I hope everyone is enjoying these because I’m loving writing them. It’s funny how much stuff you start remembering. When I write these, I figure I can knock them out in 1,200 words and that takes about an hour or so. Then I start writing, and keep writing, and don’t want to stop writing. Please take me back to my youth and bring back this team!
The hot topic at the 98 trade deadline was Curtis Joseph. Trade him or keep him? It was pretty much a lock that Cujo would be leaving Edmonton after the 1998 season. But at that time, those playoff gates were a BIG deal for the Oilers. Cujo proved in 97 that he could get the Oilers to the 2nd round and could get them 5 or 6 playoff gates. That was a big money. So it was a tough decision for Glen Sather, and he elected to go with the latter. Cujo stayed, he got the team 5 playoff gates, and found himself in Toronto the next season.
It was a sad day when Curtis Joseph signed with the Leafs. You knew it was coming, but at least for a teenage kid you held out hope that MAYBE Cujo would want to stay. MAYBE he would take that 2 million dollar discount to stay with a team he’d had some success with. As an adult, what a selfish way of thinking I had.
The next year it was a lock that Boris Mironov was going to be gone. All season it was rumoured that the man known as Bobo would be on the go-go (see what I did there?! HYSTERICAL). He finally was dealt that Saturday which I was at provincials in Red Deer (what do you want from me, to look it up?!?) Mironov wasn’t a potential UFA though, which is why they managed to get such a nice haul from the Blackhawks of Ethan Moreau, Chad Kilger, Christian LaFlamme and Dan Cleary, though Dean McAmmond went with Mironov. It sucked for me just as bad to see McAmmond go. I don’t know what it was, but I found McAmmond to be such a beauty of a player (side note: I just now remembered I didn’t mention Scott Fraser yesterday. Remember Scott Fraser?! Amazing the last month of 98, never to be heard from again).
The Mironov trade because of the haul and because Tom Poti had emerged that season was easy to swallow. Also, Mironov was insanely talented. 6’3, 220, good skater, played physical, had a cannon from the point and a righty shot which was RARE to find in those days. But a guy who always left you wanting more. When he 100% all in, he was a number 1 D-man. But he was rarely 100% all in. 75-85% most nights.
The next offseason at the 2000 draft, Roman Hamrlik had to be moved which was actually Kevin Lowe’s first trade as GM after Glen Sather had left. And for that first season especially, it looked like highway robbery believe it or not. Hamrlik was coming off what would be his 3rd best statistical year of his career. They had to move this guy right when it looked like he was about to reach his 1st overall pick potential. But Eric Brewer stepped in and was maybe better defensively, bigger, moved just as well, and seemed like a kid who would become a true number 1 D-man. In the 01 series against Dallas, Brewer was unbelievable (something else I didn’t mention yesterday). Not to mention, Lowe also got the Islanders 2nd round pick (Brad Winchester), and Josh Green. Green was a good prospect. Had a lot of injury issues that prevented him from ever keeping a job in the old NHL, and once the rules changed he was screwed. Wasn’t a good skater.
Early in the 00-01 season, with the line of Smyth-Weight-Guerin tearing up the league. Guerin and Weight looked great when Guerin first arrived during the 98 season (it was on a Sunday afternoon, they lost…can’t recall to whom, and the trade was announced after the game). But then Weight held out to start the 99 season, and then I BELIEVE he tore his MCL shortly after (it was something to do with his knee, can’t find anything on it though, only played 43 games that year). So while Guerin put up 30 goals, it was basically a solo act. In 2000, Guerin held out and never really got his game going. Smyth got back to what become his norm after 2 down years in 98 and 99, and Weight had a big season with 72 points, but Guerin despite having 22 goals never seemed comfortable. To open the 01 season the trio was on fire though, and then Guerin was dealt.
