Throughout the year, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the National Hockey League (NHL), discovering the best and worst each team has to offer in a variety of subjects. We will also feature a drink based off the franchise. Today, we travel to the City of Champions, to examine the Edmonton Oilers and see if that title still applies:
Establishment Story: The franchise began playing in the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972 as the Alberta Oilers. Previous attempts to bring an NHL team to Edmonton had failed, so a WHA team was sought. The following season, the name was changed to Edmonton Oilers. With the NHL-WHA merger in 1979, the Oilers used Wayne Gretzky’s personal services contract with owner Peter Pocklington to force the NHL into allowing Edmonton into the NHL.
Stanley Cups: The Oilers won their five Stanley Cups in a seven-year span (1984-1990), resulting in Edmonton being considered a dynasty. They also found themselves on the losing end of the Finals in 1983 and 2006. Following the Oilers victory in 1988, the team gathered on the ice for a group photo with Stanley Cup. This started the tradition of teams doing so after winning the big one.
Celebrity Fan: Despite being born in Calgary, comic book artist and creator, Todd McFarlane, is a huge a fan of the Oilers. So much so, that he once had an ownership stake in the team. He also created the club’s first ever third jersey, known amongst Oilers fans as the ‘McFarlane Jersey’. At one time, McFarlane’s company, McFarlane Toys, made a line of NHL action figures.
Super Fan: Ben Stelter gained the attention of fans across the NHL and even those who don’t follow hockey when he became associated with the team. Stelter, who was fighting a form of brain cancer, brought such good luck to the Oilers, they went on a 10-game undefeated streak when the six-year-old was in the building. Sadly, Stelter passed away in August 2022 and he was mourned across the league.
Mascot: Hunter is a Canadian lynx who was first introduced for the 2016-17 season. Named after William ‘Wild Bill’ Hunter, one of the original owners of the franchise, Hunter wears jersey number 72, in homage of the team’s first year of play. Hunter’s favourite songs are Cat Scratch Fever and The Good Ole Hockey Game, while his preferred movies are The Aritsocats and Slapshot.
Tradition: The Blue Mile (aka Copper Kilometre) first became the celebration area for Oilers fans following their upset of the Detroit Red Wings, en route to the team’s 2006 Stanley Cup Finals run. The strip, found along Whyte Avenue in the Old Strathcona District of Edmonton, became a place of concern following the arrest of at least 350 people during the 2006 playoffs. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel even threatened to shutdown the Blue Mile if the violence continued.
Appearances in Media: The Oilers jersey has appeared on a few TV shows, including Everybody Hates Chris, Robot Chicken and The Simpsons (worn by noted Oilers celebrity supporter Kevin Smith). It should also be mentioned Wayne Gretzky, an avid soap opera fan, made a 1981 cameo appearance on The Young and the Restless as a mob member from “the Edmonton operation”.
Events/Scandals: The 1988 trade of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings was much more than a sports story. Even the Canadian government got involved in the fracas, while an effigy of owner Peter Pocklington was burned in public. Speaking of Pocklington, prior to selling the team in May 1998 to local investors, he threatened to move the franchise to places such as Hamilton and Minneapolis and almost sold to Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander, who planned to move the club to Houston, Texas.
Rivalry: Of course, there’s the Battle of Alberta with the Calgary Flames. This resulted in some of the greatest hockey of the 1980s, with one team playing in each Stanley Cup final from 1983 to 1990. The Oilers also had a long feud with the Los Angeles Kings, intensified after Wayne Gretzky was traded to L.A. The Oilers and Kings have met in the playoffs seven times. Another rival of the Oilers was the original Winnipeg Jets, dating back to the two teams’ WHA history.
Tragedy: On April 6, 2020, as the NHL season was paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oilers center Colby Cave became ill. A brain bleed was later discovered and operated on, while Cave was placed into a medically-induced coma. Sadly, Cave never came out of the coma and died on April 11. In response, the Oilers created the Colby Cave Memorial Fund, which runs a number of programs to help the community.
