Although the NHL All-Star Games are rarely seen as more than a fun weekend spectacle, a lot can be learned from looking at an organisation’s All-Star history. From afar it paints a picture, a brief history, an outline of the team as a whole.
Naturally, the history of the All-Star game itself gives us a glimpse at how the league has changed over the years as well, but we will be focusing on the history of the Edmonton Oilers at the All-Star game—from appearances, to records, to contextualising the era in which we find ourselves currently. While the Oilers existed prior to joining the NHL in 1979, we will be focusing on everything from the NHL/WHA merger until today.
The Oilers infiltrated the All-Star Games of the ‘80s
With one year of exception, 1987, from 1980 to 1993, the format of the All-Star Game was separated by conferences, then known as Campbell Conference and Wales Conference (with the Oilers in the Campbell Conference), before continuing the same format through 1997 where the conferences were renamed to East and West.
The ‘80s started relatively slowly for the Oilers, with two representatives in 1980, Wayne Gretzky and Blair McDonald, one in 1981, Gretzky, and three in 1982, Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey. The Campbell Conference was victorious just once in 1981 and Oiler players managed but two points across those six games. As the Oilers became ascendant to their dynastic selves in the mid ‘80s all that changed.
The Oilers saw an increased presence at the All-Star Game, four players in 1983, six in 1984, eight in 1985, and a franchise record of nine in 1986. That year included Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri, Kevin Lowe, and Lee Fogolin, as well as goalies Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog. The number of Oiler representatives climbs to ten if we include Glen Sather who coached the Campbell Conference team.
In 1987 the NHL had a pair of exhibition games against the USSR team, where each team won a game. The Oilers had six representatives (Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Fuhr, and Esa Tikkanen) as well as one player who did not play due to injury (Coffey). It is of course a credit to how dominant the ‘80s Oilers were that so many of their players were present when all the NHL’s stars were on the same team.
1988 saw the return of the regular All-Star format, as well as a strong Oilers contingent, six players and Sather as coach. This was the last All-Star Game that Gretzky would be an Oiler. The 1989 game was held in Edmonton, the Return of Gretzky, where the Oilers had five representatives including one of the pieces that Gretzky was traded for, Jimmy Carson.
Despite the Oilers managing to win the Stanley Cup in 1990, that season’s All-Star Game saw only three Oilers, Kurri, Lowe, and that season’s MVP, Messier. In 1991 the skills competition was introduced, where Messier would win the most accurate shot competition. Steve Smith and Bill Ranford would join, along with coach John Muckler.
As Messier was traded after the season, this was truly the end of a golden era for the Oilers. In fact, it won’t be until this current season that the Oilers will send three players to an All-Star Game. (Though some might argue 2011 is worthy of consideration, where Taylor Hall attended as a designated rookie, and both Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky were named but unable to play due to injury.)
The ‘90s and early 2000s saw very little Oiler representation
Between 1992 and now things were somewhat bleak for the Oilers, well summarised by a rotating cast of All-Stars here and there, containing a number of names newer fans might not be familiar with. Vincent Damphousse attended in 1992, current assistant coach Dave Manson in 1993, Shayne Corson in 1994, Doug Weight saw a number of appearances (1996, 1998, and 2001), and Jason Arnott in 1997. There was no All-Star Game in 1995 due to a lockout.
In 1998 a new All-Star Game format was introduced, North America versus World. The number of Oilers stayed low with former first overall pick Roman Hamrlik in 1999, Tommy Salo in 2000 and 2002, and Janne Niinimaa joining Weight in 2001. Though some may not consider the likes of Hamrlik or Niinimaa classic high scoring All-Stars, they were strong defensive players for the Oilers like Steve Smith and Manson before them, as well as Eric Brewer afterwards.
In 2003 the All-Star format switched back to East versus West, but there were a number of years that no All-Star Game was held either. The Oilers even had one All-Star Game without a player in 2004. That said, the team did send Eric Brewer in 2003, Ryan Smyth in 2007, and Shawn Horcoff in 2008. In 2009 the Oilers sent Sheldon Souray, as well as Andrew Cogliano under a sophomore designation. Cogliano would win fastest skater, the Oilers first win in a skills competition since Messier’s victory in the inaugural shooting accuracy victory.
The Oilers sent many young guns during 2010s
From this point on All-Star Games became less regular for a number of reasons. The All-Star Games of 2011, 2012, and 2015 changed format to All-Star captains picking teams. Taylor Hall and Team Lidstrom lost to Team Staal in 2011, where Hall was a designated rookie.
Jordan Eberle was part of Team Chara in 2012, notching a goal and an assist in defeating Team Alfredsson. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was named as a designated rookie but was unable to participate due to a shoulder injury.
Nugent-Hopkins would get his chance in 2015, notching two assists for Team Foligno in their loss to Team Toews. Nugent-Hopkins won a Honda Accord, along with Filip Forsberg, as the two were the final selections of the All-Star draft.
In 2016 the NHL switched to its current divisional format. Hall returned as an All-Star, defeating Erik Karlsson in a head-to-head matchup for fastest skater, and helping the Pacific Division win the 3-on-3 tournament.
McDavid’s history with the All-Star Games
Finally, in 2017 the Connor McDavid All-Star era begins. McDavid would win fastest skater three years in a row. He also helped the Pacific Division finish second in the 3-on-3 tournament in 2017 before winning in 2018.
In 2019, McDavid was joined by Leon Draisaitl—the pair have appeared in three consecutive All-Star Games together with this weekend’s event being their fourth—bringing McDavid’s streak to six consecutive All-Star Games. Certainly Gretzky’s record of nine straight appearances might be in sight; Messier has nine appearances but missed the 1985 event. Draisaitl won the precision passer event in 2019, and the pair helped the Pacific Division win the 3-on-3 tournament in 2020.
It was in that 2020 tournament where Draisaitl set the record for most points by an Oiler at an All-Star Game, with four goals and two assists. On five occasions an Oiler has registered four points in an All-Star Game: Gretzky in 1983, Weight in 2001, and McDavid in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
With Stuart Skinner joining the super duo he will be the first Oilers goalie to appear since Tommy Salo in 2002. With the Oilers rounding into form on the season, seeing this representation really drives home how special this current era is. With just less than half the season left to play there is still a lot to be decided, but this might well be the best Oilers team since their last Stanley Cup victory.
How this year’s events or 3-on-3 tournament unfolds will be anyone’s guess, but the Oilers talent should help give the Pacific Division a strong chance to come out on top. With a number of first time representatives, as well as a potential Hart trophy runner up (behind McDavid) in Jack Hughes, the Metropolitan Division might be a sneaky favourite to come out with a stronger effort than most.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire