A look at the Edmonton Oilers’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Edmonton Oilers (1980-81 to 1989-90)
456-239-105, .636 WIN PCT, 3,817 GF vs. 3,020 GA, +797 Diff, 10/10 Playoff Appearances, 5 Stanley Cups
The greatest team of the 1980s, as if anything else needs to be said. The Oilers goal differential was +797, and they only played 800 games during the decade. They averaged 4.77 goals per game, well ahead of #2 Calgary’s 4.29. And they allowed 3.78 goals against per game, which ranked a respectable 10th. Edmonton’s 63.6% win percentage was well ahead of 32 Montreal’s 60.6%, and no other team was above 60%. They won 5 Stanley Cups during the decade, and lost a sixth final appearance against the New York Islanders. They were the last great dynasty in the history of the NHL. There have been some modern “extended” dynasties like the Red Wings, Devils and Avalanche, but none have come close to what the Oilers achieved (five cups in seven years). They had just one sub-.500 season (’80-81), two seasons with win percentage so 74.4%, and three seasons with at least 50 wins. They had six consecutive seasons of 100+ points from ’81-82 to ’86-87, (including twice hitting 119), and then just fell short with 99 points in ’87-88. Without a doubt, the greatest team of the 1980s.
Left Wing: Esa Tikkanen (337 GP, 125-181-306, +97, 554 PIM, 20 GWG)
After a half-season stint in ’85-86, Tikkanen was a regular for the rest of the decade. Three 70+ point seasons, three 30+ goal seasons. Never lower than 23 goals or 63 points. He was always positive for +/-. Including a high of +44 in ’86-87. His 25 powerplay goals are decent, but his 13 short-handed goals (including eight in ’88-89 and then four in ’89-90) are incredible. And 20 of his goals were game-winners, a whopping 16% of his goal total. To top it all off, he was a super pest who had three seasons of 120+ PIM. Exactly the kind of player you wanted to distract and agitate the opposition, especially if it meant their goons and tough guys came after him instead of your franchise player.
Centre: Wayne Gretzky (617 GP, 532-1,000-1,532, +536, 302 PIM, 55 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mark Messier
Messier scored 368 goals and 937 points for the Oilers, including five 100+ point seasons and three 45+ goal seasons… and he still ranks second. That tells you just how damned good Gretzky was. Wayne Gretzky scored 1,000 assists for the Oilers during his eight seasons in the 1980s. ASSISTS… not points. With most other players, I’ve talked about 100+ point seasons. Gretzky had FOUR seasons of 200+ points, and another with 196. He scored 92 goals in one seasons, 87 in another, and had two more seasons of 71-73 goals. He only scored less than 50 once: he put in 40 in ’87-88, partly because he only played 64 games (which still works out to 50-goal pace).
He was so dominant at puck possession and control that the other team virtually never had the puck; Gretzky had a +70 rating or better FIVE TIMES in eight seasons, and his worse rating was +39. He almost hit triple-digits, with a +98 rating in ’84-85. He had six seasons of double-digit powerplay goals, and two seasons of double-digit short-handed goals (including 23 SHG over a two-year span). And he certainly wasn’t afraid to shoot: Gretzky had 324 or MORE shots five consecutive seasons, and never fired less than 211 times in a season. What’s even more amazing is that he scored on 26.9% of his 324 shots in ’83-84. Gretzky’s numbers go beyond insane to outright ludicrous. This numerical insanity is evidence that his nickname of “The Great One” is more than justified.
Right Wing: Jari Kurri (754 GP, 474-569-1,043, +351, 348 PIM, 55 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Glenn Anderson
Glenn Anderson was an incredible offensive talent: nine 30+ goal seasons (including two 50-goal seasons), and three seasons of 100+ points (plus another of 99). And yet he’s the #2 right winger during the 1980s for Edmonton. Kurri played all ten seasons in the 1980s for Edmonton. He never scored less than 32 goals, and only twice scored less than 90 points (his lowest was 75 points as a rookie in ’80-81). He cleared 50 goals four times, including 71 in ’84-85 and 68 in ’85-86. He added another three 40-goal seasons and another three 30-goal seasons. He cleared 100 points six times (including a pair of 131+ point seasons), and had two others in the 93-96 range. He had at least 200+ shots in all but one season (where he still managed 194). He had seven seasons of double-digit PPG totals, and scored 5+ SHG three times. What’s more, 12% of his staggering 474 goals were game-winners. And he was capable of responsible two-way play, never posting a as +/- rating lower than +18 (including a high of +76 in ’84-85). And for people who say he was dependent on Gretzky: in his last two seasons with Wayne, he scored 97 goals and 204 points along with a +44 rating. In his first two seasons without Wayne, he scored 77 goals and 195 points along with a +37 rating. The man was a Hall-of-Famer through and through.
