Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series. After the historic 2016 NHL Free Agency period, it’s a good time to look at the best free agent signing in the history of all 30 NHL franchises. Up next: The all-time best Colorado Avalanche free agent signing.
Make sure to check out the previous articles in our 2016 summer series here.
The All-Time Best Edmonton Oilers Free Agent Signing
Nobody did the draft quite like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, drafting everyone from Mark Messier to Grant Fuhr to Jarri Kurri. It also doesn’t hurt that your franchise got to keep Wayne Gretzky from the WHA due to a personal services contract with the owner. But who came into Edmonton via free agency with the most impact?
Craig MacTavish is one of the toughest players to come out of London, Ontario. After spending his young career at The University of Lowell in Massachusetts, the Boston Bruins drafted him 153rd overall in 1978, which was why MacTavish still played without a helmet well into the 1990s.
In January of 1984, MacTavish was charged with vehicular manslaughter after driving drunk and killing another driver. While in jail, MacTavish became a free agent, released from his contract by the Boston Bruins. During his prison term, MacTavish signed a new contract with the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were already a two-time Stanley Cup champion by the time MacTavish would arrive, but being targeted by every team in the National Hockey League, they were in serious use of some extra grit.
In the 1985-96 NHL regular season, Craig MacTavish surpassed his previous numbers in Boston, scoring 23 goals and adding 24 assists for 47 points. Where MacTavish surprised would be in the playoffs, scoring eight points in 10 playoff games. The Oilers now had another potential playoff hero on the squad.
In 1986-87, MacTavish’s regular season numbers took a slight dip, but played a pivotal role in the team in the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs, with 10 points in 21 games. With strong third line centre play, MacTavish raised the Stanley Cup in 1987 and 1988 with the Oilers.
MacTavish’s Cup champion days were not over. With Gretzky now in Los Angeles, MacTavish was handed more responsibility with the Oilers. Led by Mark Messier, the Edmonton Oilers defeated MacTavish’s former Boston Bruins club to win the Stanley Cup, MacTavish’s third.
Captain Mac T
With an exodus of major Edmonton Oilers greats culminating in 1992, Craig MacTavish found himself captain of the Oilers in 1992. He would stay with the club until 1993-94, when the New York Rangers, already equipped with former Edmonton Oilers like Mark Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Adam Graves, and Jeff Buekeboom, added Captain Mac T at the trade deadline. The move paid off, with the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup. MacTavish would then play for the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues before retiring from the National Hockey League, known as the last player to not wear a helmet.
Returning to Edmonton
After spending a few years with the New York Rangers as an assistant coach, Craig MacTavish returned to the Edmonton Oilers as an assistant coach, under former teammate Kevin Lowe. When Lowe became general manager, MacTavish took the role as head coach. MacTavish’s greatest success came when behind the bench of the Oilers in 2005-06, the Edmonton Oilers went to the Stanley Cup final. The Oilers lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.
In 2009, MacTavish was fired by general manager Steve Tambellini and went to work for TSN after being unable to find another coaching gig. MacTavish would return to coaching in 2011-12 with the Chicago Wolves. After the season, he ended up back in Edmonton as Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations, before moving into the role as general manager. MacTavish lasted in the role for two seasons. He is currently Vice President of Hockey Operations in Edmonton, spending most of his time with the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League.
While his management career in Edmonton is remembered a lot less fondly than his playing career, MacTavish was an important role player with the Edmonton Oilers. MacT sits ninth in all-time games played for the Edmonton Oilers, and 15th all-time for points. MacTavish is one of 11 former Edmonton Oilers to play 100 playoff games or more for the Oilers. He sits fourth all-time on the Oilers for shorthanded goals, being one of the most important players all-time for Edmonton when shorthanded.
While the circumstances of why MacTavish became a free agent are horrible, it did give Craig MacTavish the opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup dynasty, one in which he was an important cog of keeping the machine winning Stanley Cups in the late 80s and 1990.