On June 13, 1979, the NHL Edmonton Oilers arrived. The NHL-WHA merger happened on that day—37 years ago today. It involved all kinds of negotiation—including keeping Wayne Gretzky in the city—and saying goodbye to the league that brought our city big league hockey.

The NHL expanded in 1979, with four new teams—Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. Folks, it was one weird draft unlike anything seen before or since. In what can only be described as a convoluted set of rules, the new teams and the established teams had to jump through endless hoops. As you might imagine, trades made things difficult to figure out after the fact, but the media did have access and we rely on them to set the record straight.


  • The four NEW franchises were allowed to protect up to two goaltenders and two skaters, voiding their NHL rights. Although Wayne Gretzky had never been drafted and no team had his rights, that argument alone became the hill to die on in Edmonton. Peter Pocklington had a binding contract with 99, who refused to void it (and be taken No. 1 overall in the entry draft). Edmonton won out on Gretzky, but only after agreeing to select last in the entry draft (Oilers still killed it, absolutely knocking it out of the park with one of the best drafts in history).
  • The 17 ESTABLISHED teams then reclaimed their players (non-counters above aside) and the Oilers had to give up names like Dave Semenko (later re-acquired), Paul Shmyr (a damned good defender), Dave Langevin (who was a big part of the Islanders run), Risto Siltanen and Stan Weir (both also re-acquired).
  • The Oilers four original pullbacks were Gretzky, Dave Dryden, Eddie Mio and Bengt Gustafsson. The NHL reneged on Gustafsson, he ended up in Washington. Seriously. John Ziegler made it happen.
  • The Oilers got robbed in the expansion pre-draft, but Glen Sather did a fantastic job in the expansion draft. Adding Lee Fogolin (Scotty Bowman was very angry when he found out Buffalo—who he had just taken over—left Fogolin unprotected), Pat Price, Colin Campbell and Doug Hicks meant the Oilers had an actual defense to start their first year. Added to the soon to be drafted Kevin Lowe, this group would form the heart of the Oilers first NHL defense. Young, hard working and in some cases a little out there, but they were fun to watch!


If you have the time, give the EJ a read. Jim Matheson, Terry Jones, and Cam Cole even gives a dandy update on the Drillers! I know for many of you this is probably ancient history, but for me—and at least some of you—this is a wonderful trip down memory lane.

A lot has happened since then, and the last decade has been hell. On this day in 1979, the Edmonton Oilers began their march to greatness. Perhaps this team can do it again, beginning this fall.

  • ubermiguel

    Crazy times. And a good reminder there are no uncomplicated villains and heroes; Pocklington did many stupid things but he did bring the NHL to Edmonton and made sure it included Gretzky.

  • madjam

    Yes , those were the days where we hung onto our young stars as long as we could and built around them . Only later did we deal them , when costs got to exhorbitant to keep a club here did we waiver from that strategy . Hopefully we take that same path again -unlike last 10 years of futility doing much the opposite , and prematurely dealing away youth to early .

    • wiseguy

      You realize that in the last 10 years, the management eviscerated the team of all the veterans for the “youth movement”. Players like Moreau, Horcoff, Hemsky, Smyth, Pisani, Souray, etc. were all moved away so the “young guns” could assume the leadership. The vets weren’t traded away because of costs but because we were fooled by the potential of the “young stars”.

      If anything the last 10 years has taught us is that a rebuild needs to be balanced and the whole “blow it up” and fall for draft picks strategy doesn’t work.

      • madjam

        How many downgrades did they replace all our veterans and young ones with over last 10 years ? Fine way to get worse obviously . Keep the good we got and build around it . The blow it up strategy has not worked well for us as yet , but it certainly has for Pitts. getting Lemieux and Crosby , and you might even add the Hawks to that list .

        What has not worked for us is pushing problem areas around – fill one hole open another one or two . Obviously not balanced .

        • McRaj

          You should listen to TSN 1260, Rishaug was just on the radio discussing how the Oilers need a bonafide #1 D-Man and without that they will not go anywhere. Hey only 10 more days until someone goes 🙂

          • madjam

            Never said we did not need a top 2 defenseman , just disagree on how to go about it .

            If they use Yak and Pouliot , even some draft picks beyond first round , I can live with that sort of scenario .

