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.
RULES (SOME OF THEM)
- 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.