Player Nicknames: Wayne Gretzky has long been known as ‘The Great One’. According to Gretzky, the moniker has stuck with him since he was 10 years old. The name is fitting, as many believe Gretzky is the greatest to ever lace up a pair of skates. When Gretzky retired from hockey, he held an astonishing 61 NHL records. Gretzky continues to be a voice in the game, as a TV analyst.
Line: The Oilers have had some lethal two-player combos over the years, including Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Gretzky and Kurri found success with Mike Krushelnyski and Esa Tikkanen, Messier and Anderson with Matti Hagman and Ken Linesman, and McDavid and Draisaitl with Pat Maroon and Zack Kassian.
Captain: Connor McDavid is already the Oilers longest-tenured captain, despite being only eight seasons into his own career. For his sophomore year, in 2016, McDavid was named captain, becoming the youngest ever to wear the ‘C’ in NHL history. McDavid is the consensus best player in the game today, winning five Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards and one Rocket Richard Trophy. No wonder he’s been nicknamed McJesus.
Enforcer: When you have the greatest player of all-time in your lineup, you have to surround him with tough guys for protection. Dave Semenko, nicknamed ‘Cement Head’ for being able to take a ton of damage and not be fazed, was perfect in this role. Semenko was later replaced by Marty McSorely, who would leave the Oilers with Gretzky to continue watching his back in Los Angeles.
Family Values: A number of father-son duos have played for the Oilers during their respective careers. This includes Keith and Will Acton, Brian and Matt Benning, Kevin and Keegan Lowe, Frank and David Musil, Kent and Robert Nilsson, and Craig and Dillon Simpson. Of the duos listed, the Lowes have the greatest combined games played total with 1,039, although Keegan only accounts for two of those contests.
Returning Players: When Ryan Smyth was traded out of Edmonton at the 2007 trade deadline, following 12 season with the Oilers, a tearful, emotional press conference followed. After playing four seasons elsewhere, Smyth requested to be traded back to the Oilers and was granted his wish. After three more years with Edmonton, Smyth decided to hang up the skates, being named the Oilers captain for his final NHL game.
Short Stint: A number of important players have only lasted one season with the Oilers. First, Jimmy Carson, who was the main player piece returning to Edmonton in the Wayne Gretzky deal, grew disgruntled having to live up to Gretzky’s lofty standards and wanted to move on after a single campaign. Next, Chris Pronger was brought to the Oilers in a 2005 trade, leading the team to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, but requested a trade out of Edmonton, following that lone season.
Undrafted: While I’d like to put Wayne Gretzky here, he was technically brought into professional hockey by the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers, playing only eight games for them at 17 years old, before being sold to the Oilers. Instead, we’ll go with Charlie Huddy, who was signed by Edmonton in 1979. He would go on to become one of only seven players to be part of all five Oilers Stanley Cup championship teams.
Trade: In the trade that changed the landscape of the entire NHL, the Oilers sent superstar Wayne Gretzky, along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round draft picks and $15 million. Gretzky’s move to the U.S. helped hockey grow immensely there. Following the deal, many now say “If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded!”
Signing: The summer of 2016 saw a number of awful contracts handed out and the Oilers were among the teams to fall into this trap, giving winger Milan Lucic a seven-year, $42 million deal. After three seasons of declining returns, Lucic was traded to Calgary for fellow bad contract recipient James Neal. Another questionable signing was the three-year, $13.5 million pact handed to goalie Mikko Koskinen from GM Peter Chiarelli, who would be fired just days later.
Draft Pick: The Oilers reeled in massive hauls in the 1979 and 1980 drafts, gathering the talent that, along with Wayne Gretzky, would lead them to a dynastic run. This included Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson in 1979 and Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog in 1980. They also had a string of first overall selections from 2010 to 2015, highlighted by generational talent Connor McDavid (2015), especially when paired with Leon Draisaitl (third overall in 2014).
Holdouts: A number of the 1980s dynasty members ended up staging holdouts for various reasons. In each case, the player was eventually dealt to another team, with defenseman Paul Coffey going to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1987, goalie Andy Moog sent to the Boston Bruins in 1988, Mark Messier leaving for the New York Rangers in 1991, and Jari Kurri ending up with the Los Angeles King also in 1991.
