Oilers At Risk Of Taking A Step Back

•August 14, 2008 • 3 Comments

After an excellent end to the 2008 season, there is a lot of hype and expectations surrounding a few players on the Oilers. Not all of them will take the expected step forward and in fact some will fall back – so who do I think are the most likely candidates? Well… read on.

Andrew Cogliano

After a brilliant rookie season with the Oilers, which saw him score 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points in 82 games, he is one player on the team at a higher risk of suffering the dreaded sophomore slump.

There are two main factors that I see that suggest the odds are against Cogs repeating/improving on last years performance: Erik Cole and lofty shooting percentage.

The introduction of Erik Cole to the Oilers line-up adds another top-six player to the line-up. While the “kid line” is expected to stay together after ending the season as the best line – there are no guarantees once the season starts and if they don’t start out with chemistry we could see this line split up early. And this is only made easier with two spots solidified on the top line (Hemsky and Horcoff) and Penner and Cole able to fit in on either of the top two lines.

And in the situation of a “kid line” split, Cogs is the most likely to move out of the top two due to his two way ability and his speed – in fact he would be a nice fit on the third line. If this occurs, it limits the time on ice and offensive opportunities for Cogliano – which increases the risk of lower production.

The second factor is his unreal shooting percentage last season – 18.4%, first on the team and top 10 in the league (wait – I thought Cogs was the next coming of Marchant). This level of shooting acumen is difficult to sustain and could easily drop down to the 10-15% range, which only adds additional pressure to his production levels.

So, we could see Cogliano with less offensive opportunity time and a weaker shooting percentage, which points to lower production.

Shawn Horcoff

The Oilers #1C is coming off a season where he took it to a whole new level after finding his scoring touch in Tijuana – had I known maybe I could’ve made it past midget B – scoring 21 goals and 29 assists in an injury shortened 53 games. Which I am sure helped make the signing of a six year extension easy for management.

The biggest risks he faces in repeating his awesome performance last year – shooting percentage (again? I know) and his shoulder.

Horcoff was second on the team with a shooting percentage of 18.3%, which again puts him in the top 10 in the league. The main reason to question his ability to repeat this is his past shooting percentages – 9.5% in 2007 and 13.2% in 2006 – with a career shooting percentage of 13.6%. Maybe there really was something in the trip to Mexico or it could just be his new shoot first attitude but there is a chance his shooting percentage returns to the mean – leading to lower production.

Horcoff’s season was cut short last year with a shoulder injury. While reports indicate he is 100% after the surgery, it is always a concern when a player having a great campaign goes through major surgery. How will this impact his play or his shot? It could be that it takes Horcoff some time for his shoulder to get well and his play suffers.

Tom Gilbert

Another player at risk of taking a step back in production is Tom Gilbert who had a great rookie campaign that saw 13 goals and 20 assists in 82 games.

The biggest area adding risk to Gilbert’s ability to top last year is the addition of depth on the blue line – both through the addition of Visnovsky and the return of Souray. It is clear that Gilbert benefited greatly from injury to Souray through increased ice-time. Gilbert averaged well over 20 minutes a game.

With a healthy Souray and the addition of minute-hog Visnovsky it is likely that Gilbert’s ice-time will fall and puts pressure on his offensive potential.

Other Player Risks

A few other players at risk of decreased production:

Dustin Penner – with the addition of Cole he could be knocked off the first line, which will decrease those great feeds from Hemsky and the risk of decreased offensive production.

Nilsson, Gagner, Brodziak – while I don’t feel they are at high risk of decreased production there are increased pressure to perform. Can they handle it – or suffer sophomore slumps (quasi-sophomore for Nilsson)?

As usual on these negative type posts, I hope I am wrong.

Top 10 Oiler Fights – 2007/2008

•August 8, 2008 • 1 Comment

I love hockey fights – don’t we all? While we are a few years removed from the days of George Laraque the Oilers did manage to get into 49 fights last season.

