2009-10 Team Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Updated: September 28, 2009, 9:56 PM ET

Gerry Thomas/NHLI/Getty Images

Sheldon Souray returns after posting 23 goals and 30 assists in 81 games last season.

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE OILERS

The Oilers haven't played a playoff game since the seventh game of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. That certainly isn't sitting well with the passionate fans in Oil Country.

"It's frustrating for everybody," veteran Oilers blueliner Steve Staios told ESPN.com. "But for a guy like me who's been here this long, having that feeling of playing in those games and the sense of disappointment and emptiness at the end of the year in the last few seasons. … Those are the games you have to be playing in, and we're hoping to get back there this year."

A new coaching staff led by Pat Quinn and Tom Renney hopes to achieve just that.

"Obviously we feel that this is a playoff team, but we have to earn that right to say we're in there," Oilers GM Steve Tambellini told ESPN.com. "Pat's been preaching that here, not to get ahead of ourselves, but he needs to re-establish the fact that we're going to be doing things right. It's a lot of work; you have to earn the right to be in the playoffs. But there's no reason why this team can't be in the playoffs."

Here are 10 things you need to know about the Oilers heading into the new season:

1. Quiet on the Western front
Goalie Dwayne Roloson and forwards Ales Kotalik and Kyle Brodziak are the only players gone from last season's squad, a fairly quiet offseason for the Oilers (their much-publicized efforts to land Dany Heatley notwithstanding).

In the end, aside from new goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and forward Mike Comrie, it's largely the same bunch that returns.

"Just because we didn't make a lot of player moves doesn't mean we don't have a good team," Staios said. "I don't think they've left us short-handed by any means with the talent level on our team. I just think we have to raise the level of our play, and some individuals will want to raise their play from the season before. The onus is definitely on us to do it from within and improve from last year."

Tambellini had one major goal in mind and he achieved it.

"Our No. 1 priority, because we knew Roloson was going, was to solidify our goaltending situation," Tambellini said. "Khabibulin was our first priority, and we were fortunate that it happened quickly on July 1."

2. But the Heatley thing …
That's not to say the Oilers didn't try to make a bigger splash this summer. They agreed to a deal that would have sent Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa for Heatley. The latter rejected Oil Country and left the Oilers with the awkward situation of having three players knowing they were on the trade block.

"We took an aggressive approach, we pursued Heatley and it didn't work out," Tambellini said. "But you know what? I've been impressed with the response from our guys [Penner, Cogliano and Smid]. It can go two ways. You can be disappointed that names were mentioned, but they've come back in great shape with a great attitude and I'm looking forward to seeing them play this season."

3. The new goalie
Truth be told, goaltending was hardly the issue on this team last season. Roloson was outstanding despite the Oilers missing the playoffs. Still, his replacement comes with an impressive résumé.

"We've got a goaltender that has won a Stanley Cup, that has been through international experiences, NHL playoffs, that has worked extremely well with young goaltenders," Tambellini said. "It's hard to start to think that you can build something without feeling that you've got that centerpiece between the pipes. We were really excited to get him."

Staios went one step further.

"Dwayne Roloson was so good for us, but getting a guy like Nikolai Khabibulin is an upgrade," he said. "He's a guy who's won, has great international experience, he's played big games. That raises the confidence level on the team."

4. Left winger wanted
Without Heatley, the Oilers were back to the drawing board in their search for a first-line left winger to play with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. It appeared in preseason that the first guy taking a crack at it would be Patrick O'Sullivan, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Los Angeles Kings last season.

5. Does size matter?
As a group, the Oilers forwards aren't that big, especially the players on the top two forward lines. The 6-foot-4 Penner is the only top-six forward who stands taller than 6-1, and his critics will tell you he hardly plays that way. There's a real concern the Oilers' top-six forwards might get pushed around again this season.

6. Blue-line depth
The Oilers are deep on the back end. Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Staios and Smid are an impressive group.

"When you look at it, we feel like we can challenge to be the top defense corps in the league with the depth we have," Staios said. "I know there's some great defense corps out there, but that would be a good challenge for us."

So deep is Edmonton in this area, particularly flush with puck-moving defensemen, that this may be the area from which they pluck an asset before the trade deadline to acquire help up front.

7. School's out
Sophomore forwards Sam Gagner and Cogliano were among a group of young players who struggled at times last season for the Oilers, and the team needs them to show more consistency.