Buyouts: The biggest buyout the Oilers have handed out was to James Neal. After coming to Edmonton in the previously mentioned trade for Milan Lucic, Neal played two seasons for the Oilers, before they pulled the plug on the failed experiment. The organization owed Neal $7.66 million spread over four years. Neal attempted to continue his career, joining the St. Louis Blues for 19 games in 2021-22, scoring twice.
Unique Game: The first regular season outdoor NHL game took place with the 2003 Heritage Classic, when the Oilers faced the Montreal Canadiens. 57,167 fans braved freezing temperatures to watch the contest, which the Oilers lost 4-3. Edmonton also played the 2016 Heritage Classic versus the Winnipeg Jets, winning 3-0. The Oilers will play the 2023 Heritage Classic this October against the Calgary Flames.
Goal: When one of the greatest goal scorers of all-time wore your team’s jersey during the prime of his career, some of those tallies are going to be among the most memorable in franchise history. Among Wayne Gretzky’s many feats, perhaps one of the most notable was hitting the 50-goal plateau in only 39 games. To set the record for fastest to 50, Gretzky scored five times against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 30, 1981. He would finish that season with 92 goals, another record likely to never be broken.
Fight/Brawl: Speaking of The Great One, he certainly wasn’t a fighter, which made his December 1982 tilt with Neal Broten of the Minnesota North Stars notable. Gretzky only “fought” three times in his career, with this being the only bout that occurred during a televised game. It didn’t last very long, with Broten landing a few punches before the linesmen intervened. It should be noted, Gretzky dropped his gloves first.
Injury: The Oilers have had some scary incidents with skate cuts in recent times. First, in warm up for a January 2012 game, Taylor Hall slipped and teammate Corey Potter was forced to leap over him. Potter’s skate sliced Hall’s head, resulting in a nasty gash that needed 30 stitches to seal. Later, during a November 2022 game, Evander Kane had his wrist accidentally cut by an opponent’s skate, with emergency surgery needed to fix the wound.
Penalty: The record for most combined penalties in a game belongs to the Oilers and Los Angeles Kings, who accumulated a total of 86 penalties (356 penalty minutes) during a February 28, 1990 contest. The penalties were split fairly evenly between the two clubs. Individually, Marty McSorley led the way with 37 penalty minutes, fighting three times during the match. If anyone cares – the players didn’t seem to! – the Kings won 4-2.
Wildest Story: The Oilers owe their NHL existence to the fact Wayne Gretzky was a member of the team for the NHL-WHA merger. But how did the 17-year-old prodigy became property of the franchise? The story goes, Indianapolis Racers owner Nelson Skalbania boarded a plane with Gretzky, with possible destinations including Edmonton or the Winnipeg Jets. When Jets owner Michael Gobuty declined a game of backgammon, with Gretzky/shares in the Jets at stake, the flight landed in Edmonton and the rest is history.
Blooper: The Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. What happened in 1986 to break up what could have been a five-year dynastic run? While trying to make a play from behind his own net, defenseman Steve Smith banked the puck off goalie Grant Fuhr for an own goal. The marker would end up being the deciding goal of Game 7 of the second round, sending the Calgary Flames to the Conference Final.
Miscellaneous: Joey Moss joined the Oilers locker room staff in the mid-1980s, at the suggestion of Wayne Gretzky, who was dating Moss’ sister at the time. Moss, born with Down syndrome, quickly impressed with his hard work, also joining the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos. Sadly, Moss passed away in 2020, at the age of 57. In recent years, after home wins, La Bamba by Ritchie Valens (Moss’ favourite song) is played. Also, the Oilers outdoor playoff game viewing area is known as the Moss Pit.
Edmonton Oilers: The 99
- 1 oz Whiskey
- Splash of Lime Juice
- Dash of Simple Syrup
- Float of Red Wine
I found this drink on the Liquor Control Board of Ontario website and it uses Wayne Gretzky branded whiskey and wine. Another easy-to-make Oilers-themed beverage that caught my attention was the Orange Crush of vodka, orange juice and lemon-lime soda.