The Edmonton Oilers were formed in 1971 by Bill Hunter as the "Alberta Oilers", one of ten charter members of the World Hockey Association (WHA). The Oilers began play in the Western divison of the WHA under coach Ray Kinasewich. Bill Hunter took over the coaching reins half way through the season and the following year, the team changed its name to the Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the 1970s the Oilers would play a competitive brand of hockey, acquiring many former great players like Jacques Plante and Norm Ullman made their way through Edmonton. As the WHA struggled, six of the teams were offered entrance into the National Hockey League. With internal disagreements within the NHL, the WHA would continue to sputter along. In 1978 the Oilers dropped a bombshell on the hockey world by announcing a trade with the Indiannapolis Ice. With long time general manager and coach Glen Sather at the helm, they acquired the young star Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky signed an unheard of 21 year personal services contract with Peter Pocklington on his 18th birthday and began his career in Alberta. By 1979 the NHL allowed four WHA teams to enter the league, with Edmonton being one of them.
The Oilers used one of their two expansion draft picks to protect Gretzky and in that year's NHL entry draft Sather selected Mark Messier, giving the Oilers two young centers. That first year saw the Oilers finish fourth in the division and were swept in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers. Gretzky finished the regular season tied for the league lead in points with Marcel Dionne. Just 18 games into the 1980-81 season, Glen Sather fired coach Bryan Watson and took over behind the bench. Wayne Gretzky finished the year with a league high 164 points and was selected as "Male Athelete of the Year" by Canadian press. In the postseason the Oilers stunned the Montreal Canadiens by sweeping them in three straight. They met their match in the quarter finals, losing to the New York Islanders in six. The next year saw Wayne Gretzky re-negotiate his contract and go on to shatter the NHL record for most goals with 92, assists with 120 and points, totalling 212. Playoff success was still no where to be found as the Los Angeles Kings ousted the Oilers in the first round. The 1982-83 season was much the same with the Oilers setting league record for most goals scored with 424 and finishing atop their divison. Their Stanley Cup hopes were thwarted by the New York Islanders, who swept the Oil in the finals as they won their fourth straight championship.
With a dominating team that had come so close to winning it all, the Oilers continued to improve as they skated into the 1983-84 regular season. Gretzky, Anderson, Messier and Paul Coffey continued to tear up the league with impressive offensive numbers, bettering their own team record with 446 goals in the regular season. The Oilers run-and-gun style left goalie Grant Fuhr with a lot of action, which he was more than up to face. Edmonton once again found themselves facing the New York Islanders in the finals, but this time they finished the job by defeating the team from Long Island in five games and winning their first Stanley Cup. The Oilers would make a habit of bringing the Cup to Edmonton, as the very next year they made quick work of the Kings, Jets and Blackhawks to meet the Phildelphia Flyers in the finals. Once again, the matchup was lopsided as the Oilers beat up on the Philly with a 8-3 score in the fifth game, to win their second straight Stanley Cup. The 1985-86 season saw many more offensive records collapse as Gretzky upped his own scoring marks with a record 215 points, including 163 assists. Defenseman Paul Coffey broke Bobby Orr's record with 48 goals and Finnish star Jari Kurri won the goal scoring race with 68. But the Oilers were unable to perform the three-peat, losing to the bitter rivals, Calgary Flames in the playoffs. The Edmonton team though was back for more the next season as Wayne Gretzky broke Mike Bossy's record by becoming the youngest player to reach 500 goals and added most hat-tricks to his bevy of records. The Oilers cruised through the regular season and playoffs to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals, bringing their third championship to Alberta. Even as the first cracks appeared within the team, the Oilers continued their exciting brand of hockey. Paul Coffey was traded to Pittsburg over remarks made by Peter Pocklington and contract issues. But Gretzky continued to break and create NHL records, including Gordie Howe's mark for most assists. They Oilers finished second in the Smythe division. They met the Flames in the division final, defeating them in four before taking out the Detroit Red Wings in the Conference finals. Boston was their foe in the finals and the Oilers had little trouble taking out the Bruins in four to win their fourth Stanley Cup championship in five years.
The 1988 offseason would see a shocking turn of events. Faced with serious financial issues, the Oilers traded their franchise player Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for a package of players and cash. The team finished third in their division and ironically lost to Gretzky and the Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. The 1989-90 season saw John Muckler take over as coach, and the Oilers turned around the ship by finishing second in the Smythe division with 90 points. In the playoffs, they fell behind 3-1 to the Jets but came back with three straight wins to take that series. The Kings were defeated in four games, Chicago Blackhawks in six, and the Oilers were back in the Stanley Cup final. They faced off against their 1988 finals opponent, Boston Bruins and defeated the Bruins in five games with goalie Bill Ranford winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. The next season brought about injuries, suspensions and lost players, with the Oilers losing to the Minnesota North Stars in the opening round. The 1991-92 season was the last leg of the Oiler dynasty years, as player changes were plentiful. The Oilers made it to the Confernce finals but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. What followed was a span of four years that saw numerous personnel and coaching changes, with the Oilers missing the playoffs every one of those years. The 1996-97 season saw the Oilers rebuilding efforts finally bear fruit as the team finished with a 36-37-9 record and qualified for their first playoff birth in five seasons, eventually losing to the Colorado Avalanche in five games.
The Oilers continued to face the problems endemic with most small market Canadian teams. It wouldn't be long before stars like Curtis Joseph and Doug Weight would leave for greener pastures. But the Oilers team would continue to persevere. They played a hard working style of hockey but were unable to crack the playoffs. From 1998 to 2001, the Oilers would fall four straight times to the Dallas Stars in the postseason, creating yet another playoff rivalry. After missing the playoffs in 2001, the Oilers found themselves in an all too common situation in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs, going up against the Stars in the Conference quarter-finals, and losing in a hard fought six game series.
Edmonton Oilers Overview:
Founded: 1972 in World Hockey Association, joined NHL in 1979
Formerly known as: Alberta Oilers (1972-1973)
Arena: Rexall Place
Stanley Cups won: 5 (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1990)