RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 2002-03 SEASON

NHL2003

**The third post in an ongoing series – Robin Brownlee re-lives the 2002-03 Oilers season ** 

In an era when the Oilers were either just in or just out of the Western Conference playoffs, the 2002-03 season started badly and ended worse. In between, it was a campaign that would see the Oilers just in again with 92 points, a gaudy 13 points ahead of the ninth-place Chicago Blackhawks.

Making the post-season at all was quite a feat, considering the Oilers survived a start in which they won just two of their first 10 games and endured the miserable failure that was the acquisition by GM Kevin Lowe of washed up Czech Jiri Dopita. “Dopi” arrived via trade from the Philadelphia Flyers with considerable international credentials and produced nothing.

Dopita, 33, tallied just 1-5-6 through 21 games before Lowe pulled the pin on the experiment and bought out his contract, leaving the Oilers with a group of forwards that didn’t need him – Edmonton ended up with five, 20-goal scorers that season in Ryan Smyth, Todd Marchant, Anson Carter, Mike York and Mike Comrie, all of whom also had at least 50 points.

Coach Craig MacTavish had balanced scoring in his top six to start the season and Lowe would add Radek Dvorak from the New York Rangers and Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres (he didn’t play in Edmonton in 2002-03) from the Islanders at the deadline. MacT also had 2001 draft Ales Hemsky, just 19, and 24-year-old Shawn Horcoff playing their way into bigger roles.  

In a reversal of the previous season, the Oilers scored just fine – their 231 goals left them ninth in the NHL – but they went from allowing a franchise-low 182 goals in 2001-02 to giving up 230. Tommy Salo, who fashioned a .913 save percentage a season earlier, dropped off to .899 in 65 appearances. Jussi Markkanen wasn’t much better at .904. Team defense was spotty.

The Oilers ran hot and cold down the stretch. They won 10 of 13 games from March 4-28, then went winless in their last four regular season games with a comfortable lead over the ninth-place Blackhawks. Faced with yet another first-round date with the Dallas Stars, the Oilers never managed to find the “on” switch again.

The 2003 series with Dallas went six games, just like the 2001 meeting did, but that’s where any resemblance ended. Five of the six games in 2001 were decided by one goal, four of those in overtime. In 2003, the Stars won by scores of 6-1, 3-1, 5-2 and 3-2.

Edmonton’s best players weren’t, to use the cliché, their best players. Horcoff, Eric Brewer and Georges Laraque led the Oilers in scoring during the series with four points each. Smyth had two goals, Comrie one. York and Marchant none. Salo got lit up, going .888 in six games. It was not remotely close, and that would produce more than a little fall-out.

RECORD: 36-26-11-9 92 Pts .561 8TH Conf.

Goal Differential: plus-1

SH% 10.4

SV% .902

PDO: 100.6

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

2002 Draft: Jesse Niinimaki 15th overall, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers 31st, Jarret Stoll 36th, Matt Greene 44th

TRADES

  • June 18, 2002 – Oilers acquire Jiri Dopita from the Philadelphia Flyers for a third-round pick in 2003 (Ryan Potulny).
  • June 22, 2002 – Oilers trade Jochen Hecht to the Buffalo Sabres for the 31st pick in 2002 (Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers) and the 36th pick in 2002 (Jarret Stoll).
  • June 22, 2002 – Oilers trade the 14th overall pick (Chris Higgins) to the Montreal Canadiens for the 15th overall pick (Jesse Niinimaki) and the 245th overall pick (Tomas Micka).
  • Oct. 7, 2002 – Oilers trade Mike Grier to the Washington Capitals for the 53rd pick in 2003 (Evgeny Tunik) and the 94th pick in 2003 (Zach Stortini).
  • March 11, 2003 – The Oilers acquire Radek Dvorak and Cory Cross from the New York Rangers for Anson Carter and Ales Pisa.
  • March 11, 2003 — Oilers acquire Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres from the New York Islanders for Janne Niinimaa and the 53rd pick in 2003 Entry Draft (Evgeny Tunik).

UFA

  • May 28, 2002 – Mike Bishai signed as UFA.

