TORONTO — Even the greatest team in NHL history as selected by fans had doubt casted their way before eventually proving themselves.
The Wayne Gretzky-led 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were chosen as the greatest NHL team of all-time through a fan vote during the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Oilers downed the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup final that season to win their second-straight championship. Along with Gretzky, the team’s roster was stacked with Hall of Famers including Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and goaltender Grant Fuhr.
Gretzky produced 208 points and took home numerous awards, including his sixth straight Hart Trophy as league MVP. Coffey earned the Norris as top defencemen while Kurri won the Lady Byng for sportsmanship. Eight players in all were named an all-star, but critics still wondered at the time if the Oilers could win with their style of play.
"It was fun, it was nice, but there were a couple bumps in the road where people questioned whether we were good enough defensively to become successful," Gretzky said Sunday at Air Canada Centre prior to puck drop between the Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Grant would have had so many different numbers had he played for a defensive-minded team," Gretzky added. "He was the one guy in some ways who didn’t get the respect of the numbers other guys got because we were so offensive minded. He didn’t care if we won 8-7 as long as we won."
Gretzky says that the success of the ’84-85 Oilers was years in the making, beginning back in the ’82 playoffs when Edmonton was upset in the first round by the L.A. Kings — a team 48 points behind the Oilers in the standings.
The following season, Edmonton made the Cup final only to be swept by the New York Islanders, who won their fourth and final Stanley Cup during their dynasty run.
After continuously falling short, the Oilers finally reached their milestone in 1984, beating the Islanders for their first Cup. However, they still had to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
Much of the doubt surrounding those early ’80s Oilers teams was because of the style they played. But also because of how young they were. Edmonton’s core was all under 25 years old.
"There was definitely a maturing factor that went on with our group the second time we got to the finals," said Gretzky. "We understood we would have to win a (low-scoring) game."
Gretzky and Co. were taught by the Islanders that to be successful, Edmonton needed to play as a team.
"We took that loss (against New York) and what they had done to us and we learned from that," said Gretzky.
"(We were) a special group with a lot of talent, but more importantly a very unselfish team that wanted to become Stanley Cup champions."
Gretzky says that the Montreal Canadiens teams of the ’60s and ’70s shouldn’t be overlooked when reflecting back on some of the best teams in 100 years of NHL hockey, but is humbled by the fans’ vote.
"The great thing about hockey is we’re always going to debate best players, best goalie, best team, best coach. It’s always positive, there’s no right or wrong… We’re fortunate enough that enough people voted for us," said Gretzky.
"By no means in ’84-85 did we set out to be the best team ever. We’re very proud of it, great honour and tremendous thrill."