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Heatley mess couldn't sour solid summer for Oilers

by Todd Kimberley
This is the fifth installment of our 30 Teams in 30 Days feature, focusing on the Edmonton Oilers franchise. In it, we look at the franchise as a whole in the State of the Union section, focus on the team's up-and-coming reinforcements in the Prospect Roundup section and recap this season's selections in the Draft Recap section. NHL Network also gets in on the fun with a block of Oilers programming Wednesday night from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.


Day to day with a bruised ego?

You could forgive the Edmonton Oilers for feeling a little roughed up following the Dany Heatley fiasco.

Trying to land their first bona fide superstar since Chris Pronger, the Oilers spent more than a month in dogged pursuit of the disgruntled Ottawa Senators sniper after Heatley publicly demanded a trade out of Canada's capital in early June.

On July 31, Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini finally put an end to the courtship -- but not before it had drawn sympathy and well-intentioned advice.

"The team and the city look more than desperate," observed the New York Post. "The Oilers are better than this, and so is the city of Edmonton."

Opined the Detroit News: "The Oilers always have been a professional, classy outfit that has won Stanley Cups and remained competitive under trying economic circumstances. This is beneath them. They shouldn't bow to a petulant star. Move on, already."

Well, they did -- eventually -- but only after Tambellini and club President Kevin Lowe flew to Heatley's offseason home in Kelowna, B.C., for a face-to-face meeting with the two-time 50-goal scorer, and later sent a team recruitment video to Heatley's agent.

It didn't work, as Heatley refused to waive his no-trade clause.

"There was a change of position with the way Dany's advisers were talking about things," said Tambellini on the day he announced the end of negotiations. "Things changed after that and really never got back on track. That's fine. They can explore options elsewhere. It's time for us to move on."

Tambellini's real anger was directed at whoever leaked the names of forwards Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner and defenseman Ladislav Smid as the players earmarked for Ottawa.

"Extremely disappointing," he said. "Very, very unprofessional. Eventually I'm going to find out ... we'll find out who did that."

The Heatley affair sullied what otherwise has been a solid offseason for the Oilers, who are trying to find their way back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after three years out.

After parting ways with veteran coach Craig MacTavish after eight seasons, Tambellini delivered a master stroke -- drawing on his old Vancouver Canucks connections by bringing on board the tandem of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney as head coach and associate coach, respectively.

Between them, the duo has coached nearly 2,000 NHL games -- Quinn in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto; Renney with Vancouver and the New York Rangers -- and use a common approach of strategizing, teaching and demanding total commitment.

"I like skilled teams. You can't all be foot soldiers who dump it in and bang the puck. Move and use the skills you have. Lose it and be damn gritty to get it back."
-- Oilers coach Pat Quinn

That's seen as a perfect fit for a young Oilers group, including Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Patrick O'Sullivan, Cogliano and Tom Gilbert, which took a collective step backward last season in the face of high expectations.

"I like skilled teams," said Quinn, who most recently led Canada to a gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championship. "You can't all be foot soldiers who dump it in and bang the puck. Move and use the skills you have. Lose it and be damn gritty to get it back."

The Oilers' other significant offseason move came between the pipes, with Nikolai Khabibulin replacing Dwayne Roloson as the club's No. 1 goaltender.

Roloson, who turns 40 in October, was Edmonton's MVP last season, but wanted a long-term contract while the Oilers were offering only a one-year deal. He signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Islanders.

Edmonton promptly signed Khabibulin, 36, the best free-agent goalie on the market, to a four-year, $15 million deal. Khabibulin, a Stanley Cup champion in 2004 with Tampa Bay, backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the Western Conference Finals in May.

The Oilers have more than $54 million committed in salary for the upcoming season, which didn't allow them to match offers for right wing Ales Kotalik, who played just 19 games in Edmonton before exploring free agency and signing with the Rangers at $9 million over three years.


The Edmonton Oilers' up-and-comers really hauled themselves up by their bootstraps this summer.

We're not talking weight-room fanaticism or power-skating regimens here. In fact, when the club's top prospects arrived for development camp in early July, they were immersed in boot camp -- specifically, an afternoon of military training at the Canadian Forces' Edmonton garrison.

The session included simulated shooting practice, a parachute jump, and rappelling down a 100-foot wall -- an exercise that got the better of prospect Riley Nash, who ended up suspended upside down nearly 100 feet off the ground.

