I was blessed to be an Edmonton Oilers fan during the team’s dynasty. Watching such all-time greats as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Jari Kurri, and even the Randy Greg, a solid defenseman who retired from the Oilers to become an Edmonton-area doctor I came to know because I was involved as the Vice President of Edmonton’s Ronald McDonald House.
It was a great team; and, certainly, the entertainment value was ramped up to a high pitch when the Oilers had their run of Stanley Cup victories. No doubt, Wayne Gretzky was “The Great One;” but, perhaps the greatest leader on the team was Mark Messier. He was “large and in charge,” and his nickname “The Moose” tells something about his imposing presence on the ice and probably in the dressing room.
Messier’s Growth Into a Great NHL Leader
When Mark Messier arrived with the Oilers, he was a big, raw but talented, home-grown (from nearby St. Albert) kid. However, by the time his tenure had finished with the Oilers, he’d helped Edmonton win five Stanley Cups and he had won another with the New York Rangers. Messier’s leadership, his scoring numbers, and his penchant for winning will stand the test of time.
Many hockey commentators call Messier – number 11 – the greatest leader in professional sports history. In fact, the NHL has instituted an award that suggests just that. There’s no argument that Messier is one of the best leaders – ever.
Although he so often played in the background of The Great Gretzky, there’s no doubt that the team’s success during its glory days has as much to do with Messier’s play as it did with Gretzky’s. In fact, the genius of the Oilers was that coach and architect Glen Sather was able to mold these young players into an amazing team where the sum of the players’ parts was more than the addition of their skills.
Messier Delivered for the Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers were a team, and Messier was a big part of that team’s success. “The Moose” was a great player in his own right; and, for five different seasons, he scored more than 100 points. He also won a wall full of hardware – including the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Hart Trophy during his time with the team. That said, Messier wasn’t defined by his offensive production. He was defined by the fear he brought to the table every game he played.
Like the iconic Gordie Howe before him, he was a nice guy off the ice and a powerhouse of a player on the ice. He scared people with good reason. If he thought an opponent needed a stick upside the head, he would deliver it without blinking. If he thought you needed an elbow in the teeth, he would deliver that as well. If he thought the team needed a goal, he could deliver that, too. The key idea lives within the verbs of those sentences – he delivered.
Oilers fans were blessed that Messier and Gretzky played together for so long, but when Gretzky got sold to the Los Angeles Kings before the 1988-89 season (in a story that was so wrong in so many ways for the city of Edmonton and Oilers fans), Messier showed what he could do on his own. He led the team to its fifth Stanley Cup in seven seasons during the 1989-90 season.
In many ways, it was a shame how the Oilers’ Era ended. Messier himself was traded to the New York Rangers in October 1991, but he remains a legend in the city where he grew up. He might not have been the greatest player in NHL history but he was one of the most complete players.
Messier Was a Tough Player Who Could Do It All
Messier had it all: he could skate, score, and scare an opponent with his physical game. In fact, he might have been scarier even than Gordie Howe. There are few players who can play the game however an opponent wanted and still beat them.
Messier could do it all. He ranks third in the NHL in career scoring with 1,887 regular season career points; and, of those points, he scored 1,034 when he was a member of the Oilers. The former Oiler captain was also a two-time Hart Trophy winner as the player most valuable to his team and the NHL’s MVP and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the Stanley Cup series.
With the Oilers, Messier was “The Moose.” He was the second-best player who’s ever worn an Oilers uniform. That the NHL created the Mark Messier Leadership Award to recognize a player who’s a superior leader within the NHL and a contributing member of society probably says more about Messier than anything else could.