I had a fascinating conversation with a buddy yesterday. The basic thrust went like this: buddy suggested that part of the development problem in Edmonton for the forward prospects was lack of room with the big club. He suggested that Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark would still be here if there were fewer Hall’s, Eberle’s, Yakupov’s and Hemsky’s. He further suggested that the Oilers current hopefuls had no chance to make it, and used the 1979-88 Oilers as an example of what happens when there’s so much quality at the top. 

The Edmonton Oilers began their first season with an impressive group of young forwards. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were on that team, with a nice group behind them that included Blair MacDonald, Brett Callighen, Ron Chipperfield, Dave Hunter, Dave Lumley, Stan Weir, Cam Connor, Dave Semenko and Bill Flett. 

The following season they added Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Matti Hagman, then in 1981-82 along came Pat Hughes and Tom Roulston and then in 1982-83 Ken Linseman, Jaroslav Pouzar and Willy Lindstrom joined the party. By 1983-84 the Oilers had a forward group that could safely be called ‘Murderer’s Row’ and boasted Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Anderson, Linseman, Pat Hughes, Dave Hunter, Dave Semenko and on and on and on (forgot Lindstrom, who scored 22 goals that season). 

The point is this: even in that season, when the Oilers 2nd line was pretty much better than everyone else’s 1st line, the Oilers STILL added players (Kevin McClelland for Roulston) in an effort to get bigger and tougher. 


When a team gets so stacked at one position (and the current Oilers aren’t there yet), then one of three things happen:

  • the qualified players who aren’t being put to use are traded for futures or a current need
  • the qualified players who aren’t being put to use are lost on waivers
  • the qualified players who aren’t being put to use sign in Europe (as Omark and Hartikainen have done recently)

The Oilers of the 1979-88 era (as described by my friend) sent away many prospects who couldn’t make the big team. Some of those players went on to have some impressive careers:

  • Walt Poddubny played 4 games as an Oiler, and 464 more in other NHL cities. 
  • Gord Sherven played about half a season with the Oilers before heading out of town. 
  • Marc Habscheid struggled mightily to make the Oilers several times before finding a home in Minnesota and then Detroit. 
  • Raimo Summanen was once touted as a natural winger for Gretzky before that other Finn came along. 
  • Don Barber was still at Bowling Green when the Oilers shipped him off in 1985. 
  • Todd Ewen had barely finished up his junior career when the Oilers sent him down the line. 


Imagine poor Marc Habscheid or Summanen or any number of those players trying to break into the NHL with the early 80’s Oilers. Poddubny had two terrific minor league seasons before his Oiler cup of coffee and then success with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

If you’re looking for candidates right now, you’re too early. The Oilers haven’t built up enough depth (no, not even along the wing) to deal from strength to address weakness. Proof of that is the Paajarvi-for-Perron deal that improved the 2line but left the 3line without a 2-way type like Paajarvi. 

The things we’ve heard this summer (Pitlick rumored to Minnesota for Clutterbuck, Curtis Hamilton included in the Horcoff trade before the press release was revised) are just the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be prospects in this system who don’t have room to play in the NHL despite being bona fide NHL players. 


The Oilers look set on three of the four skill wing slots (Hall, Eberle, Yakupov) through the end of the decade, and one woud be wise to bet on the blueline being populated by Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse for a long time too. 

If you’re looking for candidates, I’d suggest starting there. A player like Dillon Simpson, who may look at the Oilers depth chart on defense and decide not to sign with the club, may be a candidate. Toni Rajala, should he flourish again this winter in OKC, would certainly be a player of interest. 

The Oilers are now building depth and quality with the Russians in their system and at some point Yakimov or Slepyshev or Zharkov is going to push for employment in the NHL. It’s been forever since we could discuss a system deep enough to offload qualified prospects for full value. 

The Oilers aren’t there yet. However, there are signs on defense and wing that the kind of quality every team hopes for may be coming here someday. The trick is to turn it into useful riches, as the Chicago Blackhawks have done so beautifully over the last few seasons. 

