Patience

"Wayne never missed any practice time. He always watched the films with the guys, he was always there at all the meetings. He wasn’t given a lot of special attention away from the building. We watched what he did, but as far as coaching him is concerned, we treated him much like the other guys. Except that we adapted our style around him. We had the other players change while we left him pretty much alone. 

I remember the first day we were in the NHL we had a meeting with the team and I told them our goal wasn’t to make the playoffs, it was to win the Stanley Cup. I told them that, for me, that attitude came from the Montreal Canadiens. The year I played in Montreal, Sam Pollock came into the room when the season started and told us "we don’t expect just to make the playoffs, we expect to win the Stanley Cup."

Right from the beginning we developed the attitude that we wanted to be winners, wanted to be great players. They (the boys on the bus) weren’t interested in being so-so."

Glen Sather (from the Dick Irvin book "Behind the Bench")

The dynasty Oilers had so many leaders it was crazy. 99, Messier, Lowe, Kurri, Lee Fogolin, the list was endless. They weren’t all leaders at a young age (Messier once got sent down for missing a flight, but the punishment didn’t take: he had a blast in Houston) but grew into the role and as a group the "Boys on the Bus" have had a long and impressive impact on the National Hockey League. 

Ideally, someone like Sam Gagner steps up and emerges as a leader of this generation’s Oilers. He’s 20, has a nice range of skills and three NHL seasons on his resume. It would also be very cool if the Oilers could find a Lee Fogolin type along the blue: a little older, say mid-20s, and possessing a ‘heart and soul’ attitude toward the game (Fogolin once took care of some dental problems with a coat hanger so he wouldn’t miss any game action). Maybe Ryan Whitney is that player.

If you’re too young to remember the Golden Age of Oilers hockey, it is very important that you know these guys didn’t just show up and become legends. It took time, a series of playoff wins and painful losses, and a Stanley Cup final in which everyone agreed the Oilers were the better team (although they lost 4-0).  The night they lost the Stanley in 1983, the story goes Glen Sather walked into the Islanders dressing room and saw a MASH unit. A group of veterans who had laid it all out there and had nothing left to give. Slats told us he vowed never to be fooled again. 

I’ve never believed that story, or at least the implied lesson it presented. I think young people–even the terribly gifted ones–need to build toward their dream and although Sather no doubt helped them along it was more the player’s story than the coach’s. Those wonderful kids needed to find their outer marker, sure; they also needed to cut down on those mistakes, make the safe play and mark their man even though an opportunity might be available. It wasn’t about working harder, it was about being smarter.

From the kids of 1979 to the Stanley in 1984 took a long time and a lot of learning. We should be prepared to be as patient with this group as we were with those young men. It’ll be worth the wait.  

  • Pajamah

    Parralels to the Oilers dynasty team?

    Nowhere near there yet, but we’ll see what Renney can do with the kids.

    Likely never going to happen again, with any team in the NHL

  • Chamucks Deluxe

    No, but in all seriousness.
    I do agree that there are some comparables with the 80’s Oilers in reference to this current group. A lot of young talented kid’s all coming together at once. Maybe not to the same level of talent of course but similar circumstance. I wonder who amongst the youngsters will step up and take hold of a leadership role.

    I’ve never been so excited about the Oilers in my life, I was 1 when the Oil last won a cup, so other than NHL Networks re-runs this is as close as I personally can get to that sort of era. My Dad tells stories of skipping school to watch the Oilers practice, of how in awe he was that all these great players called little old Edmonton home in those days. Fantastic.

  • Milli

    Great post Lowetide, it’s nice to have you on the Nation. What a wonderful dream, getting to watch a generation of young stars begin to emerge! Seems entirely possible that we are going to be the next pens or hawks……And, WE DESEVRE IT!!!!!!

  • I was just a wee hater in 83, my understanding was that Kevin Lowe also looked into the Islanders dressing room and saw the physical damage their vets took to win the cup.

    Fans already have this group of prospects under a microscope, hopefully they find a place to perfect their craft together off the ice.

    *Katz Batcave practice facility*

    Good post LT

    • erixon

      Islander dressing room – I heard Lowe say it, Sather referenced here saying it, and I heard Gretzky say it in an interview with Peter Gzowski circa 1999. Suffice it to say the whole 1983 team realized what it took to win. I hated that Islander team in 83.

      For anyone interested, just watching the National on CBC here in Atlantic time zone and they are going to report on Katz and how “unpopular” he is in Edmonton right now.

  • pboy

    The season after the SCF loss to the Islander, my parents got me one of those table top hockey games, with the spinning players, the little puck and the mini-Stanley Cup for Christmas. I was only 8 and I don’t remember this but Dad said that I wouldn’t play with it because the players it came with were wearing Maple Leaf and Habs jerseys. So Mom sent away to Sears and ordered the little Oiler and Islander players for me. I guess the day they arrived at the house, I took a marker and put jersey numbers on the little Oiler players and snapped the heads off of the Islander players one by one, laughing like a maniac the whole time. I took the Maple Leaf and Hab players off, put on the Oilers and the headless Islander guys and didn’t stop playing it for month. The Oilers always won and they would get the Cup after ever goal. Just the way it should be….

    Great post LT. I remember reading that story with a slightly different spin. It was Gretzky and Lowe walking by the Isle’s dressing room and they noticed that the wives and the relatives were having a great time and the players looked like they had been through a meat grinder. Wayne and Kevin knew they hadn’t done everything to win and wouldn’t let that happen to their team again. I think that was in Gretzky’s autobiography with Rick Reily but that was 20 years ago I read it, so I’m not too sure.

  • Great read. LT are you really sold on Whitney ? How many games has he played as a Oiler ? How many after his surgery ? He isn’t a bad dman but I really don’t see all the hype he gets. I have to ask why two others teams gave up on him so quick ? As far a Gagner goes he is still young and good, but very little progress has come from him in those three season.

    The Oilers of the 80’s was a once in a life time group.

  • Lowetide

    Oil_Loc8or: I think Whitney looked really good in his short time as an Oiler, and hope for more. In the original post, I said “maybe Ryan Whitney will be that player.” It could be Peckham, or Plante, or hell maybe they trade for someone.

    But the thing about Fogolin was that he:

    1. Played within his limitations
    2. Played every minute with intensity
    3. Was smart
    4. Didn’t take stupid penalties

    So, a guy like Adam Foote wouldn’t qualify for that list. I don’t know if Ryan Whitney is that guy, but the Oilers need one.

    • washed up

      Since Vancouver got Dan Hamuis there as been talk of them maybe trying to shop Kevin Bieska.

      Do you think he could fit in on this oiler team since he is only 29yrs of age, and would it be possiable for them to get him in a 3 team trade in which we get souray out.

  • DSF

    Totally misreading the situation.

    There is a Messier (possibly) but there is no Gretzky, no Kurri, no Coffey, no Folgolin, no Lowe and no Fuhr.

    Other than that, it’s useful to draw these comparisons.

    Or maybe not so much.

  • Lowetide

    Where’s my socks: Bieksa is a little pricey and injury prone, but that’s the idea.

    DSF: Clearly the calibre of the Boys on the Bus was better, historic even. This group is arriving in a short cluster though, very similar to the group 78-83.

    I think there’s a parallel.

  • striatic

    i don’t think LT is equating the current and dynasty oilers, so much as drawing a parallel and acknowledging that things will take time. it took [arguably] the best hockey team of all time 5 years to win its first cup.

    more recently, the blackhawks took ~4 years to do it, same with the penguins, so the team is *at least* half a decade away. in the meantime, it’ll be easy for oilers fans to jump all over the team with typical impatience.

    a year ago some fans were impatient with Penner, calling him out as overpaid and underproductive, next year he’s the best player on the team. other fans were sick of MacT, and fat lot of good firing him did.

    the team hasn’t given fans a lot of progress to earn their patience, but if this truly is the full rebuild it seems to finally be, things will take time. that’s all.

    it takes time even for the very best to become #1 with a bullet, and the same was true when the very best was #99 with a mullet.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Lee Fogolin’s lumber commercials were great. I also remember a story that he lined up next to a goon and said ‘I’ll cut your eyes out if you go near Gretzky.’

