Old timey Oiler fans will tell you the Justin Schultz win in free agency is merely payback for a mountain of heartache. And Nashville? Folks, we know how you feel. Seriously.
It was 1991 summer. The Oilers five Stanley’s were a fresh memory, the club had enjoyed a strong playoff in defense of their 5th championship. A classic opening series against the Godless Flames went the way it should have, with Esa Tikkanen ripping the heart out of Calgary.
They rolled over LAK in 6–four of them in OT–before losing to a long forgotten but worthy Minnesota North Star club. At that point in time–despite having dealt 99 three years earlier–the typical Oiler fan felt the good times would go on forever–or at least a long time.
Free Agency worked a little differently in those days. There were 214 free agents that summer, divided into three groups. Group 1 free agents were players under 24 years old with less than 5 seasons pro. At that time, an NHL team could force a trade simply by signing a group 1–and what was worse if the two teams couldn’t agree on a trade an arbitrator would decide based on each side’s arguments. It was a bad deal all around, as these extremely valuable young players were treated as less valuable because of their short resume.
Which brings us to Adam Graves, Glen Sather and Neil Smith.
Adam Graves was a fine young hockey player for the Edmonton Oilers in 1991. the club had won a Stanley with Graves as a part of it (1990 was much different than the powerhouse Stanley’s, and Graves was a key member of the Kid Line that spring). Neil Smith was putting together the "Oilers East" team that would eventually win the 1994 Stanley Cup for Manhattan and had targeted Mark Messier as his number one priority that summer.
However, he wanted Graves too and signed him as a Group 1 free agent late summer:
Sather argued that he was going to build his team around Graves–who would score 52 regular season goals for the Rangers in 93-94 and then 10 more during their SC run–and Neil Smith argued Graves had scored 7 goals in the regular season and had the same basic value as Troy Mallette, a young winger of lesser quality.
Slats asked for two players, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk. He would get them, but not for Adam Graves. The arbitrator found in favor of the Rangers and the Oilers were singing sad songs for a long, long time.
THE BLEEDING CONTINUES
As summer faded to fall and Oiler fans were left to find out about Troy Mallette
on the internet from the Hockey News, bad moved in with worse. On September 20 we found out that Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson were Leafs and then later in the fall the big anvil fell.
On October 4, 1991 Edmonton traded Mark Messier and future considerations (Jeff Beukeboom) to the Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice, Louie DeBrusk and future considerations (David Shaw).
There’s not a country song in existence that can express the pain of losing Mark Messier for mere mortals that day. It represented the end of the Glory Years in a way that dealing Coffey, 99 and others didn’t because all of the impact players were gone once 11 flew to NYC.
The Oilers Stanley teams bled out that day and the dozen or so players coming back in the Messier-Anderson-Fuhr-Graves deals remain a blur to this day. Good men all, but placed in an impossible situation. The Stanley’s remained, but the springs of glory would be few and far between (2006) after the fall of 1991.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
All of the guitars in Nashville only play sad songs these days, as the Predators and their fans suffer through dark days. Back in 1991, the Oilers were in trouble after the events of August-October. The problems got worse as the selloff continued as the months wore on. Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, it was a nightmare to live and believe me it isn’t easy to look back on an era where some of the truly great players in NHL history were leaving town by the dozen.
So for fans of the Nashville Predators, we can certainly feel your pain. However, your GM David Poile will no doubt recommend to ownership that matching the contract is the only real option. It makes no economic sense, but not matching would represent hockey death and a complete rebuild. Allowing Weber to walk in exchange for 4 numbers one’s makes the Rinne contract ridiculous and the thought of playoff contention laughable.
Better to match, have Weber play one season and then trade his contract for immediate and sustainable assets one year from now.
NATION RADIO hits the air at noon today on Team 1260. A jam packed lineup includes:
- Tom Lynn, Agent and Advisor for NHL and Amateur Hockey Players based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Tom has quickly become Nation Radio’s "go-to" guy for draft, free agency and CBA talk. We’ll do that and more on today’s show.
- Harrison Mooney from Pass it to Bulis. We’ll talk Canucks, free agency, Luongo and Nash among other things.
- John Matisz and Brendan Gaunce. We’ll talk about a book on Gaunce (by Matisz) that follows the young junior player through his draft year. THIS is going to be a fascinating read.
- Lisa McRitchie from Kukla’s Korner. Lisa is a bright light in the Oilogosphere with unique commentary and always has an interesting take. We’ll talk draft and the Oilers in free agency.
- Ryan Pike from Flames Nation. We’ll have a lash at the CBA talks, Shea Weber’s future and try to figure out if Jay Feaster is all about the past, present or future.
Emails welcome firstname.lastname@example.org and you can put comments and questions in the thread below or I’m @lowetide_ and @ItsNationRadio on twitter.