilers have won five Stanley Cup championships.

Quick Facts about the Edmonton Oilers
Date Founded: 1971 (World Hockey Association); 1979 (National Hockey League)
Venue: Rogers Place
Team Colours: Copper and blue
Stanley Cup Victories: 5

Early History of Professional Hockey in Edmonton

Senior professional hockey first arrived in Edmonton in 1907 with the formation of the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association. At the time, any team in Canada could challenge another team for the Stanley Cupanywhere and at any time during the ice season. Thus, the first Stanley Cup challenge in Edmonton was held in 1908 against the Montreal Wanderers. Though the home team lost, Edmonton took a second shot at the Stanley Cup in 1910, this time losing to the Ottawa Senators. Not long after, Edmonton's first senior professional team ran out of funding, and closed up shop. The loss of the team was due in part to a lack of a quality public arena in Edmonton. On 25 December 1913, this all changed, as the Edmonton Gardens opened to the public. Two Alberta Big Four League hockey teams from Edmonton, the Eskimos and the Dominions, played in the Edmonton Gardens premier game. The Dominions won the match, 4–2.

Play lapsed during the First World War, and in 1921 the Alberta Big Four League gave way to the Western Canada Hockey League. During its first year, the Edmonton Eskimos hockey team ranked among the best in the league, coming in second to the Regina Capitals. The next year, the Eskimos and Capitals again met for the league title. This time, the Eskimos came out on top, meaning Edmonton moved forward to the Stanley Cup championship. As they had when they met 12 years earlier, the Edmonton team lost to the Ottawa Senators.

By 1925, the Western Canada Hockey League became the Western Hockey League. The league, however, did not last. Although the Eskimos joined the Prairie Hockey League, in 1927 that league folded as well. The Western Canada Hockey League re-appeared in 1932, changing its name a third time to the North West Hockey League, which collapsed by the end of the 1935–36 season. Professional hockey in Edmonton was gone until after the Second World War.

In 1945, senior hockey returned to Edmonton in the form of the Edmonton Flyers, who joined the Western Canada Senior Hockey League (WCSHL), winning the league's first championship as well as the national senior trophy, the Allan Cup, in 1947–48. In 1951, the Edmonton Flyers were embraced by the Pacific Coast Hockey League, which merged a year later with the WCSHL to create the Western Hockey League. However, the Flyers' final season was 1962–63.

Edmonton Oilers in the WHA

The World Hockey Association (WHA) was incorporated on 10 June 1971. The league would go on to rival the National Hockey League (NHL), with major players leaving NHL teams to join WHA teams. Bill Hunter, owner of the Edmonton amateur hockey team, the Edmonton Oil Kings, invested in an Edmonton-based WHA team. "Wild Bill," as he was known, initially named his team the Alberta Oilers; it was originally intended to be a team for both Edmonton and Calgary, with home games split between the two cities. On 11 October 1972, the Oilers played in the first-ever WHA league game, defeating the Ottawa Nationals 7–4. In 1973, the team became the Edmonton Oilers.

Hunter frequently changed coaches, and the team had high player turnover. In fact, only one of the Oilers, Al Hamilton, was with the team from its start in 1972 to the WHA's demise in 1979. During their first season, the Oilers won only one game more than they lost. Although their second season resulted in the same record, it also marked the Oilers' first appearance in the playoffs. Though the team's first playoff run was short, hockey interest was building in Edmonton. This was due, in part, to the construction of the new Northlands Coliseum, which opened on 10 November 1974. However, that season the Oilers for the first time finished with more losses than wins.

The 1975–76 season was not much improved, despite the presence of a new head coach, Clare Drake, coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team. As the Oilers continued to struggle, Bill Hunter lost his grasp on the team, and sold the team to Dr. Charles Allard, who quickly re-sold the Oilers to Nelson Skalbania. In 1976, Peter Pocklington joined Skalbania as partner.

Glen Sather joined the Oilers in 1976; that year, he was made player-coach, and later head coach, by Pocklington. Not long after, Skalbania signed Wayne Gretzky to the WHA at Skalbania's home in Vancouver. Pocklington purchased Gretzky's contract from Skalbania, and signed Gretzky to a 21-year "personal services contract" — Gretzky became an employee of Pocklington rather than the Oilers.

The final game in WHA history was played on 20 May 1979. At the game, the Edmonton Oilers lost the WHA championship Avco Cup to the Winnipeg Jets.

National Hockey League

The Edmonton Oilers joined the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1979, along with three other former WHA teams. As an expansion team, the Oilers lost many players to other NHL teams; Sather thus had no choice but to focus on building a team, adding future Hockey Hall of Fame players such as Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, and Jari Kurri to the roster during the team's early years. The Oilers' first NHL game took place on 10 October 1979 against Chicago. Although they lost their first NHL game, their first victory came nine days later, on 19 October, at home against the Quebec Nordiques.

The NHL Oilers were an immediate success in Edmonton, and landed in the playoffs during their first season. Although the Oilers' first post-season was short lived (they were swept in the first three games by the Philadelphia Flyers), Gretzky won the Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the league. Following the first season, Sather was made coach, general manager, and president. Under his leadership, the Oilers became one of the NHL’s most successful teams of the 1980s.

