EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup 30 years, ago, but transport that team to today’s NHL and they’d still be a terror, former forward Mark Messier said Wednesday.
“The players are faster (today), that may be true, but (’80s-’90s era NHLer) Mike Gartner still holds the fastest time around the rink for any hockey player,” Messier told a news conference at Rexall Place.
“The difference nowadays is players are probably trained better so they can sustain the shift longer.”
Messier then gestured to Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, sitting beside him on the stage.
“(But) because of the guy sitting to my left here, I would stack us up against any team on any day in any era and I would take my chances.”
In 1996, Gartner blazed a lap around the rink in a skills competition in just 13.386 seconds — a record that still stands.
Messier and Gretzky were on stage with other members of the team that defeated the New York Islanders in the spring of 1984, launching a dynasty that brought the Alberta capital five Stanley Cups by decade’s end.
It was the greatest show on ice for it’s time, an offensive juggernaut led by Gretzky delivering seeing-eye passes to Jari Kurri for one-timer goals.
There was Glen Anderson crashing the net. Messier when he was not scoring, was delivering demonic hits.
There was Paul Coffey, wheeling around his own net to launch another end-to-end rush.
And when everything went wrong, goaltender Grant Fuhr was there to make the clutch save.
The Oilers, led by general manager and coach Glen Sather, were the vanguard of the free-flowing European game, a criss-crossing offence in a league where forwards were drilled to stay in their lanes.
Messier said he remembered early in his career ending up on winger Bill “Cowboy” Flett’s side of the ice.
“He (Flett) looked at me and he says, ’Get the hell out of here!”’ Messier recalled.
“He was kind of in the old school of up and down the wing kind of hockey, and we’re trying to play this more weaving style, more innovative European style.
“I think as time wore on, obviously we knew that the style of play that we were introducing forced the league to play and change because of us. If they were going to compete against us, they were going to have to skate and up their talent level as well.
“Looking back on it now, it’s quite gratifying to everyone in here that we were able to have that big an impact on the league.”
The Oilers won the Stanley Cup after being defeated in four straight games by the Islanders in the finals a year earlier.
Gretzky said only then, when the team found a wellspring of grit and a new threshold for pain, did they win it all.
“We weren’t quite committed to the level to become a Stanley Cup champion (in 1983), and I’m not trying to say that to take anything away from the Islanders, because they deserved to beat us,” said Gretzky.
“Winning that Stanley Cup (in ’84) had a lot to do with the fact that we had learned from the Islanders.
“Hitters have to hit, and if they’re going to do that, then the offensive guys better take a hit to make a play.
“That’s what separates champions from good teams. As a group everyone did that.”
The 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers open their regular season against the Calgary Flames at home on Thursday.
The ’83-’84 team will hold a public reunion at Rexall Place on Friday, swapping tales on stage for fans.