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With the Oilers currently in a deep funk I thought I’d take a look back to the best seasons put in by individual Oiler players over our rich history. There’s nothing like holding onto the past to forget about today!
There is however a catch. Those Oilers in the hockey hall of fame were excused from participation in this exercise. The greatness of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr and Anderson has already been confirmed and they don’t need me spinning tales of their outstanding contribution to the Oilers success over the years. Instead I’ll comb through the performance of all of our other Oiler heroes and give some credit where credit is due. And I may retell a couple of the eggs that were laid along the way.
There is a second catch to mention as well. Mike Comrie was deemed ineligible for inclusion in a list of Oiler greatness by virtue of past transgressions against the Oilers and their fans in 2003. His 33 goal contribution in 2001-2002 was the second highest goal output in the aughts which would have garnered some consideration if I wasn’t so adept at holding grudges. Chris Pronger is disqualified under this provision as well.
Oh and there is as third and final catch. No matter what the stats told me, Ryan Smyth was going to get a spot on the list come nook or cranny. As adept as I am at holding grudges, I am equally adept at forever appreciating the hard work of the consummate team player. Fine, ok, I’ll admit it. I have a bit of a man crush on Smitty.
Before I get to the list, a quick rundown of the process I went through to identify the cream of the crop. I started by pulling team and player information from Hockey-Reference.com for every Oiler season dating back to 1979-1980. I then went through each season, pulling out all players who had a season that caught my attention as being worthy of consideration. This initial cut brought my down to 33 players.
I then attempted to ‘normalize’ each player’s season to adjust for differences in style of play over the years. I first converted each players scoring to reflect average league scoring in 2008-2009 (239 goals scored). This discounted some of the numbers from the high flying 1980’s. My goal here was to take a bit of the shine off of the 1980’s performances and hopefully put some of the contributions in down years in a better light. I don’t necessarily quote the normalized stats below but they helped put the seasons in perspective for me.
All of that said, this is a subjective exercise. My list isn’t a simple summary of what the adjusted stats suggested were the best seasons. I did play favorites to players on years when the team had success and tried to recognize players who were a sole beacon of light in the bad times.
10. Randy Gregg- 1983-1984
The good doctor makes a house call on our countdown at #10, which may exceed the excitement he felt helping the Oilers win their first Stanley Cup. Dr. Gregg popped in 13 goals and 27 assists for the Oil while manning the #1 PK defensive unit with Kevin Lowe as a 27 year old. He added an additional 10 points in the playoffs on the way to sipping from Lord Stanley’s mug.
For some reason I had it in my mind that Gregg was a veterinarian so I looked him up. Turns out he’s a hometown boy who is a sports doctor and family physician.
9. Jimmy Carson- 1988-1989
You’ve just been traded to the Oilers for Wayne Gretzky and you remind the Oilers’ fans of this every shift you take. What do you do in response? How about 49 goals and 100 points as a fresh faced 20 year old? If only Joffrey Lupul could have done half that well in 2006-2007 after being traded for Pronger…
A disappointing first round exit against Gretzky and the Kings prevents Jimmy from a higher place on our countdown, but you made us forget our pain for a little while. Sadly for Jimmy, he peaked at 20 as went on to an oft injured 10 year career, with stops in Detroit, LA, Vancouver and Hartford.
8. Ryan Smyth- 2005-2006
There were a lot of good young players on the 2005-2006 edition of the Edmonton Oilers that made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, but there was only one player who was the heart and soul of that team. Ladies and Gentlemen, the mullet from Banff, Ryan Smyth! Smitty helped cement what was probably my favourite month or two of being a fan that I can remember. I was too young to fully appreciate the 80’s teams, but I certainly won’t soon forget this team. My buddy Adam and I made the drive from Saskatoon and Calgary, respectively, 3 times during that playoff run to take in games, including that triple overtime game 3 thriller against San Jose that got the series back to 2-1.
Smitty had amongst his most productive seasons in 05-06, scoring a career high 36 goals and adding 30 assists. He added 16 points in the playoffs and willed his team all the way to game 7 against Carolina.
Never have I seen a player work so hard and be so adept at getting the puck on his stick or getting to the right place to make something happen. It’s great to see him off to a hot start in LA this season. I’m looking forward to breaking out my Team Canada #94 jersey and cheering Smitty go for gold in Vancouver. Don’t believe me? I went to the Team Canada evaluation camp scrimmage in September and Smitty was the best player out there. His hot start this season isn’t a fluke. Our boy is on a mission to win another gold for Canada.
7. Esa Tikkanen- 1989-1990
What would an Oilers countdown be with a visit from old #10? Love him or hate him, Esa was a fantastic player for a long time in the NHL. Tiks was never better than in 89-90 where he helped drag the Oilers to their 5th and final Stanley Cup win of the 80’s Oiler dynasty.
Tikkanen was 4th in regular season and playoff scoring behind Messier, Kurri and Anderson as a 25 year old in his 4th full season in the bigs. He had 63 points in the regular season and added another 24 in the playoffs in addition to his 161 penalty minutes. He logged regular PP time and was the teams best penalty killer.
Fun fact on Esa for you. As a 17 year old he played in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League for the Regina Blues. He had 75 points in 59 games and an astonishing 216 penalty minutes. So much for Europeans being soft!
6. Vincent Damphousse- 1991-1992
I had mentally blocked Vinny’s years with the Oilers, but an Oiler he was for one year. And a pretty good year at that. He led the 91-92 Oilers with 89 points as the team made it all the way to the conference finals before bowing out to the Chicago Blackhawks. His adjusted +/- was a +35 if I include PP and PK time. And Vinny logged a lot of PK time.
