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Top 100 Oilers: Paul Coffey (6)

Paul Coffey can’t be credited with revolutionizing the way the position of defence was played in the NHL because Bobby Orr more than took care of that a generation earlier in the late-1960s and early-1970s. Coffey simply picked up the torch and skated with it like nobody else could with the Edmonton Oilers after knee injuries cut Orr’s brilliant career short.

For my money, Orr and Coffey had and have no equals when it came to generating sheer excitement with their ability to skate and rush the puck from the back end, leaving defenders grasping at air as they zigged and zagged seemingly effortlessly up the ice. Even accounting for the great Orr, I’ve never seen a better skater than Coffey – especially the version Edmonton fans saw before he was traded away over a contract holdout complicated by some ill-timed criticism by owner Peter Pocklington.

Paul Coffey

Defense
Born Jun 1st, 1961 — Weston, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 200 [183 cm/91 kg]

Drafted by Edmonton Oilers

Round 1 #6 overall 1980 NHL Entry Draft

BY THE NUMBERS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

TOI

ATOI

1980-81

19

EDM

74

9

23

32

4

130

113

8.0

1981-82

20

EDM

80

29

60

89

35

106

234

12.4

1982-83

21

EDM

80

29

67

96

52

87

259

11.2

1983-84

22

EDM

80

40

86

126

52

104

258

15.5

1984-85

23

EDM

80

37

84

121

55

97

284

13.0

1985-86

24

EDM

79

48

90

138

61

120

307

15.6

1986-87

25

EDM

59

17

50

67

12

49

165

10.3

1987-88

26

PIT

46

15

52

67

-1

93

193

7.8

1988-89

27

PIT

75

30

83

113

-10

195

342

8.8

1989-90

28

PIT

80

29

74

103

-25

95

324

9.0

1990-91

29

PIT

76

24

69

93

-18

128

240

10.0

1991-92

30

TOT

64

11

58

69

1

87

232

4.7

1991-92

30

PIT

54

10

54

64

4

62

207

4.8

1991-92

30

LAK

10

1

4

5

-3

25

25

4.0

1992-93

31

TOT

80

12

75

87

16

77

254

4.7

1992-93

31

LAK

50

8

49

57

9

50

182

4.4

1992-93

31

DET

30

4

26

30

7

27

72

5.6

1993-94

32

DET

80

14

63

77

28

106

278

5.0

1994-95

33

DET

45

14

44

58

18

72

181

7.7

1995-96

34

DET

76

14

60

74

19

90

234

6.0

1996-97

35

TOT

57

9

25

34

11

38

110

8.2

1996-97

35

HAR

20

3

5

8

0

18

39

7.7

1996-97

35

PHI

37

6

20

26

11

20

71

8.5

1997-98

36

PHI

57

2

27

29

3

30

107

1.9

1998-99

37

TOT

54

2

12

14

-7

28

87

2.3

1020

18:53

1998-99

37

CHI

10

0

4

4

-6

0

8

0.0

154

15:22

1998-99

37

CAR

44

2

8

10

-1

28

79

2.5

866

19:41

1999-00

38

CAR

69

11

29

40

-6

40

155

7.1

1558

22:35

2000-01

39

BOS

18

0

4

4

-6

30

28

0.0

341

18:57

7 yrs EDM

532

209

460

669

271

693

1620

12.9

5 yrs PIT

331

108

332

440

-50

573

1306

8.3

4 yrs DET

231

46

193

239

72

295

765

6.0

3 yrs CAR,HAR

133

16

42

58

-7

86

273

5.9

2424

21:27

2 yrs LAK

60

9

53

62

6

75

207

4.3

2 yrs PHI

94

8

47

55

14

50

178

4.5

1 yr BOS

18

0

4

4

-6

30

28

0.0

341

18:57

1 yr CHI

10

0

4

4

-6

0

8

0.0

154

15:22

Career

1409

396

1135

1531

294

1802

4385

9.0

2919

20:42

PLAYOFFS

Season

Age

Tm

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

S

S%

1980-81

19

EDM

9

4

3

7

5

22

26

15.4

1981-82

20

EDM

5

1

1

2

-3

6

9

11.1

1982-83

21

EDM

16

7

7

14

15

14

42

16.7

1983-84

22

EDM

19

8

14

22

21

21

66

12.1

1984-85

23

EDM

18

12

25

37

26

44

66

18.2

1985-86

24

EDM

10

1

9

10

0

30

33

3.0

1986-87

25

EDM

17

3

8

11

7

30

43

7.0

1988-89

27

PIT

11

2

13

15

-7

31

48

4.2

1990-91

29

PIT

12

2

9

11

-1

6

37

5.4

1991-92

30

LAK

6

4

3

7

-5

2

28

14.3

1992-93

31

DET

7

2

9

11

-3

2

24

8.3

1993-94

32

DET

7

1

6

7

6

8

23

4.3

1994-95

33

DET

18

6

12

18

4

10

74

8.1

1995-96

34

DET

17

5

9

14

-3

30

49

10.2

1996-97

35

PHI

17

1

8

9

-3

6

37

2.7

1998-99

37

CAR

5

0

1

1

0

2

8

0.0

Career

194

59

137

196

59

264

613

9.6

AWARDS

1984-85 James Norris Trophy

1985-86 James Norris Trophy

1994-95 James Norris Trophy

NOTABLE

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The Oilers already had a ridiculous wealth of firepower up front with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson when Coffey, selected sixth overall in the 1980 Entry Draft, arrived for the 1980-81 season. While Coffey felt his way into the NHL as a rookie with 32 points in 74 games, his sophomore season was his coming out party – he had 89 points in 80 games and, it turns out, he was just getting started.

