We're about halfway done with our season preview and are a little ahead of schedule. Hopefully we can get this kicked out well before September ends and the teams start their travel season in lovely Europe. Pre-season hockey rules so go check it out in a town near you!
And now, the Edmonton Oilers.
Team M.O.: The Edmonton Oilers are very similar to the New York Islanders in many ways. After being dominant through the 80's, the teams became competitive but not elite and then descended into rebuild territory. The talent they currently have is either very young, average, or largely overpaid for what they provide. They'll probably start being regarded as a defensive, score-by-committee type of team
Last Season: Last in the National Hockey League. Injuries took a serious toll on the team but on the bright side, they drafted first this time around and wound up with a very exciting prospect who has the potential to change the team in a dynamic way.
Offense: The team looks like they're going roll 3 lines of guys who can score and it ain't all bad. Taylor Hall was selected first overall in June and should step in immediately for the Oilers by providing some solid point production for the team. Dustin Penner managed to have a career season in Edmonton despite all of their troubles yet he'll have to keep the production up to meet the expectations of the team and the city. Ales Hemsky went down after 22 games and was sorely missed; a healthy return this season should reverse the fortune of the Oilers. While Shawn Horcoff wasn't necessarily dishing passes to the same level of talent consistently all season, his 36 points leave something to be desired given his salary and position on the team. Sam Gagner, meanwhile, is performing admirably as the team's young, second-line playmaking center and could very well move up the depth chart. Andrew Cogliano just re-signed with the team for a year and will need to reverse his own fortunes if he wants to secure a better contract next year (his point production has been in decline since setting a career best 45 points in 2007-08. Gilbert Brule had a career season last year and if he would have stayed healthy, he could have broken the 40-point mark for the first time in his career. Youngsters Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi will get a solid opportunity to round out the scoring wingers category (and Linus Omark might trump them both.)
For the checking unit, it appears as if newly-signed Colin Fraser will center waiver claim Ryan Jones and Jean-Francois Jacques. Zach Stortini will make the 23-man roster as the team's resident fighter while Steve MacIntyre will be the reserve enforcer; though both are heavy no one's really scared of their fighting ability or lackthereof.) Ben Ondrus and Ryan O'Marra will likely battle for the last remaining spot on the team.
If this team's committing to rebuilding this season (which they should) they should just forgo signing anyone else and let the new guys play their game. In other circumstances I'd say "make some moves" but they've made the ones necessary to allow their draft picks to grow.
Defense: Though Sheldon Souray is on the team, he might just be there in name only; I expect the team to assign him to the minors and then expose him to re-entry waivers after he went public with his decision to not want to play in Edmonton anymore. Ryan Whitney was traded to the team last season from the Anaheim Ducks and has enjoyed better success in Edmonton in an offensive role. Tom Gilbert wasn't as prolific as he was last season but still looks to be a solid blue-liner capable of putting up numbers in the 30-40 range. Ladislav Smid's starting to excel in a shutdown role but will he be able to avoid injuries and have a larger role on the team? Kurtis Foster comes over from the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and while he won't factor much into 5-on-5 hockey, he should be a boost for the Edmonton power play. Jim Vandermeer came over from the Phoenix Coyotes and will give the team a solid stay-at-home defender who can also play wing if asked. Jason Strudwick provides a lot of the same qualities as Vandermeer (though is a little older) so it should be interesting to see if they'll keep him around or deal him before the season starts. Depending on how the Souray situation plays our (or depending on whomever else may be injuried or moved), Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney will either battle for depth spots or be assigned to the minors outright after the pre-season.
All and all though, the Edmonton defense corps doesn't look too shabby (even for a non-rebuilding playoff team) and shouldn't need further improvement.
Goaltending: Well, Nikolai Khabibulin is a Stanley Cup Champion who's recovering from back injuries and battling legal issues outside of hockey that could prohibit him from being as effective as everyone would hope. Martin Gerber is a Stanley Cup Champion who spent last season in the KHL and was riding the waiver wire the season prior. Jeff Deslauriers was decent but not consistent enough to fill the team's starting position. Devan Dubnyk appeared in 10 games before getting his first NHL win. There's a lot of guys as possible options in the crease but two of them need to have a spectacular camp and prove to the team why they should be on roster.
Management: While we'll need to see how coach Tom Renney runs the team, GM Steve Tambellini has done what's expected for a GM who's rebuilding a team. No the team's not a powerhouse on paper; but the defense is solid, the forwards will mature, and hopefully two guys emerge from the four-headed monster on a consistent enough basis to give the team some decent goaltending.
Prediction: Fifth in the Northwest Division and out of the playoffs.
Its not that this is a bad team as so much as so much as there's a lot of guys who simply need more NHL experience. I think that they'll be better than last season, probably fight for a playoff spot next season, and be better than expected the season after that. If they don't get there after that then the team will likely change directions in GM again and could potentially face the prospect of leaving Edmonton for Oklahoma City.