Wresting Stanley Cup from champion Oilers a tall hockey order
''Dynasty'' is a long-running series on weeknight television but a longer-running story line in the National Hockey League. The New York Islanders took on dynastic proportions by winning four Stanley Cups in a row. They finally were stopped in the playoff finals a few months ago by the young Edmonton Oilers, who now are being projected as the game's new dynasty.
Has a stranglehold on the cup shifted some 2,500 miles from eastern New York to Alberta? From the traffic-heavy suburbs of Manhattan to the oil-rich plains of Canada?
Unless the Oilers are overcome by a runaway sense of their own importance (they are the most confident team in hockey as well as the most talented) or a succession of untimely injuries, they could continue to improve and perhaps dominate the rest of the decade.
Superstars Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey all are only 23 years old.
Calling Gretzky a superstar, of course, is something of an understatement. He is the preeminent team-sport athlete of his time and more than a few other times.
Consider that he has been playing in the NHL for five seasons - and has been named its most valuable player all five! That's a dynasty within a dynasty.
Last year he scored 205 points on 87 goals and 118 assists, falling just shy of his own records in those three individual categories. More importantly, he was as effective in the playoffs as he was during the regular season, for the first time.
Even more effective in the playoffs than Gretzky was the mercurial Messier, who moved from playing wing on Gretzky's line to centering a second line nearly as potent. The Edmonton native amassed 26 points in the playoffs, including two game-winning goals, and was named the most valuable player.
Coffey was the linchpin of a defense that overcame a reputation for disappearing under pressure, and he still managed to rank among the league's top 15 scorers, along with teammates Gretzky, Messier, Jari Kurri, and Glenn Anderson.
The Oilers set an NHL record of 446 goals last year, averaging upwards of six a game.
If the defense continues to develop and Grant Fuhr's knee and goaltending hold up, the offense will be free to keep wheeling.
Billy Carroll, a quick-checking center ironically obtained from the Islanders through the off-season waiver draft, will help the defense. He replaces Ken Linseman, traded to Boston for forward Mike Krushelnyski.
The Oilers also have a rookie to watch in Raimo Summanen, a winger from Finland. Just what they need - another scoring threat.
As for the Islanders, they have little experience at making excuses and have had few to offer since losing the Stanley Cup to Edmonton. They do point out that they were down to only four truly healthy players in the playoff finals and were not the team that established a four-year reign over the sport.
''It was such a disappointment the way we lost,'' says winger Mike Bossy, who has scored 50 goals in each of his last seven seasons. ''We reached back for something extra, and it wasn't there.''
General Manager Bill Torrey, who put the great team together, says, ''The number of games we played over a five-year period, going to the finals every season, eventually wore us down.''
Torrey expects to avoid burnout this year with young players like Greg Gilbert, Brent Sutter, Thomas Jonsson, and the two rookie Pats, Pat Flatley and Pat LaFontaine, who joined the team late last season after the Olympics and adapted exceptionally well.
Back and seemingly burning to regain the cup are All-Stars Bossy; Bryan Trottier, the finest two-way center in the league; Denis Potvin, the captain and defensive bulwark; Billy Smith, the battling goalie, and John Tonelli, the hustling forward who was most valuable player of the recent Canada Cup series won by Canada over Russia and Sweden.
If the defense can offset advancing years and temporary losses to the lineup, the Islanders may have the balance and pride to recapture the cup.
Can any other team skate as far as the playoff finals?
The Adams Division offers Buffalo and Boston, both of which impressed during the 1983-84 regular season but departed the playoffs abruptly. Buffalo boasts probably the best goalie in the NHL in Tom Barrasso and has been building with other outstanding young talent. Linseman should add zest to a Boston offense that has had to rely too strongly on Rick Middleton.
In the Patrick Division, the Rangers acquire needed consistency every season and will benefit from the addition of heralded rookie defenseman James Patrick. Washington lacks only a bit more scoring clout to contend. The Philadelphia Flyers have promoted Bobby Clarke to the general managership and will miss his leadership on the ice. No. 1 draft choice Mario Lemieux will light new offensive fires for Pittsburgh.
In the Smythe Division, a speedy Calgary nearly upset Edmonton in the playoffs last spring and expects immediate results from a half dozen attractive rookies including Hakan Loob, who excelled for Sweden in the Canada Cup.
Chicago and Minnesota should make the Norris Division close, but neither should go far in the playoffs.
Having written all that about it, the season still should feature the Oilers and Islanders vying for the lead role in the NHL's ongoing saga of ''Dynasty.'' Stay tuned.