"I think what people have to understand is that we rely a lot on a lot of players with not a lot of experience," Staios said. "They're great players and great talents, but it takes time for them to get comfortable and figure out what kind of player they are at this level."

8. Dismal draws
The Oilers were 25th in the NHL in faceoffs last season with a 47.9 percent success rate. In a league that's about puck possession more than ever, that's a dangerous statistic. This is an area the team is intent on improving.

9. A scheduling note
A tough stretch awaits Nov. 28-Dec. 11, with a six-game road trip that runs through Vancouver, Detroit, Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

10. Olympic exposure
The Oilers could have as many as six Olympians in Vancouver in February. The hopefuls are Hemsky (Czech Republic), Gilbert (USA), Grebeshkov (Russia), Smid (Czech Republic), Visnovsky (Slovakia) and Khabibulin (Russia).

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.


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EDMONTON OILERS

EXTRA CREDITS
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IN REVIEW
• Record: 38-35-9
• Division: Fourth in the Northwest
• Conference: 10th in the West
• Playoffs: Did not qualify

PIERRE'S PREDICTION
• The Oilers' biggest offseason splash was bringing the Pat Quinn/Tom Renney duo. Wayne Fleming was also a sharp hire. Between the three of them, there's oodles of experience.



NORTHWEST DIVISION PREVIEW

COACH'S CORNER

Quinn

Pat Quinn
Experience: 19 NHL seasons; entering first with Edmonton
Record: 657-481-154-26
Playoffs: 94-89
Stanley Cup titles: 0

• The Oilers' biggest offseason splash was bringing the Pat Quinn/Tom Renney duo. Wayne Fleming was also a sharp hire. Between the three of them, there's oodles of experience.

"I didn't think coming into last season that there would be such a significant change to the coaching staff," said Tambellini, who fired Craig MacTavish after last season. "But looking at our staff now, led by Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Kelly Buchberger and Wayne Fleming, I feel extremely confident with this group as far as preparation, experience, tactics. It's been incredible to see."

Steve Staios said the Oilers will still be fun to watch, but perhaps less inclined to break down defensively.

"I think we'll be more structured; we'll be probably give the other team less chances," Staios said. "We'll still play an attack style of game, that's the plan, but I think you can play that with a bit more responsibility, better positional play. I felt like we took on the rush a lot last year. Too many odd-man rushes.

"I feel like we'll be a lot better structured in that regard. If we can get that in place early, I feel like the teams who get their systems in place right from the start of the season tend to win more games. So with the coaching we're getting now, I think it'll lend us to hopefully getting off to a good start."

STARTING FIVE ... AS WE SEE IT

F -- Patrick O'Sullivan
• The former King gets an early-season audition on the big line. Can he take advantage of it?

F -- Shawn Horcoff
• Three straight 50-point plus seasons after a career-high 73 points in 2005-06.

F -- Ales Hemsky
• He's so talented, it's a wonder he hasn't cracked 80 points yet.

D -- Lubomir Visnovsky
• Staying healthy will be key.

D -- Sheldon Souray
• He was dynamite last season with 53 points in 81 games. A power-play king.

FANTASY TAKE

Khabibulin

Best Bet: Nikolai Khabibulin, G: The Bulin Wall still stands. After spending three lame years in Chicago dealing with a rash of injuries, Khabibulin stepped things up in a contract year to post his best season since Tampa Bay won the Cup. Now off to Edmonton, the younger, greener Oilers won't offer as much defense or as much offense as Chicago did. While his ratios will remain acceptable, the win total drops his value. Though, as long as he stays healthy, Khabibulin will start a lot of games this season.

Risky Move: Sheldon Souray, D: An absolute fantasy stud last season, Souray still needs to be approached with a bit of caution. His value is derived from his killer shot, and his killer shot is generated by his surgically repaired shoulder. It held up for 81 games last year, but calling for another 81 seems a bit optimistic. If Souray does hold up, his slap shot will help him maintain a spot among the elite fantasy defensemen. So heed the word of caution, don't expect any value from his plus/minus and take him as a No. 2 defenseman. Then be overjoyed when he holds up for the whole campaign and returns terrific value.

• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit

INSIDE THE PROJECTIONS

Gagner

Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.

Read where Sam Gagner and the Oilers rank in ESPN The Magazine and Puck Prospectus' Inside the Projections Insider

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