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6 Cities in 6 Days - Oilers still have questions up front

Bob McKenzie
9/23/2009 7:10:26 PM
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You have to be careful with the Edmonton Oilers.

A year ago we were all guilty of being overly optimistic about their prospects for the NHL season and we all know what happened - no playoffs and massive disappointment.

Now, though, we have to be careful not to be overly pessimistic because this is an Oiler team that can compete for a playoff spot. That said, competing for one and getting one are two different things.

There is no reason to believe Nikolai Khabibulin won't give the Oilers the kind of goaltending that will give them a chance to win every night. And if Lubomir Visnovsky and Sheldon Souray stay healthy, and Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov return to their form of two seasons ago, the Oilers' defence is actually quite solid.

But, there are some serious question marks up front. The failed Dany Heatley trade illustrates the glaring absence of a legitimate scoring winger to play on the top line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

Speaking of that top line, Horcoff is most certainly a capable NHL centre, but he may be miscast as a true No. 1 pivot.

The Oilers desperately need Patrick O'Sullivan and/or Dustin Penner or have a kid like Jordan Eberle step up to score some goals, although Eberle's long term prospects may be best served by going back to junior.

Edmonton is not without some skilled offensive players, but in Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Mike Comrie, they may have too much of the smaller skilled type forward and not enough size and physical play from their top nine forwards.

The other concern is that the Oilers are, for all intents and purposes, a cap team. They don't have a lot of financial flexibility to address the glaring needs up front. If they're going to do that it will have to be through trades and that's very difficult to do in today's NHL.

Still, the Oilers, if their kids bounce back after a sub-par season, should have enough to battle down to the wire for a playoff spot and if they stay healthy, they may sneak in. But it's far from a sure thing and there is little or no margin for error or underachievement this season.

Be sure to follow TSN NHL Insider Bob McKenzie on Twitter at twitter.com/TSNBobMcKenzie.

Bob McKenzie

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