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Behind Chris Pronger, Michael Peca, Sergei Samsonov, Dwayne Roloson and Fernando Pisani, the Edmonton Oilers had an improbable playoff run and came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup.

With three of those players gone, it may be tougher for the Oilers to represent the West again.

The new-look Oilers begin the 2006-07 season Thursday against the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place in the start a home-and-home series between the provincial rivals.

In one the first major deals made following the lockout, Edmonton acquired Pronger from St. Louis and signed him to a five-year, $31.25 million contract. The lightly regarded Oilers entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed, and went on their deepest Cup run since the 1989-90 championship season.

They stunned the Presidents' Trophy-winning Red Wings in six games in the first round. In the conference semifinals, Edmonton rallied from two games down to beat a San Jose team led by the high-scoring duo of Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.

Edmonton then defeated Anaheim in five games of the West finals. Roloson suffered a postseason-ending knee injury in Game 1 of the finals against Carolina, but the Oilers nearly became the first team since the 1942 Maple Leafs to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win the finals before losing a decisive Game 7.

Surprising as Pronger's arrival was, his sudden departure was equally shocking. His wife reportedly disliked living in Edmonton, and the Oilers granted the former Hart and Norris Trophy winner's trade request, dealing him to Anaheim in a package that included right wing and suburban Edmonton native Joffrey Lupul.

"I grew up watching this team, I probably still have an Oilers jersey in my closet somewhere," Lupul said. "It's exciting. For an offensive player, it's a great place to be."

The 22-year-old Lupul set career highs with 28 goals and 25 assists in 81 games, and nearly half those points came on the power play.

"We're happy with what we got back," Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe said. "We didn't want this weighing on the team and the fans for an extended period and we feel we got a decent return."

Peca left via free agency to Toronto, and Samsonov - picked up from Boston in a midseason trade - departed for Montreal.

Now healthy, Roloson gives Edmonton its best starting goalie since Curtis Joseph left nearly a decade earlier. Acquired from Minnesota in March for a first-round draft pick, the Oilers rewarded Roloson with a three-year, $11 million deal after his playoff heroics.

Pisani also will try to build off his postseason success. The right wing and Edmonton native had 18 goals in 80 games during the regular season, but tallied a league-high 14 goals - including five game-winners - during the playoffs. He was re-signed to a four-year, $10 million deal.

In just two seasons, Miikka Kiprusoff has established himself at one of the best goaltenders in Flames history. In 2004, he brought the team within a win of its second Stanley Cup. Last year, he led the league with 10 shutouts and a 2.03 goals-against average to win his first Vezina Trophy.

The Flames playoff hopes ended with a seven-game series loss in the first round to Anaheim, but captain Jarome Iginla said the team could be competing again for a championship soon.

"I think we have a shot at it," he said. "We've been through a lot of lean years here. The last couple have been a lot better. I think we're going up."

Heading into the offseason, Calgary's biggest need was to acquire a second-line scorer behind Iginla, whose 163 goals over the last four seasons are the most in the NHL.

The Flames finished atop the Northwest Division last season, but their 218 goals scored were third-fewest in the West, ahead of only woeful Chicago and St. Louis.

Alex Tanguay, acquired from Colorado for defenseman Jordan Leopold, should be that option. Tanguay was second on the Avalanche with a career-high 29 goals and 78 points last season in only 71 games.

Entering his seventh season, the 26-year-old left wing scored two goals in Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup finals against New Jersey to help the Avalanche clinch their second championship.

After two successful seasons behind the bench, Darryl Sutter relinquished coaching duties to longtime assistant Jim Playfair to concentrate solely on his responsibilities as general manager.

"I tell you what, I think we've got a great team and now we've got a great coach," Sutter said.

The Flames took five of eight meetings from Edmonton last season, limiting the Oilers to three goals or less in six games. The "Battle of Alberta" continues Saturday at Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary.

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