EDMONTON — When you are picking a team to take into a Game 7 from the Edmonton Oilers’ all-time roster, it’s not the same as if you were choosing on behalf of 95 per cent of National Hockey League organizations.
Because 95 per cent of the other organizations can’t count eight Hockey Hall of Fame players that have laced them up in their uniforms since 1987, a list that includes short-term Oilers Chris Pronger and Adam Oates. And very few have a pair of players on their current roster with chops like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — a Hart Trophy winner and another who stood as the Hart favourite and Art Ross leader when the 2019-20 season was paused, not to mention another Hart winner in Taylor Hall.
So when we took on this assignment of building a team to take into a Stanley Cup Final Game 7, with instructions to construct a “team,” and not just a bunch of good players, it reminds of how Canada’s Olympic roster is built every four years — or whenever the NHLers are participants.
Someone has to kill a penalty, right?
With the Oilers team, as with a Team Canada, there are too many qualified top-six forwards to simply leave some at home in favour of a prototypical third-line role player. Take the centre ice position:
You have Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, who have 10 Stanley Cups between them. You have Doug Weight, a three-time U.S. Olympian. You have Oates, a 1,420-point Hall of Famer. You have McDavid and Draisaitl — and none of the above fill the penalty-killing, draw-winning skates of a Craig MacTavish, the kind of centreman vital to a good playoff team.
So we’ve moved some centres to the wing, just the way Team Canada does.
The rest fall into place. Here’s a look at how:
First line: Leon Draisaitl, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri
This is a scoring line with the NHL’s all-time leading scorer — and all-time assists man — between two players who combined to achieve nine 40-goal seasons in 15 seasons with Edmonton. If your No. 1 line is about creating offence, how would this line function — especially when you consider that Draisaitl is equal parts passer and shooter? Yikes!
Second line: Mark Messier, Connor McDavid, Glenn Anderson
Sorry — this is another flat-out offensive juggernaut. We’ve kept Anderson and Messier together because they were so deadly back in the ‘80s, and if you consider that duo was one of the fastest offensive pairings of their day, throwing McDavid in between No. 11 and No. 9 would make this quite possibly the greatest combination of skill and speed the game has ever seen.
Third line: Ryan Smyth, Doug Weight, Bill Guerin
So now we mix some grit into the lineup, with the ultimate gamer Ryan Smyth slotting in with two pillars of the U.S. Olympic team over the years. Guerin was tough, gritty and had six 30-goal seasons (pro-rated), while Weight was an underrated player due to his time on some poor Oilers clubs, yet was one of the game’s top passers in the seasons surrounding the turn of the century.
Fourth line: Kelly Buchberger, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen
Here are your penalty killers, your top faceoff man to protect that late lead and a world-class pest who can go after the other team’s top players. We flirted with having Hall on this team, but he could not beat the top three left-wingers, and although he is more skilled than Buchberger, championship teams have players like Bucky on the fourth line. Hall is a heck of a player, just not a fourth-liner, that’s all.
First pairing: Paul Coffey, Charlie Huddy
How can you not go back to the best pairing in Oilers history — the Hall of Fame scorer who broke a couple of Bobby Orr’s records, and the guy who freed up Coffey’s skills by blocking the shots, retrieving the pucks and doing the dirty work that allowed former to roam.
Second pairing: Chris Pronger, Jason Smith
This pairing has it all: Skill, size and more toughness than should be allowed. Pronger was only an Oiler for one season on 2005-06, but had they won that Game 7 at Carolina, he would have carried home the Conn Smythe Trophy. Smith was a true leader, one of the all-time hardest Oilers to play against and the perfect defensive-minded partner for Pronger.
Third pairing: Kevin Lowe, Reijo Ruotsalainen
This was tough, with players like Steve Smith, Oscar Klefbom, Igor Kravchuk, (all left shots) and righties Jeff Beukeboom and Lee Fogolin available for selection. Lowe has to be on this team — period. So we paired the hard-rock, defensive specialist with an offensive righty in Ruotsalainen — only the second right-shot D-man in this group. We hated to leave Steve Smith out, and we’re not sure he shouldn’t be on his wrong side with Lowe.
Grant Fuhr, Bill Ranford
Honourable mention for Curtis Joseph here, but our starter is a no-brainer: the Hall of Famer and Canada Cup star Fuhr. No one played better behind an offensive machine that left him alone on so many nights than Fuhr.
Ranford, meanwhile, won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1990. He gets the nod over CuJo — by a toe save.