Here are my top 10 Oiler fights from last season, in no specific order:

Zack Stortini vs. Darcy Hordichuk

Raffi Torres vs. Doug Murray

Mathieu Roy vs. Ian Laperriere

Zack Stortini vs. Arron Asham

Ladislav Smid vs. David Backes

Kyle Brodziak vs. Willie Mitchell

Zack Stortini vs. Jim Vandermeer

Curtis Glencross vs. Mike Weaver

Zack Stortini vs. Martin Lapointe

Sam Gagner vs. Ryan Kesler

Non-Oilers Bonus: Krys Barch vs. Daniel Carcillo

Review: Cole for Pitkanen

•August 7, 2008 • 1 Comment

There is an interesting discussion (and poll) being held at HFBoards as to whether fans of the Oilers are happy with the Erik Cole for Joni Pikanen trade. At the time of writing, the majority of posters in favor of the deal (62% – Yes or Hell Yes… I voted Yes).

But its by no mean unanimous.

Leaving: Joni Pitkanen

I was pretty pumped when Joni Pitkanen was made an Oiler last year in a trade that saw former captain Jason Smith and Joffery Lupul were sent to the Flyers. He came over as a highly touted offensive defenseman who was only a season removed from a Norris-esque season (05/06). Something that the Oilers needed at the time.

In his time with the Oilers, 63 games in total, Joni showed flashes of brilliance playing extensive minutes and skating up the ice with ease. But there were also as many moments when Joni disappeared and had minimal impact on the proceedings but nothing of major concern seeing as he was still so young and defenceman generally take longer to develop.

Going into this off-season, Pitkanen was seemingly apart of the Oilers plans as was shown in several interviews with Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish right after the end of the season. But the acquisition of Lubomir Vishnovsky just prior to free agency threw this out the window and quickly ignighted trade speculation – and a few day later the Oilers had a top-six forward in Erik Cole and saw a quick end to the Joni Pitkanen experiment.

The days/weeks/month following the trade it appeared that all was not well between the Oilers and Pitkanen. There were suggestions made towards his character by current captain Ethan Moreau and made clear by Kevin Lowe that Pitkanen’s desire to play for the Oilers wasn’t strong and would only be capable with a very expensive contract – much higher than the one he signed with Carolina.

While I still like Pitkanen and hope to see him succeed – I don’t mind losing players that have little desire in playing for the Oilers. Also, his loss doesn’t leave the team with a glaring hole with the acquisition of Lubomir, who is the all-star offensive defenceman the Joni may become, as well as the emergence of the other offensive defencemen on the team – Tom Gilbert and Dennis Grebeshkov.

Arriving: Erik Cole

Now wearing the Copper & Blue… Erik Cole. Yes… the Erik Cole that was part of the Hurricanes team that crushed the hearts of millions of Oilers fans – including this one. However, he likely did help prevent a riot that would have sullied Whyte Ave.

But it would have been great to get to rub a cup win into the faces of my “friends” with Flames and Canuck allegiances.

All of that history aside, the acquisition of Cole brings in another top-six forward into the Oilers mix, which only solidifies our top end forward depth – three straight seasons of 20+ goals and 50+ points.

Did The Oilers Win?

This is definitely not the Lubomir Visnovsky for Stoll/Greene trade (clear win for the Copper & Blue). The Cole trade is far more difficult to assess.

The biggest reasons fueling the difficulty is: 1) Giving up on Pitkanen and 2) Cole is a UFA at the end of the year. The crux of the argument against the trade is that the Oil have given up on a highly talented blue-liner who has four NHL seasons under his belt at the ripe age of 24.

In his second season in the NHL he nearly posted a PPG (46 pts in 58 games). While his season with the Oilers wasn’t his best (second consecutive year of declining production), at only 24 it is likely that his best seasons are still ahead of him. There continues to remain the potential for him to play for 15 more years as one of the top offensive defenceman in the league. These players don’t grow on trees – well maybe in Finland.

While I am sure that most Oiler fans like the addition of Cole to the team… it is the fact that he comes at the price of Pitkanen. Adding salt to the wounds of Oiler-Pitkanen fans is the fact that Cole comes over as a player under contract for one more year.

So there is the potential for Tambellini & Co. to get Cole for one year at the expense of defenceman who could play for the next 15 years and win an abundance of Norris trophies.

