Glen Sather wore the Oilers' sweater in the WHA, coached the NHL's greatest dynasty and managed in Edmonton for two decades. Now he'll finally have a banner to commemorate his hockey legacy in Alberta's capital.
Fifteen years after Sather left the organization, the Oilers on Friday night will raise his banner to the rafters at Rexall Place alongside the numbers of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Al Hamilton and those celebrating five Stanley Cups and many more division and conference titles.
"I think the best thing I could say is if you asked those greats, those players, about Glen having his banner raised, they'll say that he warrants that as much as they do," former Oilers defenceman and current team president Kevin Lowe said last month in Toronto. "You can't say anything better than that."
Sather coached the Oilers during their transition from the WHA to the NHL and led them to the Cup final five times, winning it in 1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988. He ceded the bench to John Muckler after the 1988-89 season but still has as president and general manager for the Oilers' 1990 title.
"Slats was the straw that stirred the drink that got us all together and on the same path, and that's what's so special about him," Anderson said on a conference call. "Glen Sather was kind of the staple that put us all together and did everything that we needed to do to be successful. "
During his coaching tenure, Sather coached immense talent better than almost anyone in the history of the sport. Throw Toe Blake, Al Arbour, Scotty Bowman and perhaps now even Joel Quenneville into that discussion.
Acquiring the likes of Gretzky and Messier was only half the battle. He had to manage egos and make such a talented group worth together.
"He was great at allowing Wayne to have three-minute shifts so he could score 200-hundred-how-ever-many-points he did," Lowe said. "And he allowed Mess to develop into what he was and Coff and Fuhrsie and all those great players. He had the vision of the style of play and that's all well-documented."
Sather, a 1997 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in the builder category, was responsible for ushering in a different era of hockey. Former Calgary Flames general manager Cliff Fletcher said after the "hangover" of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers' "Broad Street Bullies" teams intimidating their way to the Cup, the Oilers represented the peak of skill.
"Glen, he was really ahead of his time," Fletcher said on a conference call. "The way Glen believed in skill and speed, his teams you couldn't catch them to get a piece of them. He really changed the game, how the game's started to develop to be played with all the skill and speed he had on his teams."
Anderson described Edmonton's style as almost a Soviet brand of hockey because there was so much speed and skill.
Fletcher said the NHL changed the rule on coincidental penalties to play five-on-five rather than four-on-four because of Sather's Oilers. Other teams didn't want to go up against Gretzky and Kurri or Messier and Anderson with Coffey and Charley Huddy on defence, and Sather pulling the strings.
Then there was the mental side of Sather's coaching, which Lowe described as almost contrarian. When players expected him to be difficult or easy, he was the opposite ??? and it worked.
"There's so many times that he instilled this belief in yourselves," Lowe said. "When we played the Montreal Canadiens and went into the Forum in 1981 knees knocking and everything, he was like, 'You guys could beat these guys.' And we were like, 'We don't stand a chance.' But the fact that he stood up there and said, 'No, you can beat them,' that was kind of the confidence that he was famous for."
The confidence was well-deserved given the Oilers' success under Sather as coach and GM. He left for the New York Rangers in 2000 under bad terms, but he'll get this honour in the final season of Rexall Place before the Oilers get a new beginning at the sparkling Rogers Place.
Given Sather's impact, it's long overdue.
"The Oilers will go down in history as arguably the best team that was ever on the ice in the National Hockey League," Fletcher said. "Glen is definitely a legendary hockey man, and one of the greatest coaches and general managers this league's ever had."
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