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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

The 'last dance' for the Edmonton Oilers, and Soviet hockey

Updated: May 19

The late 1980s represented the 'last dances' for two dynasties - the Edmonton Oilers and the Soviet Union. After winning four Stanley Cups in five years between 1984 and 1988, the Oilers slowly disassembled their team. The City of Champions won one last title in 1990, and officially ended the dynasty throughout the early 1990s by trading Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier. The tale of Fuhr and Anderson's trade is detailed below.

The Soviet Union's fall is considered to have occurred in December 1991. The idea of a centralized, socialist government took a major hit, as did the dominance of the Soviet Union's pro hockey team. In December 1988 and January 1989, Russian pro teams CSKA Moscow (aka the Red Army) and Dynamo Riga played six games each against NHL teams as part of the Friendship Cup aka the 1988-89 Super Series. To get a sense of the climate of international hockey, enjoy this CTV commercial promoting the series.

CSKA Moscow was undefeated in its first four games, beating the Islanders (3-2), Bruins (5-4) and Devils (5-0) while tying Quebec (5-5). The Red Army's final three games included losses to the Penguins (4-2) and Sabres (6-5 in OT) and a win over Hartford (6-3). CSKA Moscow consisted of the best Soviet playyers, including international legends Sergei Makarov (9 points), Igor Larionov (7 points), Alexei Kasatonov and Slava Fetisov. The team also boasted future NHLers Valeri Kamensky, Alexei Gusarov, Sergei Nemchinov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Vladimir Malakhov.

Dynamo Riga, a team based in Soviet-occupied Latvia, did not fare as well. Riga lost to Edmonton (2-1), Vancouver (6-1), Chicago (4-1) and St. Louis (5-0), tying Calgary (2-2) and beating Los Angeles (5-3) and Minnesota (2-1). The team featured future NHLers Andrei Lomakin, Anatoli Semenov and Arturs Irbe.

520 - Rick Lessard

A defenceman, Lessard was drafted 142nd overall by Calgary in 1987 after playing three years with Ottawa in the OHL. He played one more season of junior, scoring 39 points and recording 210 penalty minutes in 58 games.

Lessard turned pro for the 1988-89 season, playing in 76 games with Salt Lake City in the IHL, scoring 52 points, earning 210 penalty minutes; he was also named a first team all-star. Lessard also played in six games with the Flames, recording one assist. He played two more seasons in the Flames organization, appearing in one NHL game. 

In June 1991 Lessard was claimed by San Jose in the expansion draft. He appeared in eight games with the Sharks in their inaugural season, recording two assists. His IHL success continued, winning a Turner Cup with Kansas City. December 1992 saw Lessard traded to Vancouver for Robin Bawa, spending the 1992-93 season with a couple of AHL franchises. The 1993-94 season would be Lessard’s final pro season, split between the AHL, IHL and ECHL.

In three NHL seasons, Lessard played in 15 games, recording four assists and 18 penalty minutes. 

YouTube clip: from Lessard’s junior days, pummeling Mike Craig during a game between Ottawa and Oshawa at the Ottawa Civic Centre. Craig would play over 400 NHL games in 1990s and early 2000s

521 - Scott Thornton

522 - Luke Richardson

Our next two players, Scott Thornton and Luke Richardson, were part of a seven player trade between Edmonton and Toronto at the start of the 1991-92 season. Along with Vincent Damphousse and Peter Ing, Thornton and Richardson were traded to Edmonton for Glenn Anderson, Craig Berube and Grant Fuhr.

Scott Thornton - Thornton played five seasons with the Oilers, scoring 53 points over 209 games. At the start of the 1996-97 season he was traded to Montreal for Andrei Kovalenko. It took a decade of play in the NHL before Thornton reached career-highs in scoring in the early 2000s with San Jose.

Vincent Damphousse - Damphousse played only one season with Oilers, leading the team in scoring with 89 points during the 1991-92 season. The Oilers made the Campbell Conference Finals that season, but were swept by Chicago. In August 1992 Damphousse was traded to Montreal for Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek.

Peter Ing - the Leafs starting goaltender in 1990-91, Ing led the NHL in losses (29). He played 12 games with the Oilers in 1991-92, posting a 3-4-0 record. Ing spent the 1992-93 season in the minor leagues, and was traded to Detroit in August 1993 for a late draft pick and future considerations.

Luke Richardson - an assistant captain with the Oilers from 1994 to 1997, Richardson played in 436 games with the Oilers over six season, recording 78 points and 630 penalty minutes. In July 1997 he signed with Philadelphia as a free agent.

The Oilers dynasty was coming to an end, with players like Anderson and Fuhr being some of the final holdovers from the team that won four Stanley Cups in six seasons. After making the Conference Finals in 1992, they would miss the playoffs in four straight seasons. In the 1997 & 1998 playoffs they would achieve major upsets in the first round, but wouldn’t advance beyond the Conference Semi-Finals until making the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

Glenn Anderson - the veteran played most of three seasons with the Leafs, scoring 157 points in 221 games. Anderson was third in team scoring during the 1993 playoffs when the Leafs made it to within one game of the Cup Finals. He was traded at the March 1994 trade deadline with a pick and prospect for Mike Gartner, who scored 11 points during the Leafs 1994 Western Conference Finals trip.

Craig Berube - the enforcer played only 40 games for the Leafs before being traded to Calgary in the massive deal that landed Doug Gilmour for Toronto. Gilmour became a Leafs legend behind a massive 1992-93 season in which he won the Selke Trophy, finished as runner up for the Hart Trophy and set a franchise record with 127 points. 

