[Ed. Note: Some lists chronicle the best in hockey. Others the worst. Others the most memorable or greatest or essential. What Puck Daddy’s 2016 Summer Series seeks to do is capture those indefinable, quirky, oddities that occur every season. Moments that defy prediction or, in some cases, logical explanation. Welcome to WEIRD NHL.]
1. Peter Pocklington sells Wayne Gretzky
When you think weird and Edmonton Oilers, how can the first thing you think of not be the sale of Wayne Gretzky? It was on August 9, 1988 when then Oilers owner Peter Pocklington made the move to sell Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings.
The Oilers had just been coming off their fourth Stanley Cup and while they were looking forward to many more, The Trade happened. In exchange for The Great One, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley, the Oilers recieved center Jimmy Carson, forward Martin Gelinas, Los Angeles’ first-round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993, as well as USD $15 million in cold, hard cash.
Taking into account inflation, that would now be the equivalent of $30.5 million, which is just under double what each NHL team will receive from Las Vegas joining the NHL.
The $15 million was the lynch-pin for the deal that shook the hockey world, as was insisted by Pocklington. He was broke, and needed the money to help with other business ventures.
“I promised Mess I wouldn’t do this,” said an emotional Gretzky during his press conference.
Shaking not only the hockey world, the deal still goes down as one of the most impactful trades in the history of sports.
Nelson Riis, a then member of Parliament in British Columbia, had actually urged the Canadian government to buy Wayne Gretzky from the L.A. Kings, and sell him back to a Canadian team.
“The Edmonton Oilers without Wayne Gretzky is like apple pie without ice cream, like winter without snow, like the Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White – it’s quite simply unthinkable,” said Riis.
Meanwhile, a Canadian political leader Ray Martin wanted the government of Alberta to step in if Gretzky’s contract had been sold to the Kings as Pocklington used it for loan money.
Simply put, this deal had nothing to do with the on-ice ability of Gretzky, but rather Pocklington’s idiocy and inability to manage his money. Pocklington would later be sentenced to jail time and subsequent house arrest for breaching his probation on a perjury conviction related to a bankruptcy fraud case. He never spent time in jail as he won an appeal.
To this day, many still believe Pocklington should’ve served time in jail simply for trading The Great One.
In the aftermath of the deal, the Oilers went on to win the 1990 Stanley Cup which many feel much more pride over than any of the other four in the franchise’s history simply because the team was without Gretzky. It proved to the team they didn’t need him to be the best team in the league.
The Kings never went on to win a Cup with Gretzky.
2. The Oilers and Bruins play in the fog bowl
It was May 24, 1988 and the Edmonton Oilers were facing off against the Boston Bruins in game four of the Stanley Cup Finals. Down 3-2 late in the third period but up 3-0 in the series, the Oilers Craig Simpson came down the ice and deflected a game-tying goal past Bruin goaltender Andy Moog.
Mere seconds after Simpson’s goal, a shroud of fog rose from the ice, filling the Boston Gardens. That day, the city of Boston saw thunderstorms that caused the 60-year old arena’s transformer to blow.
The game was forced to be cancelled, and then NHL President John Ziegler forced to enact a part of league bylaw 27-12 which stated:
“If, for any cause beyond the control of the club, a playoff game should be unfinished, such game shall be replayed in its entirety at the end of the series, if necessary, and it shall be played in the rink in which the unfinished game occurred.”
The dominant Edmonton Oilers took the series back to the Northlands Coliseum where they defeated the Bruins 6-3 to take home their fourth Stanley Cup title in five years.
”I think this rule was made by some old-timers when they were worried about someone pulling a switch to stop a game they were losing,” said Bruins GM Harry Sinden, who was vocally against the rule.
While Sinden was upset the team had to head to Edmonton to face their impending doom, Oilers GM Glen Sather said his initial reaction was that “Harry pulled the switch.”
Classic media banter between two of the NHL’s best.
Another weird fact that we can associate this series: Wayne Gretzky was responsible for the first ever team photo with the Stanley Cup after it was won. Gretzky requested a picture on the ice with all players, and non-players in the organization such as management, coaches, trainers, scouts and locker room lackeys. The tradition still stands today.
3. Steve Smith scores an own goal in Game 7
(Scrub to the 1:00 mark for the goods.)
Game 7 and it’s five minutes into the third period of the 1986 Smyth Division Finals when rookie defenceman Steve Smith and his Oilers teammates were locked in a bitter playoff battle against their arch-rival Calgary Flames.
The Oilers had just come off a 5-2 win in the Saddledome, when the took Game 7 back to Northlands. The series went back and forth with teams trading wins all the way to Game 7.
Steve Smith was on the ice late in the game and skated behind the goal line to grab a puck that was settled down by Oilers netminder Grant Fuhr. As he turned his head up ice to make a play through the middle of the ice, the puck hits Fuhr’s skate and bounced back into the net.
Sickened, Smith fell to the ice covering his face. Perry Berezan was the last Flame to touch the puck prior to Smith’s heart wrenching mishap. The own goal was the final goal scored that game and the Calgary Flames took the best of seven series 4-3. The Flame later lost in the finals to the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.
The Oilers at the time had been in each of the previous three Stanley Cup finals and were coming off back-to-back title wins. On a roll, the team was expected to be vying for another cup title.
”It’s not his fault,” the Oilers’ Wayne Gretzky said of Smith at the time . ”I don’t think anybody in the room should be pointing their finger at anybody else. Instead, they should be looking in the mirror. ”We never thought about losing. It never crossed our minds. But now that we have, my hat’s off to them. They knocked off a champion.”
I could very well imagine that was not the way Smith had hoped to celebrate his 23rd birthday.
Now years later, Smith feels like he has moved past the moment.
“That moment taught me very quickly that you can be knocked off that pedestal really fast,” said Smith. “I approach it now instead from a standpoint of how lucky we really are to be around this game and how quickly it can be taken away. I always think of it like the line from ‘The Godfather’: It was the business that we chose. If I didn’t choose a business where I could possibly be exposed, then I would never have had the possibility of being exposed. It doesn’t define you as a person. It doesn’t define you as an athlete or competitor. You have to understand that there’s a possibility that things could go wrong within a game, and they certainly did.”
4. Marc-Andre Bergeron hurls Andrew Ladd into Dwayne Roloson
This one is still fresh for me. Growing up, I truly began to follow the Oilers in 2006. At the age of 10, my parents finally let me stay awake long enough to watch Oilers games, and thus I fell in love with my Dad’s favourite team.
One of my first hockey memories was sitting outside a gas station in St. Albert, Alberta on August 3, 2005. I was listening to the local sports station, 630 CHED, while my Dad was inside.
At the time, I didn’t know too much about hockey but I recognized the name Chris Pronger when I heard the radio host announce that he had just been traded to Edmonton. When my Dad came back, he couldn’t believe the news. I still remember the look on his face even though it was many years later.
The Oilers 2006 team was led by key players like Pronger, as well as others like Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Steve Staios and goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Roloson had been a key-cog in what was the team that went to the Finals, boasting a .927 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA.
It was in late in the final period in game one of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals between the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes when things unexpectedly became a lot tougher.
Bursting in from the left side, Hurricanes rookie winger Andrew Ladd drove hard to the middle of the ice and straight toward Roloson. Coming in from the middle of the ice, Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron attempted to move Ladd out of the way.
Instead, Bergeron hurled Ladd into Roloson who ended up suffering a third-degree sprain of his right MCL. Out for the series, the Oilers relied on a combination of Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkanen to man the net.
The team rallied around the new goaltenders and helped take the series to seven games where they eventually lost.
As an eight-seed in the west, the Oilers knocked off the number one seed Detroit Red Wings, the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks, as well as the sixth-seeded Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on their way to face off against the Hurricanes, who had been the second-seed in the east.
The whole playoff series was truly a thing of miracles, as it was the first time an eighth-seeded team vied for the Stanley Cup.
Looking back, I am always left wondering what could’ve been. Even without their star goalie, the ability for the Oilers to take the series to seven games shows the type of team they had. Could they have been deemed Cup champions had Roloson not been injured?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
5. Ales Hemsky scores after Patrik Stefan blows a tire
Like the Chris Pronger trade, Patrik Stefan missing an empty net is another of my earliest hockey memories.
Already up 5-4, Stefan’s Dallas Stars were ready to close out the game. Back-to-back gaffes by Marc-Andre Bergeron to try and make something happen (he had a lot) led to Patrick Stefan skating towards an empty net with 13 seconds left in the game.
As he went across the ice to slide the puck into the yawning cage, the puck jumped over his stick, and he went crashing into the ends boards. Petr Sykora was at the right place at the right time for the Oilers, and fired a stretch pass up the ice to Ryan Smyth.
Once in the offensive zone with the puck, Smyth centered the puck to Ales Hemsky, who made an absolutely remarkable move to score.
“Can you believe what we just saw?” cheered Oilers commentator Peter Loubardias.
The call by Loubardias will go down as one of my favourites of all-time and always stands out to me.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Patrik Stefan, you should be embarrassed for what you just did,” said the other commentator Ray Ferraro. “That does not belong in the National Hockey League.”
“We were bestowed upon a miracle at the end,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. “I have never seen anything like it. It’s one of those moments in hockey that you’ll remember forever. It turned a disaster into a debacle.”
Great quotes right there. In a way, the missed net was a catalyst for the end of Stefan’s NHL career as the following season he was no longer in the NHL. From the missed net, to the phenomenal play in the offensive zone by Ales Hemsky to score, the whole ordeal will go down as one of the craziest moments in the history of the league.
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About the author: Zach started blogging from his Mom’s basement years after falling in love with the ‘06 Oilers. Now he’s writing for OilersNation and still living in his Mom’s basement. Believe it or not, he went to school so he could do this. Go yell at him on twitter: @zjlaing.