National Hockey League News
2006-07 Edmonton Oilers Preview
By Lyle Fitzsimmons Sep 26, 2006, 18:00 GMT
However, just days after the end of the series - which Edmonton had trailed, three games to one, before winning two straight and forcing the deciding contest - the Oilers dealt newcomer Chris Pronger to Anaheim in a trade reportedly engineered by the stalwart defenseman's spouse, who was unhappy living in Alberta.
Michael Peca, who'd come to Edmonton a day after Pronger just prior to the 2005-06 season, also departed after just one season to sign a free-agent deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Oddly, the two NHL veterans had been heralded as a sign that the long-suffering Oilers would again be able to compete in the league's new economic climate.
Or, maybe not.
Also exiting via free agency were left wing Sergei Samsonov, right wing Georges Laraque, defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Dan Smith, and goaltender Ty Conklin, perhaps initially leaving the Oilers with the unenviable title of 'defending conference champion most likely to miss the subsequent playoffs.'
The team did manage to stop the hemorrhaging in some key spots, re-signing playoff scoring leader Fernando Pisani and goaltender Dwayne Roloson in the days immediately following the Finals and later retaining the services of young forwards Shawn Horcoff, Jarrett Stoll and Ales Hemsky.
They attracted former New Jersey sniper Petr Sykora and inked him to a one- year contract in August, then came to an agreement on a three-year deal with forward Joffrey Lupul - acquired in the Pronger trade - in September.
Head coach Craig MacTavish and team president Patrick LaForge were given four- year contract extensions in July. MacTavish, who won three Stanley Cups while playing in Edmonton, is 190-160-60 as the team's coach and 19-17 in playoff competition.
FORWARDS - The re-signings of Hemsky, Horcoff, Pisani and Stoll were vital for the maintenance of any semblance of momentum for the Oilers, who were among the teams that most benefited by the rules changes opening up the ice surface. The 22-year-old Hemsky, a right winger, is seen as a future star after a 2005-06 season in which he established career highs with 19 goals and 58 assists for a team-best 77 points. The Czech native was the team's first-round draft choice (13th overall) in 2001.
Sykora, who scored 23 goals in a split season with the New York Rangers and Anaheim last year, adds veteran presence on right side along with Pisani, who scored 14 goals in 24 playoff games after netting 18 in 80 games during the regular season.
Horcoff and Stoll are the top two centers for Edmonton, having combined for 11 goals and 29 points in the postseason run. Veteran Marty Reasoner is also back in the middle after returning from Boston, where he was sent at the trade deadline in exchange for the now-departed Samsonov.
Left wing Ryan Smyth scored a team-high 36 goals in 75 games and provided another season of goalmouth toughness for the Oilers, adding another 16 points during the playoffs. He's joined on the left side by ornery Raffi Torres (27 goals in 2005-06) and solid two-way man Ethan Moreau (11 goals, four short- handed, in 2005-06).
DEFENSE - Pronger's bolting to California creates a major void on the backline for Edmonton, which also lost Jaroslav Spacek from its first pairing. So into the breach steps the workmanlike pairing of Steve Staios and team captain Jason Smith, who were a plus-10 and a plus-1, respectively, last season.
Speedster Marc-Andre Bergeron, who stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 197 pounds, will need to raise his game as he moves up the depth chart, as will newcomer Daniel Tjarnqvist, who signed a one-year contract after spending last season with the Minnesota Wild.
Other defensemen on the roster include 20-year-old Ladislav Smid, who came over in the Pronger trade, and 23-year-old bruiser Matt Greene, who played in all seven games in the Finals against Carolina. Also, Jan Hejda, a 28-year-old Czech import, was acquired from Buffalo in July for a seventh-round draft pick.
GOALTENDING - A glaring weakness became a sudden strength in the playoffs for Edmonton, which was carried through the postseason on the stellar play of Roloson, who'd come over at the trading deadline from Minnesota and went 12-5 in 17 playoff starts.
His season-ending knee injury in Game 1 of the Finals set the stage for understudy Jussi Markannen, who subsequently posted a 2.17 goals-against average in six games with the Hurricanes, including a 4-0 win in Game 6.
Roloson was 14-24 with two shutouts and a 2.73 GAA overall for the Wild and Oilers during the regular season, while Markannen was 15-12 with a 3.13 GAA while initially sharing the Edmonton starting duties with free-agent departee Conklin.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Just how close the Oilers can come to repeating the near title run will depend largely on what the holdovers from that team gained from the experience.
The losses of Pronger and Spacek will hurt the most, without question, while the departures of Peca and Samsonov are decidedly less impacting but tangible nonetheless. Meanwhile, having Roloson in the nets for the entire season will certainly help, as will the assumed confidence picked up by the young set of Hemsky, Pisani, Horcoff and Stoll.
A challenge for the Northwest Division is possible and may be exactly what is needed in order to hang another Western championship banner. Expect somewhere between 90 and 100 points again, which, in such a loaded group, could conceivably place Edmonton anywhere from first to fourth in its division and anywhere from top to bottom in the West.
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