RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 1979-80 SEASON

Oilers

After seven seasons of acrimony, lawsuits and inflationary player raiding by the upstart World Hockey Association (1972-79), the NHL grew from 17 to 21 teams when it reluctantly opened its doors to the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets by way of a merger.

Led by a pimply-faced teenager named Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers, who played the first WHA game as the Alberta Oilers on Oct. 11, 1972 against the Ottawa Nationals and in the final WHA game, losing in the Avco Cup final to the Jets, made a splash, or at least a ripple, right away. The Oilers finished 16th in league standings and made the playoffs, losing in the first round by way of a three-game sweep to the first-place Philadelphia Flyers.

RECORD 28-39-13 69 Pts .431 GD 301-322 -21 SH% 13.3 SV% —

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

1980-03-11

Ron Chipperfield traded to Quebec for Ron Low.

1980-03-11

Cam Connor traded to NY Rangers with 3rd round pick in 1981 (Peter Sundstrom) for Don Murdoch.

1980-03-11

Jim Corsi traded to Minnesota for future considerations.

1980-03-11

Ron Low traded by Quebec for Ron Chipperfield.

1980-03-11

Don Murdoch traded by NY Rangers for Cam Connor and 3rd round pick in 1981 (Peter Sundstrom).

1980-03-01

Bob Dupuis signed as free agent.

1980-02-25

Don Ashby traded by Colorado for Bobby Schmautz.

1980-01-12

Don Cutts signed as free agent (formerly with NY Islanders).

1980-01-01

Roy Sommer signed as free agent (formerly with Toronto).

1979-12-10

Dan Newman traded to Boston for Bobby Schmautz.

1979-11-13

Alex Tidey traded by Buffalo for John Gould.

1979-11-02

Poul Popiel signed as free agent (formerly with Vancouver).

1979-10-04

Jim Corsi signed as free agent.

1979-09-24

Jim Harrison traded by Chicago for future considerations.

1979-09-14

Charlie Huddy signed as free agent.

1979-08-09

Glenn Anderson drafted 69th overall.

1979-08-09

Kevin Lowe drafted 21st overall.

1979-08-09

Mark Messier drafted 48th overall.

1979-08-09

Dave Semenko traded by Minnesota for 2nd (Neal Broten) and 3rd (Kevin Maxwell) round picks in 1979.

1979-08-09

Mike Toal drafted 105th overall.

1979-08-07

Tom Roulston traded by St. Louis with Risto Siltanen for Joe Micheletti.

1979-07-22

Kari Makkonen signed as free agent (formerly with NY Islanders).

1979-07-15

John Bednarski signed as free agent (formerly with NY Rangers).

1979-07-04

Stan Weir claimed on waivers from Toronto.

1979-06-13

Ron Areshenkoff claimed from Buffalo in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Wayne Bianchin claimed from Pittsburgh in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Colin Campbell claimed from Pittsburgh in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Cam Connor claimed from Montreal in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Lee Fogolin claimed from Buffalo in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Mike Forbes claimed from Boston in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Doug Hicks claimed from Chicago in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Pete Lopresti claimed from Minnesota in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-13

Dave Lumley traded by Montreal with Dan Newman for 2nd round pick in 1980 (Ric Nattress).

1979-06-13

Pat Price claimed from NY Islanders in WHA expansion draft.

1979-06-09

Bryon Baltimore rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Brett Callighen rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Ron Carter rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Ron Chipperfield rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Peter Driscoll rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Dave Dryden rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Bill Flett rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Wayne Gretzky rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Al Hamilton rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Dave Hunter rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Blair MacDonald rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

1979-06-09

Eddie Mio rights retained in WHA dispersal draft.

Suffice to say, with the Oilers, Quebec, Hartford and Winnipeg joining the NHL from the WHA and the accompanying dispersal and expansion drafts, there were a staggering number of transactions. If you want a protracted explanation of all the player movement, you can find it here.

The most noteworthy saw the Oilers retain Gretzky, Ron Chipperfield, Dave Hunter, Brett Callighen, Ed Mio and Blair McDonald in the WHA dispersal draft, while Cam Connor, Lee Fogolin and Colin Campbell selected in the WHA expansion draft and Kevin Lowe (21st), Mark Messier (48th) and Glenn Anderson (69th) were taken in what would become the NHL Entry Draft.

Notable trades saw Dave Lumley acquired from Montreal, Tom Roulston and Risto Siltanen acquired from St. Louis, Dave Semenko obtained from Minnesota and Jim Harrison acquired from Chicago. Charlie Huddy was signed as a free agent and Stan Weir was claimed on waivers from Toronto.

