Tikkanen has to. It's every man for himself on the Oilers, one of the few NHL teams without a bona fide enforcer. "We miss McSorley very much," says Green. Adds Messier, "With all the talk about Wayne, you don't hear a lot about us losing McSorley and Krushelnyski. But with them went a lot of experience and character and size."
To help beef up the Oilers, Sather got journeyman tough-guy Glen Cochrane from the Chicago Blackhawks last month. But Cochrane isn't exactly Mike Tyson, either: Lyndon Byers of the Boston Bruins felled Cochrane with one punch—a right uppercut—when they squared off in Edmonton's 4-3 overtime loss in Boston last week.
Indeed, the best fighter the Oilers have now is probably Messier, who has been thrown out of two of Edmonton's three losses to Calgary this season, both times for fighting, and who was given a six-game suspension for hitting Vancouver's Rich Sutter in the mouth with his stick on Oct. 23. "We may still have to make a move between now and the playoffs," says Sather, who cannot afford to have Messier as his sole enforcer if the Oilers are to have any chance of beating the Flames in postseason play.
You would have thought that with the departure of Gretzky, Edmonton would have become more defense-minded and thus lowered its goals-against average. Not so. The Oilers have allowed 11 more goals this season than at the same time in '87, and Fuhr, their five-time All-Star in the nets, has been struggling. "I've had more bad games this season than in my first seven as a pro," said Fuhr after being yanked during a 7-4 loss to Calgary on Dec. 2. "I'm playing like a dog."
After tending goal in an NHL-record 75 of Edmonton's 80 regular-season games and 19 playoff games in 1987-88, Fuhr put his feet up last summer and relaxed. He came to training camp about 10 pounds overweight and hurt his knee while trying to play himself into shape. He has been trying ever since to regain his form. Fuhr's weight is down to where it should be—189 pounds—but his goals-against average has ballooned from 3.43 in 1987-88 to 4.17.
Fuhr wouldn't be the first All-Star goalie to fall into a season-long slump. As of Sunday, the Oilers were 9-10-2 in games he had started, compared with 10-2-1 in games started by his backup, Bill Ranford. "Maybe Grant's head is away from the ice," says Sather. "But he'll be there when it matters. Let the other guys carry the load for a while." One of Fuhr's endorsements is for NuMaid Dairy Products, a competitor of Palm Dairies, which is owned by Pocklington, who's about as popular a figure in Edmonton these days as Ebenezer Scrooge.
"There's been a lot of negativism in Edmonton because of the trade," says Green. "Who can tell how much effect that has on the players? But we're going to surprise some people yet. We have to raise ourselves to another level, but we can do it."
Indeed, Edmonton's talent is comparable with anyone's in the league, but it's no longer intimidating talent. The only way the Oilers can elevate themselves to a championship level is for the players to decide that they are willing to skate through a wall built, owned and paid for by Pocklington. Question is, will they?