RE-LIVE THE EDMONTON OILERS 1990-91 SEASON

Jenga Falling

As ridiculous as it seems, given that the 1990-91 edition of the Edmonton Oilers were fresh from winning their fifth Stanley Cup the previous summer, you didn’t have to look very hard to see the wheels slowly coming off the Boys on the Bus – the bus itself was being dismantled piece-by-piece, actually – due to rising salaries and owner Peter Pocklington’s unwillingness (and inability) to pay them.

While the Oilers would increase their streak of making the playoffs since entering the NHL to 12 consecutive seasons, they had to do it without Jari Kurri, who signed in Europe (Milano) when he couldn’t come to terms on a new contract. Kurri joined Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Andy Moog as former Oilers. Captain Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson remained, as did Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe and Charlie Huddy, but the erosion of talent and depth was obvious.

RECORD 37-37-6 80 Pts. 3rd Smythe Division

GD 272-272 – even SH% 12.3 SV% .890

NOTABLE TRANSACTIONS

1991-06-22

David Oliver drafted 144th overall.

1991-06-22

Martin Rucinsky drafted 20th overall.

1991-06-22

Tyler Wright drafted 12th overall.

1991-06-12

John LeBlanc traded to Winnipeg with 10th round pick in 1992 (Teemu Numminen) for 5th round pick in 1991 (Ryan Haggerty).

1991-05-30

David Brown traded to Philadelphia with Corey Foster and Jari Kurri for Craig Berube, Craig Fisher, and Scott Mellanby.

1991-05-30

Charlie Huddy claimed by Minnesota in expansion draft.

1991-03-05

Brad Aitken traded by Pittsburgh for Kim Issel.

1990-11-22

Bruce Bell traded to Minnesota for Kari Takko.

1990-11-10

Max Middendorf traded by Quebec for 9th round pick (Brent Brekke).

1990-10-22

Greg Hawgood traded by Boston for Vladimir Ruzicka.

1990-10-01

Randy Gregg claimed on waivers by Vancouver.

1990-08-31

Ken Linseman signed as free agent (formerly with Philadelphia).

1990-07-16

Steve Graves signed as free agent by Los Angeles.

LEADING SCORERS

Player

Pos

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

EV

PP

SH

S

S%

Esa Tikkanen

LW

79

27

42

69

22

85

27

13

2

235

11.5

Petr Klima

RW

70

40

28

68

24

113

19

9

0

204

19.6

Mark Messier

C

53

12

52

64

15

34

34

18

0

109

11.0

Joe Murphy

RW

80

27

35

62

2

35

21

12

2

141

19.1

Craig Simpson

LW

75

30

27

57

-8

66

18

9

0

143

21.0

Glenn Anderson

RW

74

24

31

55

-7

59

21

9

1

193

12.4

Steve Smith

D

77

13

41

54

14

193

24

15

2

114

11.4

Martin Gelinas

LW

73

20

20

40

-7

34

18

2

0

124

16.1

Ken Linseman

C

56

7

29

36

15

94

28

1

0

49

14.3

Craig MacTavish

C

80

17

15

32

-1

76

13

2

0

113

15.0

SEASON RECAP

With Kurri in Europe and Mark Messier, who’d recorded a career-high 129 points the previous season, missing 27 games with injuries and managing just 64 points in the 53 games he did play, the Oilers were a shadow of the offensive juggernaut they’d been in seasons past.

Esa Tikkanen, better known as a mangler of the English language and a hellacious checker, led the team with 69 points. Klima, the triple-overtime hero in Game 1 of the 1990 Cup final, had 68 points, including 40 goals. The Oilers, who’d regularly scored 400-or-more goals in seasons past, managed just 272 goals. They had to score by committee and rely on 1990 Conn Smythe winner Bill Ranford and Fuhr in goal.

The Oilers stumbled out of the gate at 2-11-2, a stretch that included a nine-game losing streak, but heated up and managed to hit the 40-game mark at 19-19-2. They’d finish the season 22 points back of the Los Angeles Kings and 20 behind the Calgary Flames in the Smythe Division. If the diminished Oilers were to reach the Cup final again, they’d have a tough road.

ONE STEP SHORT

The first step down that road, in the days when the Battle of Alberta still meant something, was intensely satisfying for Oiler fans. The underdog Oilers sent the Flames packing for the golf course wondering what went wrong when Tikkanen snapped a shot past Mike Vernon in overtime of Game 7 at the Saddledome.

The Oilers followed that upset with another by knocking off Gretzky and the heavily favored Kings in six games. Tikkanen, who had two game-winners against the Flames, had another – in Game 3 against the Kings – as the Oilers prevailed in six games, capping the series at Northlands Coliseum with a 4-3 overtime win, courtesy of a goal by Craig MacTavish.

With Fuhr having grabbed the crease back from Ranford, the Oilers faced the Minnesota North Stars in the conference final with another trip to the Cup on the line, but they’d clearly emptied the tank to get that far. The series lasted just five games, and the North Stars were clearly the superior team, winning by scores of 3-1, 7-3, 5-1 and 3-2.

