Edmonton Oilers

Last season, the Edmonton Oilers missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season. And because of that, General Manager Steve Tambellini had to clean house behind the bench. Craig MacTavish was gone and in is Pat Quinn. A future Hall-of-Famer, Quinn is a veteran coach known for getting the most out of his players. In addition, former New York Rangers coach Tom Renney was brought in as the associate head coach.

Quinn’s style of play is designed to open the ice and let the skill players do what they do best: score. This is in contrast to the MacTavish dump-and-chase style. For football fans, this is similar to a new coach employing the spread offense when the team is used to playing a pro-style offense.

The benefit that Quinn has is that he has young talent to work with, and talent that is waiting to blossom into offensive threats. The Oilers starved for goals so bad last season that leading goal scorers Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray each had 23 goals. The problem there is that Souray is a defenseman, and blueliners shouldn’t be leading the team in goals. In addition, two of the top four point-getters were defenseman with Tom Gilbert recording 45 points.

Ales Hemsky should benefit from new coaching, but still needs that sniper who can finish in front of the net.
Ales Hemsky should benefit from new coaching, but still needs that sniper who can finish in front of the net.

Hemsky and linemates Mike Comrie and Shawn Horcoff should benefit the most under the new system. A team that struggled in size and grit in the old regime, Dustin Penner is a second-line power-forward that can not only bury loose pucks into the net, but also bury opposing players with his 6’4″ frame. The only negative about the top line is that none is known to be a sniper from close range. If Comrie can return to his 30-goal seasons of 2002 and 2006, the Comrie-Hemsky combination can be lethal. Once you get past the first line, the depth is weaker than most teams in the division. But they have to make the best of what they have, and that bunch includes Penner, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Fernando Pisani, and Ethan Moreau.

If there was anyone who benefited from the dump-and-chase system, it was the defensemen. They have a solid top-six who isn’t only good puck movers and carriers, but can shoot and find the net. They accumulated most of the offense last season, and they should improve despite potentially sacrificing goals to the forwards. Look for Lubomir Visnovsky to explode offensively in the new system, and 2006 draft pick Theo Peckham to be the first player called up from Springfield if any injuries occur to the top six.

The department that had the biggest makeover was in goal. Out are veterans Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, and in is veteran Nikolai Khabibulin and rookie Jeff Deslauriers. The new duo is an upgrade over the old, but “The Bulin Wall” needs to cut down on the inconsistency if he will be the everyday starter. Deslauriers did appear in 10 games last season, recording a 4-3 record. He is more likely to swim vs. sink as he will see more playing time.

Overall, the Oilers are maybe two seasons away from becoming a playoff team. In the brutal Western Conference, every other team in the conference got better while the Oilers didn’t improve much besides the goaltender position. This team will fight for the playoffs with the likes of Calgary, Columbus, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas, but the Oilers will be on the outside looking in.

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