RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 1987-88 SEASON

88Oilers

The 1987-88 season will forever live in franchise folklore as easily the most significant in team history. It was one in which the Oilers hoisted their fourth Stanley Cup in five seasons, capping a dominating 16-2 playoff performance with a four-game sweep of the Boston Bruins on May 26, 1988.

It would also prove to be the last season Wayne Gretzky would play for the Oilers. With another Stanley Cup celebration fresh in the minds of Oiler fans, owner Peter Pocklington sold Gretzky, the greatest player to ever lace his skates in the NHL, to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million, Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and three draft picks.

With the announcement of the trade Aug. 9, 1988, outraged Oiler fans went from partying on Jasper Avenue 12 weeks earlier to hanging and burning Pocklington in effigy after Los Angeles owner Bruce McNall swung the deal with Pocklington, then jumped a private jet for Tinseltown with the Great One aboard after a tearful farewell at Molson House.

The Cup win aside, everything else that season became a footnote.

RECORD 44-25-11 (99 points), 2nd in Smythe Division 

GD 363-288 plus 75 SH% 15.5 SV% .880

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

Los Angeles Kings Acquire  Date Edmonton Oilers Acquire
Wayne Gretzky

Mike Krushelnyski
Marty McSorley

August 9, 1988 

Jimmy Carson
Martin Gelinas
1989 1st round pick (#18-Jason Miller)
1991 1st round pick (#20-Martin Rucinsky) 
1993 1st round pick (#16-Nick Stajduhar)
cash

Edmonton Oilers Acquire Date Washington Capitals Acquire

Greg C. Adams

July 22, 1988

rights to Geoff Courtnall

Boston Bruins Acquire

Date

Edmonton Oilers Acquire

Andy Moog

March 8, 1988

Geoff Courtnall
Bill Ranford
1988 2nd round pick (#39-Petro Koivunen)

Boston Bruins Acquire

Date

Edmonton Oilers Acquire

Moe Lemay

March 8, 1988

Alan May

Buffalo Sabres Acquire

Date

Edmonton Oilers Acquire

Scott Metcalfe
1989 9th round pick (#183-Donald Audette) 

February 11, 1988 

Steve Dykstra
1989 7th round pick (#140-Davis Payne)

Minnesota North Stars Acquire

Date

Edmonton Oilers Acquire

Moe Mantha

January 22, 1988

Keith Acton

Edmonton Oilers acquire

Date

Pittsburgh Penguins Acquire

Dave Hannan
Chris Joseph
Moe Mantha
Craig Simpson

November 24, 1987 

Paul Coffey
Dave Hunter
Wayne Van Dorp

Edmonton Oilers Acquire

Date

Chicago Blackhawks Acquire

Dave Donnelly

October 19, 1987

future considerations (cash)

LEADING SCORERS

Player

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

Wayne Gretzky

64

40

109

149

39

24

211

19.0

Mark Messier

77

37

74

111

21

103

182

20.3

Jari Kurri

80

43

53

96

25

30

207

20.8

Glenn Anderson

80

38

50

88

5

58

255

14.9

Esa Tikkanen

80

23

51

74

21

153

142

16.2

Craig Simpson

59

43

21

64

15

43

118

36.4

Steve Smith

79

12

43

55

40

286

116

10.3

Mike Krushelnyski

76

20

27

47

26

64

124

16.1

Charlie Huddy

77

13

28

41

23

71

163

8.0

Craig MacTavish

80

15

17

32

-3

47

90

16.7

SEASON RECAP

It didn’t take long after McNall assumed ownership of the Kings from Dr. Jerry Buss until he started working Pocklington about the possibility of acquiring Gretzky. A fourth Cup secured, despite a year in which the Oilers had a stretch of six straight seasons with at least 100 points snapped and with 44 wins marking the lowest total since Edmonton’s first two years in the NHL, Pocklington was willing to listen.

By the time the NHL handed out its year-end awards in Toronto, McNall was in hot pursuit. “McNall leaned over and said, ‘I’ll give you $15 million, plus some players.’ At that time, $15 million was $18.5 million Canadian,” said Pocklington. “I said, ‘Let me think about it,’ and called him a week later and said, ‘I could live with that.’”