Grant Fuhr - Fuhr posted a 38-42-9 record in parts of two seasons with the Leafs. In February 1993 he was traded to Buffalo with a draft pick for Dave Andreychuk, Daren Puppa and a first-round pick that was used to select defenceman Kenny Jonsson. Fuhr had lost his starter’s role to Felix Potvin, and the Leafs parlayed a redundant asset into a player in Andreychuk that would finish fourth in the league in goals in the 1993-94 seasons with 55, along with 99 points.

The Maple Leafs ended up trading all three players acquired in the trade within three seasons. But each of the assets they acquired in return would play pivotal roles in the team reaching the Conference Finals in 1993 and 1994. Like the Oilers the Leafs were quickly on the downside of a peak, losing in the Conference Quarter-Finals in 1995 and 1996, then being out of the playoffs entirely until 1999. As such, I will declare the Leafs the winners of this trade.

524 - Mike Eagles

A forward, Eagles was drafted 116th overall by Quebec in 1981. With the Kitchener Rangers he won back-to-back OHL titles, as well as a Memorial Cup in 1982. Eagles played in his first two NHL games in 1982-83, then turned pro for the 1983-84 season. He played his first two seasons with Fredericton in the AHL, becoming a full-time NHLer in 1985-86, scoring 23 points in 73 games. Eagles’ sophomore season was his best statistically, recording career-highs in goals (13) and points (32).

In July 1988 Eagles was traded to Chicago for goalie Bob Mason. In two seasons in the Blackhawks organization Eagles played primarily with Indianapolis, appearing in 70 games with the Hawks, scoring 19 points. During the 1990-91 season he was traded to Winnipeg, developing into an excellent defensive forward, earning Selke Trophy votes in 1992 and 1993. 

During the 1994-95 lockout season, Eagles was traded to Washington with Igor Ulanov for a pair of draft picks. 

In his first two seasons with the Caps Eagles played in 70 games, and saw his playing time gradually decrease from 1997 to 2000, playing in only 113 games while scoring 14 points. In the 1998 playoffs he played in 12 games with the Capitals, recording two assists as the Caps were swept by Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In 16 NHL seasons Eagles played in 853 games, scoring 74 goals and 196 points. From 2002 to 2011 he was head coach for St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, and from 2019 to 2023 was a skills coach with Saint John in the QMJHL.

YouTube clip: leveling Wendel Clark during an April 1993 game between Toronto and Winnipeg.

525 - Mike McNeill

A right winger, McNeill played four season of college hockey at the University of Notre Dame. He was captain for his final two seasons, and in his senior season scored 28 goals and 72 points in 32 games.

McNeill spent his rookie pro season with Fort Wayne in the IHL, scoring 62 points in 75 games. He parlayed that performance into a NHL contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, playing the 1989-90 with the Indianapolis in the IHL. The Ice won the Turner Cup, with McNeill winning the Bud Poile Award as playoff MVP.

He graduated to the NHL for the 1990-91 season, playing in 23 games with the Hawks, scoring two goals and four points. In March of that season McNeill was traded with Ryan McGill to Quebec for Paul Gillis and Dan Vincelette. In 14 games with the Nords McNeill scored 7 points. He played one more season with the Nordiques (5 points in 26 games) before returning to the IHL with Milwaukee in 1992-93. McNeill played the next six seasons with the Admirals, venturing to Germany for two seasons beginning in 1997-98. His pro career ended in 1999 after suffering an eye injury.

In two NHL seasons McNeill played in 63 games, scoring five goals and 16 points. He ranks third all-time in games played for the Milwaukee Admirals franchise. From 2006 to 2011 he was a volunteer assistant coach with his alma mater Notre Dame. McNeill is currently the director of hockey operations at the Ice Box Skating Rink in South Bend, Indiana, the home of the Fighting Irish.

YouTube clip: an interview produced by the Milwaukee Admirals as part of the franchise’s 35th anniversary celebrations. Enjoy the poor quality lighting! 

526 - Ken Priestlay

A centre, Priestlay was drafted 98th overall by Buffalo in 1985. Following the draft he scored 73 goals and 145 points in 72 games with Victoria in the WHL. Priestlay turned pro for the 1986-87 season, scoring 11 goals and 17 points in 34 games with the Sabres. As part of the Rochester Americans in the AHL he won the Calder Cup in that season.

From 1987 to 1990 Priestlay played in 83 games with the Sabres, scoring 14 goals and 33 points. During the 1988-89 season he put up 56 goals and 93 points in 64 games with Rochester. Priestlay joined the Canadian National Team for the 1990-91 season, scoring 46 points in 40 games. Late in the season he was traded to Pittsburgh for Tony Tanti, and played two games that season with the Pens.

In the 1991-92 season he played a career-high 49 games with the Penguins, scoring two goals and 10 points. Although he didn’t play during the playoffs that season, Priestlay appeared in a sufficient number of regular season games (more than 41) to get his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup. He spent one more season in the Pens organization, scoring 69 points in 66 games with Cleveland in the IHL.

For the 1994-95 season Priestlay went to Great Britain, joining the Sheffield Steelers. Over five seasons he won three league titles, twice scored 50 or more goals (55 & 58), and earned the nickname The Messiah of Hockey. He retired after the 1998-99 season, only to return for one season in 2002-03 with the Dundee Stars, scoring 71 points in 33 games.

In six NHL seasons Priestlay played in 168 games, scoring 27 goals and 61 points. According to Wikipedia he is currently employed as the general manager of a lumber store in his hometown of Vancouver.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner during the Sabres January 1989 game against CSKA Moscow as part of the 1988-89 Super Series. 

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