Having just put an end to his "premature" retirement, Edmonton Oilers netminder Grant Fuhr was looking forward to training camp and assuming his role as Edmonton's last line of defence. Unfortunately for the four-time Stanley Cup winner, an emergency appendectomy and a rash of shoulder injuries would make the 1989-90 season a year to forget.
Three weeks after announcing his return, Fuhr would find himself back on the sidelines courtesy of an emergency appendectomy. After complaining to the Oilers training staff about an abdomen discomfort and quick examination from defenceman Dr. Randy Gregg, the former Vezina Trophy winner was immediately sent to a specialist.
Upon further examination, it was determined his appendix could have ruptured at any moment and that surgery would be required. While the operation was a success, initial speculation was Fuhr could need two full months to recover, before returning to the lineup. It was a tough break for everyone involved, but one made even worse, with Jimmy Carson's decision to walk away from the club, just four games into the season.
Fuhr would return to the lineup after just five and a half weeks, taking on the Montreal Canadiens on October 29th and proceeded to start fifteen of Edmonton's next twenty-two games, posting a 7-5-3 mark. Not surprisingly, he struggled with his consistency after such lengthy layoff but did manage to pull the Oilers out of last place in the Smythe Division and into the division lead, on December 16th in St. Louis.
After playing the Blues to a 3-3 draw, it was revealed that Fuhr hurt his shoulder during the game and would be sidelined for up to 12 weeks, with yet another shoulder injury, something which plagued him throughout his time in Edmonton. He returned on March 3rd and looked sharp in beating the Philadelphia Flyers and followed that with another impressive performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With back-to-back wins under his belt, Fuhr looked poised to go on a run heading into the playoffs.
That all changed in his start number three, as Edmonton blew a four-goal lead and fell 7-5 to the Winnipeg Jets. Just seven days after returning to action, the Oilers #1 goalie was back on the shelf with another shoulder issue. Initially, the diagnoses was simple. It looked to be a case of nothing more than"scar tissue" causing him discomfort but that smoke screen was soon put to rest.
With the playoffs just around the corner and the club not at all sold on Bill Ranford being able to carry the mail in the post-season, #31 gave it one more shot against the Calgary Flames in the Oilers second last game of the season. It had been three weeks since he faced the Jets, but Fuhr still wasn't right. He lasted just one period, giving up four goals in just under four minutes and visibly favouring his shoulder throughout the opening frame.
From the Oilers standpoint, it was a last ditch effort to try and get the league's premier netminder ready for the playoffs but it wasn't meant to be. With Fuhr out of the picture, there was nothing but questions surrounding Edmonton heading into the playoffs, especially after falling behind 3-1 to Winnipeg in the first round. Thankfully, Ranford would take his game to another level, after struggling badly in the opening four games against the Jets and Mark Messier continued to deliver one MVP performance after another, leading the Oilers to their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.
While it could not have been easy for Fuhr to watch from the press box, as a teammate, he couldn't have been happier with the outcome. The team not only managed to rally around his replacement but reached their ultimate goal of reclaiming the Cup. On a personal level, it was without a doubt the toughest season of his career but it was just one of those years. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
There was nothing he could do to change the past, so the focus had to be on next season and bouncing back with a strong year. Pretty straightforward. After all, how could things possibly get any worse for Grant Fuhr during the upcoming 1990-91 campaign? Regrettably, they did and the future Hall of Famer was about to become the talk of the sports world and for all the wrong reasons.
The Fall And Rise Of Grant Fuhr - The Staged Retirement
The Fall And Rise Of Grant Fuhr - The Suspension And Comeback