Most Oiler fans, it goes without saying, had more difficulty living with the Gretzky sale. Reaction was over the top. Pocklington received death threats. There was even discussions by members in the House of Commons about proposing legislation that would block the trade. Everything took a back seat to the events of August – the Cup win, the trade earlier in the season of Paul Coffey, Gretzky’s marriage to Janet Jones in Edmonton. 

RETHINKING THE SEASON

GM Glen Sather began the season by dipping into what many assumed or hoped was an untouchable core group of players when he traded Coffey (along with Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp) to Pittsburgh for Craig Simpson, Dave Hannan, Chris Joseph and Moe Mantha. Later, he sent Andy Moog to Boston for Geoff Courtnall and Bill Ranford.

The Oilers, clearly, were a team in transition with Coffey and Moog dealt away. Keeping The Boys on the Bus, winners of three Cups and on the way to a fourth, together was becoming a pricey proposition. Then McNall came calling with his sales pitch and $15 million to back it up.

Just 27 when he was traded, Gretzky’s time in Edmonton would see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup four times. He’d win the Hart Trophy as MVP eight times. He won seven scoring titles. He’d tally 1,669 points in just 696 regular season games and re-write the NHL record book along the way. Then, he was gone. Sold. 

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

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

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  • Justincredible

    I believe it was a 5 game sweep as the Oilers had to play game 5 back in Edmonton after the lights went out in Boston in game 4 with the score tied at 3-3.

    What a GREAT team!

      • Canoe Ride 27.1

        All of the player stats from the unfinished game 4 still counted, so it wasn’t “wiped from the books”. It just didn’t have a W-L result. So call it a 4½ game sweep.

          • D

            Actually, yes. An excellent example is that the current NHL record for the fastest goal from the start of the game in the finals is Glenn Anderson’s goal at the 0:10 mark of the suspended game 4.

            Another example: Wayne Gretzky is shown as having won the Conn Smythe trophy for 12 goals and 31 assists in 19 games played, and those totals only add up if you include the suspended game.

            I would consider the NHL’s Official Guide and Record Book (published every year) a more authoritative source than the hockey-reference website.

          • .

            Not awkward at all. If Hockey Reference had it wrong, they had it wrong.

            That said, the series ended 4-0, not 5-0 or 41/2-0 as was put forward. Player stats don’t change that.

          • Canoe Ride 27.1

            Obviously (or not?) my “call it a 4½ game sweep” comment was tongue-in-cheek.

            But that situation certainly lead to some interesting results. Gretzky has the record for most points in a final series with 13, shown as “(3G-10A in 4 games plus suspended game)” in the record book, so it’s officially 4+ games there!

            I still remember the extremely uncomfortable look on John Ziegler’s face when they were announcing to the press how they planned to deal with it.

            The bright spot (for me) was that I got a chance to line up overnight for “game 4” tickets and I was there in the Coliseum for Gretzky’s last Oiler game.

            And now I’m sad again.

          • Justincredible

            You’re like my wife Brownlee, always HAVE to be right in some capacity! Eat your crow and start using more reputable sources I guess. The 5-0 sweep was said in jest. Surely you could understand that……… NO?

          • There’s no need to eat any crow. Hockey Reference is hardly a fringe website. They have it wrong. That aside, it doesn’t matter even a little bit. The series was 4-0, as the first guy making the 5-0 comment knows. He was just having some fun with it, as was I. You feel the need to jump in on this and try to stir the pot, why, exactly?

  • Jay (not J)

    Great team. Harsh summer. It was weird because the Cup and the wedding seemed to suggest that the Oilers were bigger than Paul Coffee or small markets or anything that defied the inevitability of continuing to win Cups like they were the only team still playing for them. It all changed so fast.

  • BaconWrapped

    I seem to remember hearing a story about that Courtnall for Greg Adams swap with Washington where Slats thought he was getting a different Greg Adams.
    Can anyone confirm?

  • .

    Craig Simpson’s 36.4% over more than 50 games and 40 goals has to be some kind of record, no?

    For his entire career in Edmonton Simpson’s S% was over 25%. That’s as crazy a stat as any I’ve seen related to the dynasty years. I guess if Coffey had to be traded, Slats managed to do alright in the return.

  • .

    Imagine the comment section if ON had been around for Jimmy Carson’s first year in Edmonton… He played well but that has very little to do with anything around here!

    Really enjoy these retrospective blogs. I remember the day Gretzky was traded. I was 10 and I cried.