The Oilers were officially founded in 1971 by W. D. "Wild Bill" Hunter and Dr. Chuck Allard. The team played its first season in 1972, as one of the twelve founding franchises of the major professional World Hockey Association (WHA). They were originally intended to be one of two WHA Alberta teams, along with the Calgary Broncos. However, when the Broncos relocated and became the Cleveland Crusaders before the WHA's first season began, the Oilers were renamed the Alberta Oilers. They returned to their current name in the following year, and subsequently joined the NHL in 1979 as one of four franchises absorbed through the NHL merger with the WHA.
After joining the NHL, the Oilers went on to win the Stanley Cup on five occasions: 1983–84, 1984–85, 1986–87, 1987–88, and 1989–90. Along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, they are tied for the most championships won by any team since the NHL-WHA merger and also the most won by any team that joined the league in or after 1967. Among all NHL teams, only the Montreal Canadiens have won the Stanley Cup more times since the League's 1967 expansion. For their success in the 1980s, the Oilers team of this era has been honoured with dynasty status by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
However, the Oilers began to struggle after coming up short in their last trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, missing the playoffs for the subsequent ten seasons. They competed in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 2016–17, 2019–20 and 2020–21 NHL seasons. The Oilers have drafted 12 first-round selections since 2007, 10 that were within the first 10 picks overall, six within the first four picks overall, and four were first overall selections. In the NHL Entry Draft, Edmonton selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Connor McDavid with those first overall picks.
The Oilers are one of two NHL franchises based in Alberta, the other being the Calgary Flames. Their close proximity to each other has led to a fierce rivalry known as the "Battle of Alberta".