The First Ring

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.

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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.

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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?

  • Abby Oil

    I truly believe that Kevin Lowe should be in the HOF. His career as a player speaks for itself. His reputation in Edmonton has been tarnished after his executive stint. Even so, he still built the team that went to game 7 in 06. Regardless, this is about Lowe the player and it’s crazy he is not in.

    Had Ranford not been on such a weak Oiler squad in the early 90’s I think he would already be in the HOF. Canada Cup excellence etc should not go unnoticed.

    RB, ROH is a fabulous idea. This team with so much rich history and not just from the Glory Days, needs to recognize other greats. Whether the supporting cast of the 80’s or the legends of the 1990’s and 2000’s that have left their mark on team history.

    • I’d suggest Randy Gregg would have to be the start of any second group. Difficult to leave him off the first group, but wanted room for Smyth and Weight to get started with some players younger fans are more familiar with.

  • Ken McTippett

    You could pretty much put any of the guys who won cups in the glory years in the ring. Like, how about Dr. Randy Gregg? Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight for sure. Maybe Cujo. I don’t know, as you say, this list could be different for everyone. Best just to stick with jerseys in the rafters. If you are a hall of fame guy, you go up.

  • Rama Lama

    So many to pick from………my pick would be Jarri Kurri…………..sweet mits, great defensive player, great offensive player, best one timer in the NHL……….what is not to like!

  • Ken McTippett

    Esa Tikkanen would be the first name I’d put on a potential ROH. He was Gretz’s left winger for many years and later became his shadow for some playoff battles against the Kings. And who can forget his OT goal in Game 7 against the Flames in 1991?

  • Fireball

    There’s a few guys like Lowe who likely should be in the Hall of fame. Ryan Smyth was the face of the franchise for a very long time. He managed to match a few club records. Imagine if Lowe Hadn’t trades him away in his prime what might of been. Anyone who wants to do the research and see how the Oilers got to where they are today you can trace it back to the Smyth trade. That in its self was the start of the joke that became the last 13 years of the Edmonton Oilers. It launched the decade of darkness. Smyth was the heart and soul.. and that heart and soul was ripped out the stroke before midnight on trade deadline day. People who think that’s a stretch.. should look a little harder. It was the first of many moves in which Oilers management bet on the wrong players, traded away guys for next to nothing who would become iron men, wear A’s on Stanley cup teams, dominate the league in the faceoff dot, and be large parts to perineal playoff teams for a decade. All while Oilers management looked for the same pieces to fill those exact roles. It’s when they lost the respect of players and other organizations around the league.. and somehow still lingers today. I will never forget Smyth getting stitched up on the bench missing his teeth and seemly looking more pissed that they are obstructing his view of the ice n what’s happening than the injury it’s self. Fearless net front presence.. he was as likely to catch the puck in his mouth and spit it in the net as to shovel or shoot in the rebound. Captain CANADA 🇨🇦 I thought after Smyth retired the Oilers would find a place in the organization for him.. I thought after a few years of him owning and running a AJ team maybe his experience would land him back in the organization.. to have a Ryan Smyth night would be the least that could do.. To raise his jersey to the rafters would do it justice in my eyes. There’s lesser players numbers hanging around the league. He didn’t have the rings and he will likely never see his name in the Hockey Hall of Fame but he was the personification of what it is to be a Oiler and most importantly what it is to be a hockey player for a very long time. The way the game has gone I’m sure we will never see another Ryan Smyth in the game of hockey and that it’s self is Sad. A man who played the game the right way every shift, every game, who loved the City, organization, and everything it meant to be a Edmonton Oiler.

    • Serious Gord

      How quickly fans forget the circumstances the oil were faced with when smyth was traded.

      Pre-Katz every nickel counted. Klowe was right to trade him.

