**The first post in an ongoing series – Robin Brownlee re-lives the 2000-01 Oilers season **
Aside from Edmonton’s unlikely run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final, Craig MacTavish’s first year as head coach after moving up from assistant coach and taking over from Kevin Lowe was probably his most successful behind Edmonton’s bench.
The Oilers would lean heavily on captain Doug Weight, in what would be his final season in Edmonton, and Ryan Smyth for offence, and on goaltender Tommy Salo, who played in 73 of 82 games.
Weight, with 90 points, and Smyth, with 70, were the go-to guys on the attack after Bill Guerin was traded to Boston for Anson Carter. Guerin had 22 points in 21 games when dealt. While Carter would produce 42 points in 61 games with the Oilers, he wasn’t the same caliber of offensive threat as Guerin (who finished the season with 40-45-85), who played in tandem with Weight during his time in Edmonton.
As for Salo, his 73 appearances marked a career high as did his eight shutouts, which is a good thing as the Oilers had no options behind him in the form of back-ups Dominic Roussel and Joaquin Gage.
With Roman Hamrlik dealt away, Finn Janne Niinimaa was the driver for offence from the back end. The problem with Niinimaa was he was equally dangerous at both ends of the ice. While Niinimaa finished third in team scoring with 46 points, he was a mistake-prone adventure too many nights.
Outside of Niinimaa and Tom Poti (12-20-32), there wasn’t anybody else who could be counted on to make a significant offensive contribution in a physical bunch of blueliners that included Igor Ulanov, Jason Smith, Frank Musil and Sean Brown. That said, with 21-year-old Eric Brewer in the mix, it was a decent group that was pretty well built for playoff hockey.
The problem with the playoffs, again, was the Oilers would run into Ken Hitchcock and the Dallas Stars (106 points) for the fifth consecutive post-season in the Western Conference quarter-final. It was a series the Oilers had a chance to win — one that was tied 2-2 through four games after a 2-1 OT victory in Edmonton on a goal by Comrie, but didn’t.
In a classic case of close-but-no-cigar, Salo played goal in all six games in a series that would require overtime in four games. The experienced Stars won three of those on OT goals by Jamie Langenbrunner, Benoit Hogue and Kirk Muller on the way to a 4-2 series win.
RECORD: 39-28-12-3 93 Pts .567 6TH Conf.
Goal Differential: plus-21
2000 DRAFT: Alexei Mikhnov 17th overall, Brad Winchester 35th overall.
June 24, 2000 – Oilers acquire Eric Brewer, Josh Green and the 35th overall pick (Brad Winchester) from the New York Islanders for Roman Hamrlik.
Nov 10, 2000 – Oilers acquire Anson Carter, 2001 first-round pick (Ales Hemsky) and 2001 second-round pick (Doug Lynch) from the Boston Bruins for Bill Guerin and 2001 first-round pick (Shaone Morrisonn).
Dec. 18, 2000 – Oilers trade Chad Kilger to the Montreal Canadiens for Sergei Zholtok.
March 13, 2001 – Oilers trade Dan LaCouture to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sven Butenschon.
July 15, 2000 — Domenic Pittis signed as UFA
July 5, 2000 — Scott Ferguson signed as UFA
Mike Comrie, 20, drafted 91st overall by Edmonton in 1999, left the Kootenay Ice of the WHL after 37 games and signed a contract with the Oilers in December 2000. Comrie was deemed to be a free agent (Mike Van Ryn precedent) after leaving the University of Michigan and playing a season in Kootenay as an overage player. Comrie would see action in 41 games, scoring 8-14-22.
Doug Weight 25-65-90
Ryan Smyth 31-39-70
Janne Niinimaa 12-34-46
Anson Carter 16-26-42
Todd Marchant 13-26-39
Mike Grier 20-16-36
Rem Murray 15-21-36
Daniel Cleary 14-21-35
Tom Poti 12-20-32
Georges Laraque 13-16-29
RETHINKING THE 2000-01 OILERS
In what was a season of significant transition with Glen Sather leaving, Lowe taking over as GM and MacTavish moving into Lowe’s spot as head coach, the Oilers accomplished about as much as anybody could reasonably expect from a small-budget team under the ownership of the EIG.
Weight was terrific in his swan song as an Oiler, leading the team to 243 goals during the regular season, which ranked ninth in the NHL. The wheels had yet to fall off Salo, who was overworked. The blue line group was more than adequate. The bottom line is this was about as good a team as limited money could buy in the pre-salary cap era.
In hindsight and in the short term, Lowe might like the Guerin trade back, even though it would yield Hemsky in the 2001 draft. While Carter was far from a bust, 2000-01 turned out to be the most prolific season of Guerin’s career, most of it was spent in Boston. Fast, tough and skilled, might Guerin have been enough to get the Oilers past the first round? We’ll never know.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.