They believed that Gretzky would bring the Oilers back and regain the championship this season.
One-fourth of the way into the new season, however, the Oilers show no sign of regaining their dominance of the sport. In fact, despite the presence of Gretzky, they seem to have dropped back to the level of their competition.
Saturday night at Hartford, the Whalers turned three power-play goals and superlative goaltending by Mike Liut into a 6-2 victory over the faltering Oilers. It was the second loss in a row for the Oilers (10-8-1), who are 3-7 on the road.
A year ago, fresh from winning a second consecutive Stanley Cup, the Oilers were as tough to beat on the road as they were at home. They dominated the regular season from start to finish. It was not until Jan. 8 and their 41st game last season that they lost their eighth game.
Glen Sather, general manager and coach of the Oilers, can't understand what has happened to his team.
"I felt we had an improved team in training camp, with more depth and defense," he said. "Maybe I was wrong.
"We've been in the situation where teams have been trying to beat us before, but now we're the team getting beat. We're making silly errors, either taking bad penalties or giving the puck away."
The Whalers scored three times in the first period, including power-play goals by rookie Mike Millar and Kevin Dineen, and the Oilers never caught up.
They scored twice in the second period with Gretzky getting his 28th assist in 19 games, but the Whalers never seemed in danger.
Pittsburgh 5, Quebec 2--The once-ridiculed Penguins have the most points in the NHL. One of only five teams that did not qualify for the playoffs last spring, they scored three goals in the first 13 1/2 minutes at Pittsburgh and never looked back.
With their ace, center Mario Lemieux ending a mild slump by scoring his 19th goal, the Penguins improved their record to 11-5-2. Their 24 points put them on top of the tough Patrick Division.
It may have been a costly win, however. Defenseman Randy Hillier suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first period.
The Nordiques were without center Peter Stastny, who injured a finger in Friday's game.
New York Islanders 7, Minnesota 3--Mike Bossy, who has scored at least 50 goals in each of his nine NHL seasons, opened this season injured, but he hasn't lost his shooting touch.
In this game at Bloomington, Minn., Bossy had two goals and two assists. He now has nine goals in 11 games. Without Bossy, the Islanders were 1-3-1. It is no coincidence that they have won eight of their last 11.
Toronto 6, Detroit 0--In a brawl at Toronto, there were 290 penalty minutes and some excellent goaltending by the Red Wings' Allan Bester.
Bester stopped 21 shots in his second shutout in three starts. Tom Fergus and Vincent Damphousse each scored two goals.
Several fights broke out in each period. Referee Dave Newell handed out 61 penalties in all. In the final period, he gave out 11 misconducts.
Brian Hayward, in his fourth start of the season in the nets, stopped 25 Sabre shots to remain unbeaten.
The victory moved the Stanley Cup champions into first place in the Adams Division.
Boston 5, New Jersey 5--Ray Bourque and Steve Kasper scored third-period goals at Boston to get Terry O'Reilly a tie in his debut as full-time coach of the Bruins.
St. Louis 4, Chicago 3--Greg Paslawski knocked in his own rebound with 4:28 left to extend the Blues' unbeaten string at home to five (4-0-1).