For most Oiler fans, the first time they heard the name "Martin Gelinas" was a moment of high stress: our brains stopped working at "Wayne Gretzky has been traded" and we couldn’t grasp anything else due to the ringing in our ears, the bile in our throat, and the building rage.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
Martin Gelinas was a high first round selection in 1988 (7th overall, the same year Edmonton selected Francois Leroux 19th overall), going to the Los Angeles Kings. Many observers were surprised that Quebec–drafting 5th overall–passed on the QMJHL sniper in favor of Daniel Dore (a big, tough enforcer type), but the Kings were thrilled to have him in their fold.
At that time, Los Angeles was not an exceptional drafting team–especially in the first round. Between 1983 and 1987, the Kings missed on every 1st round pick (except for Jimmy Carson, who was no screaming hell for where they took him), but in later rounds selected Kevin Stevens (329 NHL goals), Garry Galley (1149 games) and Luc Robitaille (668 NHL goals).
In 1988, they scored in round one (Gelinas) and hit a big fly in the 4th round when selecting Rob Blake. The Kings won 30 games in 1987-88, made the playoffs for the second year in a row and their arrows were pointing in a very good direction.
THE TRADE THE SHOOK THE EARTH
I wanted to include this clip because it’s still raw. These are three successful men–one in business, one in hockey, one in the hockey business–and I’m not certain any of them made a lick of sense during this press conference.
The impact of the Gretzky trade, sale really, was mammoth across the board.
IMAGINE what it must have been like for a kid from Shawinigan who had just been drafted.
Gelinas: "I feel so happy. I know it is the biggest trade ever in the sport.”
The Oilers made the wise decision and kept Gelinas in junior the year after he was drafted (save for 6 games). He scored just shy of a goal per game (as he had done in his draft year) and arrived in the fall of 1989 as one of several options on the wing. Gelinas had some skill, but early in his career he was an "energy" player for the club who could make things happen and force the issue with speed and physical play. Plus–and this might hold special interest to younger readers–Gelinas arrived in the NHL with an edge.
An example of his early playing style is represented by this March 1990 story:
- Martin Gelinas, a left wing with the Edmonton Oilers, was suspended for five games by the National Hockey League yesterday for deliberately hitting Dave Ellett, a Winnipeg Jets defenseman, on the head with his stick in a game last week. No injury resulted.Brian O’Neill, the N.H.L. executive vice president who handles discipline matters, said Gelinas ”deliberately struck his opponent in the head area even though he claimed to have aimed for his shoulder.’‘
At that moment in time, spring 1990, Gelinas was a 4th line guy whose resume suggested a series of 30 goal seasons and maybe more in his prime. As things developed that year, coach John Muckler began using his 4th line more and more, so by playoff time they were no longer the 4line but the "Kid Line."
- Gelinas, a speed burner with some skill.
- Joe Murphy, miscast as a big scorer when chosen first overall by Detroit in 1986, also had good speed and an improved work ethic once arriving in Edmonton.
- Adam Graves, an intelligent player who had terrific strength and at that time a developing offensive ability.
That line would romp through the spring, tireless in their forechecking and surprising in their goal scoring prowess. And so it would come to pass that Martin Gelinas–just out of junior–got to drink from the Stanley Cup as a rookie.
During this series, I’ll try to give you some idea about how the Stanley team (the 1990 club) fell apart so quickly. In broad terms, the club couldn’t keep all the young, developing talent during a time when salaries were skyrocketing and expansion was pushing the club to make decisions early on youngsters and decide between veterans and kids.
In specific terms, Glen Sather in the 1990’s was unable to do what he did routinely during the 1980s: acquire exceptional value in trade.
One of the first examples of a "bad trade" was Gelinas being sent to Quebec for Scott Pearson, who had been taken one spot before Gelinas in the 1988 draft. It did not turn out well, as Gelinas would go on to play 1,015 NHL games after the deal and Pearson would play 144.
In his first full season in 1989-90, Gelinas had 25 points in 46 games, and won his only Stanley Cup as a member of the Oilers, beating the Boston Bruins. Along with Joe Murphy and Adam Graves, he was made up a popular Oilers’ forward line known as ‘The Kid Line.’ That is how Martin Gelinas will forever be remembered in Edmonton, despite sputtering after the 1990 championship. He scored 20 goals a year later, but then he showed up for one training camp far too bulked up, thus throwing off his game noticeably.
Though he was never the scorer that many predicted he would be coming out of junior, Martin Gelinas had a real nice career in the NHL, playing nearly 1300 games and scoring over 300 goals and 600 points. Perhaps he will still add to those totals as he had yet to announce plans for the 2008-09 season. Moreover, Gelinas earned a lot of respect for his hard working, honest game. He showed up every night, gave it his all and was a great teammate. He was no Wayne Gretzky, but he was a player any team would loved to have on their side.