Between 1983-84 and 1986-87, Coffey scored 100-or-more points three times (126, 121 and 138), won the Norris Trophy twice (1985 and 1986) and the Oilers claimed their first three Stanley Cups. His 48 goals in 1985-86 broke Orr’s record of 46 and still stands – he also had a 28-game points streak that season (still a record for D-men). Most often paired with reliable Charlie Huddy, Coffey was green-lighted by GM and coach Glen Sather to roar up ice and join the rush as he saw fit, and Coffey saw fit more often than not.

While Coffey never fit the traditional mold of what a blueliner should be, it really didn’t matter. Coffey was so fleet of foot that even if he coughed up the puck on one of his forays up ice, he’d simply wheel back and mitigate the damage. Nobody won a foot race with Coffey. At full speed, he’d glide past opponents skating as hard as they could to stay with him. It wasn’t even fair. Another thing about Coffey, he had an underrated first pass.

THE STORY

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The beginning of the end for Coffey in Edmonton started with a contract holdout in the summer of 1987. Coffey still had two years remaining on a contract that paid him $325,000 per season. Coffey wanted something in the neighborhood of $800,000. Things went sideways when owner Pocklington chimed in, questioning Coffey’s courage and commitment to the team in what he thought was a private conversation with agent Gus Badali. Predictably, that didn’t end well, Coffey asked for a trade in September.

“When somebody attacks you on a personal level, that’s too much,” Coffey said. “He was questioning my guts, my courage. That’s what hurt me the most. I helped them win three Stanley Cups, I won two Norris Trophies, played in two Canada Cups against the best in the world. In 1985, I played in the Stanley Cup final with a cracked bone in my foot and had to have freezing in my hip before every game. That was to play hockey for him and win a Stanley Cup for Edmonton.”

Dealt to Pittsburgh with Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp for Crag Simpson, Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and Chris Joseph, Coffey would go on to win another Stanley Cup and a Norris Trophy (Detroit). By the time he retired following the 2000-01 season, Coffey sat second to Ray Bourque in career scoring for NHL defensemen with 396-1,135-1,531. Coffey’s best seasons during a HHOF career were right here in Edmonton, where his jersey No. 7 hangs at Rogers Place.

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.

PREVIOUSLY:

    • Randaman

      Pocklington was a fool. We all know this. Running Coffey out of town wasn’t done by the fans at all. Best skater I have ever witnessed. Yes, that includes Orr.

      • madjam

        Peter got Gretzky to sign a 21 year personnel services contract and basically forced NHL to accept Edmonton with Gretzky an Oiler , much to the demise of NHL as they wanted him open in the draft . Surprisingly Wayne retired 21 years later from NHL play . Without wheeler dealer Peter , doubt Wayne would have been an Oiler . Peter instrumental in building a dynasty here , and that alone does not make him a fool . Small market Edmonton became not lucrative enough for Peter , and many assets were traded and sold off before he finally sold the Oilers . From a fan standpoint it was disappointing the team got pulled apart sooner than we expected , but thankful for at least for the dynasty years we shared in .

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      No, he wasn’t. Coffey was loved by Oilers fans everywhere. There were few Oilers more popular than Paul Coffey and we were heartbroken to see him traded!

  • D

    RB – the two year wait for the write-up on Paul Coffey was worth it. Thank you.

    When Paul wore the Oiler uniform, it was a nonstop party in Edmonton. Paul’s departure was an omen for everything that would come to pass with regards to ownership problems.

  • madjam

    Coffey was super fast , electrifying , dynamic , entertaining and skillful on the rush . A “Catch Me If You Can” kind of player that seldom turned the puck over .Was like Oilers had a fourth elite forward on the ice . No wonder team had so many more goals than opposition . Being a defensive defenceman he was not nearly as dominating , but certainly made up for it in other ways . Comparing Coffey to Orr another dynamic defenceman : Prefer Coffey offence , but prefer Orr as a defensive defenceman even though he was not elite either as a defensive defenseman .

