2007-08 Team Preview: Edmonton Oilers
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Richard Lam
The Starting Line
By Scott BurnsideIf there really are hockey gods, they'll bless the Edmonton Oilers with another surprising season just to prove to all of the Chris Prongers and Michael Pecas and Michael Nylanders (and their wives) that Edmonton really is a great place to play hockey. Of course, if there are hockey gods, their wives complained that it was too cold in Edmonton and they likely signed somewhere else, so the chances are far greater the Oilers are in for another long season. Still, things aren't probably as bad as they might seem for the 2006 Stanley Cup finalists. Dustin Penner may yet turn out to be a bargain (despite what Brian Burke says) and Joni Pitkanen may yet turn out to be a blue-chip defenseman (despite what the Philadelphia Flyers believed) and Sheldon Souray may yet to turn out to be something more than a defensive liability with a whopper shot (despite what the Montreal Canadiens believed). The biggest issue might be who will lead this team in the absence of Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith? OFFENSE
How could this have happened? A team that appeared to have the makings of three strong scoring lines ended up with just 195 goals, dead last in the NHL. Well, there were injuries galore -- star sniper Ales Hemsky missed 18 games, Jarret Stoll missed 31 games and Ethan Moreau missed 75. Then, some of the players who did stay healthy just played like they were ailing. Joffrey Lupul, the key to the Pronger deal with Anaheim last offseason, had just 16 goals and was a mind-boggling minus-29. To correct that apparent mistake, beleaguered GM Kevin Lowe dealt Lupul, along with captain Jason Smith, to Philadelphia for Pitkanen, who should help a back end that was bereft of offensive contributions. Between Pitkanen and Souray, it's not unreasonable to expect between 90 and 100 points. The Oilers' power play should also jump up from 27th in the NHL. Then there's Penner. After failing to snag Buffalo's Thomas Vanek with an offer sheet, Lowe managed to acquire Penner, prompting surprising vitriol even for Burke. Penner had 29 goals in his rookie season. Although he tailed off in the playoffs, he still won a Cup and should be in the 30-goal range. He'll likely start the season playing with Shawn Horcoff and Hemsky. Coach Craig MacTavish has said the team is wide open, so look for Robbie Schremp, Robert Nilsson or the surprisingly mature Sam Gagner to make this team. DEFENSE
The assumption was with the departure of defensemen Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom and defensive forward Peca from the Cup finalists' lineup, the Oilers would be vulnerable to giving up a lot of goals. And while they weren't great, they weren't that bad, finishing 17th overall (2.96 goals per game). Now, cynics will suggest bringing Pitkanen (minus-25) and Souray (minus-28) could send that GAA skyrocketing. Maybe. But both will get fresh slates to improve their defensive games, and that's not a bad thing. Tarnstrom returns to the fold (guess Edmonton wasn't that bad after all), while youngsters Ladislav Smid and Denis Grebeshkov will both get chances. GOALTENDING
Dwayne Roloson followed up his stellar work in the 2006 playoffs with steady work in less-than-ideal conditions. Despite the relative chaos in front of him, he finished with a 2.75 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 68 appearances. Roloson, 37, will receive more help this season with the arrival of Mathieu Garon. The former Montreal Canadien and Los Angeles King is looking for a place to restart his career, and this is a good place. COACHING
MacTavish has sure been through the wringer since the lockout, no? At one point during the 2005-06 season, it looked like the Oilers were going to miss the playoffs and fire MacTavish. Then, he takes his team to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals and was lauded for his coaching acumen. Then, he has a team finish 25 points out of the last playoff berth in the West. What now? Good question. Don't know if there's an answer just yet. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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• Record: 32-43-7
• Division: Fifth in the Northwest
• Conference: 12th in the West
• Playoffs: Did not qualify
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The former Habs prospect has played exceptionally well at every level except the NHL. At 29, the window is closing quickly on his career. Defenseman: Joni Pitkanen
The big Finn (6-foot-3) has all the tools befitting a fourth-overall pick. He hasn't quite put them to use yet, but will get ample opportunity in Edmonton. Forward: Shawn Horcoff
In 2005-06, the team's No. 1 center had 73 points, but saw that total drop by 20 last season. He'll need to get back into form if the Oilers are to bounce back.
MORE FROM BURNSIDEBuzz Cut
Lowe made headlines with his offer sheets in the offseason, but there are two more telling stories: (1) Lowe's bailing out on defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who thrived in Long Island; (2) Lowe's inability to sign Ryan Smyth to a long-term deal at the trade deadline when there was an almost inconsequential amount of money separating the two sides. Where They Will Finish
The Oilers will finish fifth in the Northwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference.
SPORTSNATIONWhere do you think the Edmonton Oilers will finish this time around? Who will lead the Oilers in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!