RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 2003-04 SEASON

**The fourth post in an ongoing series – Lowetide re-lives the 2003-04 Oilers season **

The 2003-04 season was a disappointment for the Edmonton Oilers. They were in 12th place on February 1, a full 10 points out of the playoffs before charging hard and missing the postseason by an eyelash. The real pain for Oilers fans came in the success of the Calgary Flames, who came close to winning it all in wildly different seasons for Alberta’s teams.

RESULTS 2003-04

Team Record
Total Points Standings Goal Differential
Shooting Percentage
Save Percentage
36-29-12-5 89 9TH WEST 221-208   +13 9.48 .9056

The Oilers spent a lot of time during the last part of the 1990’s and early 2000’s hovering around the No. 8 to No. 10 position in the Western Conference. The frustration created a sense of resignation among fans and (I believe) management, leading ultimately to the decision to rebuild the team at the very end of the decade. In 2003, Edmonton had substantial talent and that group pushed hard down the stretch, falling just short of victory.

Individual Scoring

0304 oilers scoring

This is a team in transition, moving away from the Doug Weight (and Bill Guerin) era and finding a new style reflected in the sound two-way play of forwards Radek Dvorak, Shawn Horcoff and others. The offense, led by heart-and-soul Ryan Smyth and a group of youngsters that ran from the sublime (Ales Hemsky) to the ridiculous (Raffi Torres) delivered enough goals for the team to be competitive.

The iron on this edition of the Oilers came from the blue. Jason Smith was a warrior and Steve Staios was forged from similar stock, and when added to youngsters like Eric Brewer and Marc-Andre Bergeron it worked well enough to get the club close to the postseason.

Goaltending. The team’s incumbent (Tommy Salo) continued to erode and rookie Ty Conklin took over the job as the season wore along. Conklin’s .912 save percentage trumped Salo’s .896 although both men won 17 games during the year. Source

03-04 oilers goalies

TRANSACTIONS

transactions

transactions 2

Kevin Lowe was active during all parts of the season, beginning with a draft day trade that would impact the organization for a long time. Edmonton passed on Zach Parise and a plethora of quality talents and chose to deal down in an effort to add quantity. Marc Pouliot would have injury issues and fall short of promise, effectively leaving the Oilers outside in the cold as other teams added one or more impact players from the generational 2003 entry draft.

In December, the long and difficult divorce from Mike Comrie finally occurred, with Jeff Woywitka and picks being the return. Lowe famously passed on a far more lucrative package from the Anaheim Ducks, another legendary story from early in the century.

FREE AGENT WINS AND LOSSES

  • Lost C Todd Marchant to Columbus
  • Lost R Daniel Cleary to Phoenix
  • Lost C Brian Swanson to Atlanta
  • Signed C Adam Oates in November
  • Signed D Igor Ulanov in January

It looks bad, and losing Marchant (he was a helluva player) really hurt. However, Ulanov came in damn handy and Oates did help the young C’s in the faceoff circle. Igor, though. Lordy he was good that year.

oilers 2003 draft

Here’s the 2003 draft, with Kyle Brodizak miles and away the best pick. Marc Pouliot is a punch line now but he had legit talent and could have had a much better career save for a laundry list of injuries and maladies. From concussions to ribs, from mono to pubis thing, Mr. Pouliot taught us all about the body and what can go wrong. Shout out to Zack Stortini, who exacted every damn drop out of ability, and then some.

SEASON REVIEW

The low point of the season came right at the end of January, but the
Oilers picked up points in 22 of their final 26 games—only to miss the
playoffs by two points! It was a gut wrenching disappointment for Oilers
fans, who had to watch the Calgary Flames win the west and come within a
hair of winning the Stanley Cup.

This is one of the seasons where Craig MacTavish really found a bunch of players who could play his style. From Radek Dvorak to Fernando Pisani, from Shawn Horcoff to Jarrett Stoll, this generation of Oilers were a lot about what they left positioning. Lots of speed, sufficient offense, and mountains of hard work. The Edmonton Oilers 2003-04 under Craig MacTavish were the thinking man’s hockey team. Smart play, add in blood, sweat and tears and my word they were easy to cheer for, but I can tell you we needed a goal scorer in the worst damn way.

A quick note on Georges Laraque. It was during this time Oilers fans (well, many of them) began to appreciate his ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. This Oilers team could rely on the big man to keep the puck many miles from their own net on 4line shifts. Craig MacTavish used him a lot, and successfully, during this time. A lot of what is remembered about Laraque is about the fists, and rightly so he was an absolute hammer in that department. That understood, I think it’s important to acknowledge that BG had real hockey value and a coach who used him in the proper role.

