Why the powerhouse '85 Oilers were named as our best NHL team ever

Kyle CantlonNHL Editor
Yahoo Sports Canada
The 1985 Oilers earned our Best NHL Team Ever honours, and it wasn't particularly close. (Getty)
The 1985 Oilers earned our Best NHL Team Ever honours, and it wasn't particularly close. (Getty)

The 1985 Edmonton Oilers is the greatest team to ever lace up in the NHL, and there’s very little doubt about it.

After being named the NHL’s “Greatest NHL Team of All Time” via the league’s centennial celebration fan vote back in 2017, fans confirmed the sentiment a few years later in our recent “Best Team Ever” bracket by once again crowning the Gretzky-led Oilers squad of ‘85 the GOAT, and fairly easily.

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Even in the final round, up against the close-to-consensus second-best squad ever, it wasn’t even close as voters heavily favoured this Edmonton unit over the absurdly dominant Montreal Canadiens of 1976-77.

That’s how outrageously, egregiously, preposterously good this Oilers group was. The mid-80s to early-90s Oilers as a whole was one of the all-time great dynasties in sports, but the particular iteration Edmonton iced during the 1984-85 season was in a world of its own.

A generational collection of talent

A team is the sum of its parts, and these Oilers had some damn parts.

Individual players continued to smash records and etch their Hall Of Fame statuses through the 84-85 campaign. Wayne Gretzky, fully in his prime, tallied and absurd 135 assists to go with a casual 73 goals to win his sixth straight league MVP and fifth consecutive scoring title.

Linemate Jari Kurri set a record for goals by a right-ringer with 71 while also tying the NHL record for goals in a single postseason with 19. Paul Coffey went on a Bobby Orr-like offensive bender, putting up a disgusting 121 points en route to his first Norris Trophy. Coffey also put up 12 tallies, 25 helpers and 37 points in the playoffs, crushing the NHL records in all three categories by a defenseman in a single postseason.

Gretzky spoke to NHL.com in 2017 on the magic and chemistry this group developed and couldn’t stress enough that it all started with a genuine passion for the process.

“We had a love for the game,” Gretzky said.

The three of us loved being at the rink. We loved playing and we loved practicing. I think from [Mark Messier] to [Glenn] Anderson, to [Coffey], to Kevin Lowe, to Kurri, we showed up for practice. We practiced hard.”

This team featured a total of six eventual Hockey Hall of Famers, including Gretzky, Kurri, Coffey, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, and Grant Fuhr.

Never in doubt

After winning their fourth straight Smythe Division title with the best record in their conference and leading the league in tallies while surpassing the 400-goal mark for the fourth consecutive campaign, the ‘85 Oilers didn’t have it quite so easy come playoff time. They had a target on their back as the defending Stanley Cup champs.

But Edmonton adjusted as great teams do, though, and found ways to win until things started clicking.

Edmonton’s run for a second straight Stanley Cup started with nine consecutive wins, including a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings and a four-game dusting of the Winnipeg Jets. Those clubs gave the Oilers fits despite the clean sheet in the win-loss column, though, and Edmonton was forced — very uncharacteristically — to win primarily via defense rather than its trademark potent attack. The Oilers slashed their team GAA down nearly a goal from the regular season through their first seven postseason contests that year.

After that, however, the offensively savage Oilers returned.

The Blackhawks particularly felt the fury of a squad which had no business being as contained as it was through Rounds 1 and 2, as Edmonton smashed Chicago by a combined score of 18-5 through the first two games of Round 3. Chicago bounced back in a big way and took the next two games, but the Oilers found it again and handled the Hawks in Games 5 and 6 to head to the Cup final once more.

It didn’t look easy, but the Oilers banged home 44 goals in that conference final versus Chicago, with Kurri scoring 12. Both set an NHL single-series playoff record.

It was more adversity for this Oilers group as it opened up the 1985 Stanley Cup Final with a loss on the road to the Philadelphia Flyers. Gretzky recalled their head coach delivering a stern message to the team’s talented but youthful core after Game 1 that nudged the ship back in the right direction.

“After that loss, Glen [Sather] really laid into Paul and I. He really felt we were two of the big reasons we lost that night.”

From there, the Oilers concluded their all-time great season with four straight victories, including an extremely ‘80s Oilers-esque 7-1 drubbing in Game 5 to claim the ‘ship.

The best version of the greatest hockey dynasty there ever was.

That’s what these Oilers are.

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