The “Great One” Discusses Greatest NHL Team Ranking

Just prior to Monday nights Stanley Cup Final game it was revealed that the 84-85 Edmonton Oilers were voted the best team in NHL history. Led by six feature Hall of Famers, including Wayne Gretzky, who topped the NHL in goals, assists and points to earn his sixth consecutive Hart Trophy; and Paul Coffey, who won the Norris Trophy for the first time; the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers showed they were intent upon defending their title. The Oilers finished 49-20-11 in the regular season, scoring 103 more goals than they allowed. The Oilers continued to thrill once the post-season began. They swept both the Los Angeles Kings and the Winnipeg Jets, and then scored 44 goals in six games to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks. Facing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton lost the series opener, but then won the next four games to hoist the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive year.

 

Here is the Q & A With Gretzky and Coffey:

Wayne, obviously when we think of the Oilers in the ‘80s, we think of offense. You had world-caliber goaltending and defensemen. Talk about how that team was just more than offense.

WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, listen, to be a Stanley Cup champion, you have to have a whole package. You got to be fast. You got to be strong. You got to be offensive. You got to have good goaltending. You got to have good coaching. You got to be good defensively. You got to be really disciplined. You got to have that will to want to win. We had a will to want to win. I’ve told this story many times before. I had lunch with Bryan [Trottier] one time, the first time he won the Stanley Cup. I was a young kid. I said to him, What does it feel like to lift the Stanley Cup? He started going into this dialogue. He said, You know, I wish every player could get that chance to win it. And then he stopped himself. He said, But not everybody does get that chance. That’s what makes winning the Stanley Cup so special. So from our point of view, our team, we were unselfish, we worked hard. Consequently, we were able to lift that Stanley Cup. That’s what it’s all about.

Wayne, there were no 50-goal scorers in the NHL this year. There were three 40-goalscorers. If you go back to the era of the Edmonton Oilers, I remember four and five 40- plus scorers most years. With all the young talent in the NHL right now, how do you increase goal scoring?

WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, listen, I’ve said this before. These kids today are so good. They’re so big, they’re so fast. The equipment is better. Thegoaltending, they’re bigger, better athletes. Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur changed goaltenders in the ‘80s. Athletes became goaltenders. The best athletes on teams are the goaltenders. It start starts there. It makes it more difficult to score. At a young age now, we’re taught so much about defensive hockey. In the old days, with Beliveau and Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur, myself, Messier, we used to throw a puck on the pond, you would skate, play three-on-three, four-on-four. The game now is so structured. Two of the better defensive players in the game today are Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, 19 years old and 20 years old. They’re taught so much about the game from the defensive side of the puck. So the way the game is now, it’s much more defensive. It’s harder to score 40 goals today than it was when we played. I’m the first guy to acknowledge that. I came around in the right era. I played with the right organization, the right players, at the right time. It’s a lot tougher now to be a 40- goal-scorer. But that doesn’t mean the game is different, it just means it’s better today. These kids are really good. Most importantly, you guys cover these kids, they’re very respectful of the game. They’re respectful of their families, their organization, the city. It’s just a very good positive for the sport of hockey. We’re in a really great place right now.

Wayne, you were still playing the last time we had a repeat champion in the Stanley Cup Final. Why do you think it’s been so hard? What does it take to get the job done?

WAYNE GRETZKY: Listen, once we developed the revenue sharing to strengthen the league, make teams from 1 through 30 competitive, it made it difficult. A guy like Stan Bowman I think has done a wonderful job. He’s got such a great team, yet he has to be able to manage that, let guys go, still be competitive. It’s probably a little bit harder today with the salary cap to build a dynasty, build teams that can win two or three years in a row. The advantage Pittsburgh has, when you have a player like [Sidney} Crosby and {Evgeni} Malkin, obviously hat gives you a foot forward, obviously gives you a little bit of an advantage. This is a tough situation for all these teams in the National Hockey League. Anybody can get to the Stanley Cup Final now. We have 1 through 16 that make the playoffs, the L.A. Kings proved, finishing 8th, that you can win a Stanley Cup. Nashville finished 8th this year, and they’re in the Stanley Cup Final. From that point of view, the business side of the game has changed.

Wayne, which one of these other great teams do you think would present the toughest matchup for your ‘84-’ 85 Oilers and why?

WAYNE GRETZKY: For me it’s the ‘91 Penguin team. The athletes have a lot of pride. Mario [Lemieux] and I would have battled against each other. We had so much respect for each other, said this a million times, that he was the best player I ever played against. That fires you up as athletes. You want to compete against the best. Whether I was 18 years old playing against Guy Lafleur or 28 years old playing against Mario, that’s what the game is about. With Tommy Barrasso and Grant Fuhr, guys like that, the question would have been is Coffey on our team or their team? That could have been the difference (laughter). We would have taken them back.

Wayne, you mentioned the salary cap and the parity. Knowing that, knowing that this is the fourth Final for Crosby and Malkin, where do you think they stand historically as a tandem? What should they be measured by going forward? What do they have to do to crack the upper echelon of all time?

WAYNE GRETZKY: I think they’ve cracked the upper echelon. I don’t think there’s an question those two guys deserve to be up there when you talk about Lemaire & Lafleur, Bossy & Trottier, Gretzky & Messier, they’ve done everything you can do as a professional athlete. What they’re doing now is adding onto it. In this day and age, like I said, it’s probably a lot tougher for them. So good for them. They deserve all the accolades they’re getting. They’ve been a positive for the National Hockey League. They’ve been great for the city of Pittsburgh. That’s the good news. They’re fun to watch. I live in California. People who don’t know a lot about hockey that I talk to, I’m always encouraging them to watch this guy, watch that guy. Obviously those two guys are always at the top of the list.

Wayne, you were a part of a group of stars all over the league that really elevated the game in the ‘80s. How do you think that group compares to the stars that we see today? The league?

WAYNE GRETZKY: Well, it’s tough to compare because the game is so different. In the ‘80s, it was tough to compare against the guys in the ‘60s. I always say to people, what we accomplished, what we did, I’m very proud of. No one can take that away from me or us. The kids today are different. They’re bigger, faster, the equipment is better. Coaching is different. It’s tough to compare. All I can say is we did the best we could do in the ‘80s. How we could compare to today, I’m not sure. I know one thing, we give it our best effort.