            We got Pronger for the likes of one decent defenseman in Eric Brewer , Doug Lynch and J.Woywitka . The latter two the equivalent of Oesterle and Pardy or Clendening .

          • McRaj

            But which picks beyond #4, and which players beyond the Top 5 forwards and Klef/Nurse have enough value to land you a first pairing D-Man?

            A team trading away a top pairing D (Barrie, Faulk, Hamonic) will not do so for quantity, they will want quality. Yak and Pouliot may get you Vatanen, who is a first powerplay D-Man but if he is playing on your top pairing then you will be facing the Justin Schultz problem all over again. The Pronger trade was 10 years ago, you need to realize that things have changed, stop living in the past.

          • madjam

            All our players have varying degrees of value , and many trades have more than just one player for another player dealings even today . Come out of your closet , take your blinders off , and maybe you’ll find one or more other avenues much more preferable and less damaging to a core of players you’d like/prefer to keep .

          • McRaj

            Can you please show me an example of a recent trade (last 5 seasons) of a player who was a True #1 D-Man and was traded for bits and pieces? I’ll come out of my closet, but maybe you should come out of the 80’s.

          • madjam

            Just went back appropriately to a trade that Ottawa was in to obtain Zedeno Chara (27 at the time) . Ottawa received Chara , Muchalt and N.Y. first round pick (turned out to be Spezza ) for A.Yashin only . What a deal and a steal . Ottawa already had Alfredsson , Heatley and Hossa as their top 3 ,Spezza was gravy . Two years later Chia got him at age 29 as a UFA for money only . I think maybe Chia looking for a similar deal here ? Good old Muckler made that trade for Ottawa and decided they would go ahead with Wayne Redden , making Chara available .

          • McRaj

            Steal of a deal, I completely agree. But I had asked for an example of a recent trade, something like the last 5 years. That trade was made in 2001. Also, Heatley and Hossa were NEVER on the Sens together. They were traded for each other in 2005.

  • fran huckzky

    I can still remember Peter Puck on ITV in a between period interview that first year. He predicted we would have the cup within 5 years. What a ride we had in those years.

  • Hemi

    It was the summer that I migrated to Edmonton after a stint with 2RCR. Grew up in NL and was a Hawks fan. Became an Oilers fan as soon as I landed at YEG.

    With all of the ups and the bloody downs, I am still in love with this team.

    79 was an important year for me as a young adult and the Oil were very much part of it all.

    I love the Oil….ever since day one!

  • Spydyr

    I remember sitting in a buddies car (parked) drinking beer (we weren’t quite 18) and listening to the games on the radio down the stretch in ’80.

    What a playoff race that season.

  • Wintoon

    That was the day I turned 28 and it was a very exciting day. I have been a fan since then. Strange how some things stick in your mind even with the passage of years.

  • Serious Gord

    Interesting that all four wha teams were relocated or in the case of EDM narrowly avoided it. Had pocklington not had stars like Gretz to sell its pretty likely EDM would have moved too.

    So perhaps the NHL was right to criticize the wha as a bad idea?

    • bleedingoil

      Bettman was the demise of the weaker teams. Revision of free agency rules, paying only in US dollars, the value of the US dollar and his manlove of putting hockey teams in NBA cities ruined the league for a time. Had todays Coyotes or Hurricanes been in QC or the Peg, we would not have the ongoing drama year over year to save the teams. QC and the Peg lost their teams while fans were home sleeping. The salary cap is slowly fixing the league but the product is so watered down, we will have our 5 or 6 powerhouses until some of those highly paid superstars retire.

      • fran huckzky

        I am not a Bettman fan but if not for him, the Oilers would have been long gone from Edmonton. I sat in the Coliseum many nights when the place was half empty and every day there were threats to move the team. You are totally out of touch with reality on your comment above.

        • ubermiguel

          Bettman’s another one of those complicated guys; without him the Oilers don’t get bought by EIG and they get moved. Without the salary cap we’d still be watching the Leafs and Rangers sign all our good players away with big contracts.

  • McPucker

    David ‘bam-bam’ Langevin !!

    Always felt bad we lost him.

    Ziegler may have had issues with the WHA teams but Clarence Campbell seemed to just hate Edmonton, which always bothered me because he was from Edmonton. His attitude went a long way in creating the WHA.