It’s the game within the game. Procuring and optimizing talent. Sather was brilliant. MacT? We wait. 

  • vetinari

    Love your assessment comparing past to present. I do however believe that the title of your article should be:

    Stack-em Pack-em Wack-em……….meaning we should continously trade talent which is NHL ready but will not get a chance to play for the Oil. Trade these assets for draft picks ……..otherwise you lose the value of the asset over time.

  • vetinari

    I just wish that we were better at assessing minor pro talent and at jettisoning prospects before they lost their value on the market… as an example, Tuebert and Plante are both former first rounder draft picks that were thought to be future NHLers but were lost for nothing… at least Riley Nash was traded for a second round pick so some value was recouped on him…

    I was hoping that MacT would be able to use some of the secondary minor pro talent (like Hamilton and Pitlick) to land some quality depth players for the third and fourth lines, but I suspect that the market is thin in this area right now.

    • vetinari

      Maybe not being able to pull of a Pitlick, + for Clutterbuck trade (if such a trade was in the works) winds up being a godsend, and Pitlick does discover his game at the pro level. The OKC playoffs were somewhat encouraging.

      And I think trading Nash for a pick that became Marincin will turn out to be a huge win for the franchise, especially in terms of how poor a pick Nash was for the team.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I can think of 2 picks that had NHL careers elsewhere because there was no room at the inn. Shjon Podein and Shaun van Allen. Otherwise, the +/- 100 picks between 1984 and 1992 were busts.

  • Spydyr

    Nice read.

    Comparing the bottom six from the glory years or even the Kid line from the 1990 Cup run.Well, it shows how far off the current edition of the Oilers really are in the bottom six.

    Hopefully one or two of Mac-T’s swings this summer will result in dialing 9.

    “They brought their f-ing toys with ’em”!

  • ubermiguel

    So Linus Omark is this generation’s Walt Poddubny? There’s no name on that list that makes me say “wow, I can’t believe we missed out on him.”

      • Glencross was let go because of different philosophies at the time.

        As for comparing the 80’s Oilers to the current team now is nonsense.

        As is comparing the 90’s cup team which also was loaded.

        To me the Oilers are in a great position moving forward, if a player can’t make the team in any position then who cares if he’s moved?

        Both Omark and Hartikinen were bad hockey players the Oilers are better off without.

        Paajarvi or Peron? Perron is the better hockey player period! It’s up to the staff now to fill Paajarvi spot.

        Keep moving this forward, stop making lateral moves like the Oilers have done.

  • vetinari

    ins’t the fact that nothing was done with either Omark or Hartikinen indicative that our current management is unable to play the game within the game. Not to mention we couldn’t get any return on Hemsky?

    Or is just that there’s absolutely no interest in these players?

    Any truth to the rumours the Omark camp was in town to try and convince management to trade his rights for a bag of pucks?

  • Supernova


    I agree with your buddy completely.

    I have been posting this for a while on your site and here. although I am not a eloquent writer so it doesn’t always come through as intended.

    I am a huge cheerleader for the guys I think should or will be 3rd and 4th line players. The Kessy’s, Moroz, Ewanyk, Pitlicks, etc.

    The problem that I see currently is the Oilers, OKC, and Nelson have failed to help these players along.

    Listening to Coach Herbers of U of A, when he coached in Nashville’s system it wasn’t an option to bring in other players, But last year the oilers sat out Martindale and played CJ Stretch, They Brought in Cheechoo and Pitlick and other “prospects” got less minutes.

    I completely understand and agree that prospects need to earn their minutes but a good system shouldn’t have to chew up valuable minutes from prospects for some player who is marginally better right now, but has virtually no chance to ever be better than he currently is.

      • Supernova

        But who is getting those intangibles?

        the players who are marginally with your organization, and the prospects watch from the press box.

        or do they still benefit from the association?

        I believe in a Meritocracy but I feel this type of system should be with your own players.

        Also you should be able to win with your own picks or else why draft them.