LEADING SCORERS

Ryan Smyth 27-34-61

Todd Marchant 20-40-60

Anson Carter 25-30-55

Mike York 22-29-51

Mike Comrie 20-31-51

Shawn Horcoff 12-21-33

Ethan Moreau 14-17-31

Marty Reasoner 11-20-31

Ales Hemsky 6-24-30

Eric Brewer 8-21-29

RETHINKING THE 2002-03 OILERS

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 12.26.10 PM

Lowe, frustrated by seeing his team fail to get past Dallas in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons (the Oilers missed the playoffs in 2002), tore a strip off his team behind closed doors when the series was over.

It did not sit well with several players, particularly Comrie. By the 2003 Entry Draft in Nashville in June, word was trickling out Comrie wanted out of Edmonton and Lowe was shopping him. Comrie would sit out the start of the next season and was traded to Philadelphia in December 2003 – after Lowe quashed a deal with Anaheim that would have landed the Oilers Corey Perry by asking Comrie to pay back $2.5 million in bonus money to complete the trade.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • monsterbater

    As much as we crush Lowe for that Perry trade that never was, Corey Perry was not yet an established NHL player and was still just a prospect.

    It looks terrible in hindsight, but so do many other trades.

    Edit: He was drafted in 2003 so just a recent late first rounder at the time. they got woywitka who was flipped in the pronger deal so whatever

  • mithaman

    Watching these Oiler teams as a kid (I was 11-12 years old) I remember year after year we either just barely scraped in to the playoffs or it was heartbreak as we missed by a few points…
    From watching the Oilers today I always think back to those years and wonder what was more devastating, getting so close but just missing out every time (or losing in the first round to the f&%$ing stars), or perennial cellar dwelling year after year….
    At least we were playing meaningful games in March.

    • Leaking5w-30

      I think cellar dweller is way worce. I found those bubble teams to be very fun to watch. It felt like every game mattered.

      Honestly a mediocre team is probably more fun to watch in the regular season than a powerhouse. If you team is very strong or very weak the season games lack urgency.

      Don’t get me wrong I would love the Oil to be a powerhouse again soon… but I would also enjoy watchinga bubble team.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I was waiting for this one. The Comrie debacle was bad at the time, but seeing the player that Perry turned into made it that much worse. I think the original trade was Comrie to the Ducks for Perry and two 1sts. Lowe would’ve looked like a genius.

  • Butters

    Dopita swing and a miss
    Ninamiki ditto, and trading down for him to boot.
    The Comrie trade….ouch
    A Flame on the cover of NHL 2003
    Swept by Dallas
    Not the best of times.

  • ubermiguel

    Looking at those games played numbers, was this the start of the Oilers run of most-man-games-lost in the league? There were years where we were just killed by injuries to our top players.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    I remembered cheering for the nice hit on Brandon Morrow by “he who shall not be named”.

    You either die a hero or live too long to see yourself turned into a villain…

  • “Lowe quashed a deal with Anaheim that would have landed the Oilers Corey Perry by asking Comrie to pay back $2.5 million in bonus money to complete the trade.”

    I shudder to think that I have helped fund such decisions for nearly two decades. Sadly the extension of that reality is some measure of endorsement on my part….. I struggle with that reality.

    A LOT

  • Randaman

    Not a Flames fan by any means although I’m not a hater either as I lived there for quite some time.

    The one memory I have about the play-offs that year was Calgary being robbed by the non goal call. Could of been a very different outcome.

    • Jordan88

      That team eventually evolved into the ’06 warriors. Hard working guys that played for each other and were visibly upset when they were inevitably traded out for cheaper/ younger players. There was a true sense that being an Edmonton Oiler meant something to each and every one of them (Ok, one diminutive exception in Comrie). Whatever happened in the summer of ’06 was a lot more than one player’s wife jonesing for sunny beaches and a faithful husband. This team somehow lost its identity and we’ve never seen it come back.

  • moosewacker

    Not a lot of talent, but a lot of heart and soul guys on that team. Hopefully Oilers can find some of that again to go along with their bevy of talented forwards now.

    Jason Smith and Todd Marchant were warriors for this team, not to mention Staios, Pisani and Smyth.