EDMONTON, ALBERTA, MAY 25 -- The Edmonton Oilers brought the Stanley Cup home this afternoon, to be greeted by wives, girl friends and well wishers in a tumultuous scene at Edmonton International Airport.
The closing celebration is set for Sunday, when the City of Edmonton will honor the team at Commonwealth Stadium. It did not take long to complete the arrangements; Edmonton has had a lot of practice.
This was the Oilers' fifth Stanley Cup triumph in seven years. Except for emotional seven-game losses to Calgary in 1986 and Los Angeles in 1989, they most likely would be marking their seventh straight success.
The scary thing is that they figure to win a few more, as General Manager Glen Sather has maneuvered the Oilers into a premier position by profiting from the trades of Wayne Gretzky and Jimmy Carson, each of which appeared to be a negative at the time.
What this year's playoffs made clear, beyond the Oilers' ability to win without Gretzky, was the Smythe Division's dominance over the rest of the National Hockey League.
During the regular season, Smythe clubs won 18 more games than they lost, the top record in interdivisional play. But it is in the postseason, playing best-of-seven series at high intensity, that the Smythe representatives are at their best.
Since 1982, when the NHL adopted the current playoff format, Smythe teams have won 15 of 18 playoff series outside the division, including six of the last seven Stanley Cups.
The reasons were obvious during this year's playoffs. Smythe teams are loaded with speedy players who can score. In the Adams, the focus is on tight checking geared to the small rinks in Boston and Buffalo. Patrick and Norris clubs seem intent on beating each other over the head. When these philosophies collide, the result is no contest.
The Oilers outscored Boston, 20-8, in the five-game finals and six players produced two or more goals. In contrast, forwards Craig Janney, Bob Carpenter, Dave Christian and Brian Propp failed to record a point for Boston.
If one moment of this series was worth recording for posterity, it was the behind-the-back pass that Glenn Anderson fed to Craig Simpson to set up the second and crushing goal in Edmonton's 4-1 wrapup victory Thursday. It illustrated why the Oilers work so well together.
"What a great pass," Simpson said. "I didn't know how Andy was going to get me the puck, but I knew he was going to get it to me."
The Oilers believe in each other and, except for some largely ignored bleating for ice time by Petr Klima and Vladimir Ruzicka, they did not allow any distractions to keep them from their goal. It was an attitude, they pointed out, that was a legacy of the Gretzky era.
"Although we won it without Wayne, there's still a large part of him here," said defenseman Kevin Lowe, one of six Oilers to play on all five Cup champions. "Wayne gave us leadership, showed us the things we're trying to pass on to the young guys."
"All the guys who were with Wayne have lots of memories," said Jari Kurri, whose 92 career playoff goals surpassed Gretzky. "We learned a lot from Wayne. He taught us a lot about how to play in tough games. When we got behind Winnipeg, we battled through it period by period and game by game. Being there before helped us through."
There were other changes. Bill Ranford was the goaltender instead of Grant Fuhr and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP, an award Fuhr never was able to claim. John Muckler was his own man behind the bench, instead of at Sather's right hand.
Most of all, though, there was dazzling speed. The Oilers could put four lines on the ice that relentlessly pressured the opposition's defense. Eventually, the scoring chances came and Edmonton had the snipers to bury them.
"I think the trade with Detroit increased our speed by 25 percent," Muckler said. That deal was engineered by Sather on Nov. 2, after Jimmy Carson left the team and demanded to be traded. Just as he made the most of the Gretzky trade that was forced upon him by owner Peter Pocklington, so Sather benefited from Carson's intransigence.
Carson and tough guy Kevin McClelland were shipped to Detroit for Adam Graves, Joe Murphy, Klima and Jeff Sharples, a defenseman who was turned over to New Jersey for offensive-minded Reijo Ruotsalainen.
Graves and Murphy, each 22, teamed with Martin Gelinas, 19, to form what Muckler called the "Kid Line." The trio made important contributions to this Cup and they figure to gain in prominence. Gelinas has the ability to become a 50-goal scorer. Graves has the two-way potential to replace Mark Messier -- eventually, that is, since Messier is only 29.
Gelinas came with Carson in the Gretzky deal. Additionally, the Oilers received $15 million and the Kings' first-round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993. While everyone chastised Pocklington afterward, the fact remains that that trade and Sather's further manipulations figure to keep Edmonton competitive for the rest of the century.
There are shadows. Kurri is playing out his option and may leave. The defense is aging and replacements soon will be needed. But Sather has more trading material at his disposal in Fuhr, now that Ranford has proven he can handle the job.
"I don't know how great we are compared to the Canadiens teams or the Bruins or Red Wings, but we've got to be right up there, and we don't intend to stop here," Lowe said.
Edmonton, an NHL member for 11 seasons, has won the Stanley Cup five times. That matches Boston's total in 66 years. Chicago and the New York Rangers each have won three in 64. Next target: Detroit, seven in 64.