Are the Edmonton Oilers for real? That’s what fans across the league are asking themselves now that the Oilers are off to a hot start, going 7-2 through the month of October, with all their wins coming in regulation time.
Whether or not Edmonton has finally turned a corner for real remains to be seen, but the fact that they’re off to the hottest start since the mid-1980s should tell you that they’re certainly a lot closer than they were a year ago. It’s been nearly 27 years since the team won its last Stanley Cup, and it has been 10 long years since its last playoff game—a tough Game 7 loss to the Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
Today’s list looks at the best and worst Edmonton Oilers since that last Cup in 1990. Specifically, we will look at the 10 best players to lace them up for the Oil since then, as well as the 10 worst. These rankings factor in everything, but skill and impact are what matter most.
The collection of “best” Oilers seems to span all 27 years, but when we get to the “worst” Oilers, you will certainly see a trend that shows just how bad this team has been for the past decade, with only a few playing with the team before 2008.
20 10. Best – Bill Guerin
Bill Guerin spent parts of four seasons in Edmonton, racking up 161 points in 211 games. Often playing alongside elite playmaker Doug Weight, Guerin was a part of those late 1990s Oilers teams that were synonymous with hard work and determination. Despite a lack of notable success (a few 2nd round playoff exits were as far as those teams got), those teams were respected and fans were happy they were even getting playoff games considering the team’s payroll at the time.
19 10. Worst – Justin Schultz
Stanley Cup champion Justin Schultz does indeed have a role on an NHL club today, and one could say he performs it adequately. During his time in Edmonton, however, he was consistently deployed incorrectly, and as a result, his weaknesses were on full display every game. He was so bad in the role he was cast in by the Oilers that he qualifies as one of the worst Oilers to play since 1990.
18 9. Best – Jordan Eberle
The first current Oiler to appear on our list is winger Jordan Eberle. Ebs burst onto the scene in 2010 with perhaps the greatest first NHL goal in history, and he really hasn’t looked back since. He’s of course also been a part of some of the worst teams in NHL history, but that can’t be blamed on the Regina native, who’s been consistently productive throughout his time in Edmonton.
17 9. Worst – Will Acton
The Edmonton Oilers organization has been accused of nepotism in the recent past, highlighted by the team’s refusal to outright fire incompetent members of management because of their ties to owner Daryl Katz (see: Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe). This nepotism sometimes found its way onto the roster, as Will Acton actually played 33 games in the NHL for the Oilers from 2013-2015.
16 8. Best – Taylor Hall
I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no: Adam Larsson does not appear on this list.
Yes, the Oilers most certainly surrendered the better player in last summer’s blockbuster, but with the way they’ve come out of the gate it’s tough to be overly critical of this move. Still, though, it’s unlikely that history will look too kindly on this deal for Edmonton.
15 8. Worst – Patrick O’Sullivan
With all the BS that Patrick O’Sullivan has been spouting about Edmonton on Twitter lately, how could we leave him off this list? Heck, even without him running his mouth he would have found a way on here, as he was exceptionally bad during his time in E-Town.
14 7. Best – Ales Hemsky
There were times during Ales Hemsky’s stay in Edmonton that he became a whipping boy, but this was never really fair. Often burdened with the “soft” tag, Hemsky was anything but as he wouldn’t back down from a battle in the corners with anyone, ever (although this could play into why he was and is so injury prone).
13 7. Worst – Denis Grebeshkov
Before I get into this, I want to make clear that Denis Grebeshkov is here solely for his second stint with the team (2013-14). His first stint, which ran from 2007-2010, wasn’t half as bad, and dare I say he was actually a capable defenseman for those seasons. I don’t even think there was a single Edmontonian who had taken to calling him “Gargabe-kov” yet (okay, maybe a few of the hateful ones).
12 6. Best – Shawn Horcoff
The first former captain to appear on our list is center Shawn Horcoff. Much like Hemsky, Horcoff was a major cog in the 2006 machine that fell one game short of a Stanley Cup, and he was also a whipping boy in the later stages of his days as an Oiler. Nonetheless, Horcoff gave the Oilers over a decade of hard work, commitment, and in some cases some pretty darn good production.