Part of Kevin Lowe’s rationale for making the move he did was to screw the Canucks a bit. The thought at the time was Lowe beat Brian Burke to the punch on Anson Carter. Todd Bertuzzi was holding out at the time, and most were anticipating a Bertuzzi for Carter swap (Carter I believe had been holding out as well, much like tying an onion to your belt…it was the style at the time). So Lowe, knowing he needed to move Guerin before the trade deadline to maximize his value, did the deal with Boston of Guerin for Carter, with an added stipulation of the Oilers having the option to flip 1st round picks. That was no small addition because that stipulation netted the Oilers Ales Hemsky, and the Bruins Shaone Morrison.
If more GM’s operated like a small budget team they would be so much better off. Kevin Lowe’s first 2 trades as Oilers GM were real good. One of his first signings was Steve Staios for basically nothing. He was pretty solid when he couldn’t spend money, and tried to keep his team in the playoffs every year.
But as a fan, it sucked because while they were getting great value, they were having to move on from all these guys JUST as they were getting good. And then the worst one happened.
July 1st, 2001. I was at Turtle Lake with some of the boys, got home around 2-3 in the afternoon. TV was on Sportsnet. Free agency day wasn’t like it is now, no specials on, just waiting for the desk shows. Could have looked it up on the internet, but I remember not expecting it. I knew it was coming at some point because Skyreach (at the time) needed 14 million in renovations done. So if they couldn’t afford players already, a few more guys would be gone. Anyway, knew it was coming but for whatever reason the news caught me off guard. And for only Reasoner and Hecht?! The guy was coming off a 90 point season, 5th in scoring, still a year away from UFA, and all you got was a failing prospect and a potential 2nd line winger?!? I never understood the hype around Jochen Hecht. He was solid, that’s it. Yet at that time people had it in their heads that the Blues prospects were amazing and on the cusp of greatness. Handzus, Nagy, Hecht, Bartecko, shut up. How’s that working out guys?
Anyway, Kevin Lowe bought this hype. And as I said yesterday, Marty Reasoner ended up become a favourite of mine and many other Oiler fans. After about a year and a half of failure, he was put on waivers. Never claimed and after a stint in Hamilton he came back up and turned into a damn good 3rd line centre. One of the best penalty killers in the league.
Finally in 02 Oiler fans didn’t have to endure a key player leaving, and Tommy Salo had a career year, and Mike Comrie emerged as a suitable replacement for Doug Weight….and the rest of the Western conference became amazing and the Oilers ended up 9th, missing the playoffs. 92 points. Carolina was the 3rd seed in the East and went to the final. They had 91 points.
Never fear though, in 03 the exodus was back on. Leading up to the trade deadline, pretty much everyone knew both Janne Niinmaa and Anson Carter were about to be jettisoned. It was thought at the time they had replacements for both in the system. Ales Hemsky was starting to emerge towards the trade deadline as an elite talent. They also had very highly touted prospect Alexei Semenov. 1 of these players panned out, do you know who? Regardless, Niinmaa netted Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres, while Carter brought back Radek Dvorak and Cory Cross (who, say what you want, was real solid for them down the stretch that season and in 04).
Again, neither deal hurt the team in the end. But it was always just such a harsh buzz kill to see so many of these guys leave, and 1 more should have happened at the 03 deadline but didn’t.
This will sound a bit ridiculous coming from me, but it was a pretty solid source and I would LOVE to ask Darcy Tucker about it someday (had the chance 2 years ago, forgot, I failed). So the day before the 03 trade deadline, the Leafs were in town to play the Oilers. Darcy Tucker wasn’t getting ready for the game as much as he was house hunting, because his agent was adamant that Tucker was about to be dealt to the Oilers for impending UFA Todd Marchant. Marchant was in the midst of a career year, and even though he was very highly thought of as an Oiler, he was a guy nobody was overly sad to see go. He was going to be overpaid as a UFA, and truly was only a 3rd line centre. Anyway, I was never told who backed out of the Tucker for Marchant deal, but obviously it never went down. Marchant signed with the Blue Jackets that offseason and as expected was right back to being a solid 3rd line centre (60 points in 03, highest output after was 34).
