Having written the Top 100 Edmonton Oilers of all-time series a couple of years ago, I take great interest in any debate about the pecking order of players who’ve worn Oilers’ silks. There was some of that just last week, when CTV reporter Nahreman Issa tweeted that she considered Ales Hemsky “one of the greatest Oilers of all time.” That’s right here. Issa is certainly not wrong, depending on what “one of the greatest” means to her.
When it comes to lists and the exact place of players on them, the truth is, there is no right answer – outside, perhaps, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier occupying the top two spots — when it comes to such things. It comes down to how you define great. Is it about individual statistics? Number of Stanley Cup rings? Both? Unless you’ve been watching the Oilers since they broke into the NHL, it can also be a generational thing. Your list is as good as mine.
Beyond the Hemsky item this week, there’s been some ongoing discussion about whether the Oilers should establish something to honour players who have not had their numbers retired and lifted to the rafters. Until now, that has been dependent, with the exception of Al Hamilton’s No. 3, on induction into the HHOF. A Ring of Honour, or something similar. A place where the next tier of Oilers’ greats can be celebrated.
I’m all for that idea, assuming the Oilers stick with the HHOF component for lifting the linen. I prefer it, actually, because while there’s a handful of Oilers who fall short of HHOF induction for me and, more importantly, for those who vote, I think they deserve recognition. If the Oilers do establish a ROH, I’d set the bar for that recognition with the following six names.
KEVIN LOWE. There are hockey people out there who believe Lowe, who was No. 7 on my Top 100, belongs in the HHOF. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, but I don’t think that it’s going to happen. Lowe’s been a player, a coach and a manager here, and while he’s been a lightning rod for debate since his playing days came to an end, he’s the first inductee into any ROH for me, and it’s not even close. Lowe won five Cups here. He scored the first NHL goal in franchise history. He succeeded Messier as team captain. He was an all-star seven times. Lowe played more regular season (1,037) and playoff games (172) than any other Oiler.
ESA TIKKANEN. I had Tikkanen ranked No. 8 on my Top 100. Tikkanen won four Stanley Cups here and he was always at his yapping, hacking and scoring best when it mattered most – in the playoffs. With Gretzky gone, Tikkanen was one of the cornerstones of the 1990 Stanley Cup win with 24 points in 22 games. While Tikkanen played down the marquee from the biggest names on the roster, he was an absolute buzz saw capable of not only checking opposing forwards to a standstill but delivering big goals.
BILL RANFORD. Ranford doesn’t have as many Stanley Cup rings as many players I had rated among the first 20 players in my Top 100 list, but I had him ranked No. 11 because there’s just no way the Oilers win that fifth Cup in 1990 without Ranford turning in the Conn Smythe performance as playoff MVP he did. Compared to all the cookie-cutter butterfly goaltenders of today, Ranford was a flopper, and one of the best from a bygone era. Only the great Grant Fuhr won more games as an Oilers’ goaltender.
CHARLIE HUDDY. Just seven players had their names engraved on all five Oilers Stanley Cups and Huddy, who was No. 13 on my list is one of them. Huddy, who wasn’t even drafted, made a career out of being at the right place at the right time while defensive partner Paul Coffey was up ice putting up ridiculous numbers. His 77 playoff points leaves him behind only Coffey in playoff scoring for Oilers’ defencemen. While Coffey got most of the fanfare, the understated Huddy was quietly magnificent in his role.
RYAN SMYTH. It wouldn’t be difficult to fill the first six spots in a ROH with Cup winners, including the like of five-time champion Randy Gregg, but if there’s another player who grabbed the hearts of Oilers’ fans the way Smyth, No. 9 on my list, did because of his love of the game, I can’t think of him. Smyth accomplished more with less than any player I ever saw because he was, at heart, a rink rat who willed himself to the heights he reached. The Oilers cannot have a ROH without No. 94 as a charter member. No way.
DOUG WEIGHT. With the Stanley Cup teams long dismantled, Weight spent his years in Edmonton as the Oilers’ best player in the post-parade era (until Connor McDavid arrived). The thing about Weight, who didn’t know the first thing about Edmonton when he arrived from the New York Rangers, is he never wanted to leave. Weight, No. 10 on my Top 100 list, loved this city as much as it loved him. Weight never chased the money, which doubled when he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues July 1, 2001. ROH, first class.
Like I said above, there is no right answer when it comes to lists like this. If the Oilers do start a ROH or a similar set-up for players not in the HHOF, who would your first six inductees be?