However, let’s not ignore the fact that it seems Pitkanen didn’t want to play here – without heavy compensation (reported $5M+) – and may have just bolted the moment he hit UFA-status.

In the HFBoards discussion, many brought up the point that we will only win this trade if Cole signs an extension and we lose it if he doesn’t. There is a lot of validity to this argument. Lets look at the two scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Cole Test Free Agency

The Cole-experiment fails. They only get him for one season. One season for Joni “Potential Norris Winner” Pitkanen. Unless that season sees Cole help win us the cup it is tough to see how they win from an asset point of view.

But there is a positive to this scenario… cap space. Cole’s $4M comes off the books and the Oil don’t have the estimated $5M it would have cost to retain Pitkanen. They could still come out ahead on this deal – Oilers Sign Hossa! (or another top end talent – but of course no one wants to play up here).

If Oilers are out of the playoffs before the trade deadline – knock on wood… a lot – Cole can be used for deadline trade bait to further stock the Oilers crop of young talent.

Scenario 2 – Cole Reups

Cole flourishes and signs a contract extension providing the Oilers with a great top 6 player. The Oilers have a ton of offensive defenceman depth, which may make some Oiler fans go… Pitkanen who? He played for us?

Pitkanen

It is important when assessing the trade that one remembers that Pitkanen seemingly did not want to play for the Oilers and didn’t fit with the team (as per Moreau). He may never win a Norris and may never live up to his potential. Also, the Oilers, even if they could sign him weren’t guaranteed to keep him for the rest of his playing career as he would have been a UFA at the end of the contract – unless Lowe pulled a Wang.

Additional Notes on Cole

– Don’t look for him to take too many faceoffs… 23.7% on 39 draws.
– Likes to hit… led the Hurricanes last year with 186 hits.
– Likes to shoot… second on the team with 216 shots.
– Solid Even Strength player… 66.7% of his points were ES.
– Averaged 0.30 Goals/game… which would have been good for second best on the Oilers (Horcoff – 0.4 Goals/game).

It was also suggested by some that Cole is redundant in that we already have a power forward in Dustin Penner.

My simple answer to this is… now they have two power forwards, which can’t be too bad. As a player who can score, with a shoot first mentality, he should fit nicely along side the creative set-up guys on the team including -Hemsky, Gagner and Nilsson.

By the way… Cole will score 29 Goals this season. Mark it.

Oilers Starting Line-up (Forwards)

•August 5, 2008 • 2 Comments

Now is the perfect time to set the starting line-up for the 2008/2009 season – before training camp and a solid two months before the first game of the season. And in case you didn’t know, and shame on you if you don’t, the Oilers open their 30th anniversary season hosting the Colorado Avalanche on Oct 12 – and while I am at prophecising the Oilers will beat the Avs 3-2 in regulation.

Onto the opening line-up…

First Line

Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky

Two of the components to this line should be no surprise. Horcoff and Hemsky have been staples on the Oilers first line since the lock-out and there is no reason to see this change. Hemsky is still our most dynamic winger and Horcoff, coming off an all-star appearance and a huge contract extension, remains the best choice at center – even while some suggest Gagner could take over this spot.

The left wing, however, is up for competition with the off-season acquisition of Erik Cole, a bonafide top-six winger who is only a few seasons removed from being considered one of the elite power forwards in the league. But he is coming off another season of decling production from his breakout season in 2006.

With Dustin Penner being the other player in contention for this spot, who played a significant portion of last season as the top lines left-winger, it is his spot to lose. My guess is that Penner comes in to training camp in much better shape than he did last season where he came off a Stanely Cup-shortened off-season and wins the spot for opening night.

Likely Substitutes
One shouldn’t be surprised to see Penner and Cole rotate on the left side many times throughout the season. Less likely, but a possibility, is Nilsson trying his hand at left wing duties.

Second Line

Cole – Gagner – Nilsson

While the “kid line” was arguably the best line over the last 20 games of the season with the addition of Cole to the Oilers line-up and the likeliness of the line coming back to earth and losing some of that chemistry it will be Cole starting the season on the left wing. While Cole is coming off a season of declining production (51 pts in 08 vs. 61 pts in 07) he is a top six forward who is a proven scorer.

