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Greatest NHL Teams

1983-84 Oilers voted No. 9 Greatest NHL Team

Set scoring records on way to winning Stanley Cup, starting dynasty

by Stu Hackel / Special to NHL.com

The Edmonton Oilers were young, brash and ultra-talented. Their best player was more than that: Wayne Gretzky was a hockey genius. They needed some seasoning first, needed to learn from some early stumbles. But they progressed quickly and coalesced into a hugely entertaining group that captured the sporting world's imagination even before they won their first Stanley Cup championship in 1984, their fifth season in the NHL.

 

Video: 1983-84 Oilers dethrone Islanders to win Stanley Cup

 

By any measure, the 1983-84 Oilers were dominant. They finished first overall with 119 points, 15 more than anyone else. They won the Smythe Division by 37 points and the Campbell Conference by 31. But it's their explosive offense that boosts them into the NHL's Top 10.

Assembled by general manager/coach Glen Sather with indispensable input from chief scout Barry Fraser, the Oilers smashed offensive records, then leapfrogged them. In 1983-84, they scored 446 goals, an average of 5.58 per game, records that still stand today. They also set the NHL record for most assists (736, a number they exceeded two years later) and most points scored (1,182, still a record).

 

[1983-84 Edmonton Oilers roster]

 

"We were just so strong offensively in the early '80s," Gretzky, their captain, told NHL.com. "That was our forte as a team. Glen wanted us to win 6-5 and 7-6."

And they often did. The 1983-84 Oilers were the first team with three 50-goal scorers: Gretzky (87), linemate Jari Kurri (52) and Glenn Anderson (54). Defenseman Paul Coffey's 40 allowed them to tie the record of four 40-goal scorers they set in 1982-83. The Oilers also tied the NHL record of four 100-point scorers, with Gretzky (205) topping 200 points for the second time and winning his fourth Art Ross Trophy to go with his fifth Hart Trophy.

 

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Gretzky also had a 51-game point streak, still the NHL record, as is his 1.18 goals-per-game average. Edmonton was even dangerous when playing down a man: The Oilers' 36 shorthanded goals are still the single-season NHL record. 

The Oilers jumped onto everybody's radar even before joining the NHL. They were still in the World Hockey Association when they acquired Gretzky, a skinny 17-year-old from the Indianapolis Racers on Nov. 2, 1978.

"I was a kid, 17 years old, 145 pounds, I had just been traded and scared to death," he said. "I walked into Glen's office and he told me he wanted me to come live with him, which I did. He said, 'In September, we're going to be in the National Hockey League. One day, you're going to be captain of this team and you're going to lift the Stanley Cup.' I'm 17 and I'm thinking, 'OK, that sounds good to me.'"

Video: 1984 Cup Final, Gm5: Oilers take the Cup from Isles

By 1984, five years after the Oilers were one of four WHA teams to join the NHL, it all came true.

With a core of stars -- Gretzky, Kurri, Anderson and Mark Messier up front, with Coffey and Kevin Lowe on defense and a strong goalie tandem of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog -- largely built through the draft, they evolved into a high-octane powerhouse, first reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 1983.

But they learned a valuable lesson while being swept by the New York Islanders, who won their fourth consecutive championship. As they exited Nassau Coliseum following Game 4, Gretzky and Lowe dreaded the walk past the Islanders dressing room. But while the players' families and team staff celebrated, the Islanders themselves were, as Gretzky recalls, "beat up and banged up and mentally exhausted." They had out-sacrificed Edmonton.

"That's how you win championships," Lowe said to Gretzky.

The Oilers took that lesson to heart in 1983-84, and Messier, especially, started doing whatever it took to win. When Sather moved the All-Star left wing to center in February, it gave the Oilers a big body in the middle to contain opponents' stronger centers and freed up Gretzky, who Sather now could match against smaller foes.

"It changed the Oilers organization," Gretzky says, adding that the 1984 playoffs became Messier's "coming-out party, when people realized he was on the level of Trottier, Beliveau, Gordie Howe," a potent combination of skill and toughness.

Messier was a postseason force and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. In the fierce, tight second-round series against the provincial rival Calgary Flames, he bulldozed them, injuring forward Mike Eaves and defenseman Al MacInnis in a wild, see-saw Game 7, a come-from-behind 7-4 victory.

He continued to dominate in the Final, a rematch against the Islanders. As Fuhr was stealing Game 1, a 1-0 victory, Messier knocked down Denis Potvin during a rush to the New York net -- unheard of since Potvin always knocked down everyone else. Messier showed his skill in Game 3; with the series tied, he turned the tide decisively toward Edmonton when he split Potvin and defense partner Gord Dineen to even the game 2-2 and ignite a 7-2 win.

Video: Memories: Messier scores a key goal against the Isles

Another 7-2 victory followed in Game 4, and when Dave Lumley's empty-net goal clinched Game 5 and the delirious Northlands Coliseum crowd reveled in impending glory, a face-painted Oilers fan named Sandy "The Flame" Monteith climbed a staircase in the Coliseum's seating area. On his head, he wore a construction helmet topped off by a miniature Stanley Cup. Before play resumed, his cohort, Larry "Superfan" Ash -- who usually roamed the arena each game, rallying fans and annoying opponents with a handheld police siren and a small battery-powered sound system -- triggered a mixture of flash powder and shotgun powder inside the Cup sitting on Monteith's skull. A 15-foot column of fire shot straight up into the air.

It was the exclamation point on the start of a new dynasty.

 

[MORE TO EXPLORE: All-Time Stanley Cup Winners | NHL 100 | READ: Greatest NHL Teams | WATCH: Greatest NHL Teams]

 

The Greatest NHL Teams were voted by fans during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as part of the NHL Centennial Celebration. Stanley Cup championship teams from 1918-2016 were eligible, and the top 10 were announced during the 2017 Final.

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