    I think I can see Theo Peckham filling both those roles.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Dammit LT. That Irvin book’s on my shelf awaiting it’s turn, and you’ve gone and spoiled (probably) one of the best parts for me.

    I had no idea there was such interesting hockey literature out there, but since you started expelling the virtues of Gare Joyce, I can’t seem to find enough. I swear, I went through “Future Greats and Heartbreaks” in three days. Couldn’t put it down.

    Please don’t read Bob McKenzie’s “Hockey Dad” for at least another two months. That’s one I really don’t want spoiled. I’ll likely put up a book report once I’m finished it over at BU, I swear, I’ll update it again someday…

  • Excellent article, Lowetide. Lots of stuff to think about and talk about. Here are some random responses to your points…

    – I think it’s important to temper the number of comparisons between the collection of prospects we have on the way now and the collection of prospects we had come in 1979 thru 1981. The thing is, back in the fall of 1979, nobody really had any idea what the Oilers had. There was no hype or anything. As such, there really wasn’t very much pressure on guys on Messier, Anderson, Lowe, Kurri, Moog, Coffey, Fuhr, etc. Gretz was really the only guy who had any pressure on him and, like most great players, it was mostly self-inflicted. But all of the other guys were more or less able to develop quietly (but quickly). Next thing you know it, the Oilers are a 100-point team in 1982.

    My point? It’s a different situation now. All of the Oiler kids are coming in with great expectations, so there’s going to be a danger of build-up to a letdown.

    – I’ll defer to Lowetide on his version of the legendary Islander Dressing Room Walk-by, but the most widely circulated version is that it was Gretzky and Lowe walking past, not Sather. Instead of celebrating, guys like Potvin and Tonelli had ice on their shoulders and knees. Then one Oiler said to the other (not sure whom to whom), “that’s what it takes to win Stanley Cups.” Both Gretzky and Lowe refer to that moment in books they penned around 1990 (Lowe co-wrote Champions: The Making of the Edmonton Oilers, with Stan Fischler; Gretzky’s autobiography was done around the same time with the help of SI’s Rick Reilly).

    – It’s too bad Jason Smith wasn’t six or eight years younger. Lee Fogolin probably didn’t fight as well as Gator, but otherwise, they were quite similar in terms of the leadership they brought. Quiet strength.

    – Lowetide is bang-on in his call for patience. The Golden Age Oilers became golden by learning – slowly – from their mistakes. They lost to the Kings in 1982. They were swept by the Islanders in 1983. They let an inferior Calgary team and a fluky goal beat them in 1986. They almost blew the 1987 final. Along the way, there were a lot of ups and downs. If we indeed have the start of something golden here, I hope the ready-fire-aim Internet generation is prepared for that.

    – Oh, and sweet picture of Gretz. Mullet with feathered sides. If you were an Oiler fan growing up in northern Alberta in the 1980s, you tried your own version of that hairstyle – with varying degrees of success.

  • striatic

    Argh, Scott in GP took my comment. If there was a double of Lee Fogolin, it would have to be Jason Smith. And it was no accident that both were captains during their tenure with the Oilers.

    Could Whitney be? Maybe – he’s played a more consistent game than I expected by reputation – but that was only for 20 games. Yes Whitney has been traded twice before the Oil, but similarly so was Jason Smith who was traded from the Devils to the Laffs, and then the Laffs gave up on him when they traded him to the Oilers.

    Fogolin was also not drafted by the Oilers, but was traded from Buffalo to the Oilers during the 79/80 season.

  • striatic

    Unlike some of you guys, I was in my 20’s during the “golden years”. I was also fortunate to be able to have pints many times with KLowe at Davids during the 88 cup playoffs. I like the post LT but with one exception. I think you may have missed the mark with the suggestion that Sather didn’t have a whole lot to do with the players success. He was like a father to them, groomed them, disiplined them and taught them how to win in the NHL. I believe he was a big reason the team did as well as it did to win those first 4 cups.

    • striatic

      Quite correct, Boris.

      It’s even been suggested that Glen Sather was the perfect man for that situation because he had been a journeyman grinder for so many years and, as such, had seen a lot of superstars and lowlights and noted the differences between them.

      Younger readers may not know this, but there was a time when Sather was considered the young, maverick ground-breaker of the league, in terms of how he handled players on- and off-ice.

      On the ice, we all saw that philosophy first-hand. Run-and-gun, end-to-end, European-style. Lots of passing and speed. Offence first, defence second.

      Remember, the NHL of the late 1970s was ruled by the Canadiens and Islanders and both teams were ruled by old-school taskmasters.

      There are some who have even suggested that if Scotty Bowman had been coaching the Edmonton Oilers circa 1979 or 1980, Gretzky might not have had as much slack to do his thing and guys like Messier and Anderson would have cracked under Bowman’s autocratic rule.

      Off the ice, Slats had one rule: Don’t embarass the coach. It meant that players probably had more free rein in terms of “extra-curricular activities” but it also meant that, no matter what you did, you better keep yourself out of trouble. It didn’t always work, but it was considered rather progressive back in the day because it allowed the boys to be the Boys on the Bus.

  • striatic

    Lee Fogolin was acquired by the Oilers from the Sabres in the 1979 Expansion Draft. That was a wacky expansion in that more good players flowed from the incoming teams to the established NHL squads, but Fogey was a welcome exception of a real good player going the other way. Word at the time was that Scotty Bowman (incoming Buffalo GM right as the draft was going down) was livid to find that Fogolin had been left unprotected.

    The comp of Fogolin to Jason Smith is a particularly good one. Very similar players and persons, no-nonsense hardrocks with solid leadership capabilities. I’ll disagree only with the comment that Fogey didn’t fight as well as Gator. Lee would only fight two or three times a year, but when he did he was like the Incredible Hulk: he would be so riled that he would be throwing them like a windmill and be absolutely impervious to anything coming the other way. In all honesty I don’t remember ever seeing him lose a fight.

  • striatic

    Lee is a personal friend and to this day is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever known. He’s the most gentle soft spoken gentleman you’d ever meet. I remember him framing the basement of one of his homes about 15 years back. He shot a 3-1/4″ air nail into his hand and into the wall. There was nobody else around so he ripped his hand off of the nail, with the nail remaining behind, shot blood to the apposing wall many feet away, and then calmly went out and stuck his hand in the snow bank. I asked him “did you at least go into the hospital to get it checked out?” “No, I had work to do” and he just carried on. Wow!

  • Lowetide

    Boris: I can see why you may have read it that way, but it wasn’t my intent. Sather had a massive impact on that team as both coach and gm.

    mooseoil: Very cool story, thanks for passing it along.

  • Lowetide

    Watching the Oilers warm-up in the 80’s was awesome!

    I remember watching other teams standing along their blueline or boards just staring at the Oilers in awe.

    What will define the new group of Oilers???
    Taylor Hall’s speed & focus…
    Eberle’s clutchness..
    Paajarvi.

    A current player stepping up?

  • @Oil_Loc8r

    Whitney was a top 5 pick and already has a 60 pt season under his belt. The guy has game. I think the pens were willing to move him because they needed that winger for Crosby for the playoff run that year and Whitney was still showing signs that his foot was bothering him. As far as Anaheim giving up on him. I really dont think that was the case. Most teams would give up almost anyone the get a Visnovski.

    He is 27 this year. Dmen seem to come into their prime as they hit 28-30. I think this guy will be the corenerstone of the offense from the back.