        Whats Nashville’s farm team record?

  • John Chambers

    The comparisons of Oilers teams are silly, and saying Omark and Hartski would be here if it wash’t for the wiz kids and Henley is simply not accurate.

    Omark is not wanted by the Oilers or any other team. The market for a small, one zone player is small. He is redundant on this club and the rest of the NHL reluctant to give up assets on him.

    Hartski lacked commitment to be the player the Oilers needed. And it appears the Oilers interest is mutual. The Oilers had a big hole for a big puck possession forward and simply their was lots of room at the inn for a player with size.

    Saying this team has depth is laughable. There is still holes in a third of the roster which may be the Achilles for this squad.

  • Leef O'Golin

    LT – I’ve seen a couple of stories (including one on here about Mike Grier) where Slats doesn’t exactly come across as the solitary genius in procuring pro talent. I can’t help but wonder how the pro-scouting department of today measures up to the ’80’s version. Might be attributed to hindsight, but it seems to me like the Oilers don’t pull off nearly as many “robberies” as they used to.

  • I see both side to this. I would say your buddy is a 100% right when it comes to prospects like Acrobello, Miller, Omark, and Rajala.

    Our top 6 is pretty clear and filling the bottom 6 with small finesse players is not going to win us a lot of battles.

    A team can have too many of the same type of player. We don’t currently have room for small finesse players, so they should be trade bait or injury insurance.

    I disagree completely with Hartikainan being included. We have all sorts of room for a player like him. Management used him poorly and sent him down even when playing well because there was no risk of losing him to waivers. This may have hurt his confidence, but he never stole the role last year.

    I think we have the ideal roster for a big physical 2 way forward prospect. We are really lacking in this area and should be trading from areas of redundancy and then strength in order to address.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Difficult to comprehend, this no room at the Inn theory. All while our Oilers have become the laughing stock of the league.

    Kevin Lowe may have been a fine support player earning 6 Cups during his playing career. His time in management here has netted this team the complete opposite results of his playing career. If this is at all inaccurate, then I apologize. Results matter.

  • John Chambers

    The Oilers handled the Omark situation poorly.

    LT – do you know what transpired between the Oilers and Omark? He would seem to be a useful player, that even if he’s not a fit on the Oilers he could’ve been a useful trade asset had they managed the situation more appropriately.

    I was hoping MacT would have a different attitude toward a player like Omark, if for no other reason than to augment his value or provide a modest replacement in the event Hemsky gets injured / traded.

    • John Chambers

      I dont think you can say the team handled him poorly. he got injured at the wrong time and could not force his way back onto a roster that was the worst in the league for 3 years running. The only logical reason for Omark to still be Oiler property is because no other team in the league thinks he is worth more than a 7th round pick – otherwise he would have been traded by now. Every team knows he is available.

      He has skill but by all accounts is a small one dimensional player. I suspect most teams have a guy like that in their system. I’m sure any club with marginal interest is waiting to see if he hits the waiver wire, but if he doesn’t they clearly aren’t losing any sleep over some other team swooping in and making a play for him.

    • Lowetide

      I don’t know. He has offensive talent, that’s for sure, and NHL teams value it highly. One would THINK there’s some kind of disconnect beyond his play without the puck, but there’s no way to know unless someone says something.

      Omark’s conduct during the last couple of years suggests a great deal of frustration on his end, and the Oilers indifference suggests they hold all the cards.

      Beyond that, we’re pissing in the wind.

  • The Last Big Bear

    What do we do when we’re so ridiculously loaded like the Oilers of the 80’s, and stacked at every position, and there’s just nowhere to put our all of our NHL-ready prospects?

    Did your buddy go to the Derek Zoolander school of realistic self-appraisal?

    We’re talking about a team that had to pay $3m to a UFA because they couldn’t find a 3rd line checking centre in-house. That wanted to load up on depth defenders, and ended up having to raid the KHL because there was nobody available in the pipeline.

    I don’t think a logjam is going to be a problem because:

    A) there are not many blue-chippers left in the system (Inwould pretty much only rate Klefblom and Nurse)

    B) this is not the 80’s Oilers, with superstars at every position. This is a 23rd place team with roster holes throughout. And if they trade a winger for a top defender (which i think they shoukd), those holes may soon include a top-6 wing spot.

    C) this team is already at the cap. And next year the Oilers are going to need to give raises to RNH, Justin Schultz, Devan Dubnyk, and Jeff Petry. Yes, the cap will probably rise, but not by $15m. The Oilers cap crunch is going to get worse, not better. I think they will have to make room for prospects coming up through the system, because they will need all the help from ELC’s that they can get.

    • Vaclav

      The Oilers cap commitment to Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz, Dubnyk and Petry will likely go up by between $5M-6M in total. Hemsky’s expiring contract is for $5M. If you add in Schultz Sr. and Smyth’s expiring cap hits that provides an additional $4.85M in cap space.

      So even without the UCL going up a nickel for 2013/14 the Oilers are not in a cap crunch.

      • The Last Big Bear

        I don’t think you’re accounting for these players’ bonus money correctly.

        Their present “cap commitment” includes a large bonus cushion, which allows the Oilers to exceed the cap by several million.

        I’m not an expert on how the bonus cushion works, but as far as I’m aware Edmonton would already be well over the cap ceiling even if they just re-signed these guys at their current cap hits, because their contrct likely wouldn’t include a bonus cushion.

        Like I said, I’m no expert, but this is my understanding of how it works. Anyone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  • I’d be plenty OK if the Oilers stopped using roster spots to audition the next crop of Rob Schremps. If we have such a strong team that prospects have to knock it outta the park in the AHL before even being considered, isn’t that a good thing?

    We’re so used to seeing the team diaper train kids (a pretty decent tanking strategy BTW) that now we actually think that’s the norm. It’s not.

  • Supernova

    Who is running this gong show anyway .
    When you look down the forwards line, there are no prospects in the system that would make a play off team in the NHL.Should have jetsoned
    Hamilton and Pitlick this summer… but you could not do that , there arnt enough warmbodies as it is. Living proof, when MacT had to raid the KHL cupboards this summer to have some numbers in the system, that might be players.

    Maybe there is fault with player development by Nelson, but God and Scotty Bowman could make players out of Hamilton and Pitlick.

    And lets get off the Omark train, this is a side show for the All Star game.

  • Supernova

    The big difference in your piece is That guys like Lumley , Hughes, Pouzar, Lindstrom , Linsman, McT and Hunter where the guts of the team . Yea lots of skill in the top 4 or 5 but the next level as above in my opinion is what made the Oilers in those days . Give me Linseman Hughes & Lumley right now and we are not just in the playoffs but a top team . Still a long way to go I’m afraid . Hell even a Podubny & Habsheid would look good today . I realize its different times but that inner core is what makes the difference .

  • Supernova

    I remember that period differently with respect to Oilers prospects – the reason they did not play is that they could not crack an NHL line-up. Take a look at their picks from 1981 draft on. Outside of Tikkanen, there really were no top 6 forwards drafted and developed until 1993 (Arnott and Satan). This lack of drafting prowess is what doomed the team in the 90s.

    I hope that the Oilers can eventually hit the point of drafting and developing players that there is a true logjam of NHL talent that can’t crack the roster. However, right now they are still a few years and solid draft picks away from being remotely close to that. I said it when he was drafted and I will say it again – Hamilton is too slow to play and unless he improves massively via power skating he will never play in the NHL. Pitlick has a shot as a Jason Chimera type – fast, checking role that can chip in offence (but likely not at Chimera’s rate). Maybe some of the picks from this year and subsequent years develop, but right now the cupboard is pretty barren in the system right now.

  • gbm

    Looks like the Oil won’t have to worry about Rajala pushing for a roster spot (or being a player of interest for trade bait), as Stauffer just announced he has been put on unconditional waivers for the purposes of being bought out.