EDMONTON HAS MAKINGS OF A . . .DYNASTY : Oilers, Winners of Last Two Stanley Cups, Have All the Ingredients to Stay Dominant
Tthey’re beginning to mention the word “dynasty” around Edmonton. It’s not much more than a whisper right now. Such things often get started that way.
In fact, it’s how dynasties get started, at least in the National Hockey League. A team meets adversity, learns from it and, in the end, conquers it.
The Oilers now have won two consecutive Stanley Cups. They are clearly the dominant team in hockey and their style -- based on attacking with speed, deadly shooters and passers but spiced with superb goaltending and an underrated defense -- has taken hold in the NHL.
To call the Oilers a dynasty at this point is unfair. But the makings certainly are there for them to continue winning for several years and challenge the greatest of NHL clubs -- the 1955-60 Canadiens, 1962-64 Maple Leafs, 1976-79 Canadiens and 1980-83 Islanders.
They are young (average age 26 1/2 years) yet experienced and their key players -- Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and Kevin Lowe -- are only approaching their primes.
They are have the most awesome attack the NHL has ever seen. Their goalies, Fuhr and Andy Moog, are solid and mature beyond their years.
And, as any of their players will tell you, the Oilers keep getting better.
“Sure, we are a better team now,” Coffey said. “Maturity has made that happen. We’ve experienced a lot together and grown together.”
Added Gretzky, the cornerstone of the championships: “Give the credit to the coaching staff. They’ve put together a great team and gotten us to play as best as we can. They never miss anything.”
That coaching staff might undergo some changes because Glen Sather -- who also serves as general manager and president of the team -- is expected to concentrate on front-office duties next year and promote assistant John Muckler to the head coaching job. Ted Green is the other coach.
Together, they have divided the coaching chores. And Sather has entrusted finding the talent to Barry Fraser, formerly the chief scout and now the director of player personnel.
Only Sather, Gretzky, Dave Hunter and Dave Semenko remain from the team’s World Hockey Association days. A charter member of that league, the Oilers never won the WHA championship. They entered the NHL in the 1979 merger with little to show -- except for Gretzky, who was purchased from the Indianapolis Racers before they went under in 1978.
By 1981, the Oilers were making waves in the NHL. Lowe, Coffey, Anderson, Messier, Kurri and Moog were aboard. They shocked Montreal with a three-game sweep in the opening round of the playoffs and gave the Islanders their toughest time that spring. The next year, Edmonton was second in points to the Islanders and set all kinds of scoring records.
But they flopped in the first round of the playoffs, losing to a vastly inferior Los Angeles team, with Fuhr having an especially rough time.
“We weren’t ready to win, we weren’t mature enough,” Gretzky said. “We deserved what happened to us because we didn’t have any discipline, didn’t listen when the coaches told us what needed to be done. We went out and did it our way and lost.”
Like a team on a mission, the Oilers responded with another sensational campaign the next year. They stormed into the finals, where they met the three-time champion Islanders. Still somewhat brash and supremely confident of their skills, the Oilers felt their time had come.
It had not. The Islanders shut them out in Game 1 at Edmonton and went on to sweep the series. Once again, the Oilers had to deal with questions that could only be answered from deep within. Could they ever find the missing ingredient?
They answered the questions last spring, beating the Islanders at their own tight-checking style to capture the opener of the finals, then sweeping three games at home for their first championship.
Now, after a second straight Stanley Cup, the doubters have disappeared. And the whispers of dynasty are beginning to surface.