Being somebody who doesn’t mind the occasional stroll down memory lane when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers, I’ve been having fun compiling and writing the Top 100 Oilers of all-time list over the last several months.
Every now and then, something I come across while putting together and researching the list – a quote or a situation I’d forgotten or a tidbit I didn’t know of at all – triggers another train of thought. Likewise, many of your responses in the comments section have done the same.
Such was the case on Thursday with the profile I did on Vincent Damphousse, my No. 56 on the Top 100 list, specifically as it pertained to the Oilers trading him away to the Montreal Canadiens for Shayne Corson. Ambassador humantorch responded: “Ugh. Shayne Corson. If you did a Top 100 Worst Oilers Of All Time list he’d probably hit first overall.”
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First, given that it’ll take another year to get through the rest of the Top 100 list (at four profiles a month), I won’t be doing a Top 100 list of the worst Oilers of all-time anytime soon. Second, Corson wouldn’t be at the top of that list – he was a pretty good player, but he was a me-first guy and a bad captain who did very little for team harmony.
The comment did get me thinking, though, about who’d make the list of the worst five Oilers over the last 16 years dating back to when Kevin Lowe took over from Glen Sather as GM. That’s a stretch that’s also seen Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish and Peter Chiarelli occupy the GM’s chair and a long list of bad choices that can’t be covered in just five names. Here’s my list:
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5. CAM BARKER

As a reclamation project, I didn’t mind the signing of Barker, who was selected third overall in the 2004 Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, at the time even though the Oilers paid him too much (one-year for $2.25 million) after he was bought out by Minnesota. Plodding and prone to both mistakes and injuries, Barker played just 25 games for the Oilers before being allowed to walk at the end of the season. Barker was named Top Defenceman in the KHL last season – the same honor bestowed fellow former Oiler Anton Belov a few years ago.

4. WILL ACTON

Acton was a career minor-leaguer before the Oilers, desperate to fill a black hole at centre, summoned him to Edmonton, and he’s been a minor-leaguer since. A cynic would suggest Acton only got his shot because of his ties to former Toronto Marlies’ coach Dallas Eakins and because his dad, Keith Acton, was on Eakins’ coaching staff in Edmonton (they’d be right). Acton played 33 games with the Oilers 2013-15, tallying 3-2-5. He wasn’t an NHL caliber player then and he hasn’t had a sniff since.
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3. JIRI DOPITA

Dopita was a player with a reputation as a great player for the Czech Republic – he was consistently referred to as the best player in the world not playing in the NHL – before he made his debut with Philadelphia in 2001-02 (11-16-27 in 52 games). The Oilers acquired him before the 2002-03 season and inked him to a one-year deal for $1.75 million. Dopita was old (34), slow and a bad fit on the ice and in the dressing room. He had just 1-5-6 through 21 games when the experiment ended and the player known as “Dopi” was placed on waivers in November.

2. NIKITA NIKITIN

Desperation breeds bad decisions and the decision by MacTavish to ink Nikitin to a two-year contract worth $9 million certainly falls into that category. As was the case with Barker years before, a lack of proven NHL defencemen in Edmonton prompted the Oilers to overpay for Nikitin, who was at best a third-pairing guy. Nikitin responded to the richest contract of his NHL career by showing up out of shape. Back problems took care of the rest. Nikitin produced just 4-7-11 in his 53 games. Nikitin is gone and so is former AGM Scott Howson, who had the big Russian as the GM in Columbus and helped convince MacTavish signing him was a good idea.
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1. ERIC BELANGER

The Belanger Triangle seemed like a reasonable bet as a depth centre who could score a little and win face-offs when the Oilers signed him to a three-year deal for $5.25 million. He’d produced 33-41 points in eight straight seasons before arriving in Edmonton at 34 years old. In his first season here, 2011-12, his production fell off a cliff (4-12-16 in 78 games) and he criticized Nail Yakupov for a goal celebration. When shown the door after a second season in which he produced 0-3-3 in 26 games, the Triangle took the low road and bitched on Twitter about how “the kids” ran the room and how Edmonton was a graveyard for players. Not particularly classy after cashing all those cheques for next-to-no return.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • Anybody rummaging through their hockey card collection after Wayne Gretzky’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee rookie card sold for $465,000 U.S. ($605,000 Cdn.) at auction Thursday? I’m no expert on card grading and I get it that if this card is the best of the best for a player who was the best of the best it’s worth a pretty penny, but $465,000? I’ve had a Gretzky rookie card tucked away for 25 years and it looks next to perfect to me. If you’re interested, I’ll let it go for 10 per cent of that.
  • I’m all for moving the Gretzky statue to the new rink and it was a particularly fitting touch to have Don Begg, the man who cast the stature for original sculptor John Weaver, haul it away Thursday for refurbishing at his foundry in Cochrane. Weaver passed away in 2012. 
  • The Oilers Heritage Classic jersey will be revealed in Winnipeg today. The Oilers play the Jets outdoors at Investors Group Field Oct. 23.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.
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RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE