2008-09: 38-35-9 (11th in the West – Missed playoffs)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 16th
General Manager: Steve Tambellini (2nd Season)
Head Coach: Pat Quinn (1st Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
After missing the playoffs for a third straight season, Craig MacTavish was relieved of his coaching duties. In search of his replacement, general manager Steve Tambellini chose to go the 'experience' route by bringing veteran coach Pat Quinn back to the NHL. The team added even more coaching experience with former Rangers' bench boss Tom Renney as an assistant.
The Oilers selected Swedish junior standout Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson with the 10th overall pick and sent forward Kyle Brodziak to the Minnesota Wild on a draft day deal. Dwayne Roloson was allowed to leave in free agency and was replaced by Nikolai Khabibulin, who signed a four-year, $15 million deal to come to the City of Champions. Ales Kotalik took his show to Broadway after agreeing to a three-year deal with the Rangers.
The biggest move involving the Oilers was the one that actually didn't happen. A much-publicized trade for Dany Heatley never materialized, despite a lengthy courtship by the front office. Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid were all set to go to the nation's capital before Heatley invoked his no-trade clause to nix the deal. The whole saga has left a bad taste in the mouth of management and fans.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
The Oilers spent a lot of their summer chasing their tails in the Heatley sweepstakes and it will be interesting to see how the players mentioned in trade talks respond.
While Smid just agreed to a two-year deal with the club, Andrew Cogliano is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. After a great junior career and a solid rookie season, the dreaded sophomore slump set in and 'Cogs' never really got going last year - his numbers diminished despite additional playing time. Since the team didn't add any additional firepower through trades or free agency, the Oilers will be depending on Cogliano more than ever this season. It would be a big setback if he can't get over the notion that the team was willing to trade him away.
As for Penner, the team will obviously be looking for signs of life after a second straight mediocre season in Edmonton. More on this later.
Another point of interest heading into the season is seeing how Quinn handles this young and talented (but maddeningly inconsistent) team. Over the past few years, he has shed his label as a veteran's coach by leading Canada to gold at the Spengler Cup and 2009 World Junior hockey tournament.
While he's not an X's and O's coach, Quinn will put a great deal of responsibility in the players' laps. There is no question that the Oilers have the talent to compete in the Western Conference, but that talent needs to reveal itself on a nightly basis. Far too many players underachieved last season. Quinn has the benefit of a very talented and offensively inclined defensive corps, which will be solidified with the return of Lubomir Visnovsky from injury. The Oilers are traditionally among the league leaders in scoring from the back end, so look for that trend to continue as Denis Grebeskhov and Ladislav Smid come into their own.
While the goaltending of Dwayne Roloson down the stretch was their saving grace, the Oilers shouldn't miss him too much thanks to the addition of Khabibulin. The Bulin Wall should be happy heading into camp as he is the unquestioned No. 1 - a luxury he did not have last year in Chicago. The team hopes his playoff experience will be the key for a return to the 'Big Dance' after a three-year absence from the postseason.
Player to watch:
Perhaps the biggest problem that Dustin Penner faces is the fact that he is not Tomas Vanek. Three summers ago, Penner was the Oilers' 'consolation prize' after the Sabres matched Edmonton's seven-year, $50 million offer sheet for the Austrian-born sniper. While Vanek is a two-time 40 goal scorer on the verge of stardom in Buffalo, Penner remains an enigma who has regressed on the stat sheet since his rookie year in Anaheim.
Coach Craig MacTavish publicly ripped Penner last season for being out of shape, inconsistent and not showing enough effort considering his high price tag. Penner was also benched for a period of time and saw his ice time significantly reduced. Despite all his efforts, the head coach could never light a fire under Penner, and it likely played a role in MacTavish's dismissal.
For Penner, the slate has been wiped clean with the hiring of Quinn. A fresh start under a new coach might be the perfect tonic for a player who was nearly run out of town in the off-season. If Penner can show Quinn in camp that he is willing to make the effort, he could see himself earn time on the top line with Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. He would also likely see more power play time standing in front of the net and running interference with opposing goalies, a trick mastered by former Oiler Ryan Smyth. Penner has the size and talent to be an effective player in the league and the onus is now on him to take advantage of the opportunities that he has been given.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
As it's seemed to be for a few seasons now, the Edmonton Oilers have a nucleus of young players that need to take the next step in their collective development. As a result, there are no elite fantasy performers here, but several players with upside that could represent good value.
Talented winger Ales Hemsky has been knocking on the point-per-game plateau three times in the last four seasons and his gradual increase in shot production resulted in last year's career-best 23 goals. Hemsky is also a force on the power play, tallying at least 25 points with the man advantage in each of the last four seasons.
Perhaps the Oilers' most likely player to have a breakout season would be third-year forward Sam Gagner, but the slick puckhandler will need to figure out how to produce over a full season. In each of his first two seasons, Gagner has struggled early before finishing with a flourish. If he puts it all together, a 70-point season wouldn't be out of the question.