      • Fireball

        I’m not kidding when I say it was the start of becoming a joke. He was traded away with zero planning or heads up to anyone around the league., he was expected to sign and that should had been done before the season ever started.. his career numbers were better than the people they gave the money too. It was right before Messier retirement night. I was crushed ( my 8 year old nephew cried when the news broke along with grown men and women around Edmonton including Smyth himself ) I had something to say.. I made two big Bristol board signs., and glued them together on a survey stick to insure they would be seen from our row 4 seats. I didn’t want to be a ass and disrespectful to Messier that night.. So I had tried to keep it tasteful. I wrote on one side… Smyth Trade worst franchise move since trading Messier ! And on the Other.. Heads off Kevin Lowe Messier for GM ! As we came through security my freedom of speech that I pay so much for was stripped. Security cornered my brother and myself.. You cannot have anything about Ryan Smyth tonight !! Luckily I managed to peel off that side of it as the glue hadn’t fully set. In that process a lady from the Journal seen it as I was surrounded by security ripping apart my sign and decided to take pictures and write a piece on it. The cover of the paper had Messier and on the Other side is me putting my sign in the garbage. Very large picture and write up. The part they missed was when we got to our seats.. we settled in got a beer when several Edmonton city police along with arena security approached us.. Sir what does your sign say ??? I smiled and said head off Kevin Lowe Messier for GM.. to which they proceeded to pull me out of my seat saying your under arrest for uttering death threats to Kevin Lowe !!! I said are guys F$&&@&) crazy ? It means Fire Kevin Lowe and hire Mark Messier as GM. ( to which was nothing more then our show of displeasure for the way the situation with Smyth was handled ) they proceeded to tryin cuff me as at this point., Myself and my brother aren’t small boys and with our Newfoundland heritage surely not afraid to fight anyone anytime anywhere.. if I was going to jail we both were and it wasn’t going to be for some bullsh$& reason.. it was our willingness to engage them that made them at least stop and talk about., at that point I wasn’t talking anymore.. my older Brother managed to explain that we are season ticket holders and that after what had already happened along with the absolute joke of what they were accusing me of ( Plus we have money for lawyers ) we came to the agreement that I would give them my sign and we would all forget the incident ever happened. They left us to enjoy a piece of hockey history.. if that doesn’t seem like a sick joke to anyone it surely says a lot about the league joke the team became. Almost like defining moment.. to me it was.. I continued to support the team and still do today. Call me a sucker, call me what you will.. I really don’t care.. it’s a sport of passion and I love the game, I love the team ! it’s not hard to see why I would have so much respect for Ryan Smyth !! And to anyone who ever said the Oilers didn’t or don’t deserve Connor McDavid I can’t really disagree but one things forsure.. every single fan, kid, or family who sold out that old tin can every night during the decade of darkness surely Did and Do !!

      • Fireball

        Hmm.. Kevin Lowe gave Shawn Horcoff more money than Alex Ovechcin was making that year.. when asked why their answer was that’s what the Sedins were making how could possibly pay him any less.. hmmm we have Smyth to sign., ( who wanted way less than Shawn Horcoff signed for ) You have the Sendins .. you have Ovie in this conversation., you have Shawn Horcoff in the conversation.. look up the career stats of all these players and there’s a odd man out !! His name is Shawn Horcoff.. So that completely discredites your point of view.. Ryan Smyth should had been the top priority.. did you forget what happened for the next ten years ?? Number 2 .. I would had been fine if Kevin Lowe said in Sept., we are not going to get together on a contract for Ryan and had put him on the market.. at that time there was not a team in the league that wouldn’t had wanted him.. #3 the return was Gaaarrrrrbbbbbaaaagggggeee that he did get ! It was complete miss management in every single aspect!

        • Fireball

          I left one out.. They were sold out every single night and coming off the 06 run. oh did say that already ? It wasn’t the late 90s or early 2000s. The team was on a rise. Sure ownership was in question and it likely wasn’t a group of solid financial backers like they enjoy today.. but there was money and it was pure incompetence that led to the way it went down ! The money was the excuse for one of Kevin Lowe’s many pissing match blunders that led us into the decade of darkness., no one can defend that ! His record and the oilers record during that time is the living proof

          • Fireball

            It wasn’t the trade and it wasn’t the money.. Ryan Smyth was never marketed as everyone in the Hockey world thought there was never a chance that he would not be signed. He went on and signed a contract for more than he was asking the Oilers for.. but again the big mistake wasn’t that. It was not dealing with it sooner and not putting his name out there for a bidding war. That is what it would had been. It wasn’t because no one knew.. not even Ryan himself thought there was a chance he would be traded., not any of the major networks or media even had him as a trade candidate. Let alone the fact if they knew he was available that he’d been #1 on most people’s lists that year. But what ever. It was done. I respect Lowe for his playing days.. I respect him for coming back to Etown and guiding the team through the termoil years of the late 1990s and early 2000s. I respect he was responsible for getting us to the 06 final. I respect him for all the work he does with Hockey Canada. And I even respect his current role with the Oilers., but there’s no mistaking the fact that everything he done from that day forward was a mistake and that had the Oilers got him out of management and hockey oops sooner it would be hard to think the team wouldn’t be in a better position today., likely a Connorless one but the decade of darkness was dark and if the best thing to have happened was the team was ran into the ground so hard we got Mcdavid than so be it 😂

          • Fireball

            PS. If nothing Else And let’s just pretend that Klowe had full intention of getting the deal done but realized last minute that it wasn’t going to be right for the Oilers .. He could had signed Ryan Smyth to the contract he wanted .. road him out for the rest of one of his career best seasons and put him on the market in the offseason ( as he was already being paid from his old contract ) then got value for the face of the franchise .. or at least had a fighting chance to.

          • Abby Oil

            I said to myself I wasn’t going down this road….What do you not get? This is not about Kevin Lowe as an executive or the team management as a whole. It’s about what these individuals have done as Players. And I’m sorry that you obviously never had the chance to see them live. What a time it was!

  • Nellzo

    As I stated in an earlier post, (that was not approved for some reason), I’d go with Lowe, Huddy, Gregg, Smyth Weight, Hemsky in the 1st grouping. For the exact reason Brownlee mentioned. 3 from the BOTB era and a little from 1990/2000 era.

  • McDarryl

    That’s a terrific article Robin. It would be cool to see a ring of of honour on the main concourse. Similar to what MSG did with all the events it hosted. They could have a mini memorabilia under the name for all to enjoy.

  • #97TRAIN

    Not only did Ranford win the Conn Smyth but he also won the MVP in the Canada Cup.
    He was absolutely the best goalie in the world at that time. Down 3 games to one against the Jets and he was a superhero in net.

    • Ken McTippett

      Oh, yes. Billy Ranford stole the 1990 Stanley Cup from the Bruins. I was 14 and remember it well. The Bruins overpowered the Oilers with shots, and the Oilers capitalized on their own chances. Ranford was more than deserving of the Conn Smythe that year.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    Weird, not a lot of Ales Hemsky in the comments. It’s a real stretch to call him one of the greatest Oilers of all time.
    I really only think of one play when I think of Hemsky. Finishing off the GTG against Dallas, what a beauty. He blew the roof off the old barn. Ray Ferraro made it legendary too. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen! Patrick Stephan you should be embarrassed for what you just did.”

    • I wouldn’t expect a lot of Hemsky in the comments based on the context of the item. This is about an initial group of six players not in the HHOF and without their jerseys retired who might best fit a ROH. I had Hemsky at No. 22 in my Top 100, so I really like him as a player. But would he be in the first six in a ROH, allowing that some guys who won multiple Cups and players like Smyth and Weight who didn’t would probably be ahead of him? Would Hemsky be in a second group of six? Probably.

    • Dr

      What about the goal that eliminated Detroit in the first round of the 2006 playoffs? He had fantastic hands and could skate. He was similar to McDavid in that he could handle the puck at high speeds. If he had had a talented centreman to play with, what point totals would he have put up?
      Before everyone jumps all over this post, I am not saying he was as good as McDavid. I am merely pointing out one similarity. Of course, Connor is a superior player in many ways.

  • What the Puck

    Todd Marchant. Tommy salo. Curtis Joseph. Should be considered. 90s guys don’t stand out as much but should be considered. Each an oiler hero in their own right imo.