**The second post in an ongoing series – Robin Brownlee re-lives the 2001-02 Oilers season **
The 2001-02 season really began in the summer with the trade of captain and leading scorer Doug Weight, who became yet another casualty of economics during a difficult era of tight budgets and cash calls for team ownership.
It ended with the Oilers coming up two points short of a playoff spot in the Western Conference as the Vancouver Canucks won five straight games during a torrid 8-1-1-0 stretch in their final 10 games to jump ahead of the Oilers into eighth place.
The trade of Weight and first-round bust Michel Riesen, the Swiss Miss, to the Show Me State for Jochen Hecht, utility man Marty Reasoner and defenseman Jan Horacek proved yet again that moving quality for quantity seldom pays off.
Weight, the team’s leading point producer in seven of the previous eight seasons, was due for the huge raise on the $4.3 million he was making in Edmonton and the Oilers couldn’t afford to pay him. The Blues could, upping Weight’s pay for the 2001-02 campaign to $9 million. Oiler fans saw that movie more than once during the early 2000s.
Hecht was a decent second-line player who’d produce 40 points during the season. Reasoner, a reach by the Blues as the 14th overall pick in 1996, was a well-liked glue guy in the dressing room, but he produced just 11 points in 52 games. Horacek would spend the season in the AHL with Hamilton and never would play an NHL game – for the Oilers or anybody else.
With Weight and running mate Bill Guerin, traded the previous season, gone, the Oilers not only lost considerable veteran leadership, they lost their best two top-end players and point producers. While the Oilers trimmed 40 goals from their goals against, dropping to 182 from 222 the previous season, that gain was mitigated in the end of the rink where Weight and Guerin did their business. The Oilers scored 205 goals, down from 243 the previous season.
Instead of having Weight and Guerin to tap on the shoulder, second-year coach Craig MacTavish relied on Mike Comrie, just 20, Anson Carter, who’d come over in the Guerin trade, and reliable Ryan Smyth, who was limited to 61 games by a fractured ankle. Offensive help was supposed to come at the deadline in the form of Mike York, but he didn’t produce and getting him cost GM Kevin Lowe Rem Murray and whipping boy Tom Poti, an early version of Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry who was better than fans ever gave him credit for.
The Oilers, who got off to a 6-2-1-0 start and were 21-13-6-2 at the halfway point of the season, stayed in the hunt because of goaltending and defensive play. Tommy Salo, who’d play 69 games after seeing action in 73 during the previous season, had help in the form of youngster Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen. The 182 goals the Oilers allowed ranked second in the league and represents a franchise-best for a full season.
Much of the credit for that goes to the blue line, a group that included Janne Niinimaa, who led Oiler D-men with 44 points, hardnosed captain Jason Smith, Steve Staios and Eric Brewer.
When the Oilers won six straight games March 14-26, they looked bound for the playoffs. Shutout twice in their final five games while the Canucks kept winning, they’d miss the playoffs for first time in six seasons.
RECORD: 38-28-12-4 92 Pts .561 (9TH Conf.)
Goal Differential: plus-23
2001 Draft: Ales Hemsky 13th overall.
June 30, 2001 – Oilers trade captain Doug Weight and Michel Riesen to the St. Louis Blues for Jochen Hecht, Marty Reasoner and Jan Horacek.
March 19, 2002 – Oilers trade Rem Murray and Tom Poti to the New York Rangers for Mike York and fourth-round draft choice in 2002 (Ivan Koltsov).
March 19, 2002 – Oilers trade Sean Brown to the Boston Bruins for Bobby Allen.
July 12, 2001 – Steve Staios signed as UFA.
Mike Comrie 33-27-60
Anson Carter 28-32-60
Ryan Smyth 15-35-50
Janne Niinimaa 5-39-44
Jochen Hecht 16-24-40
Todd Marchant 12-22-34
Daniel Cleary 10-19-29
Mike Grier 8-17-25
Eric Brewer 7-18-25
Rem Murray 7-17-24
RETHINKING THE 2001-02 OILERS
Simply put, the Oilers came up short on scoring – only one team allowed fewer goals (the Colorado Avalanche with 169), but 19 teams scored more goals. Might the Oilers have had enough offensive pop to hold off the Canucks even without Weight had Smyth not missed 21 games and York not gone cold after being acquired at the deadline (2-2-4 in 12 games).
The worst part for Oiler fans, who were on the edge of their seats the whole way, is the Oilers would eventually come up short in their playoff bid thanks to a 2-0 loss at home to the Calgary Flames in their 81st game of the season.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.