In mid-March of 1993, the struggling Oilers, who were well on their way to missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, sent Esa Tikkanen to the New York Rangers to join a host of other former Oilers on Broadway.
Earlier that season, Edmonton had traded Kevin Lowe to the Rangers, and, of course, a year before that, Adam Graves signed in New York as a free agent and Mark Messier was traded there just ahead of the 1991-92 season.
Messier’s first season in The Big Apple was a rousing success. He led the team with 107 points, helping the Rangers win the Presidents’ Trophy while also earning the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player himself. Messier and the Rangers would end up losing in the Patrick Division Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Despite coming into the 1992-93 season with the highest odds (tied with the Penguins) in the league to win the Stanley Cup, the Rangers imploded. By the middle of March, head coach Roger Nielson had been fired and the Rangers were wildly underachieving, holding onto a playoff spot by just a few points.
With a playoff spot on the line, general manager Neil Smith sought to spark his team by adding one of the best agitators in the league. Tikkanen’s shining moment had come during the Oilers’ 1990 playoff run in which he scored 13 goals and showed incredible defensive acumen by shadowing Gretzky in Edmonton’s sweep over the L.A. Kings. If the Rangers were going to get past Mario Lemieux and the Penguins, Tikkanen could be a game-changer.
Oilers general manager Glen Sather, who had made multiple deals with Smith over the past couple of years, knew that the Rangers badly wanted to add Tikkanen, so he kept his demands high.
Finally, a deal was reached and Tikkanen was sent to New York in exchange for Doug Weight, a player that Sather had tried to acquire in the Messier deal earlier. Weight was a former top prospect who had been buried on the Rangers’ depth chart because the team was fully in win-now mode.
Drafted in the second round of the 1991 draft, Weight earned top prospect status with a 75-point season at Lake Superior University and a 19-point showing at the World Juniors in Saskatchewan. In his rookie season in 1991-92, Weight scored 17 points in nine games for New York’s AHL affiliate and then produced 30 points in 53 games after being called up to the Rangers.
The night of the trade, Weight and Tikkanen only had to go to different dressing rooms and get new jerseys because the Oilers were at Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers. Neither newly-acquired player really factored into the game as Bill Ranford stole the show, stopping 56 of 59 shots the Rangers threw at him on the way to a 4-3 victory in overtime.
Things came unravelled for the Oilers after that. They went on to win just one of their final 12 games to close out the season, finishing with a paltry 26-50-8 record. It wasn’t much better for the Rangers. They won two in a row after that frustrating loss to the Oilers but then closed out the season by also losing 11 of their final 12 games. The team would miss the playoffs by a fairly wide margin in what was considered the most disappointing season in franchise history.
New York bounced back in 1993-94. They hired head coach Mike Keenan in the off-season and everything seemed to click. They posted a 52-24-8 record and won the Presidents’ Trophy. By the time the playoffs rolled around, they were basically Oilers East. The Rangers had acquired Craic MacTavish from Edmonton and Glenn Anderson from the Toronto Maple Leafs, bringing their total of former Oilers up to seven.
The Rangers would take down the Islanders, Capitals, Devils, and Canucks on their way to winning their first Stanley Cup since 1940. Tikkanen played his role on the team as advertised, scoring four goals and eight points in the playoff run while serving as a pest and playing well defensively.
On the other side, Weight blossomed in Edmonton into a star. In his first full season with the Oilers in 1993-94, Weight put up a team-leading 74 points in 84 games. He would be entrenched as the Oilers’ No. 1 centre for the next seven seasons after that, scoring 577 points in 588 career games with the club.
He currently sits seventh in all-time Oilers scoring, behind only five Hall of Famers from the 80s (Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, and Anderson) and Ryan Smyth. A few years back, Robin Brownlee ranked Weight as the No. 10 Oiler of all-time, walking through some of the key moments he was involved in during his time here.
This is definitely a deal in which you can say that both sides did well, but from an Oilers perspective, turning a player like Tikkanen, close to the downswing of his career, into a player as important in franchise history as Weight, is an incredible maneuver. While Tikkanen helped New York with their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, Weight was instrumental in bringing the Oilers back to life after they had sold off the entirety of their team from the Glory Days. He became the true star player that the team so badly needed with Gretzky and Messier gone.
If you were born during the 80s dynasty but can barely remember those Stanley Cup teams, there’s a good chance that Weight is a big reason that you’re an Oilers fan.