The 2007-08 season was one of transition for the Edmonton Oilers. While Craig MacTavish's club failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Oilers showed the hockey world that their future is bright. Sam Gagner
stepped in as an 18-year-old and performed like a 10-year veteran, notching 13 goals and 36 assists in 79 games. Andrew Cogliano also enjoyed a tremendous rookie season, as he appeared in all 82 contests and had 18 goals and 27 assists. Certainly, the Oilers couldn't have expected both to contribute in such a way at such an early age. Nonetheless, it's a huge step forward for two of the League's bright young stars.
"A lot of times you can get here on your skill, but the guys that stay here know how to play the game and are doing all the little things well," Gagner said at the conclusion of last season. "It was pretty surreal for me. Anytime you can get a chance to play in the NHL at 18, it's an exciting opportunity. Nothing is set in stone for next year, and you can't take anything for granted."
The Oilers made some changes in the front office this summer, as Steve Tambellini was named general manager July 31. Kevin Lowe -- who was the team's GM since 2000 -- is now Edmonton's president of hockey operations. Kevin Prendergast will be Tambellini's assistant general manager. Still, Lowe will be very much involved in the day-to-day activities.
"Kevin and Steve will still bring ideas to me and we'll work collectively on trades, draft picks, player buyouts or whatever the case may be," Lowe said. "The metamorphosis of a trade is a long process and usually takes months of working diligently before a final decision is made. It will be much easier making these major decisions, collectively, with our new management group. In the end, I'll have the final say." Goalies
There was no clear-cut winner in the battle for the No. 1 job last season between Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, and the Oilers will enter the 2008-09 campaign with the same tandem.
Garon -- who was signed on the third day of free agency by the Oilers last summer -- just edged out Roloson in the games-played department. In 47 contests, the 30-year-old went 26-18-1 with a 2.66 goals-against average and four shutouts.
"I think it was beyond my expectations," Garon said of last season. "When I came here, I didn't know how many games I would have played. I think I had a chance to play a lot, and it was great for me to get that chance and get that confidence from the coaching staff and my teammates."
Roloson -- who will be 39 on Oct. 12 -- went 15-17-5 with a 3.05 GAA and a .901 save percentage. Given Garon's impressive numbers -- and Roloson's age -- it wouldn't be shocking to see Roloson's playing time dwindle this season.
Another goalie to watch is Jeff Deslauriers, who went 26-23-5 with a 2.90 GAA and a .912 save percentage in 57 games with the Springfield Falcons in the American Hockey League. Forwards
Given the amount of young talent, this may very well be where Edmonton is strongest. And it could be for years to come.
Gagner returns for his sophomore campaign after going 13-36-49 in 79 games as an 18-year-old. Cogliano, 21, did not miss a game all season and notched 18 goals and 27 assists.
Joining the super sophomores are phenomenal talents Ales Hemsky
(71 points in 74 games), Shawn Horcoff
(50 points in 53 contests) and Robert Nilsson, who had 10 goals and 31 assists and has made the jump to the NHL full-time. Horcoff signed a six-year extension with the club in July. Also in the mix are veterans Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani.
The jury will certainly be out on Dustin Penner this season. After signing a lucrative offer sheet (five years, $21.25 million) last summer, Penner put up fewer points (47) than the 18-year-old Gagner.
"It's something I hadn't experienced before, obviously," Penner said of the deal that lured him to Edmonton from the Anaheim Ducks. "As the season wore on, it got easier to deal with. It's just one of those things that made you stronger as a person."
There will be some new faces, too, as the Oilers acquired Erik Cole from the Carolina Hurricanes on July 1 in exchange for defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Cole finished third on the Hurricanes in scoring last season, as he tallied 51 points (22 goals, 29 assists) in 73 games. On the same day, Edmonton also shipped Raffi Torres to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Gilbert Brule.
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Cole will provide the Oilers with a big presence in front of the net. He has scored 20 or more goals in each of the past three seasons.
"I'm anxious to turn the page in my career and start something fresh," said Cole, who will celebrate his 30th birthday Nov. 6. "I hope to have a lot of fun this coming season." Defensemen
Pitkanen became expendable June 29, when the Oilers acquired Lubomir Visnovsky from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene.
Visnovsky, 32, has had 40 or more points in each of the last three seasons with the Kings. His best campaign came in 2005-06, when he had 17 goals and 50 assists. He went 8-33-41 last season with 34 penalty minutes.
"Although it is tough to see good players and good people move on, we feel we've made a step toward improving our overall offense," Lowe said. "Lubomir is a world-class defenseman who has been one of the premier offensive defensemen over the past five years."
Edmonton will certainly be hoping for much bigger things from veteran Sheldon Souray, who was limited to just 26 games last season after signing a five-year deal worth $27 million. Souray underwent arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in February and missed the remainder of the season.
|Prior to last season the Oilers signed defenseman Sheldon Souray to a five-year deal; however, he only was able to play 26 games before he underwent shoulder surgery. |
With Souray back in the mix, the Oilers have a very potent 1-2 punch on the blue line. In the end, Edmonton could end up with one of the strongest power plays in the League.
Joining Visnovsky and Souray will be Tom Gilbert (13 goals and 20 assists last season), and stay-at-home blueliners Steve Staios, Ladislav Smid
and Denis Grebeshkov. The Oilers also signed veteran Jason Strudwick this summer to provide depth. Taylor Chorney
may also be ready for his first taste of the NHL. Signed to an entry-level contract this summer, the team's second-round selection from the 2005 Entry Draft had 24 points in 43 games in his third season with the University of North Dakota.
"Taylor brings a mature leadership quality to our organization," Prendergast said. "His past success in college and on the world stage will certainly be a benefit to him in the next step of his career." Three reasons for optimism *
These kids are all right. Despite a tremendous amount of youth and the stiff competition in the Western Conference, the Oilers missed the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs by just three points. While teams such as Chicago and Columbus have upgraded their rosters this offseason, there's no reason to believe that Edmonton won't be in the hunt in 2008-09. Of course, it won't be easy.
"We didn't prove anything," Lowe said. "We had a nice 20-odd game run (at the end of the season) and there's lots of optimism, but I do know that when the puck drops that it's going to be a grind to make the playoffs." *
The offensive punch on the blue line. With a healthy Sheldon Souray in the fold to join newcomer Lubomir Visnovsky, the Oilers could literally have five players on the ice with the ability to score. Not many other teams can say that. *
Coaching. Craig MacTavish seems to get a solid effort out of his players on a nightly basis. In seven seasons as Edmonton's head coach, MacTavish has finished below .500 only once.
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer