It seems strange to be making a list of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time. The franchise has only been around in the NHL since the 1979-1980 season. Still, this relatively young club has already had more success in its relatively short history than some teams that have been around since the Original Six days. Not only have they won championships, but they have boasted some of the game’s greatest players. With 5 Stanley Cups in 7 Stanley Cup Finals appearances they certainly have the pedigree, if not the longevity to warranty a list of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time. Here are my picks for the players who qualify:
10 – Esa Tikkanen
Long before Jarkko Ruutu ever showed his face in the NHL, there was another pesky Finn making his living by getting under the skins of opponents. He would drive opposing players crazy with his constant stick work and his non-stop chirping. Just imagine his effectiveness had any of those players actually been able to understand what he was saying. Tik was not just an agitator though. He was a gifted player both offensively and on the defensive side of the puck. He was often given the task of shutting down the opposition’s best players, and not only performed the role to perfection, but often outscored them as well. His 436 points in only 522 career games as an Oiler give evidence of just how talented he was.
9 – Doug Weight
Oiler fans might be a bit surprised that Doug Weight cracked the list of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time. Not all of the team’s greatest players played during their dynastic run in the 80s. Weight’s feisty play and his pinpoint passing ability during his time with the Oilers was reminiscent of Doug Gilmour during his time with the Leafs. Weight did not put up the staggering numbers that some of the others on this list did, but then again he didn’t play during the free-wheeling 80s. Still, he managed to crack the 100 point barrier, putting up 104 in in 1995-96, and ranks 6th in all time Oiler scoring with 577 career points.
8 – Kevin Lowe
While Paul Coffey was wheeling all over the ice, this rock-steady stay-at-home defenseman was taking care of his own end. Lowe was a pillar of strength on the Oiler’s blueline, and though his offensive numbers aren’t in the same stratosphere as Coffey’s, to a man the Edmonton Oilers of that era will tell you he was one of their most valuable players. Lowe was there for all 5 of Edmonton’s Stanley Cups, before moving on to win a 6th career cup with the Rangers. These days he guides the team from the front office as general manager, and led them to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 before they bowed out to Carolina.
7 – Glenn Anderson
Few players in the history of the game drove the net as hard as Glenn Anderson. He wasn’t a big player, standing only 5’11” and weighing 175 lbs, but he was fearless. He went to the tough areas, and was rewarded, racking up 906 points in his time as an Oiler, playing alongside Mark Messier for most of his time there. He is also considered one of the greatest clutch goal scorers of all time, and his 5 career playoff overtime goals put him 3rd all time in that category. Truly an easy selection for a spot on the list of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time.
6 – Ryan Smyth
Another player who missed the glory days of the Oilers, “Mullet” still has to be considered one of the greatest Oilers in team history. Nobody battled as hard as he did, sacrificed more, and was more dedicated. Along with his grit, Smyth also made a consistent offensive contribution, putting up 631 points in 971 career games with the club. It was a sad day for Oiler fans when Kevin Lowe chose to deal him to the New York Islanders instead of paying Smyth the money so many thought he was worth. The Oilers haven’t been the same since that fateful day, and even though the club brought Smyth back in the twilight of his career, the stain of that bad decision continues to mar the franchise.
5 – Jari Kurri
Many who didn’t follow the Oilers closely in the 80s might have thought this quiet Finnish superstar put up the numbers he did simply because he played with Wayne Gretzky all those years. Though Kurri’s stats are certainly inflated beyond what he would have achieved playing with, say, Craig MacTavish, he did a whole lot more than collect easy tap-ins during those glory days. Kurri was a stellar pickpocket, constantly stealing the puck from opponents, feeding it to Gretzky, then waiting to get it back before unleashing a wicked one-timer that found the back of the net more often than not. Gretzky and Kurri are arguably the most dominant duo in the history of the NHL, but after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles, Kurri proved just how good he was, stepping out of The Great One’s shadow and piling up 195 points over the next 2 seasons, and helping the Oilers capture their 5th and final Stanley Cup.
4 – Grant Fuhr
Not everyone has to score points to merit consideration as one of the top 10 Edmonton Oilers of all time. You need a great goaltender if you are going to achieve ultimate success in the NHL, and they had a pretty darn good one tending the pipes for them in the glory days of the 80s. When 4 or even 5 Oilers got caught in the offensive zone, it was Grant Fuhr that was there to bail them out, stopping 2 on 1s and breakaways on a nightly basis, keeping teams at bay and allowing them to outscore their opponents. Though his stats might not be as impressive as other goalies of his era, that is mainly due to the quality of chances he faced. More than anything, Fuhr was known for making clutch saves at key times, and was as important as Gretzky or any other Oiler great during those Stanley Cup winning years.
3 – Paul Coffey
One of the 3 greatest Oilers ever? In my mind, yes. Perhaps the best skater in the history of the game, and with offensive ability from defense exceeded only by Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, perhaps even more than Wayne Gretzky, was the key to the Oiler’s powerful offense. With long, smooth strides that looked effortless, he would blow by other team’s players, who tried hopelessly to check him. He’d rush the puck all the way to the other team’s net, allowing the Oilers to take control in the offensive zone, and weave the magic that often resulted in a goal. Coffey’s 669 points as an Oiler ranks him 4th all time in team scoring. Not too shabby for a defenseman playing with so many gifted forwards.
2 – Mark Messier
“The Moose” is often referred to as the greatest leader in hockey history, and perhaps in all of professional sports. Though he, like all his Oiler teammates, lived under the enormous shadow of Wayne Gretzky while they were winning their first 4 Stanley Cups, people could see the competitive fire that burned within Messier. With Gretzky’s departure to L.A., it was Messier’s turn to lead the team, and he met the challenge with relish. After a disappointing exit in the first round of the 1989 playoffs (to Gretzky’s Kings, no less), Messier willed the team back to glory the following season. After surviving a first round scare against the Jets, the Oilers got another shot at the Kings. Eager for revenge, they stomped Gretzky and the Kings, sweeping them in 4 straight. Messier would go on to lead them to their 5th Stanley Cup victory. Messier is also the club’s 3rd leading scorer of all time, his 1,034 points trailing only Gretzky’s 1,669 and Kurri’s 1,043.
1 – Wayne Gretzky
What, no Craig MacTavish? Sorry, though Mac-T is perhaps the game’s greatest 3rd line center, I’m afraid he doesn’t qualify for top spot on the list of the top 10 greatest Edmonton Oilers of all time. I’m sure no one is surprised to find Mr. Gretzky at the head of this list. With 4 seasons over 200 points, 50 goals in 39 games, 4 Stanley Cups, 7 Art Ross trophies, 8 Hart trophies, and 2 Conn Smythe trophies during his time in Edmonton no one with their sanity intact can dispute that Gretzky is the best player to ever wear an Oiler jersey. He’s The Great One. ‘Nuff said.
Featured image by Kris Krug