After the lockout ended last July, Edmontonians were excited at the endless possibilities for their hockey club.
No longer was it going to be a fight for survival year after year ending with a playoff defeat at the hands of Dallas. The Oilers were going to genuinely contend.
The real light bulb moment for Oilers fans happened in early August. The free agent season had begun and a number of names were bandied about, including Peter Forsberg, Pavol Demitra and Mike Modano.
But instead of getting help up front, the Oilers chose instead to solidify their back-end. And instead of signing a free agent, the club decided to make a trade.
Despite the talk of the new NHL and competitive balance as a result of the new salary cap, it might still be an understatement to say that there was collective shock throughout Northern Alberta the day the Oilers announced they had dealt Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka to the St. Louis Blues for Chris Pronger.
Yes, that Chris Pronger. The former Norris Trophy winner as leagues best defenceman and former Hart Trophy winner as leagues most valuable player was coming to Edmonton.
Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe chose to gamble that the teams younger players such as Shawn Horcoff
, Ales Hemsky
and Jarret Stoll would be able to rise to the occasion and in doing so chose to work on addressing one of the teams deficiencies.
"Just coming here there was a lot of question marks and a lot of media speculation about some of the players on our team, who could step up and if we had a number one centre," said Pronger. "I think as the season progressed, we saw those questions answered and it was exciting to be a part of that."
With 60 minutes in a game if you can acquire a blueliner that can eat up half of that, youre adding a very valuable component to your franchise.
Pronger was third in the league, averaging 27:59 of ice-time per game in the regular season. In the playoffs hes upped that to a league-leading 31:35.
In the regular season, he was among the top ten in defence scoring with 56 points in 80 games. The point total was the second highest in his NHL career to date.
In the postseason, Pronger has stepped up his game even further. Hes tied for the team lead in scoring and second in the league with 17 points.
Now Pronger finds himself in new territory. Hed made the third round before with St. Louis but had never advanced to the leagues pinnacle.
"We had good teams in St. Louis but we never had this type of depth and this type of commitment to one another," he said. "And obviously having a goalie back there that is playing as well as Dwayne is right now, it was a big piece missing."
Pronger could see the team coming together as the season progressed but makes note when they really took off.
"Acquiring Dwayne at the deadline and getting that last piece of the puzzle that has ultimately got us to the finals now," he said.
From the acquisition of Pronger and Michael Peca in the summer, to Spacek and Tarnstrom in January to Samsonov and Roloson in March, the Oilers have found the right pieces and the right team chemistry to develop success.
"I think teamwork is the answer. And I wouldnt say we had big names, but I think youre going to see a number of players on our team become big names.
"The Horcoffs, the Stolls of our team are going to be stars in this league."