11 6. Worst – Cory Cross
Cory Cross was an Oiler from 2002-03 to 2005-06, and he was never very good. I actually feel bad for him. A friend of mine relayed a story to me about the time she was seated near the penalty box at the old Rexall Place back when Cross was an Oiler. Cross had taken a penalty, and by then the fan base all agreed he was bad at hockey so one fan decided to tell Cross how they felt. “You suck, Cross!” the fan shouted.
10 5. Best – Curtis Joseph
The one and only goalie to appear on either side of this list is Curtis Joseph, who comes in as the fifth best Oiler since 1990. Much like Guerin and Weight, Cujo was a casualty of the Oilers’ financial woes of the late 1990s. Joseph played two full seasons with the club in 1996-97 and 1997-98, carrying the under-funded Oilers to the second round of the playoffs both seasons.
9 5. Worst – Cam Barker
Oh, Cam Barker. The Oilers have had a propensity for taking a chance on high draft picks who haven’t quite panned out for several years after their draft years, and Cam Barker is a shining example of this. The Oilers signed Barker to a one-year contract worth $2.25 million immediately after the Minnesota Wild bought out the struggling defenseman.
8 4. Best – Doug Weight
Shortly after arriving in Edmonton from New York, Doug Weight became a fan favorite. He was just a fresh-faced 21-year-old at the time, but it didn’t take him long to have an immediate impact on the club, registering 74 points in his first season as an Oiler. He only built on that, and was near a point-per-game player when he left the club in 2001 (577 points in 588 games). He is still the most recent Oiler to have notched over 100 points in a season, putting up 104 in 1995-96.
7 4. Worst – Jason Bonsignore
Definitely one of the biggest draft busts in Oilers history, Jason Bonsignore is also one of the worst Oilers to lace them up since 1990. Drafted 4th overall in 1994, Bonsignore was the first of two Oilers top-10 picks that year, with the other being Ryan Smyth (6th overall). Bonsignore only played 21 games with the Oilers (20 of which came in 1995-96).
6 3. Best – Ryan Smyth
Cracking the top three on our list of best Oilers since 1990 is Ryan Smyth. Sure, Doug Weight was probably a better hockey player than Smyth ever was, but Smyth was a better Oiler. Drafted 6th overall in 1994, Smytty is still one of the most beloved all-time Oilers. He played the blue-collar style of hockey that Edmontonians value so highly.
5 3. Worst – Eric Belanger
When GM Steve Tambellini signed Eric Belanger to a three-year contract in the 2011 offseason, fans expected 35-40 points per season from the center. Those expectations were certainly reasonable; after all, his previous four seasons saw him register 37, 36, 35, and 40 points, respectively. There was no way to see the drastic drop off coming.
4 2. Best – Chris Pronger
It was really difficult to decide where to place Chris Pronger on this list, as there are a lot of crappy things to say about the hall of fame defenseman. Pronger had signed a five-year contract with the Oilers only to request a trade out of town after (or, more accurately, during) his first season in Northern Alberta.
3 2. Worst – J.F. Jacques
When you look at the starting roster of the Oilers 2009-10 season, it really is quite incredible. So many players from that team could have made this list. For many of them, they never played another NHL game after departing Edmonton after that season. What is incredible to me is that one of those players—J.F. Jacques—managed to play 160 games with Edmonton.
2 1. Best – Connor McDavid
Was there really any doubt here? He’s only played in 50+ games as an Oiler, which is literally the only stat that may have held him back from owning the top spot on this list. He still holds it, however, as he’s just too darn good to deny. Even if we ignore his insanely good production for a 19-year-old in this era, there are still many reasons McDavid is king of this castle.
1 1. Worst – Nikita Nikitin
The trading/signing of Nikita Nikitin is one of the worst mistakes in the history of NHL general managers, regardless of era or financial constraints (the latter of which GM Craig MacTavish was under none). The Oilers sent a fifth-round pick to Columbus just for the negotiating rights to Nikitin, who was a pending UFA. Then, the Oilers turned around and signed him to a two-year, $4.5 millionAAV contract. Don't you think they could have had him at that price without surrendering a draft pick?
Nikitin had shown signs of being a capable NHLer in the past, but he was often a healthy scratch during his most recent season prior to signing with Edmonton. Keep in mind the guy played for the Columbus Blue Jackets—not exactly the most competitive place to battle for a job in this league. The Oilers ended up putting Nikitin on waivers multiple times throughout the duration of the contract, and he went back home to play in Russia upon its completion.
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