NHL What If… Steve Smith Own Goal

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NHL What-If is a series that looks at big moments in NHL history and wonders what might have happened had things played out slightly differently. The series is a focus on moments that impacted major games and franchises. The next moment to be examined is the Steve Smith Own Goal. 

NHL What If… Steve Smith Own Goal

History

Steve Smith was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the sixth round at the 1981 NHL Draft. Smith would become a full-time member of the Oilers in 1985. He would become a key defenceman for the team. Definitely not a flashy or offensively gifted defenceman, Smith was still a solid stay-at-home defenceman that the Oilers needed to balance their high flying nature.

NHL free agent frenzy

The 1985-86 Oilers had one of the greatest seasons in NHL history. Edmonton was the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. Wayne Gretzky led the way, scoring an NHL record 215 points on the year. He would win his sixth consecutive Art Ross and seventh consecutive Hart trophy. Paul Coffey would set the record for goals by a defenceman with 48 and won his second consecutive Norris trophy. Jari Kurri would lead the NHL with 68 goals. The Oilers would finish the season with 56 wins and 119 points, winning the newly created Presidents Trophy. Glen Sather would win the Jack Adams as coach of the year.

Playoffs

The team was a juggernaut. In the first round of the playoffs, the Oilers continued their strong play. They dominated the Vancouver Canucks, sweeping them 3-0. The Oilers outscored Vancouver 17-5 in the three games. In the second round, the Oilers would meet their provincial rival Calgary Flames. The Oilers and Flames had met two times prior to the 1986 playoffs, with Edmonton winning both series. Edmonton should cruise. The Oilers finished 30 points better than the Flames in the regular season.

Despite the odds, Calgary was not simply going to roll over. This series was the true birth of the Battle of Alberta. The underdog Flames looking to knockout the dynastic Oilers.

What Really Happened

The Oilers and Flames traded victories throughout the series. Oddly enough, both teams took two of three on the road, leading into Game 7. Edmonton was always chasing Calgary in the series, never holding a series lead. Still unphased by their opponent or the moment, the Flames took a 2-0 lead early in the second period.

Edmonton, with their wealth of experience, did not panic and were able to tie the game at two before the period was out. It was a tense and tight affair that seemed to play into the hands of the Flames more than the high flying Oilers. Just over five minutes into the third, Smith collected the puck after goalie Grant Fuhr stopped it behind the net. Smith begins up the ice and attempts to fire a cross-ice breakout pass to start the rush. Unfortunately for the Oilers and Smith disaster struck. Smith’s pass hit the skate of Fuhr and went into the net. Unbelievably, the Flames were up 3-2. Perry Berezan was given credit, even though he was on the Flames bench.

Incredibly, the Oilers were now on the brink of elimination. Edmonton furiously tried to tie the game but could not find an equalizer. The Flames would win the game and series. Edmonton’s dream of winning a third consecutive Cup is over. The Flames, finally, gained their first (and only) playoff victory over their provincial cousins.

After the game, Smith’s Oilers teammates rallied around him. Nobody blamed him for the loss. Still, the media and fans were not so forgiving. Smith was held responsible in their eyes and endured the focus of their anger.

What If…

What if Smith’s pass does not hit Fuhr’s skate and deflect in? Despite the fact Calgary played the Oilers tight, Edmonton comes out on top. They then go on to cap one of the best seasons of all time with their third straight Cup. The Oilers dynasty continues to flourish in the late ’80s. In reality, the Oilers win Cups in 1987, 88 and 90. By adding the ’86 cup means the Oilers tie the Montreal Canadiens record of five Cups in a row. With the Oilers gunning for a sixth title in a row, Peter Pocklington holds on to Gretzky for the 1988-89 season.

With Gretzky still in Edmonton, the Kings don’t make the playoffs and the Flames don’t win the Presidents Trophy.  All the extra hockey Edmonton played begins to catch up with them, however. The team is ‘off’ all season. Despite this, the Oilers are considered favorites.

The rival Flames have developed their own great team by the 1988-89 season ready to compete with the Oilers. The two teams meet in the second round again. This time the Flames get the better of the Oilers and stop them from winning their sixth straight Cup. The Flames carry that momentum and win the Campbell’s Conference finals. The Flames meet the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. Unfortunately for Calgary, they fall to the Habs. Still, the Flames

The Band Can’t Stay Together

Unfortunately, Pocklington’s money issues don’t magically disappear, however. He begins to sell off players in the 1989 off-season. Inevitably, Gretzky gets traded to L.A. This time, Kurri is packaged along with Gretzky. Next to go is Paul Coffey. With the exodus of talent, the Oilers struggle to make the playoffs. Unsurprisingly, they are picked off in the first round of the NHL playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets.

Pocklington sees the writing on the wall and cashes in on more players. Glenn Anderson, Fuhr, Esa Tikkanen, and Charlie Huddy are moved for younger cheaper players in 1990. A frustrated Mark Messier demands a trade after this next fire sale. By 1992, the entire core of the Oilers dynasty is no longer with the team.

Smith’s career plays out similar to the one he actually had, except the own goal isn’t replayed over and over. The gaffe he is most known for is no longer a thing. He is part of three consecutive Cups in Edmonton. He stays with Edmonton through 1990 and is then traded to Chicago as part of a fire sale. Without the memory of the own goal, Smith is remembered more fondly in Edmonton as a reliable and perhaps undervalued defenceman and key part of their dynasty.

 

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