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Greatest NHL Teams

Wayne Gretzky says No. 1 Oilers would've been tested by Penguins

Great One praises Cup champions led by Mario Lemieux

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- Wayne Gretzky didn't even hesitate.

The Great One said he thought the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins would have been the toughest mythical matchup for his 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers.

Gretzky appeared at a news conference at Bridgestone Arena on Monday to introduce that Oilers team as the Greatest NHL Team, as voted by the fans, shortly before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and Penguins.

Gretzky, the NHL Centennial Ambassador, was joined by his Oilers teammate, Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey, and, later, a surprise press conference crasher, NBA great Charles Barkley.

The Oilers team voted No. 1 won their second of four championships in 1985. Edmonton won four championships in a five-season span, interrupted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.

Video: The 1984-85 Oilers announced as the Greatest NHL Team

Comparing eras is tricky, but Gretzky said he thought the 1991-92 Penguins, who finished No. 2 in the Top 10, would have been the toughest for them, starting with the Mario Lemieux factor. The Oilers had goaltender Grant Fuhr, and the Penguins had Tom Barrasso.

"Athletes have a lot of pride, and so Mario and I would battle against each other," Gretzky said. "We had so much respect for each other.

"I've said this a million times: He's the best player I ever played against, and that fires you up as athletes. You want to compete against the best. Whether I was 18 years old playing against Guy Lafleur or 28 years old playing Mario. That's what the game is about.

"The question would have been: Is Coffey on their team or our team? That could have been the difference."

Coffey was with the Oilers for their first three Stanley Cup championships before he was traded to the Penguins in 1987 and won his fourth Stanley Cup in 1991 with the Penguins. He was traded by the Penguins to the Los Angeles Kings before the the 1992 playoffs, but Gretzky said if Coffey had been on that team in the postseason he only would have made them tougher.


[RELATED: Greatest NHL Teams coverage | 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers voted Greatest NHL Team]


Coffey joined the news conference in progress and Gretzky teased him.

"I just got you traded again," Gretzky said.

Gretzky was asked about the passing of the generational baton in the Penguins organization, from Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

There are others waiting in the wings, Gretzky said. As an Edmonton Oilers executive, he would know from plenty of firsthand observation.

"[Leon] Draisaitl and [Connor] McDavid are pretty good, hopefully that'll be the next crossing," Gretzky said of Edmonton's top young players. "They've been special. They've been great for the game. It's tough to compare Jagr and Mario to Sid and Malkin. They've all been positive for the game."

Gretzky happened to play one time in Nashville. It was his final season in the NHL, 1998-99 with the New York Rangers. Gretzky had five assists against the Predators in a 7-4 win on Feb. 15, 1999.

"I came into Nashville and I knew it was going to be my only game in Nashville," he said. "I was thinking, 'I hope I have a good game because this will be the only time I ever play in Nashville.'

"You always remember players by the one time you saw them. So I was fired up to play, ready to play and excited to play, and thankfully I had a really good night that night."

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