LEADING SCORERS

Player

Pos

Age

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

EV

PP

SH

GW

EV

PP

SH

S

S%

Wayne Gretzky

C

19

79

51

86

137

15

21

37

13

1

6

62

23

1

284

18.0

Blair MacDonald

RW

26

80

46

48

94

1

6

31

13

2

6

32

15

1

266

17.3

Stan Weir

C

27

79

33

33

66

2

40

28

3

2

2

25

6

2

129

25.6

Brett Callighen

LW

26

59

23

35

58

-1

72

16

7

0

0

25

10

0

159

14.5

Dave Lumley

RW

25

80

20

38

58

15

138

19

1

0

6

32

6

0

145

13.8

Dave Hunter

LW

22

80

12

31

43

7

103

9

1

2

3

29

2

0

109

11.0

Doug Hicks

D

24

78

9

31

40

18

52

2

5

2

1

18

10

3

122

7.4

Ron Chipperfield

C

25

67

18

19

37

-15

24

15

2

1

1

16

3

0

129

14.0

Risto Siltanen

D

21

64

6

29

35

-9

26

5

1

0

0

14

15

0

116

5.2

Mark Messier

C

19

75

12

21

33

-10

120

10

1

1

1

18

2

1

113

10.6

All eyes, as you’d expect, were on Gretzky as he entered the NHL fresh from a 104-point campaign in Edmonton’s final WHA season, and he didn’t disappoint. At just 19, Gretzky’s 137 points tied him with Marcel Dionne of the Los Angeles Kings for the scoring lead, but No. 99 had two fewer goals and Dionne won the Art Ross Trophy.

Gretzky, to the dismay of Oiler fans, wasn’t eligible for the Calder Trophy as NHL top rookie because he’d played with Indianapolis and Edmonton of the WHA before the merger, but he did win the Hart Trophy, his first of nine, as Most Valuable Player.

SEASON RECAP

Review

Playing in the Smythe Division within the Clarence Campbell Conference, the Oilers overcame a terrible start with a torrid finish to their first NHL season to grab the 16th and final playoff spot and a date with the Flyers.

The Oilers, regular season champs in their final WHA season, won just one of their first 10 games, a stretch that included a 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden and a 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Flames.

Looking like also-rans at the 70-game mark, Gretzky and the Oilers turned into gangbusters in their final 11 games down the stretch, winning eight of those, including five-in-a-row, to go with a tie. The surge left the Oilers ahead of merger mates Quebec and Winnipeg, not to mention the Detroit Red Wings, and on the way to their first-round meeting with the Flyers.

The Flyers won the series by scores of 4-3 (overtime) and 5-1 in Philly before closing the Oilers out in Edmonton by a 3-2 score as future Oiler Ken Linseman decided it in double-overtime.   

RETHINKING THE SEASON

Messier

The Oilers went as far as anybody could reasonably expect them to go on the shoulders of Gretzky. With Messier developing and yet to become the force he’d be in coming years and much of what would become the core of the Stanley Cup teams yet to arrive, Gretzky was the lone driver.

Gretzky carried linemate Blair MacDonald to a career-high 94 points, including 46 goals. Stan Weir had 33 goals and Brett Callighen and Dave Lumley scored 23 and 20 respectively. Edmonton’s 301 goals ranked ninth in the NHL, so scoring wasn’t the problem. With 322 goals-against, only the Toronto Maples Leafs (327) were worse. There was no Grant Fuhr or Andy Moog yet and coach Glen Sather had to rely on a crease carousel that included Ron Low, Jim Corsi, Ed Mio and Dave Dryden.

Edmonton had an NHL team, the Great One had definitely arrived and there was plenty of help soon to follow.

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

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    Good article. Thanks for taking us out of the dark ages.

    Interesting to see Gretzky’s effect on this teammates and early run at the playoffs. Here’s to the McFactor hopefully doing the same.

  • ubermiguel

    This is a nice break after some of those dark-ages reviews.

    If I recall correctly Ron Low really lit it up after that late season trade and was a big part of the playoff run.

  • BobbyCanuck

    Kevin Lowe (21st), Mark Messier (48th) and Glenn Anderson (69th) were taken in what would become the Entry Draft.

    I my dremworld, the Oiler scouts will again find these kind of gems, especially the ones after the first round

    • The Soup Fascist

      Agree it was a great draft for the Oilers – and many other NHL teams – but IIRC that was the first year of the NHL allowing 18 year olds to be drafted. Essentially, it was more than two years worth of prospects in one year.

      While 1979 is considered one of the best crops ever, it should have been. There were for all intents and purposes the best 1959, 1960 and a few 1961 born (like Messier) draft eligible players available.

      That is a LOT of talent in a single draft.

