The Alberta Oilers were entertaining in year one (72-73), but improvements were needed in all areas for the Oildrop. The summer of 1973 would see the Oilers add talent to their base of Jim Harrison and Allan Hamilton–plus deliver news of a new home for fans.
The Alberta Oilers became the Edmonton Oilers during the WHA summer meetings. In August, Bill Hunter delivered another huge item to Oiler faithful:
The Oilers in 72-73 had missed the playoffs depite going down to the wire against the Minnesota Fighting Saints. Coach Ray Kinasewich was replaced by Brian Shaw who came over from the Oil Kings (imagine that happening in this era). Jim Harrison would be counted on again offensively, and Allan Hamilton would shore up the defense.
Edmonton added to their offense courtesy a lopsided deal with the Toronto Toros. Oilers sent the rights to Darryl Sittler (he would talk to the Toros but remain a Maple Leaf) for young winger Ron Climie and the rights to a Cornwall junior star. Bill Hunter would make quick work of the signing.
WIth Climie and MacDonald added to a veteran group that included Jimmy Harrison (39 goals), Rusty Patenaude (29 goals), Ron Walters (28 goals) and Eddie Joyal (22 goals), Edmonton looked like an improved offensive team. Al Hamilton had help from Bob Wall, Doug Barrie, Ken Baird and Bob Falkenberg and goalie Jack Norris had a new backup in Chris Worthy. Leaving the station, the EDMONTON Oilers looked like a strong playoff option.
Rusty Patenaude was fairly typical of the kind of player available to the WHA teams. An impressive scorer in junior and the minor leagues, Patenaude would likely have gotten his opportunity at the NHL level (he was drafted by the Penguins) but he chose the rival league, better money and became an early Oiler star.
The 2nd edition of the Oilers was more fun to watch because the club was more competitive. Ron Climie scored 38 goals and made the Sittler trade look bad all on his own. Added to Blair MacDonald’s impressive debut (21 goals) and the Oilers had two more snipers up front to push the offense. An injury to Jim Harrison (he would play in only 47 regular season games and miss the post-season) would impact the team in a big way.
One thing I want to stress about this period is that Jim Harrison was a major star for the Oilers. An article here perhaps does justice to just how much he did for the early WHA team in Edmonton. Harrison’s hockey story is a sad, tragic one, and I think it’s important to remember his career as more than the backdrop for what came after it was over.
Jim Harrison was a helluva hockey player.
The 73-74 edition of the club was a strong contender all year long, flirting with first place in the division before fading and then finishing third in the west. They made the playoffs, but lost in a high scoring first round matchup with the Minnesota Fighting Saints. The big star of the playoffs for the Oilers was rookie Blair MacDonald, who potted 4 goals in 5 games.
Up next: Mike Rogers, A Long addition to the defense and Jake the Snake arrives in Edmonton.