Defense: Paul Coffey (532 GP, 209-460-669, +271, 693 PIM, 18 GWG)
The greatest offensive defenseman of the decade, bar none. During a five-year stretch from ’81-82 to ’85-86 he scored between 29 and 48 goals, as well as between 89 and 138 points. He cleared 40 goals twice, and cleared 120 points three times. He had ratings of +52 to +61 four years in a row, and had six consecutive seasons of at least nine powerplay goals (plus 9 short-handed goals in ’85-86). He had an edge to his play, contributing 100+ PIM in four seasons (and two others of 87 and 97 respectively). As a DEFENSEMAN, he had 234 or more shots five years in a row, including 307 shots in ’85-86. It’s unfortunate a contract dispute ended with his being dealt to Pittsburgh, because that was the first sign that salary constraints were going to break up the Oilers’ dynasty ahead of its time.
Defense: Charlie Huddy (641 GP, 76-265-341, +247, 468 PIM, 6 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Kevin Lowe
This was a tough one, but in the end I chose Huddy over Lowe. Kevin Lowe was a heart-and-soul type who played all but 26 of the Oilers’ 800 games during the 1980s. He had five 30+ point seasons (including three 40+ point efforts), and only had one season with negative +/-. But Charlie Huddy’s numbers were as good in 130 fewer games (it took him two seasons to become a regular), and he doesn’t get nearly as much credit as Lowe. Huddy had six seasons of 40+ points, including two 50+ point seasons. He scored 20 goals once, and had two others in double-digits. He hit 30+ assists five times. He was a rock defensively. He weakened in the post-Gretzky years, but from ’81-82 to ’86-88 he had a +/- rating of +17 or better, including ratings between +50 to +62 over a three-year span. His lack of powerplay goals suggest either he was never a major presence on the power, or he was always passing the puck to Coffey or one of the forwards. Huddy doesn’t get as much fanfare as other Oilers’ blueliners (even Randy Gregg seems to get more respect), but in my opinion he was the best defenseman not named Coffey for the Oilers’ during their glory years.
Goalie: Grant Fuhr (410 GP, 220-113-51, 8 SO, 3.71 GAA, 0.877 PCT*)
*NOTE: Save Percentage from ’87-88 to ’89-90 only
Honourable Mention to Andy Moog
It speaks to the insane depth of the Oilers that they have an honourable mention at C, RW, D and G (i.e. players who would arguably be good enough to rank on the 1980s Best-Of list for most NHL teams). Moog shared the Oilers’ goaltending duties with Fuhr from ’82-83 to -83-84. They went back and forth but typically played a relatively even number of games during that five-year span. Moog was 143-52-21 in 325 games with a 3.71 GAA and a .886 save percentage, along with four shut-outs. His numbers were actually slightly ahead of Fuhr’s, but Fuhr’s longevity (and the fact that he played more playoff games during their tandem period) gives him the nod. Fuhr had 22+ wins in seven of his nine seasons during the 1980s, and the only two where he failed to hit that milestone saw him play less than 40 games. He hit a high of 40 wins during Gretzky’s final season (’87-88), and only twice lost more than 12 games. His goals-against average was up-and-down: he had three seasons below 3.50, and five seasons above 3.80. But Fuhr’s mission was never to get a shut-out (he only had 8 in 410 games): his mission was to make sure the Oilers allowed at least one goal less than they scored. And considering he won 220 out of his 410 games, I’d say mission accomplished (in game where the result was attributed to Fuhr, he recorded 491 out of a possible 768 points, or a 63.9% win percentage). He may not have had the best stats, but he was one of the greatest money goalies in NHL history, and definitely the best goaltender for Edmonton during the 1980s.
I also saw a picture of Wayne Gretzky from the heritage classic, which I’m sharing here.
For anyone who ever wondered what his time in Edmonton meant to him, the answer is in the gigantic smile on his face. That is a bigger smile than he ever had during his time with the New York Rangers or that week he spent as a member of the St. Louis Blues. And he always seemed more serious than joyful in Los Angeles, like he knew it was more business than pleasure (likely because he was the engine behind U.S. expansion, and because there really wasn’t much of a supporting cast around him for most of his tenure with the Kings). If Gretzky had stayed in Edmonton, and that team had been kept together another few years, it could have been one of the greatest dynasties of all time instead of the greatest dynasty of the 1980s (apologies to the New York Islanders).
And with that, I give you one final picture:
That’s the confident come-hither look of a man who KNOWS he’s The Great One. Arguably the greatest of all-time, and bar-none the best player on the greatest team of the 1980s.