Craig Simpson’s arrival in Edmonton signaled the beginning of the end for the original "Boys On the Bus." Oiler fans had grown fond of Gretzky and Kurri, Messier and Anderson, Coffey and Huddy, Fuhr and Moog. The Coffey trade was a tough item to overcome–for Oilers Nation and for Craig Simpson. It worked out wonderfully for both.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
PRE-DRAFT AWARDS AND HONORS
NCAA All-America West First Team: 1984-85 (Michigan State)
Western Junior B Rookie of the Year: 1982-83 (London)
CCHA All-Star First Team: 1984-85 (Michigan State)
CCHA Tournament All-Star First Team: 1985 (Michigan State)
Western Junior B All-Star First Team: 1982-83 (London)
Michigan State Price Award (Points Leader): 1984-85 (84)
Miscellaneous: Ranked by NHL Central Scouting Bureau as No. 1 overall prospect for the 1985 NHL draft. … Rated in The Hockey News draft preview issue as No. 1 overall prospect for the 1985 NHL draft. Completed Grade 11 and Grade 12 requirements in same year (1982-83) at Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ontario, so he could enter college at age 16. … Majored in business administration at Michigan State. … Turned down invitation to join Team Canada for 1985 World Junior Championships because he did not want to leave his Michigan State teammates for any part of their CCHA conference schedule or the annual Great Lakes Invitational tournament. Was finalist for 1984-85 Hobey Baker Award. … .. Skipped third grade, and was one year younger than classmates for remainder of his years in school. … Was youngest freshman ever to play at Michigan State University.
Chosen in the first round, 2nd overall by Pittsburgh in the 1985 NHL Entry draft.
Information above courtesy hockey draft central.
Craig Simpson was an outstanding NHL prospect as his draft approached, but he was also (as indicated above) a very bright young man.Simpson had options and wasn’t certain that signing with Toronto was a good idea (this was solved by a later meeting between the two sides) and he had plenty of options.
As it turned out, Toronto chose Wendel Clark and the Penguins grabbed the outstanding young center. GM Eddie Johnston said on draft day that Simpson was the "only 75-to-90 point player available" but Simpson had a tough time early in Pittsburgh due to the Pens depth chart at center (Mario Lemieux, Mike Bullard, John Chabot). He scored only 11 goals as a rookie, 26 in year two and was off to a strong season (13 goals in 21 games) with Pittsburgh when the Edmonton Oilers came calling.
The Oilers had an outstanding defenseman (Paul Coffey) who wanted to be paid the going rate, which would have been a large increase from his $325,000/yr salaray in the previous contract. Edmonton entertained offers from most NHL teams, and in fact were close with Pittsburgh a couple of times. They finally settled on a monster, easily the biggest trade in the careers of GMs Sather (Edmonton) and Johnston (Pittsburgh) at that point in time:
- Oilers trade D Paul Coffey, L Dave Hunter and F Wayne Van Dorp to Pittsburgh Penguins for L Craig Simpson, C Dave Hannan, D Moe Mantha and D Chris Joseph, November 24, 1987.
After the trade, Simpson caught fire on a line with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson, scoring 43 goals in 59 Oiler games and 54 for the season. Craig Simpson’s first spring in Edmonton resulted in his first Stanley cup ring (1988).
- 2 Stanley Cups (1988, 1990)
- NHL Shooting Percentage Leader: 1987-88 (Pitt.-Edm.) (31.6%), 1992-93 (Edmonton) (26.4%)
- Shifted from right wing (and center) to left wing after joining Edmonton in late November 1987. He would play primarily at left wing for the remainder of his NHL career.
- Scored his 50th goal of the 1987-88 season during Edmonton’s March 15, 1988, game vs. Buffalo. With that goal, he became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals over a season played with more than one team.
- Took over as resident of Wayne Gretzky’s penthouse apartment in Edmonton after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles in September 1988.
- Scored Stanley Cup-clinching goal at 9:31 of the second period of Game 5 of Edmonton’s Stanley Cup Finals series at Boston on May 24, 1990. The goal gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead in a game Edmonton went on to win 4-1.
- Missed remainder of 1995 season and entire 1995 playoffs with re-aggravation of lower back injury, suffered during Buffalo’s May 3, 1995, game vs. New Jersey. He never played in the NHL after that, as the back problems ended his career, when at age 28, he accepted Buffalo’s offer to buy out the final year of his contract in August 1995.
- Active in charitable causes during his playing days, including work to help raise money for cystic fibrosis research and as honorary chairman of the Edmonton Muscular Dystrophy Association and Edmonton Spinal Cord Injury Treatment Centre.
- Son of 1952 Canadian track & field Olympic athlete Marion Simpson.
STANLEY CUP WINNER
Oilers dealt Simpson to Buffalo Sabres for Jozef Cierny and Buffalo’s 4th round choice (Jussi Tarvainen) in 1994 Entry Draft, September 1, 1993. He would play only 46 more regular season games in the NHL, losing his career to back injuries at age 28.
Craig Simpson wasn’t like the other Oiler forwards when he arrived–there weren’t many end to end dashes and he scored most of his goals from the slot. Oiler fans quickly grew to appreciate his sacrifices–Simpson took a helluva beating and didn’t last 650 NHL regular season games–and his shooting percentage (Simpson was a wonder at shooting percentages).
Craig Simpson was a good skater, and a fine stickhlander with exceptional passing ability. However, he was money with the puck on his stick–strong velocity and a quick release (especially on the fly) made his shot deadly.
Simpson’s connection to the Oilers was renewed in the 2000’s when he joined Craig MacTavish’s coaching staff (2003-07) and still later when his son Dillon Simpson was selected by Edmonton in the 2011 Entry Draft.