SI Vault
October 14, 1985
The Oilers are helmeted head and padded shoulders above the rest of the NHL. Far below, mere mortals will be skating for the honor of getting whipped by Edmonton in the Stanley Cup playoffs
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October 14, 1985

Above It All

The Oilers are helmeted head and padded shoulders above the rest of the NHL. Far below, mere mortals will be skating for the honor of getting whipped by Edmonton in the Stanley Cup playoffs

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What NHL president John Ziegler ought to do this very moment is give the Edmonton Oilers a bye right into the Stanley Cup finals. Let Wayne Gretzky, a man who hates airplanes—especially when they're going to some place like, oh, Hartford—take a bus to Palm Springs and play golf until next May. Tell Jari Kurri he can caddie for Gretzky or spend the winter at home in Finland with his infant twin sons. Tell Glen Sather to take a sabbatical from hockey and get his hamburger franchise in Banff off the ground. Yes, John, send all those Oilers away—please!—until the real season begins next spring.

Team Gretzky should clinch the SMYTHE championship sometime before the final out of the World Series. The Great One himself puts EDMONTON'S take-no-prisoners approach to the regular season in perfect perspective when he says, "I'd like to score 100 goals this year." At least he doesn't say "this week."

Although Gretzky registered 208 points last season while winning the MVP award for the sixth time in his six NHL seasons, he actually experienced a goal-scoring slump, dropping from 87 goals to 73. Of course, those 73 still were tops in the league, two more than Kurri, who, not coincidentally, plays right wing on Gretzky's line, scored. Every Mike, Craig, Dave and Eska in Edmonton gets an opportunity to play left wing on the Gretzky-Kurri line because Sather, the wily coach and general manager, uses that position as a company benefit to help those in need of a few quick points to make their bonus clauses. As for defense, Paul Coffey is the first Orr clone to really play like Orr (page 54), and Grant Fuhr is the NHL's best goaltender.

But let's forget Edmonton, which is something that WINNIPEG would like to do. Talk about identity crises. The Jets have the league's second-best player, center Dale Hawerchuk, and last season 1) finished with the fourth-best record overall; 2) tied an NHL record when six of their players scored more than 30 goals; 3) had the second-best record on the road—22-14-4; and 4) had the second-best defenseman in the league, Randy Carlyle. But all anybody knows about Winnipeg is that you can't get there from anywhere.

Hawerchuk had 53 goals and 77 assists last season and, says one opponent, "was more valuable to his team than Gretzky was to his. Edmonton probably would have won it all even without Gretzky; Winnipeg would have waved the white flag in January without Hawerchuk."

Winnipeg was hockey's healthiest team in 1984-85, with 12 regulars playing at least 75 of the 80 regular-season games. Continued good health, Hawerchuk, dependable goaltending by Brian Hayward—and, well, you get to Winnipeg by changing planes in....

In CALGARY , the new math is called addition by subtraction. Last season the Flames, who finished third in the Smythe and tied for fifth overall, scored more goals (363) than any other team except Edmonton (401) but had only one player, forward Kent Nilsson (37 goals, 99 points), among the NHL's top 45 scorers. So they traded Nilsson, who had led them in scoring five of the last six seasons, to Minnesota for two draft picks. The reason: Nilsson refused even to think about the checking and was the only Calgary regular on the ice for more even-strength goals scored by the opposition than by the Flames. He won't be missed. Now if only Lanny McDonald, a 66-goal scorer in 1982-83, can recover from the knee and stomach injuries that limited him to 19 goals last season.

Los Angeles won more games (34) than it lost (32) last season, a tribute to new coach Pat Quinn's patience with youth—particularly rookie defensemen Craig Redmond and Garry Galley and rookie goaltender Bob Janecyk—and his steely-eyed insistence that everyone follow his disciplined system. Yes, even you, Marcel. Dionne responded with 46 goals while visiting areas of the ice that he had previously thought to be off limits to goal scorers.

How bad was VANCOUVER last year? So bad (25 wins in 80 games) that fans wisely took to wearing paper bags over their heads during games. About the only Canuck worth watching was right wing Tony Tanti, who had 39 goals. New coach Tom Watt surveyed the wreckage, pondered the prospects for this season and said: "I can't walk on water." Watt does run 50 miles a week, one for each year of his life, as he likes to say. By the end of the season he'll feel like he ought to run 90 miles a week.

Like the Smythe Division, the NORRIS has one team that's a cut well above the rest— CHICAGO . Trouble is, the Black Hawks are several cuts below the Oilers, yet they've really done nothing to upgrade their personnel. Denis Savard (105 points) is a marvelous playmaker, Doug Wilson (22 goals) has a cannon from the point and center Troy Murray is a peerless checker. But the Hawks need scoring punch on the wings, better goaltending and a healthy Al Secord and his 40 to 50 goals. Then again, even if the Hawks get all three, they'll still lose to Edmonton in the playoffs.

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