RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 1985-86 SEASON

8586Oilers

Having already paraded the Stanley Cup up and down Jasper Ave. the two previous seasons, fans of the Edmonton Oilers had every reason to be thinking three-peat when the 1985-86 season began. The Oilers were young, ridiculously talented and getting better. They beat opponents for fun.

And, despite an off-ice bump in the road before the start of the season – Mark Messier totaled his Porsche when he slammed into three parked cars and was charged with hit-and-run – when the puck dropped on the new campaign, the Oilers put the pedal to the medal and didn’t look back.

The Oilers finished atop NHL standings with 119 points, tying a franchise record and finishing 30 points ahead of the Calgary Flames in the Smythe Division. The Oilers scored 400-or-more goals for the fifth straight season. Wayne Gretzky tallied a career-high and NHL record 215 points and Paul Coffey scored 48 goals, breaking the record for defensemen, previously held by Bobby Orr with 46. It seemed there was no stopping them.

But an unlikely calamity unfolded as the Oilers roared down the road to Dynasty City and that third straight Cup parade in the second round of the playoffs against the Flames when rookie defenceman Steve Smith took a puck behind his net, looked up the ice and then, well, you know the rest . . .

RECORD 56-17-7 119 points, 1st in NHL

GD 426-310 plus-116 SH% 16.1 SV% .889

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

1985-12-28

Billy Carroll traded to Detroit for Bruce Eakin.

1985-12-20

Marc Habscheid traded to Minnesota with Don Barber and Emmanuel Viveiros for Don Biggs and Gord Sherven.

1985-12-20

Larry Melnyk traded to NY Rangers with Todd Strueby for Mike Rogers.

1985-12-20

Gord Sherven traded by Minnesota with Don Biggs for Don Barber, Marc Habscheid and Emmanuel Viveiros.

1985-12-05

Jeff Brubaker claimed on waivers from Toronto.

1985-10-07

Willy Lindstrom claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh.

1985-10-04

Pat Hughes traded to Pittsburgh for Mike Moller.

1985-09-27

Dean Hopkins signed as free agent (formerly with Los Angeles).

1985-09-12

Marty McSorley traded by Pittsburgh with Tim Hrynewich and future considerations (Craig Muni, October 6, 1986) for Gilles Meloche.

1985-08-15

Ken Solheim signed as free agent (formerly with Minnesota).

1985-06-15

Kelly Buchberger drafted 188th overall.

1985-06-15

Scott Metcalfe drafted 20th overall.

1985-06-15

Michael Ware drafted 62nd overall.

LEADING SCORERS

Player

Pos

Age

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S%

Wayne Gretzky

C

25

80

52

163

215

71

46

14.9

Paul Coffey

D

24

79

48

90

138

61

120

15.6

Jari Kurri

RW

25

78

68

63

131

45

22

28.8

Glenn Anderson

RW

25

72

54

48

102

38

90

22.2

Mark Messier

C

25

63

35

49

84

36

68

17.4

Mark Napier

RW

29

80

24

32

56

13

14

20.5

Craig MacTavish

C

27

74

23

24

47

17

70

19.0

Charlie Huddy

D

26

76

6

35

41

30

55

4.0

Mike Krushelnyski

LW

25

54

16

24

40

11

22

16.3

Raimo Summanen

LW

23

73

19

18

37

7

16

22.9

SEASON RECAP

Save for Messier piling up his Porsche, the two-time defending Cup champion Oilers hit the regular season road on a roll to open the 1985-86 season, winning 10 of their first 12 games. Gretzky was flying. So was Jari Kurri, who’d become the first player other than Gretzky to lead the Oilers in goals, notching 68. Coffey was ridiculously good.

With 56 wins and 119 points, the Oilers finished well clear of the Philadelphia Flyers (110 points) and the Washington Capitals (107 points) atop overall standings during the regular season. With 426 goals, the Oilers finished 72 goals ahead of the next best team, Calgary with 354. The Oilers, simply put, were the class of the NHL, and by a good measure.

When the Oilers drew the Vancouver Canucks, who’d finished 16th overall with 59 points, in the opening round of the playoffs, it was every bit as much of a mismatch on the ice as it was on paper. The Oilers blitzed the overmatched Canucks, outscoring them 17-5, winning 7-3, 5-1 and 5-1, to sweep the best-of-five series. That set up a second-round showdown with the Flames in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta.

CRASH AND BURN

As was the case often during the decade of the 1980s, the underdog Flames played their best hockey of the season against the Oilers, forcing a Game 7 back in Edmonton with 4-1, 3-2 and 4-1 wins in the first six. That set the stage for Smith, who found himself cast into the spotlight with one of the greatest gaffes in Stanley Cup history on April 30th – his birthday.

With the game tied 2-2, the Flames dumped the puck behind Edmonton’s net on a line change. Grant Fuhr stopped the puck behind the net. Fuhr had just circled around the left post into his crease when Smith took the puck and attempted a pass up-ice. The puck bounced off the back of Fuhr’s left leg and into the net to give the Flames a 3-2 lead with 14:46 to play. It’s a lead the Flames wouldn’t relinquish in front of a stunned capacity crowd.

