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The Worst Captain in Oiler History

"Shayne Corson can go eat shit." - Pat Burns

In recent years I've heard a few folks suggest that thecaptainethanmoreau was in fact theworstcaptaininOilerhistory. Young folks, mostly, folks who don't know better. Folks who didn't experience the short but tempestuous reign of Shayne Corson.

"Shame" was captain of the Oil for just 34 games in the lockout-shortened 1995-95 season. It was just a two-month segment of the NHL's shortest season since World War II, but a captaincy that ended mid-season in ignominy and disgrace for Corson and the Oil drop.

I, however, tend to think of his whole time here - three long, lousy, losing seasons - as the Shayne Corson Era. Perhaps a palaeogeologist would be more inclined to label it the Corson Boundary, as his arrival on the team was a catastrophic event that coincided with the extinction of the Dynasty. >:0 The team crashed out of the playoffs in the three years he was here, cratered during his tenure as captain, and only began to climb out of the abyss after his departure.

First though, some background on what sort of player Glen Sather acquired in that 1992 trade for Vincent Damphousse. Chosen 8th overall by the Canadiens in 1984, Corson was a promising junior who first came to prominence at the 1986 World Junior Championship in Hamilton. A returning player from the gold medalists of Helsinki, Corson was the local hero, given he played for the Hamilton Steelheads at the time. Wearing the "C" for the red maple leaf and playing in his own barn, Corson had a strong tournament but melted down badly in the key game against the USSR, held off the scoresheet and reduced to taking selfish, petulant penalties down the stretch. Team Canada not only lost convincingly, 4-1, but lost their dignity in the process. I lost something in that game too, namely, respect for Shayne Corson. I never regained it.

Corson joined the Habs in the fall of 1986 - just after Montreal had won the Cup. They wouldn't win it again until the year after they got rid of him. Celebrated in some quarters as an uncompromising, gritty player, pilloried in others as a cheap shot artist, there was general agreement that Corson was a hellion off the ice. He was a regular on Montreal's infamous Crescent Street and its equivalent in road cities, running into trouble with the law on more than one occasion.

By his last season in Montreal he was out of control. Newly signed to a four year extension, he began the season under suspension due to his vicious blind-side crosscheck to the head of Ray Bourque in the dying seconds of a losing playoff series the previous spring. In November, he incurred another 10-game suspension from the NHL for coming off the bench to fight. In Feburary, he was suspended yet a third time, this time by his own team for a nasty off-ice incident:

The Zoo Bar Incident: During the 1991-92 season, Corson made headlines for his role in a Feb. 13, 1992, late-night fight at the Zoo Bar nightclub in Montreal. On Feb. 14, 1992, the Canadiens suspended Corson indefinitely for the incident, in which he was accused of throwing shot glasses at a man who was talking to a woman Corson had met earlier at the bar. Corson then approached the man and began fighting with him. The incident led to Corson's second arrest in two years. The previous season, he had been arrested for a fight outside Winnipeg's Marble Club. The Zoo Bar incident... was embarrassing enough for Montreal general manager Serge Savard to suspend Corson and warn him that he would be traded if he was involved in any more bar brawls. Even coach Pat Burns, who had been supportive of Corson, expressed disappointment with him. "Bars are supposed to be fun, but he turns them into a boxing ring," said Burns.

Corson had met his match with the no-nonsense Burns. The crusty coach's blunt assessment of Corson cited up top (sourced from this terrific article which is well worth your time to read) is worth immediate entry into my personal Hall of Fame, even as he has been spurned from the official HHoF. The problem child and the ex-cop had numerous run-ins over the years, and the Zoo Bar incident was the last straw. Corson was traded the following off-season... to Edmonton.

The dynasty was already crumbling, of course, and much as I might like to do so, I can't lay it all at the feet of Shayne Corson. His arrival, however, was the culmination of a series of horrible trades in which the Oilers traded down again and again. Jari Kurri for Scott Mellanby. Steve Smith for Dave Manson. Kevin Lowe for Roman Oksiuta. Jeff Beukeboom for David Shaw. Mark Messier for Bernie Nicholls, then Nicholls for Zdeno Ciger. Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr for Luke Richardson and Vincent Damphousse, then Damphousse for Corson. By the fall of '92 much of the talent was stripped from the dynasty, and even more of its character. A hugely unlikeable team remained, with Shayne Corson one of its guiding lights. The squad headed directly for the shoals.

As an Oiler Corson was an OK hockey player at times, not my idea of elite but one of the better talents on the depleted club. He had a mean streak a mile wide, which can be considered an asset in this game of course, but it often extended to petty stick work and unnecessary fights. Corson was a fearsome scrapper with the mindset of a street fighter. It was my observation that these fights tended to occur most often very late in losing games, with Corson carefully choosing his spots as to who he would take on. Our new "star" amassed 209 PiM in his first year in Edmonton, combined with just 16 goals and a -19 rating as the Oilers crashed out of the playoffs for the first time in their NHL history.

I gave up my season tickets in the spring of 1993 (after 16 years), largely due to new financial realities, although the fact that I no longer much liked "my" team hastened the decision. It had become a wasteland for failed first rounders, guys long on talent but short on smarts. More than once I threw up my hands - or simply threw up - in exasperation, proclaiming that my team had gone from being the smartest team in the league to the dumbest.