Damphousse ended up playing 18 years and scored over 400 goals and over 1,200 points. Although he’ll never be remembered as an Oiler, he’s certainly one of the best to don the jersey and a likely future Hall of Famer.
5. Todd Marchant- 1996-1997
How often does one goal qualify you for one of the all time great Oiler seasons? Once, if you are Todd Marchant. Actually, that’s not true. The speedy Marchant had a great season as a 23 year old, scoring 14 goals and adding 19 helpers. His +11 was second on the team and he was the team’s best penalty killer. He led the playoffs with 3 shorthanded goals.
But back to that game 7. I want everyone to take a deep breath, close their eyes and visualize Marchant streaking down the right side toward my all time favourite, Andy Moog. He snaps the puck stick-side, he scooooooorres!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’ll leave you with a fun fact. Marchant came to the Oilers from the Rangers in a trade that netted the Rangers Craig MacTavish. MacT would later coach Marchant and beat out of Todd any offensive abilities he once possessed…
4. Curtis Joseph- 1996-1997
Without Curtis Joseph, Marchant would have never had the chance to score that game 7 overtime winner. Can you believe that save he made just before the goal?
That save wasn’t all that Joseph did that year. The future Hall of Famer had one of his best seasons while with the Oilers. Cujo played 72 of the regular season games in 96-97, sporting a 2.93 GAA and .907 save percentage to go along with his 6 shutouts. If you want to point to the reason why the Oilers were able to snap out of the 4 straight years of missed playoffs, look no further than #31.
For those of you who doubt Cujo’s ability to get into the Hall, I point you to the stats. Olympic Gold in 2002, World Championship Gold in 1997 and even a Spengler Cup in 2007. His 454 wins, yes, 454 wins ranks him 4th all time, ahead of Terry Sawchuck. He’s missing a Stanley Cup, but I say he gets in anyways.
3. Steve Smith- 1987-1988
Glasgow, Scotland born Steve Smith enters our countdown at a surprising #3. While none of us who witnessed it will ever forget the shot off of Fuhr’s leg to aid in ending the 1985-1986 run, it is worth remembering that Smith was a pretty darn good hockey player whose best season came in time to help the Oilers win their third Stanley Cup.
Smith has 12 goals and 43 assists while playing the role of team enforcer. His 286 penalty minutes were most in Oiler team history. He played on the #1 PK unit when he wasn’t in the sin bin and spent a chunk of the year on the #1 PP unit. Aye Stevey, a mighty cheers to yeh fer a grand ole season!
2. Charlie Huddy- 1982-1983
The Oilers’ first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals capped a terrific year for the 23 year old Charlie Huddy. Huddy registered 20 goals and added 37 helpers which sitting with an inspiring +62 for the season. Huddy posted what would ultimately be his career season for goals, points, +/-, game winning goals, and shot percentage (13.6% vs. a career average of 5.5%).
If I factor in PP and PK time and he was an amazing +96 for a team that scored 424 goals while allowing 315. Yes he was helped by Coffey, but here was a young guy who played on the #1 PP unit and #2 PK unit and was effective at both ends of the ice.
1. Doug Weight- 1995-1996
The 95-96 edition of the Oilers were the team that started to turn the corner after the three preceding disastrous years. The Oil went 30-44-8 for 68 points and featured a 19 year old Ryan Smyth, a 21 year old Jason Arnott and a 22 year old Todd Marchant. The Oilers scored a measly 240 goals while giving up 308. Let’s not kid ourselves; this still wasn’t that good of a team.
Yes they were bad, yet this Oilers team contained the greatest individual Oiler season by someone not in the Hall of Fame. Doug Weight had 25 goals and 79 assists, good for 104 points. He scored or assisted on 43% of the teams goals that year! He was on the ice for an astonishing 54% of all Oiler goals that were scored in 95-96! Zideno Ciger was second in team scoring with 70 points, followed by Jason Arnott with 59 points. Without Weight we might not have won 20 games.
95-96 was Weight’s 5th year in the league as a 25 year old. It is amazing to see him still going strong as a 39 year old for the Islanders. With over 1,000 career points, he’s a guy who might get Hall of Fame consideration one day. Of the 74 who have scored 1,000 points in NHL history, 14 never made it into the Hall, with 15 players either still active or not yet hall eligible.
That concludes our look back at the top 10 individual player seasons over the Oilers storied history. The Oilers enjoyed a lengthy run of greatness which began pretty close to inception and lasted through the 1991-1992 season. What followed was four painful years of irrelevance, ending with Todd Marchant’s goal against the Dallas Stars in game 7 of the 1997 playoffs. A decade of semi-relevance culminated with a return to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. That brings us to today, where we hopefully are about to turn the corner yet again and get right back in the chase for the Cup.
Hidden Track: Didn’t think I’d go without telling you about the worst Oiler season of all time did you? I do all that research and combing over the data and leave you hanging? The Sports Juice would never do that, at least not often…
897. Vladimir Ruzicka- 1989-1990
How do you spell stank? R-u-z-i-c-k-a. Despite being part of a team that won the Stanley Cup, Rosy played 25 games as a 26 year old for the Oilers. How can a guy who only played part of the season have had the worst season you ask? Simple, all you have to do is be a -21 in those 25 games despite 17 points scored in those 25 games.
Essentially, Ruzicka’s line got scored on every time he went on the ice. He quickly became a power play specialist and a good one at that. But the Oilers were too good a team for such a one dimensional player to stick around for long. As best as I can tell, he was punted to the press box before resurfacing with Boston the next year. He certainly didn’t lace them up during the Stanley Cup run.
Anyone that I missed? Your comments are welcome and I’ll be sure to justify why I left a certain player off. That or I’ll admit that I missed the boat on a guy. That’s not very likely though!
Have a great weekend.