Smith would play more than 800 games in the NHL, including 385 as a member of the Oilers, but the sound of Edmonton’s dynasty bandwagon hitting the wall the moment that puck trickled over the goal line is the play he will always be remembered for.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

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

  • Soiled Trousers

    The contrast between the great, legendary Oiler teams of the 80s….to the tire fire we have today….striking and depressing.

    Until McDavid gets back, they should just play remastered video of these glory year games on monitors around the arena so fans have an alternative to the soft, heartless hockey the Oilers are icing right now.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Good article, Robin.

    I was in junior high when this season took place and the thing I’ll always remember was how shattered we all felt when they lost to the Flames.

    As a young (at the time) fandom, we almost felt … invincible, for lack of a better word. From 1979 until that April night in 1986, the Oilers had pretty much been on an upward crescendo.

    But there was more to it than that. One thing that younger fans now maybe don’t really realize is, during this time, Edmonton was pretty much the centre of the hockey universe. The Oilers played the most exciting style, had the most exciting player(s), and were led by the most innovative coach/GM. All of this from one of the smallest markets in the league (even back then).

    The Oilers were never very far away from any conversation about the league, or the game. Think of the Yankees now – that’s how much profile they had. No one gave a hoot about the Los Angeles Kings or the New York Rangers or even the Detroit Red Wings. The “centres of power” in the league back then were Edmonton and Philadelphia, and the second tier consisted of Boston, New York (Isles) and sometimes Montreal. Toronto was a laughingstock (Harold Ballard was an absolute gongshow). Chicago had Denis Savard and Steve Larmer but they also had Greg Millen. St. Louis was so much of a non-entity the Blues almost moved to Saskatoon. Pittsburgh had a young Mario but a bunch of guys named Schutt and Kehoe and Buskas. Buffalo had an absolute jerk playing goal for them (Tom Barasso) and an aging Gilbert Perrault. Vancouver was drawing 6,000 fans to playoff games. You cheered for Quebec if you hated Montreal but you didn’t know a thing about the Nords other than Goulet and the Stastnys. Hartford played its home games in a shopping mall. Winnipeg was, well, Winnipeg.

    It was wonderful. All eyes were on Edmonton. Everyone was trying to emulate what the Oilers were doing, in some way, shape or form. Others like Badger Bob in Calgary decided to heck with the emulation and instead filled notepads and notepads with secret schemes to beat them.

    He finally did … even though it took a bounce of generational, mythical proportions to help make it happen. Ironically, perhaps oddly, the Flames haven’t beaten the Oilers in a playoff series since.

    • ubermiguel

      Beautiful summary of the times. The Flames were 1/2 of Death Valley so there’s no denying their talent, but it really took that crazy own goal to get past the Oilers that year.

      Edit: Oh and small typo: the Canucks series would have been best of 5, not 3.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      I didn’t realise the Canuckleheads of the ’80’s were synonymous with playoff hockey? They can thank the fat headed Oil for choking against the Kings, paving the way for Vancouver’s 1st Stanley Cup appearance, getting swept by the Islanders.

  • Jay (not J)

    That seemed like such a heartbreaker at the time, didn’t it? The team rebounded the next season though and it became a footnote.

    I love these articles Brownlee. Once you hit ’91 can you wrap back to ’79 though? I don’t mind playing groundhog day with the Oilers, I would rather be doing it in the ’80s though than the ’10s.

  • ubermiguel

    Bouncing the puck off the back of Fuhr’s leg reminded me of almost having pee trickle down the back of my leg last night as I slowly slipped into a lack-of-offence coma while watching us get schooled by the Leafs. While watching us get schooled by the LEafs….and their rookie goalie.

  • ubermiguel

    I remember the play well though I am surprised that it happened so early in the third period.

    Kudos to the Flames for holding on for the 15 minutes against a vastly superior and better looking team with nicer jerseys.

    • ubermiguel

      That’s the thing people forget, Smith didn’t screw up in the dying seconds of the third period; the greatest offensive hockey team ever assembled had 15 minutes to score and simply didn’t.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    He’s not only my favourite all-time Oiler, he’s arguably the greatest 2-way forward in hockey history!! I can’t think of another player who sustained that level & quality of both an offensive & defensive game? Gretzky has publicly commented about Jari’s phenomenal defensive abilities, stating he should’ve won the Selke for several years…the Oil were dominating the league, the record book & it’s hardware, so they weren’t gonna give a European Oiler, yet another trophy. In those days, there was still a lot of pro-Canadian bias. Edmonton Oilers, Personnel Director Barry Fraser once called Kurri the Oilers “most complete player”— quite the compliment with players like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey to compete with. “Jari Kurri,” says Oilers general manager and former teammate Kevin Lowe, “was underrated as a player. I really believe that. Sounds crazy, as much as he accomplished, but that’s the truth.” Because of his offensive abilities, Kurri wasn’t given adequate credit for the almost unparalleled two-way game he played. His commitment to defence allowed Gretzky more freedom to create, to roam, to inflict the sort of damage he alone was capable of. “The unfortunate thing about Jari is that he played at a time when they didn’t vote the Selke Trophy to offensive players,” says Lowe. “Either Fedorov or Yzerman won it one year and then it became fashionable. Before that, it was low-scoring players only.
    “This guy was good enough defensively that he could’ve won five or
    six Selkes.”