1985-86 Edmonton Oilers: Guarantee Gone Bad

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The 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers were a sure bet to win the Stanley Cup. The Calgary Flames didn't make that bet and took out the Oilers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

1985-86 was the year the National Hockey League changed rules to try and keep the Edmonton Oilers from obliterating the league’s scoring records. From 1985 to 1993, the NHL allowed teams to play five on five instead of four on four when coincidental minors were handed out. Unofficially, the rule was changed because the Oilers were unstoppable in a four-on-four situation.

1985-86 was also a year when the Edmonton Oilers should have cruised to a Stanley Cup victory. Instead, they allowed the Calgary Flames to oust them from the playoffs in the second round. The Flames would make it to the Stanley Cup final before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

That season, the Oilers won 56 games while losing only 17 and tying 7 for 119 points. The point total was thirty more than the Flames, who were second in the Clarence Campbell Conference. They Oilers were nine points better than the Philadelphia Flyers who were first in the Prince of Wales Conference. Coincidentally, the Flyers were knocked out in the first round by the New York Rangers who finished the season with just 78 points and were two games below .500.

Oilers players set NHL individual records that season and several still stand today. Of them, Wayne Gretzky’s 215 points and 163 assists are the records that probably the most invincible. Gretzky also tied the NHL mark for most assists in a single game with seven. Paul Coffey scored 48 goals which stands as the most goals scored by a defenseman in one season. Coffey also set the mark for the longest point scoring streak for defenseman at 28 games.

Oilers dominated the NHL’s top ten in scoring. Wayne Gretzky was 74 points ahead of the number two man in the league, Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who tallied 141 points. Paul Coffey came in third with 138 points, one less than Bobby Orr’s record for defenseman set in 1970-71. Jari Kurri placed fourth in the league with 131 points and led the league in goals with 68.

The team was well represented at the NHL awards ceremony in 1985-86. Gretzky took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s MVP. The Oilers won the President’s Trophy as the top regular season team in the NHL. Glen Sather won the Jack Adams Award as the top coach despite having a team full of ringers and experiencing such a playoff disappointment. Of course, Paul Coffey won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey were elected to the NHL’s First Team All-Star team and Jari Kurri made Second Team. Nine Edmonton Oilers players appeared in the NHL’s All-Star Game in 1985-86. Other than Gretzky, Coffey and Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Lee Fogolin, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Andy Moog appeared. Ironically, with such an offensively laden team, their Campbell Conference team lost a low-scoring affair to the Wales Conference squad.

The Oilers learned from their playoff disaster. The following season, Gretzky scored 32 less points, the team scored 54 less goals, had seven less wins and 13 less points. Edmonton still won the President’s Trophy but with only 106 points. Most importantly, they won the Stanley Cup in seven games over the Philadelphia Flyers.