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Top 100 Oilers: Craig Simpson (18)

Craig Simpson had the kind of hands, offensive instincts and willingness to go to the tough areas and stay there no matter what that could have landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for the Edmonton Oilers, it was his back and not his gifted mitts that ultimately dictated how Simpson’s NHL career would unfold – one that was far too short, it turned out.

Simpson scored 200 goals by the time he was 24, but he was just 28 when chronic back problems forced him to retire after just 634 career games, 419 of those in a stint with the Oilers in which he’d win two Stanley Cups. The hands and the heart were willing, but that back of Simpson’s had different ideas after years of taking a beating in the front of the net. That’s where the goals are and that’s where Simpson earned his keep.

Craig Simpson

Left Wing — shoots R
Born Feb 15 1967 — London, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 195 [188 cm/88 kg]

Drafted by Pittsburgh Penguins

Round 1 #2 overall 1985 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1985-86

18

PIT

76

11

17

28

1

49

74

14.9

1986-87

19

PIT

72

26

25

51

11

57

133

19.5

1987-88

20

TOT

80

56

34

90

20

77

177

31.6

1987-88

20

PIT

21

13

13

26

5

34

59

22.0

1987-88

20

EDM

59

43

21

64

15

43

118

36.4

1988-89

21

EDM

66

35

41

76

-3

80

121

28.9

1989-90

22

EDM

80

29

32

61

-2

180

129

22.5

1990-91

23

EDM

75

30

27

57

-8

66

143

21.0

1991-92

24

EDM

79

24

37

61

8

80

128

18.8

1992-93

25

EDM

60

24

22

46

-14

36

91

26.4

1993-94

26

BUF

22

8

8

16

-3

8

28

28.6

1994-95

27

BUF

24

4

7

11

-5

26

20

20.0

6 yrs EDM

419

185

180

365

-4

485

730

25.3

3 yrs PIT

169

50

55

105

17

140

266

18.8

2 yrs BUF

46

12

15

27

-8

34

48

25.0

Career

634

247

250

497

5

659

1044

23.7

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1987-88

20

EDM

19

13

6

19

4

26

33

39.4

1988-89

21

EDM

7

2

0

2

-3

10

10

20.0

1989-90

22

EDM

22

16

15

31

11

8

42

38.1

1990-91

23

EDM

18

5

11

16

1

12

21

23.8

1991-92

24

EDM

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

0.0

Career

67

36

32

68

13

56

107

33.6

NOTABLE

To this day, Simpson remains the NHL regular season career shooting percentage leader at 23.66 per cent. Likewise, he holds the playoff record at 33.6 per cent. That includes ridiculous rolls in his two Stanley Cup years with the Oilers. In the 1988 playoffs, Simpson scored 13 goals in 19 games and sniped at a 39.4 per cent clip. In 1990, Simpson had 16 goals in 22 games (38.1). All told, Simpson tallied 36-32-68 in 67 playoff games with the Oilers. Simply put, Simmer was at his best when it mattered most.

Simpson arrived in Edmonton via one of the biggest trades in franchise history. In November of 1987, GM Glen Sather shipped future HHOF blueliner Paul Coffey, Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Simpson, who’d been drafted second overall by the Penguins from the Michigan State Spartans in 1985, Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and Chris Joseph.

There’s an interesting sidebar on how Simpson arrived. Going into the 1985 draft, Simpson was projected to go first overall in a year when the Toronto Maple Leafs had the first pick. Simpson made it known there was no way he’d play for the Maple Leafs. Toronto instead took Wendel Clark with the first overall pick and Pittsburgh grabbed Simpson, who immediately left school to join the Penguins. Simpson’s trade to Edmonton came after just 169 games with the Penguins.

THE STORY

Photo: Connor Mah

It didn’t take Simpson long to find a home — and the kind of success he didn’t have in Pittsburgh — with the Oilers as he settled into left wing on a line with Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson. Simpson would score 43 goals in 59 games with the Oilers, giving him 56 for the season. Then came the 1988 playoff run. Simpson scored three game-winners, two of them in the first round against Winnipeg, and the Oilers sipped from the Cup.

In the 1990 playoffs, with Wayne Gretzky traded away to Los Angeles, Simpson added three more game-winners, including the goal that would prove to be the Cup-clincher in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins. Simpson’s 16 goals and 31 points left him tied for the team lead in scoring with Messier. In those two playoff years, 20 of Simpson’s 29 goals came five-on-five – most by way of tips and tucks from in tight, where he camped out and dared opposing D-men to move him. He absorbed a beating in the process.

Those were Simpson’s finest hours as an Oiler. While he scored 30 goals during the 1990-91 season, Simpson’s worsening back issues limited him to back-to-back 24-goal seasons. By the time he was traded to Buffalo in September 1993, Simpson was a shadow of the player he’d been. He played just 46 games for the Sabres before his back gave out completely. It was a terrific career – the best of it played in Oiler silks – cut way too short.

This series will look at the top 100 Edmonton Oilers from the NHL era 1979-80 to 2014-15, starting with 100 and working up.

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    • Rob...

      ‘Tough areas’ seems a bit too light of a euphemism. The truth is crosschecks in front of the net were a problem then and are still a problem now. Until ref’s are forced to do their job there should be more players suing the league every year.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Simmer was one of the good ones…too bad he had more Lumber laid on him than on a Sawmills conveyor belt…..
    Now, only if he were able to wear a flak-jacket under his jersey….

  • Derian Hatcher

    Great player who took tons of abuse. Good analyst too.

    Unfortunately for my posse the second he walked into Barry T s the girls we were wheeling left us for dead. (Seinfeld voice of “Newman”….. “SIMPSON !!! )

  • Florescent Oil Orange

    Simpson was a beauty. Too bad his career was cut short.

    On another note anyone who read the latest 30 thoughts. Did I miss the part of the article where it expanded on the title. I have reread it over and over and can’t find it. Must be a victim of editing. If someone could please summarize the whole eberle to st. Louis thing I would appreciate it

  • Connor'sGotHart

    One of the toughest and classiest Oilers of all time. Chop him down get back up and score. Messier, Anderson ,Simpson one of the best lines all time.