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

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  • Mike Krushelnyski

    The first playoffs I remember being old enough to pay attention to.

    I remember thinking “Don’t the Oilers win all the time??” and “who the hell are ‘Dave Gagner’ and ‘Neal Broten’??”

  • Jay (not J)

    I remember at the time thinking ‘this is the absolute bottom for Oiler fans, the worst of times. It can never be this bad again.’

    I was such a delusional fanboy that I just felt by the laws of nature the Oilers could never sink too low.

    I also used to fantasize about the core Oilers coming back after retirement to run the team in various roles. LOL

      • Jay (not J)

        At the time Kevin Lowe and Craig McTavish looked like saviours. They said the right things and the portrayed a confidence that the organization had not seen or shown since they left. I think that a lot of us bought into their message and started to believe in the long term competitive viability of this team again. They were the perfect leadership group for the EIG – until KLowe lost his sh!t over Pronger.

  • Anton CP

    Lowe was decent GM until Lauren Pronger happened.

    MacT was also a decent coach until Lowe’s Lauren Pronger problem happened.

    Lauren Pronger…probaly the worst thing ever happened to the Oilers.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Like 2006, the 1991 Oilers had a cinderella playoff run. And the other thing they had in common was an overestimation of how good these teams really were by the management of the day.

    • Aitch

      That 2006 team was a very good team; particularly after the trade deadline. Had they had even average goaltending for the first 3/4 of the season, they wouldn’t have just slipped into the playoffs.

      • Lowe But Now High Expectations

        Really. Management decided because of that run Horcoff & Pisani deserved ridiculous contracts. What I’m saying is the Oilers (and there not the only team whose done this) believed they were a cup contender rather than a borderline playoff team. They overvalued some of the players because of a 2 month playoff stretch.

        • Jay (not J)

          That was KLowe in batsh!t crazy mode. He really acted as though he thought that by paying Horc and Pisani like they were first line hockey players he could make them into those players. The sky was falling and he was scrambling. Man, the salary cap is unforgiving to GMs in that position. Colitis didn’t help any either. I wonder if any NHLer has made as much money/goal as Fernando Pisani on that last contract with the Oilers.

          We relive all of these past seasons, but we always seem to come back to the summer of ’06. It needs to be exorcised. it’s too bad that it’s not as easy as ‘bring a goat to the stadium day’.

          Actually maybe it is. We need a night at Rexall to honour Kevin Lowe. &^%# the HOF and hang his number already. Let’s heal.

  • Aitch

    ’90-’91 seems so far away. Yet, this was the season that Jaromir Jagr debuted in the NHL. Up to the point that Kurri bolted for Milan, he was my favourite player. With Kurri gone this kid was looking for a new favourite and that damn Jagr kid with all of his fancy stickhandling quickly became my new favourite.

    But back to this team, as much as no one expected the Oilers to once again win the Cup, there was a sense of entitlement as the Oilers-North Stars series was starting. The Stars team was a bad one who had caught lightening in a bottle with upsets over the Blackhawks and Blues who finished 1-2 in the whole league. But, like the 2006 Oilers team, this one had one more upset in them before they got dismantled by Mario and Mario Jr and Co.

  • D

    Had the team stayed together (i.e. full Boys on the Bus), the Stanley Cup Finals between Gretzky’s Oilers and Lemieux’s Penguins would have been epic in 1991 and 1992.

  • 2Oilers4

    I remember going to see games in 1993-94? when they had “pumper” Bernie Nicholls…Oh god those were bad bad times….my cat could skate faster than Nicholls and there were maybe 7000 in the stands. Wow great times Robin! No thanks for the memories….;)

  • WhoreableGuy

    The Flames fanbase talk bad about how terrible the Oilers franchise is but from the 90/91 season to present day Calgary has made it past the first round only TWICE.

    Damn The Flames suck.

  • This season saw Edmonton start horribly , than catch up playing solidly . If Messier didn’t get injured , and Kurri didn’t bult to Europe , one wanders where this team could have gone .
    I really thaught we where gonna beat the North Stars , especially after we beat them 7-2 in Game 2 .
    And what happened to Adam Graves ?
    90-91 was really the last chanch we ever had at a cup . Messier was just too injured ..

  • Spiel

    1990-91, the start of the 20 plus yr rebuilding plan.
    Aside from one miracle playoff run in 2006, the Oilers have been either been mediocre, below average, or terrible starting in 1990-91.

    No regular season has been good enough to even have them host a first round playoff series – That means no division titles and never even top 4 in the conference. Oh, and there is the 10 years and counting streak of no playoffs.

  • LibrarianMike

    Of course, that series against the Flames was the one in which Fleury had his big sliding celly after scoring in Game 6.

    Funny how Flames fans conveniently forget how that series turned out. 🙂