"I didn't let any rope out, so I went end-over," said Nash. "Everyone started laughing, so I knew I wasn't in too much trouble."

Here's a look at the top five prospects in the Oilers' system:

Jordan Eberle -- The Oilers' 2008 first-round pick (No. 22) emerged a Canadian hero during the 2009 World Junior Championship when he scored the dramatic tying goal against Russia with less than six seconds left in regulation, then scored in the shootout to lift Canada to victory in a tournament the hosts ultimately would win. After a 74-point campaign with his hometown Regina Pats (WHL) and a strong 9-point, nine-game tour of duty with AHL Springfield to close out the season, this 5-foot-10, 174-pound offensive-minded right wing will bid for an NHL spot, but most likely will return to junior.

Riley Nash -- A 6-1, 175-pound center, Nash is leaning toward returning to Cornell for his junior season. The 2007 first-round pick (No. 21) is said to possess a very good, if not flashy, offensive game, falling somewhere between the persona of a defensively sound second-line player and a checker with some puck-handling flair.

Theo Peckham -- A big, nasty piece of work at 6-2 and 223 pounds, Peckham proved an able shut-down defenseman with the AHL's Springfield Falcons as a second-year pro, and had 59 penalty minutes in a 15-game NHL tour. The native of Richmond Hill, Ont., a 2006 third-round pick (No. 75), Peckham will take a run at a full-time NHL job this fall.

Jeff Petry -- The 6-3, 176-pound defenseman took his lumps this past season, as did the rest of his Michigan State teammates. Despite a minus-31 rating, the 2006 second-round pick (No. 45) is considered a top-notch skater and possesses an explosive point shot. He's expected to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman.

Linus Omark -- Said to possess the best offensive package of any of the team's prospects, but he’s small (5-9, 168) and hasn't played in North America. Flashy with first-class skills, hands and agility, the 2007 fourth-round pick (No. 97) has played three full years with Lulea HF of the Swedish Elite League. He recently signed a two-year deal with Moscow Dynamo in Russia, but has an out clause to jump to the NHL after one season.


The Oilers wanted to move up from No. 10 in the first round at the 2009 Entry Draft, but were happy to stay there when highly regarded Swedish left wing Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson was available.

"We're excited," Tambellini said after nabbing the slick Swede, who was considered by many experts to be the fastest skater in the draft. "I mean, to get Paajarvi at 10 for us was significant. ... He plays what we think is Oilers hockey."

The 6-1, 201-pounder is a prototypical power forward, and for the past two seasons he's played against men with Timra of the Swedish Elite League. Scouts suggested he'd have scored 40-50 goals last season had he played in the Canadian Hockey League.

Paajarvi-Svensson, 18, has one year left on his contract with Timra.

Here's a look at the other six players selected by the Oilers at the draft:

Anton Lander -- The Oilers used their second-round pick (No. 40) to select Lander, Paajarvi-Svensson’s linemate at Timra. The 6-foot, 194-pound two-way center captained Sweden at April's World Under-18 Championship.

"He's the captain of Sweden for a reason ... high, high character," a scout told The Hockey News. "He gets results through hard work and character."

Troy Hesketh -- Some felt the Oilers reached for the 6-2, 178-pound Minnetonka (Minn.) High School defenseman in the third round (No. 71). Hesketh has committed to Wisconsin, but won't start his senior year of high school until September.

Cameron Abney
-- A 6-4, 192-pound forward, Abney gained notoriety as one of the best fighters in the WHL last season, earning 103 penalty minutes in just 48 games with the Everett Silvertips. The Oilers snared Abney with their second third-round pick (No. 82).

Kyle Bigos -- Bigos, all 6-5 and 230 pounds of him, was passed over during the past two drafts, but blossomed into a bulwark defenseman last season for the BCHL's Vernon Vipers, and was named the MVP of the RBC Cup, the Canadian junior 'A' championship. Taken in the fourth round (No. 99), Bigos will play at Merrimack in the fall.

Toni Rajala -- The Finnish forward undeniably has skill; he broke Alexander Ovechkin's record at the World Under-18 Championship with 19 points in six games. His size (5-10, 163), though, kept his name from being called until the fourth round (No. 101).

Olivier Roy -- The Oilers used their final pick, No. 133 in the fifth round, to pick Roy, a 6-foot and 165 pound goaltender. Roy relies on sound technical positioning and a butterfly style to make up for his lack of size. He'll return to QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and has a chance to make the Canada's team for the 2010 World Junior Championship.

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