Thanks to their poor finish in '93, the Oilers had their first high draft pick in a dozen years and used it wisely, selecting Jason Arnott. The wisdom ended there, as Corson was chosen to mentor the youngster in a relationship that was to end very badly. It worked for awhile though - both had decent seasons in 1993-94, with Arnott breaking Jari Kurri's club record for goals by a rookie (non-Gretzky division) and earning a spot on the NHL's All-Rookie Team. The club continued to struggle badly however, winning just 1 game in 22 at one point, to decisively miss the playoffs again.

Off the ice, Corson managed to stay out of official trouble, but Edmonton is neither too big nor too small for stories not to circulate, including a few that were related to me from trustworthy individuals. Suffice to say the guy was living down to my expectations and lower.

Matters took a turn for the even worse the next season when Corson was named team captain by incoming head coach George Burnett. The Oilers actually stayed in contention for much of that 1995-95 half-season, standing just 1 game below .500 with 20 games to go despite poor play from both Arnott and Corson (who finished the season with just 12 goals and a team-worst -19). But then the wheels came off in a 9-game losing streak, during which the club was outscored 43-15. The Oilers' captain suffered an on-ice meltdown at the end of one game early in the streak, and carried his ill humour beyond the ice. Things boiled over after the sixth loss, a dismal 7-2 defeat by the Kings. While mainstream media reporters were loathe to, uh, report, details gradually seeped out of a spat between Corson and his former protege, Arnott, over the awarding of an assist of all things. One (unverifiable!) version of the story is that Corson - whose contract was running out at the end of the season - tried to get a minor official to change an official scoring play in his favour, Arnott accused the captain of putting his own welfare ahead of the team, and the two came to blows. Hearing of the incident, Burnett tried to deal with it by immediately stripping Corson of the "C". Sather supported his rookie coach by firing him one game later and replacing him with Ron Low, but the "C" wasn't reinstated. It was a rudderless ship that foundered down the stretch, the third straight terrible season during Corson's Edmonton tenure. Things had gone from bad to worse: the team was an embarrassment to its fans and a laughingstock to its rivals.

Even Sather could see that Corson had to go. Fortunately, his contract had expired and the limited free agency of the day provided a window. Corson signed with the St. Louis Blues in a complicated sign-and-trade deal in which Mike Keenan sent star goalie Curtis Joseph and highly-touted prospect Mike Grier to the Oilers as compensation. The day it was made I lauded it as the best trade in Oilers' NHL history, a "three for zero" in which we got Cujo, we got Grier, and we got rid of Corson. The squad was still a year away from a return to the playoffs; Joseph held out deep into the following season while Grier was still in college, but Corson's absence was an immediate plus as a new hope surrounded the team. By 1996-97 an exuberant young squad was emerging and the Corson years were at last receding into the rear-view mirror.

Corson's career was far from finished, of course. His time in St. Louis was checkered with more captaincy controversy; the self-destructive Mike Keenan stripped Brett Hull of the "C" early in the 1995-96 season and gave it to Corson of all people, later turning the captaincy over to yet a third player that season after the acquisition of Wayne Gretzky at the deadline. By early in the next season Keenan decided to go in yet another direction, shipping Corson back to Montreal in return for Pierre Turgeon, Craig Conroy and more. For the third time in three trades, the team that got rid of Corson decisively won the trade. I never did get why his trade value was so high.

Corson's second tenure in Montreal was marked by a double suspension, for attempting to injure Ed Jovanovski with a stick to the face, then for attempting to pursue Jovanovski in the dressing room area after the game. The Habs went downhill, crashing out of the playoffs in his last two years there. By the summer of 2000 they were happy to let him walk as a free agent.

Corson then signed a three-year deal with Toronto as a higher-profile-than-warranted free agent on one of the most unlikeable teams of the going-on-48 years I've been following this league. He brought little in the way of performance (just 27-45-72 in 197 GP, and an even worse 2-5-7 in 32 playoff games), but once again was a divisive factor on a club noted for its dysfunctionality. Not for the first time in his checkered career there were persistent rumours of Corson's inappropriate behaviour off the ice - I won't get into it here, but if you're into salacious stuff google "Corson Mogilny" and read for yourself. The clique of Corson, his brother-in-law Darcy Tucker, and Travis Green became notorious in Toronto and around the league, noted for fighting each other's battles but not their teammates'. The trio were front and centre during a vicious 2002 playoff series against the New York Islanders, a series in which Corson managed to get himself suspended for Game 7 for attempting to kick Eric Cairns in the aftermath of this thoroughly enjoyable fight. For once it was somebody else picking the spots, something that had been a long, long time in coming.

Corson played out his contract in 2002-03, but once the fat regular-season cheques stopped coming, he flat out quit on his teammates in the middle of their first-round playoff series. While the rest of the club was celebrating a hard-fought overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three, Corson sulked about being a healthy scratch, then walked out on his team. While Corson's departure was usually addition by subtraction, this was addition by distraction. All hell broke loose, the Leafs lost the next three games and the series, and Corson had left yet another shambles in his wake.

Unbelievably he would be signed for one last kick at the can before the lockout by the Dallas Stars. They were the perfect team for Corson, cuz I hated the Stars just as much as I hated him. Added for his "playoff grit" - can you believe it? - Corson delivered 0-1-1, -5 in a 5-game first round rout at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Fittingly, he closed out his career the same way he ended every one of his NHL seasons - as a loser.