LEADING SCORERS

Points: Ryan Smyth, 59

He grew so much, you know. As a kid he was all piss, vinegar and cash what Weight gave him, but by 2003 Ryan Smyth was a man and an outstanding passer and playmaker. Curse the heavens for not gifting him Weight and Guerin in his prime.

Goals: Ryan Smyth, 23

Humble total for a humble team. The Oilers couldn’t compete with all those western teams with gunners and snipers.

Assists: Ryan Smyth, 36

I miss the big lug. He was a beauty.

RETHINKING THE 2003-04 OILERS

I loved this team. They were loaded with two-way wingers and hard workers, and if they’d had a sniper and a goalie they might have gone a ways. It took all season for Kevin Lowe to get the goalies in order and the major miss at the draft that summer absolutely sewered the decade. Dammit!

These men absolutely deserved better. The Oilers of this era were always pinching pennies, trading Bill Guerin for Anson Carter and a draft pick and hoping like hell that pick turned into Ales Hemsky. The draft was sending substantial talent (Jarret Stoll, Ales Hemsky) and Kevin Lowe was doing pretty well as Sather 2.0 during this period (the trades that brought in Eric Brewer, Radek Dvorak and others worked out pretty well). Lowe was two summers from his peak as a GM but was doing alright save the draft table.

If Lowe could have given Craig MacTavish a better goalie, and a sniper, they could have had more success. As it was, this year was another period of transition, with Ales Hemsky, Raffi Torres, Jarret Stoll, Ty Conklin and others offering hope for the future while also being unable to contribute enough to the peak seasons of Ryan Smyth, Jason Smith et al.

This was the story of the Edmonton Oilers, time and again in this era.

  • WhoreableGuy

    As an Oiler fan living in Calgary, I really remember this season.

    The Flames had only 3 regular season sellouts, and the largest crowd to date was the last B.O.A. that I attended (majority Oilers fans in the crowd).

    The Oilers end up missing the Playoffs and Calgary gets in, suddenly the Flames have the “best fans in the League”.

    They were proud to set the record for jersey sales but it was mainly in due to no Calgarian owning a new Flames jersey.

    Calgary Sucks!

    • I lived in Calgary at the time too. It was the biggest bandwagon BS I’ve ever seen. People who could care less about hockey suddenly became overnight experts on the game.

      I remember some old lady gave me crap because even though I was an Oilers fan, I should be cheering for the Flames(fat chance). She also claimed her niece was related to the Smyth family by marriage and that Ryan and his family were rooting for Calgary. I just laughed at her and walked away.

      I’m so glad to be out of that city. Calgary sucks is right.

  • ubermiguel

    “Lowe famously passed on screwed up a far more lucrative package from the Anaheim Ducks, another legendary story from early in the century.” #fixedit

  • hagar

    I remember when it was a disappointment to barely miss the playoffs, but how fun it was making the attempt.

    What a contrast to the recent Era of the team. It is a totally different way of life in sports when a guy can cheer for the team.

    I can’t wait until the bars are full of chicken wing devouring, beer pitcher draining, excited oilers fans again.

  • hagar

    As an Oilers fan from Switzerland, I remember that season very well. The last game was in Vancouver, I stood up early in the morning in order to listen the game in the Radio. I was very disappointed. Didn’t the Oilers loose the last game 5:2 against the Canucks?

    Lowetide, you didn’t comment the trade for Petr Nedved. At that time, he was a helluva kind of player – 15 points in 16 games. I couldnt understand why they didn’t resign him.

    Two other points: What was the reason behind the trade for Brian Leetch? And didn’t Adam Oates want to pay back some money because he didn’t meet the expectations of himself?

    Those re-lives are awesome, appreciate Lowetide and Robin Brownlee.

      • Leaking5w-30

        Yes slats was doing the oil a favor. In those days teams got an extra second round pick when they lost free agents of a certain calibre.

        Leetch would sign as a free agent in new York. So was never technically an oiler but we did get compensation that was not available to the Rangers 9f they signed him

  • WhoreableGuy

    This was an easy group to cheer for and they definitely deserved better. MacT really wasn’t a bad coach for these guys either. Conklin though never really looked like the answer and Oates and Nedved were well past their shelf life. What an advantage the lockout turned into for this group with the bulk of the young core getting the season to play together in the AHL. Yeah, Parise would have undoubtedly changed the course of the last 10 years – most importantly the summer of ’06 impLowesion, but then again he might have gotten a concussion or two, pelvis, sick, knees what have you as well.