|Edmonton-native Andrew Ference celebrates the Bruins' Stanley Cup victory with teammate Brad Marchand (Getty Images).
Congratulations first to Edmontonians Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference on capturing the Stanley Cup. Ditto to Tyler Seguin, last year's No. 2 overall pick in the draft, who had extensive visits with Edmonton prior to being selected by the Bruins. Former Oilers AHL coach Geoff Ward grabs a ring as an assistant coach to Claude Julien and ex-Oilers goalie Bob Essensa, too, as he served as goaltending coach.
Now that a hard fought Stanley Cup Final has come to a close, the focus for the NHL and its fans turns to building for next year. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers suddenly re-enter the spotlight as attention turns to the Entry Draft, buyout period and free agency.
In the coming week, plenty more will be written about the draft so I'll spare you from that in this article. Instead, here are some questions and thoughts I have about what else will develop with the Oilers and around the league over a very busy next couple of weeks.
- Is it time for the Oilers plan to shift into phase two? The youth movement is certainly on in full force, but might some veteran reinforcement be in play this summer? A couple of key veteran additions would be instrumental to orchestrating a playoff push in the 2011-2012 season. We're not talking about big money guys here, but some solid late-20's or early-30's talent in one or two slots to bolster the roster. Is it in the cards? I don't know. What I do know is, there's a very strong belief inside the organization that Steve Tambellini has a plan and won't deviate from it. It continues to be my sense that everybody is on board, whatever direction the man at the wheel decides to take them in the next couple of months.
- Will the Oilers be able to move Sheldon Souray or will they have to buy him out? Reading the various articles throughout last season, it certainly seemed as though Sheldon competed hard and had a very good attitude in Hershey. The reports on his play weren't glowing, however, and I'm not sure Steve Tambellini will have any more luck trading him this time around. More likely, it seems, would be a buy out of his contract and maybe another team later in the summer bites on a 1 year deal with a reduced salary for the veteran rearguard.
- Will the big name Unrestricted Free Agents actually make it to market? Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's rights have already been acquired by Philadelphia, as the Flyers attempt to sign him to what would surely be a rich deal prior to July 1. The Dallas Stars will surely move the rights to centerman Brad Richards, with a handful of teams with the need and available cap space salivating at that opportunity. Rugged blueliner Kevin Bieksa is a stud name at the defense position, but he's been quoted in recent days as being willing to accept the "home town discount" to stay with the President's Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks. If those names don't make it to open season, the "frenzy" won't be any less furious, but it will take some astute pro scouting to sort through the best of the rest to find the right fit.
- Further to the above point, will the trend of trade traffic at the draft continue to climb? In recent years, many large deals have been swung on or around draft week. This year, with free agency being potentially less lucrative for teams looking to explore that option, maybe they're forced to deal at the draft. The Oilers themselves have a couple of players who won't cease to be a part of rampant rumours, and those are sure to come at a rapid fire pace in Minnesota.
- Will Craig MacTavish and/or Ken Hitchcock find a head coaching job? Since departing the Oilers following the 2008-2009 season, MacTavish has been battled cancer, earned an MBA and done hundreds of hours of analysis for TSN. Now, he's ready to get back behind the NHL bench. The problem is, coaching hires in the league continue to skew in the younger and less experienced direction. Kevin Dineen, Glen Gulutzan, Mike Yeo and Paul MacLean are the new hires so far this off-season, all first time NHL head coaches. Hitchcock, a career coach with 15 years of bench boss experience in the top league, is in a similar position trying to find work again after being let go by Columbus midway through 2009-2010. The only vacancies that remain are Winnipeg (Craig Ramsay is the incumbent, but they're interviewing others) and New Jersey. Will one of the vets get back in the game, or does the youth movement continue?
- Will we wave goodbye to a trio of surefire Hall of Famers? We know that Mark Recchi, 43, has already announced that he'll hang up his skates and go out on a high after winning his 3rd Stanley Cup. But, what of Teemu Selanne and Nicklas Lidstrom? Selanne, 40, had 31 goals and 80 points this year for Anaheim and looked a decade younger than his birth certificate. Lidstrom, 41, played 24 minutes a night and posted 62 points as he anchored the Red Wings blue line once again. As fans, we've been treated to years of elite performance from that trio, and I know we're hoping for more to come.
- No question here, but the NHL Board of Governors are all set to approve True North Sports and Entertainment as owners of a franchise in Winnipeg when they meet on June 21. Patrick LaForge and Kevin Lowe will attend to proxy the vote of Oilers owner Daryl Katz and LaForge told me earlier this week that it's a rubber stamp as far as they're concerned. They've worked with Mark Chipman and True North for years on the American Hockey League side of the business and have been an open door to provide the Winnipeg group with advice and information on a variety of subjects, when consulted over the years.
Finally, I want to end the way that I started this week: with a congratulations. This time to Oilers goaltending prospect Tyler Bunz
, who has earned an invite to Hockey Canada's World Junior Summer Development Camp in August. The native of St. Albert, a fifth round selection of the Oilers in the draft last June, Bunz was one of just four netminders to gain entry to the exclusive camp. It's a tough camp to crack and Bunz earned it with a heck of a season in Medicine Hat this past year, and some hard work to start his summer.
Next time you hear from me, I'll be in Minneapolis, Minnesota preparing to anchor 630 CHED's exclusive coverage of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Stay tuned to CHED and edmontonoilers.com for the latest...and enjoy the excitement!