    • Spydyr

      I had the opportunity to witness Coffey’s entire career here. He belongs exactly here on this list and was the best Oiler defencman of all time. You saying he seldom turned the puck over is wrong. Like most creative players he had his share of turnover some very ugly. Some even gave him the nick-name Paul Coff-up.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    When I’m a billionaire I’m re-reading the Pocklington book on sports ownership and taking my act to the NHLs sunbelt teams and not leaving till it is ready to leave with me.

  • Pouzar99

    It’s a tough call either way, but I would have Anderson 6th. As far as the best skater, I’ll take McDavid over Orr or Coffey, great as they were. The speed of the game is now phenomenal and Connor is easily faster than anyone else.

  • Leef O'Golin

    My favorite player as a kid. Coffey was awesome to watch. Nobody…NOBODY could skate like him. McDavid is fast and it’s amazing to watch, but Coffey had a way of making it look so effortless. That’s probably why Peter Puck seemed to think he wasn’t “tough” enough. I was there at Coffey’s jersey retirement and when he skated out from behind the net it was still a pretty impressive sight.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I’m not sure that McDavid isn’t a faster skater, which is hardly a criticism of Coffey.

    Coffey could move faster than anyone between the two bluelines but McDavid leaves players behind within two strides. The other difference is that McDavid stick handles at speed where Coffey seems happy to have kept the puck with him as he finds that extra gear to wheel around an opponent on the outside.
    Nonetheless, Coffey was unlike anyone in his era when it came to walking out of his own end with the puck. And yet, I remember his first two seasons, where folks called him “Coff-up” and feared when he was the last man back to trying to bring the puck up ice.
    Personally, I think Huddy is owed a great deal for bringing balance to Coffey’s D work, not unlike Kurri with Gretzky–always giving him the confidence that there was someone who a) had his back and b) could anticipate what he was going to do as well as anyone.
    All in all, in moving to Coffey on this list we’re in hall of fame country.

    He was a jaw-droppingly good D man and probably as responsible as anyone for the rule change where 4-4 penalties stayed 5-5 on the ice so the Oilers couldn’t put Gretz, Kurri, & Coffey out there along with anyone with a pulse (but most often Huddy), essentially giving the Oilers a PP-like advantage.

  • Serious Gord

    No way Anderson – a vastly inferior second-line talent should be ranked ahead of arguably one of the top ten defensemen in history (certainly top 25)

    It’s a joke Anderson is in the HHOF. He’s tops the list of most over-rated oiler that’s for sure.

    • Northernlights

      What are you talking about? When Anderson played with Gretzky they were more deadly than any other duo, and when it was palyoff time he was money in the bank.

      • Serious Gord

        Anderson rarely played with Gretzky. He never in his entire career played regularly on the first line.

        He had the great good fortune to play on the second line of a team where the first line was number one in the league and other teams were utterly preoccupied trying to stop it while he had messier as his centre against weaker opposition.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Just for clarity’s sake, this list is not about the top players ‘in history” but the top Oilers. Anderson played a critical role in all 5 Stanley Cup wins. He scored more playoff OT winners than any other Oiler, and he scored more PP goals than any other Oiler, including Gretzky, which is saying something given that he was never regularly on the 1st PP unit during Gretzky’s time and Gretzky’s line could play 90 seconds of the PP.

      Coffey is great, no doubt, but Anderson’s the greater Oiler–but that’s just my opinion.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Another nice piece, Robin.

    I swear to God, Coffey could skate from goal-line to goal-line in, like, five strides. Just an amazing skater and certainly the best passer among defencemen in the league during his prime.

    Robin – I’m glad you mentioned his occasional “cough-ups” of the puck. Cough-Up was my Dad’s nickname for Coffey and not a fair one at all. Coffey is, to this day, the best of all the Oilers players to be slowly driven out of town by the fanbase (and later the ownership). Robin notes that Coffey’s trade request had come in the summer of 1987, but really, the relationship between Coffey and Sather and the fans had been souring for at least a year before that.

    By 1986 or even earlier, the leather-lunged boobirds in the upper seats at Northlands were certainly letting Coffey have it … and given how quiet Northlands was back then, you could hear their pearls-of-wisdom while watching games on TV.

    However, many of us didn’t get truly clued into the discontent between the two sides until the famous interview between (I think?) CBC’s Chris Cuthbert and Coffey in the dressing room during the Oilers’ post-game Stanley Cup final celebration on May 31, 1987. It was then that Cuthbert touched on Coffey’s future with the team, given that his dissatisfaction over his current contract was an open secret. Instead of the standard “I’m sure we can work it out this summer and I want to stay here,” Coffey was non-committal to the point that it was obvious that storm clouds were on the horizon.

    Little did we know the storm would last not only to November, but for a few years beyond that. He was the first of the superstars to leave over money.