If the Edmonton Oilers intend on being competitive this year, they need a few too many miracles. Raffi Torres, Shawn Horcoff, Ethan Moreau, and Ales Hemsky all need to have the year of their lives. Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray need to earn at least half of what they'll be making, and guys like Matt Greene, Denis Grebeshkov and Joni Pitkanen have to step up to the plate and be at least competent, and Théoden has to ride until dawn. Also, everyone has to stay healthy for every.single.game. No love rashes.
So who's new:
Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen, Robert Nilsson, Mathieu Garon, Geoff Sanderson, Denis Grebeshkov. Dick Tarnstrom returns to the fold once again.
Jason Smith, Ryan Smyth, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Jussi Markkanen, Joffrey Lupul, Toby Petersen, Brad Winchester, Petr Sykora. And we didn't sign Jan Hejda!?
Why you should watch:
Ales Hemsky. This could be the year for Ales Hemsky to put the dingle in the dangle and come out guns blazing as a certified Star. Brighter minds than mine are predicting a 90 point season from Ales, and with Shawn Horcoff (one of the smartest players on the ice in the NHL, period), and the 245lb Dustin Penner rounding out the line, we may just see something the Oilers haven't had in years: a killer power play. And that's what it has to be all about for the Oilers this season. You don't pay Sheldon Souray the Ryan Smyth money (contain...overpowering...rage) unless you plan to have him belting rubber at the opposing goalie's face all game. He's shit for defense (his position), so you draw as many penalties as you can and hope to God it all comes together.
Who'll step up:
My prediction is Patrick Thoreson pulls together his rookie year experience and comes out with a hard-on for goals. Thor was excellent last year and only needs to convert all the scoring chances he has proven to be skilled at creating.
Sam Gagner. The bright light of falling to the bottom six of the league this year was the Oilers' opportunity to draft this young player. Earning the MVP in the snoozer Super Series, Gagner showed quickness, drive, and pure hockey sense that will likely get him 9 games in the Big Show. The Oiler's are so desperate to fill forward holes right now ("San" Fernando Pisani is out indefintely with ulcerative colitis) that if he really shows up, little Samwise may find himself starting his NHL career a little too early.
Will Raffi Torres settle down into something resembling consistency? Will Dwayne Roloson, at 37, be able to keep as sharp as he has been? Will it help to have Mathieu Garon waiting in the wings? Will Pisani be ready by Christmas? Will Pitkanen live up to his early promise and will Souray learn to skate?
What I'll predict:
On paper, Oilers finish anywhere between 12th-14th in the West. But what's paper but some kind of mashed up pulp? I say Oilers finish the season just squeaking into the playoffs, battling it out with the Vancouver Canucks, Luongo out due to a painful groin issue. After that, who knows? Sometimes this team can surprise you.
Why are hockey wives so worried about living in Edmonton?