1980s Dynasty

The Oilers played a fast-skating, offensive brand of hockey in the 1980s. The team's first playoff win came on 8 April 1981 when they beat the Montreal Canadiens 6–3. The Oilers eventually knocked Montreal out in the preliminary round before they were knocked out themselves. The Oilers made it to their first Stanley Cup final in 1983 but lost to the New York Islanders, who won their fourth cup in a row. Having come close to the Cup, the Oilers were spurred on to a new level. The 1983–84 season, the Oilers' fifth, saw the team win 57 games and finish first overall in the league.

Victory was sweet when the Oilers defeated the Islanders on 19 May 1984 to win their first Stanley Cup in Edmonton. The Cup was filled with champagne, and poured over owner Pocklington's head. Although Kevin McClelland was credited with the game-winning goal, Mark Messier was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff Most Valuable Player. The win would be a sign of things to come for the team, who won the 1984–85 season Stanley Cup for the second year in a row, followed by two more consecutive cup wins in 1986–87, and 1987–88.

The 1988 win proved to be bittersweet for the Oilers. After leading the Oilers to the team's fourth cup win, and with two Conn Smythe trophies under his belt, Wayne Gretzky was immeasurably popular. However, owner Pocklington was losing money. The day after winning the Cup, Gretzky learned of Pocklington's intentions to sell his contract. The sports world was shocked to learn that Gretzky, along with Marty McSorley, had been traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, and three first-round draft picks. The trade has since been called one of the most significant moments in NHL history.

The season after Gretzky's trade, the Oilers finished third in the Smythe Division and the Stanley Cup found a new home with the Calgary Flames. The team rebounded to win the Cup again in the 1989–90 season, but continued to trade their superstars for younger players, claiming they were unable to pay their rising salaries. The dynasty was dismantled, with many of the Oilers’ top players headed for the New York Rangers. Ironically, when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, the team was made up of seven former Oilers.

The 1990s

In the mid- to late-1990s, the Oilers fought to survive as a franchise, battling the weak value of the Canadian dollar, as salaries and most expenses were in US dollars. The team also suffered from poor performance and missed the playoffs from 1992–93 to 1995–96, despite acquiring one of the NHL's best goaltenders, Curtis Joseph, in 1995.

The first whispers that the Oilers might leave Edmonton came in 1993, when Pocklington and Northlands Coliseum could not reach a deal on leases at the Edmonton Coliseum. Pocklington stated that he could potentially sell the Oilers to Hamilton, which was anxious to join the NHL. By 1996, amid low season ticket sales, the NHL announced it would not stand in the way of efforts to move the franchise elsewhere. By the middle of the 1996–97 season, however, young players such as Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight began to reignite fan enthusiasm for the Oilers, who reached the playoffs for the first time since 1992. They met the Dallas Stars in the opening round of the 1997 playoffs, only to fall to the Colorado Avalanche in the next round.

One month after the Oilers' playoff loss to Colorado, Pocklington announced that the team was up for sale. In February 1998, a Houston businessman put in a formal offer for the team. Thirty days was given to find a local owner to come forward and keep the team in Edmonton. A group of 38 business men formed the Edmonton Investors Group Limited Partnership and eventually garnered the US$70 million needed to save the team.

Although the Oilers were not expected to beat the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 1998 playoffs, the Oilers pulled an upset in seven games. However, their playoffs ended in the next round, when they lost to the Dallas Stars.

2000 to 2010

The Oilers would return to the playoffs in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003. In all four seasons, Edmonton was knocked out of the first round by the Dallas Stars. However, in 2006, under the leadership of coach Craig MacTavish, a member of the 1980s dynasty team, the Oilers made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup final after finishing eighth in the Western Conference. Although they fell behind 3–1 in the series, the Oilers rallied to force a seven game series, only to lose the Cup to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Coming off their surprise playoff run, the Oilers seemed to continue their success. However, the team soon fell into a slump. The end of February 2007 saw the team trade star Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders (he would return to the Oilers in the 2011–12 season). Meanwhile, the team won just two games in the rest of the season, and finished in last place.

In 2008, the Oilers were sold to Daryl Katz, owner of the Rexall drugstore chain, for close to $200 million. Katz also purchased the name of the Oilers home arena, Northlands Coliseum, which became known as Rexall Place. In 2009, the Oilers failed to reach the playoffs for the third season in a row. Consequently, head coach Craig MacTavish was fired and replaced by Pat Quinn. The coach change, however, did not improve the Oilers' performance. The Oilers finished in last place in the league, and Quinn was replaced by head coach Tom Renney.

2010 to Present

Renney coached the Oilers for two seasons before being replaced by Ralph Krueger, who was replaced after only one lockout-shortened season by Dallas Eakins. Eakins himself was fired midway through his second season, and was replaced briefly by general manager Craig MacTavish, and then for the rest of the season by Todd Nelson as the Oilers’ interim head coach. The constant coaching changes did little to improve the fortunes of the Oilers, who continued to find themselves out of the playoffs every spring, finishing above the bottom three teams only once between 2010 and 2015.

In a letter to the fans in 2014, owner Daryl Katz stated that the Oilers had been officially in rebuild mode since 2010. The one compensation for the team’s poor record during this period was the high draft picks that the Oilers managed to accumulate. From 2010 to 2012, the Oilers picked first overall every year, choosing Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) and Nail Yakupov (2012).

In 2015, the 28th placed Oilers won the draft lottery once again and selected Connor McDavid first overall. After the lottery win, the Oilers immediately became more aggressive in trying to improve the team. Both the general manager and coach were replaced by proven NHL options in general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan.

With the addition of McDavid, hopes were high in Edmonton. He joined an exciting offensive core that already boasted Taylor Hall (the 2010 top draft pick), Nugent-Hopkins (the 2011 top pick) and Leon Draisaitl (third overall in 2014).

However, the 2015–16 team failed to meet expectations. McDavid was injured and missed 37 games. The Oilers missed the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season, tying the record for the longest playoff drought in NHL history. Following the season, elite winger Taylor Hall was traded to New Jersey for defenceman Adam Larsson in an attempt to stabilize the defence.

The Oilers opened the 2016–17 season in a brand new arena, Rogers Place, in the heart of downtown Edmonton. McDavid led the league in scoring with 100 points, while goalie Cam Talbot had a franchise record 42 wins. The Oilers finally made the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. They defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games in the first round before losing to the Anaheim Ducks in Game Seven in the second round.

Expectations were high for the next season, with many projecting the Oilers as a contender for the Stanley Cup. However, the 2017–18 season was disappointing. The Oilers stumbled to a poor start and never recovered, finishing 17 points out of the playoffs. Despite the team’s poor season, McDavid led the league in scoring for a second consecutive year with 108 points.

In 2017, Forbes magazine valued the hockey club at $520 million. Rogers Place seats 18,641 for hockey.

Edmonton Oilers Hall of Famers

Name Position Year Inducted
Jacques Plante Goaltender 1978
Norm Ullman 7 1982
Glen Sather Head Coach, President, General Manager 1997
Wayne Gretzky
99 1999
Jari Kurri 17 2001
Roger Neilson Video Analyst 2002
Grant Fuhr 31 2003
Rod Phillips Broadcaster 2003
Paul Coffey 7 2004
Mark Messier 11 2007
Glenn Anderson 9 2008
Adam Oates 77 2012
Chris Pronger 44 2015
Pat Quinn Coach 2016
Clare Drake Coach 2017

Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals

1983 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs New York Islanders

Game One: New York 3, Edmonton 0
Game Two: New York 6, Edmonton 4
Game Three: New York 4, Edmonton 2
Game Four: New York 4, Edmonton 2

New York Islanders win series 4–0, and the Stanley Cup

1984 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs New York Islanders

Game One: Edmonton 1, New York 0
Game Two: New York 6, Edmonton 1
Game Three: Edmonton 7, New York 2
Game Four: Edmonton 7, New York 2
Game Five: Edmonton 5, New York 2

Edmonton Oilers win series 4–1, and the Stanley Cup

1985 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Game one: Philadelphia 4, Edmonton 1
Game two: Edmonton 3, Philadelphia 1
Game three: Edmonton 4, Philadelphia 3
Game four: Edmonton 5, Philadelphia 3
Game five: Edmonton 8, Philadelphia 3

Edmonton Oilers win series 4–1, and the Stanley Cup

1987 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Game One: Edmonton 4, Philadelphia 2
Game Two: Edmonton 3, Philadelphia 2 (OT)
Game Three: Philadelphia 5, Edmonton 3
Game Four: Edmonton 4, Philadelphia 1
Game Five: Philadelphia 4, Edmonton 3
Game Six: Philadelphia 3, Edmonton 2
Game Seven: Edmonton 3, Philadelphia 1

Edmonton Oilers win series 4–3, and the Stanley Cup

1988 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs. Boston Bruins

Game One: Edmonton 2, Boston 1
Game Two: Edmonton 4, Boston 2
Game Three: Edmonton 6, Boston 3
Game Four: Edmonton 3, Boston 3 (game cancelled in second period due to power outage)
Game Five: Edmonton 6, Boston 3

Edmonton Oilers win series 4–0, and the Stanley Cup

1990 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs. Boston Bruins

Game One: Edmonton 3, Boston 2
Game Two: Edmonton 7, Boston 2
Game Three: Boston 2, Edmonton 1
Game Four: Edmonton 5, Boston 1
Game Five: Edmonton 4, Boston 1

Edmonton Oilers win series 4–1, and the Stanley Cup

2006 Stanley Cup Finals

Edmonton Oilers vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Game one: Carolina 5, Edmonton 4
Game two: Carolina 5, Edmonton 0
Game three: Edmonton 2, Carolina 1
Game four: Carolina 2, Edmonton 1
Game five: Edmonton 4, Carolina 3 (OT)
Game six: Edmonton 4, Carolina 0
Game seven: Carolina 3, Edmonton 1

Carolina Hurricanes win series 4-3, and the Stanley Cup

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