This whole piece to this point has been a massive downer hasn’t it? It’s about to pick up.
But not before I talk about the Comrie mess! I remember the rumour that the organization essentially blamed Mike Comrie for the loss to Dallas that spring. Comrie was having a big season, was becoming the face of the franchise halfway through the 03 season, and then I believe it was a night in San Jose, he broke a finger or his hand…something along those lines, and missed a large part of the 2nd half, and never got his game back that season. Didn’t help that Comrie played 1 way for a coach who refused to give ice to anyone that didn’t play 200 feet. So all this combined for the Oilers to make Comrie the scapegoat, and by the draft (according to most), it was becoming common knowledge in NHL circles that Comrie wouldn’t be back in Edmonton.
Here we go again, ANOTHER guy about to emerge that has to be moved. But something started to happen in that 04 season.
It kind got going largely because of the Heritage Classic. 60,000 people packing Commonwealth Stadium for the 1st ever outdoor game in NHL history. I was 1 of them. 6 hours, -25 weather. When asked how it was after the game, my exact words were “so glad I experienced that…never f***ing again”. My brother went to the concession at 1 point which because of the weather was a FREAKING zoo. He got me a hot dog, probably took 7 or 8 minutes to get back to our seats. Hot dog was ice cold by the time it got to me.
But my suffering along with the other 59,999 that day allowed the Oilers to sign Adam Oates. This wasn’t Adam Oates circa 1994, but he was coming off a pretty good season and was very key in the Mighty Ducks reaching the 03 final. He could still dominate in the dot, and still was an elite playmaker on the PP. It was basically all for not, although Adam Oates has confirmed that he paid back the team some of his money that season because he felt he did not live up to expectations. But that’s not the point. The point was, the Oilers were able to go out and get someone! And they weren’t done.
But first they went through an awful stretch. Heading into the Heritage Classic that season, the Oilers were hot. Tommy Salo was awful to start the year but had got hurt, and it was clear Ty Conklin was the better goaltender and really solidified the team. So even without Comrie and Oates yet to come, they were hot. Won 5 of 6 going into the Heritage Classic. For whatever reason though, that’s when it really fell apart, and they didn’t get right until one night in February against the Atlanta Thrashers.
I was there that night. The camera’s never did show the best fight Georges Laraque ever had. Francis Lessard…oh my…he got the absolute F*** beat out of him. Laraque was pissed, I believe because Lessard wouldn’t let him go after Sutton when Sutton went after Brewer. So after Georges quit chasing he took it out on Lessard and Lessard wasn’t leaking, but he wished he had been. As he left the ice I remember his face just had welts all over it.
So that was the night that sprung the team back to life and they were playing well, but realistically the playoffs seemed out of reach. But thanks to money from the Heritage Classic, Alberta emerging economically, and the lockout on the horizon, Kevin Lowe went out and got Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen, essentially for nothing.
Markkanen may not have seemed like much of a goaltender, but the biggest reason the Oilers went to shit that season was because of Tommy Salo. So the duo known as “Conkkanen” took over in net and solidified things. But Petr Nedved was huge too. While Nedved appeared to be fading in New York, he found new life in Edmonton to end the 04 season (as a lot of players seemed to do during this era). 15 points in 16 games, and the Oilers who were completely dead going into the 5-1 beat down both on the scoreboard and in the ally against Atlanta, weren’t eliminated until game 82 when they lost in Vancouver 5-2.
What the hell?! Even though they missed the playoffs and the 05 lockout was coming, things really were looking up for the Oilers. The main thing the NHL was fighting for in the 05 lockout were teams like the Oilers. They saw how good parity had been for the NFL and they wanted that. And Oilers fans wanted that. Careful what you wish for because if there were no cap today, the Oilers would be among the biggest spenders with Daryl Katz money. But that’s besides the point.
No longer would the Oilers have to sell off the players they developed. They could be buyers, and once the NHL got their cap and got salaries under control, the Oilers could be buyers and they were going to buy big.
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