      As a point of reference almost 83% of the players drafted that year played at least one NHL game. That is like double the average year. You could have drafted a team scouting from a beach in Mexico in 1979 ……

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    What a great time. I was in junior high and the Oilers being in the NHL, I mean the frickin NHL was unreal. My favorite memory was the saturday night in Toronto, Gretzky scores 6 points and rubs it in Harold Ballard’s face (Ballard didn’t want the merger).

    There wasn’t the non-stop wall to wall coverage at that time. One or two games a week were on tv. So you remembered these moments.

  • fran huckzky

    Those were the days. A family of four could actually afford to go to the game together and even have a pop and a hot dog. Although the hot dogs weren’t much good even then.

  • D

    For all his later controversy, full credit to Peter Pocklington for sticking to his guns and not letting the NHL place Wayne Gretzky into the 1979 entry draft (where he would have become a member of the Colorado Rockies).

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      I have to wonder what would of happened if Peter Puck had just called a media scrum and explained his dilemma with Gretzky. Explaining what kind of monies it would take to keep the team together and worked with the community to find a solution. Even working with the players to find one. I know Pittsburgh kept Mario by giving him part ownership or some such thing. The whole story could of been so much better for all concerned. (All except LA that is.)

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    It would be interesting to hear Fogolin’s thoughts on the entry draft by the Oilers. At first I wonder if he was sad due to the fact that he was leaving due to no real choice from Buffalo. It worked out well for him of coarse but I have to wonder if he was happy on that day.

  • Leef O'Golin

    I’ll always remember when I heard that the Oilers would move to the NHL. Now our little team from Edmonton would be playing against the likes of Guy Lafleur, Bobby Clarke, Darryl Sittler, and Wayne Cashman. That was pretty exciting for a little kid.

  • Tikkanese

    Wow, traded Neal Broten plus for Semenko! Wonder how different things would have been with Broten instead. Broten was a great player but Semenko was hugely important, especially in those days. I love my Semenko memories, just saying it is curious.

    Broten was a Center, so maybe Messier would have not developed. Or since Broten shot left, he might have been Gretz’s missing Left Winger all those early years. Or maybe Messier stayed on LW and played with Gretz instead.

    Oh and Gretzky fought Broten, the guy traded for Semenko, Gretzky’s protector. Neat little twist to that story.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I remember that late in the season Terry Jones (then with the Journal) guaranteed that the Oilers wouldn’t make the playoffs, and promised he would eat his column with sauerkraut and sour cream if they actually did. So after that end-of-season run after picking up Ron Low, they finished in 16th and Jones lived up to his word!

  • The Soup Fascist

    I would have loved to watch Patrick Roy, in his prime play one game in Eddie Mio’s equipment.

    I can just hear Paddy’s whining now, even if I plugged my ears with Stanley Cup rings.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Memories . After Wild Bill promised us first a team then the NHL . Looking back at who was drafted in those first 4 years by the Oilers you have to think many teams didn’t have a clue about drafting players much like us the last ten years. The most under valued personnel in an organization have to be scouts .

  • XL Lebowski

    Those were great days. I remember the Flyers were impressed with the Oilers after their playoff series. It was closer than the scores indicated. Flyers went on to Cup Final that year.

    As a longtime fan of both the Oilers and the Eskimos. I’m hoping magic can repeat itself (even a little bit) with McDavid and Franklin as it did with Gretzky and Moon.

  • XL Lebowski

    I can appreciate that some of you find reminiscing about the good ol’ days refreshing, but I’m still too jaded by the OBC at this point, and looking back just makes me sick.

    I’m sure the stench of Lowe/Mact will wear off eventually and I can enjoy the memories too, but that day has yet to arrive.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    A few observations about that team photo:

    – The photographer got everyone lined up nicely. They’re evenly spaced. No cowlicks or rooster-tails. Everyone’s eyes are open. But … for some reason… they were arranged on the wrong side of the Oilers logo, which looks positively ridiculous upside-down in the foreground.

    – This is one of the few photos in existence in which you’ll see Glen Sather dressed in something other than a $4,000 suit from Sam Abouhassen’s shop.

    – Cowboy Bill Flett’s beard should have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    – Hockey historians will someday regard 1979-80 the year we reached “Peak Micron Moulded Skate.”

    – Brett Callighen looks like Kelly Buchberger’s older brother.

    – Peter Pocklington looks exactly like the used-car salesman he once was before he hitting it big. We can all rip Katz all we want for his questionable business practices, but he looks like the president of UNICEF compared to ol’ Peter Puck.

    – For much of that season, Gretz looked like he was a 16-year-old. But in that team photo, standing above and behind a menacing Dave Semenko, he looks about 12.

    – It’s weird to see Messier with a feathered haircut. Or hair, period.

    – The NHL needs to declare one weekend of the year Retro Goalie Weekend in which all stoppers are required to wear brown leather pads, gloves and blockers, and white or black goalie skates.