This is Pat Conacher. He led all Oiler rookies in regular season games played during their first Stanley season (1984). It’s true. Conacher was 24 that year, went 42gp, 2-8-10 as a energy, depth player. Conacher had signed as a free agent in the summer of 1983 and even got into some playoff games (3, scored a goal) the following spring as Edmonton marched to its first championship.
Conacher was older than a few pretty good players on that team, including Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Charlie Huddy and Andy Moog. Of course those people were stunning talents, but they were also more experienced as NHL players than Conacher despite his being their senior.
The point? Rookies are fine and dandy, but winning teams employ few first year players and even fewer rookies play major roles. Ken Dryden’s wonderful spring 1971 is very famous but the list of flat out rookies who lead their team to glory is very small.
Let’s list the NHL regular season games played by the center of that great Oiler roster in the spring of 1984:
- Wayne Gretzky (393)
- Kevin Lowe (383)
- Mark Messier (375)
- Paul Coffey (314)
- Jari Kurri (290)
- Glenn Anderson (290)
- Charlie Huddy (204)
- Grant Fuhr (125)
- Andy Moog (103)
Lordy. Imagine Ales Hemsky (349 games currently) having 8 guys of similar calibre with that much NHL experience before age 25 (some of these men were just 22 at this time). Despite appearances, the Oilers were a pretty experienced (if young) group by the time they learned to win.
Which we know just from observing the game. A recent example would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who got all the way to the finals this season before being humbled by a veteran group of NHL players. Detroit’s role in Pittsburgh’s emergence as a power may one day be compared to our own Oilers and their learning curve with the New York Islanders of the 1980s.
In terms of the current NHL Oilers, I think any reasonable person would agree that running these kids through the hay baler that is the big leagues has cost the team dearly in the standings since the Stanley run. I’m not going to argue with anyone about injuries or the Pronger trade or any of the things we’ve navel gazed about over the last 24 months.
Can we agree that rookies and winning championships, while not mutually exclusive, are rarely seen together and never march in lock step over a period of years? You’re either building or you’re winning.
Rob Schremp might be the last rookie to make the Oilers boat for the Hemsky romp through the rest of the decade, or maybe it’s Peckham. Whoever it is, let it be the last for a time. Enough with the building.
In the spring of 1983-84, the Oilers devoted 8 games to rookies during the post-season (5 to Raimo Summanen, 3 to Conacher). This represents 2% of the overall roster that spring.
In the last two NHL seasons, the Edmonton Oilers have devoted 5,963 on-ice minutes to rookie forwards. This represents about 21% of the overall minutes devoted to the Oilers forwards since the Pronger trade. I’m not arguing the merits of bringing in Gagner or Cogliano, that’s a no-brainer. However, the clock is ticking on that beauty Ales Hemsky contract and this post-Stanley swoon was completely self inflicted.
If the Edmonton Oilers had signed two veteran defensemen after the Pronger deal and then added a gritty, veteran winger when the injuries hit fall 2006 it is resaonable to argue the last two seasons would have turned out differently. Some of us were arguing it at the time.
How many at-bats for the kids this summer? Less than 1,500 minutes (including injuries) for the complete roster seems like a nice target.