Cogliano is the most at risk of being demoted not because of his skill but his ability to play a third line role vs. Gagner or Nilsson. However, I do expect the “kid line” to be together for a part of training camp – but broken up for the first game. But unless you see them light it up – we will see Cole on this line.

Likely Substitutes
It is likely we will see wide variety of second line combinations due to the depth of top-six forwards we have on the team. Expect the “kid line” to be united many times throughout the season with Penner being tossed in as a Cole replacement.

Third Line

Moreau – Cogliano – Pisani

The Oilers third line has been one of the least consistent lines over the last few years due to the multitude of injuries sustained by players who’ve traditionally been staples on the line. With Moreau and Pisani both coming into the season healthy, two of the Oilers best third-liners (two-way energy guys) will be mainstays on this line this year – knock on wood. Centering the dynamic “third line” duo will be Cogliano, who with the addition of Cole, is the player best suited to head up the line with his speed and defensive abilities.

Likely Substitutes
Pending injury, it will be the center position of this line that is likely to see the most change. At times, we could see Brodziak or Pouliot being the pivot as Cogliano moves back and forth between the top-six and the third-line.

Fourth Line

Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini

With the loss of Glencross to free agency there is an opening on the fourth line, which was a pillar of strength for the Oilers on its season ending run. Last season, Brodziak solidified himself as an NHL’er and will remain on this line for the season – potentially moving up to center the third. With strong showings last season it appears that Stortini and Pouliot will have the lead on on the remaining two positions but there is little guarentee and they could be starting the year in the pressbox.

Likely Substitutes
The fourth line will likely be a revolving door for the multitude of prospects (and Jason Strudwick) the Oilers will try and get into the line-up. Expect to see Gilbert Brule, Robbie Schremp, Ryan Poltuny, J.F. Jacques and Jason Strudwick at different points in the season in place of Pouliot and Stortini.

Second Guess

To only prove the difficulty of setting the lines so early just before I pressed upload for this post I had second thoughts on the starting line-up so I thought I would give my second version:

Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky
Cogliano – Gagner – Nilsson
Penner – Brodziak – Pisani
Moreau – Pouliot – Stortini

I bet that 15 minutes after this is up I will want to have a third guess… to follow I will look at the defensive pairings.

Oilers New GM – Steve Tambellini

•August 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The good thing about being an Oilers fan is that it is never dull – even during the dog days of summer.

What seemed like another Thursday morning in late July – where Oilers fans talk of Hockey Cards and Batman Movies – a major announcement from the team quickly turned a dull afternoon into one filled with analysis and debate.

Assuming you haven’t heard, the Oilers announced a reshuffling of the decks at the hockey operations level with the hiring of Steve Tambellini, the former Assistant GM of the Vancouver Canucks, as the new General Manager of the Oilers. The contract is rumored to be four-years.

Kevin Lowe, the now former GM, is being promoted to President of Hockey Operations – a newly created position in the organization that shifts Lowe’s main responsibilities from the day-to-day tasks of a GM (contract negotiations/scouting) to overseeing the management of all hockey operations (Oilers/Falcons/Oil Kings/Thunder) as well as a likely expanded role across the organization (working with the business side on projects including the arena). Lowe will still have the ultimate say on hockey decisions for the Oilers with Tambellini reporting to him.

Kevin Prendergast, who was previously the V.P. of Hockey Operation, will take over the role of Assistant GM.

When I first heard the news of the move, I was shocked as I imagine most Oilers fans were, not because I don’t think it is the right move but that it came completely out of left field. It is still hard for me to think that Kevin Lowe, love him or hate him, isn’t or General Manager anymore. Who is he going to pick fights with now – Bob Murray?

But as the shock waned, I got really excited. This move makes the organization a lot a better. And not because Kevin Lowe couldn’t do the job but because we have added another great hockey mind to the fold, which can’t hurt.

Tambellini brings an immense amount of hockey experience and knowledge from a 10-year career in the NHL, which he won a Stanley Cup (Islanders – 1980), to 17 years in management with the Canucks (business operations/player personal/hockey operations/assistant GM). He also has been involved heavily with Hockey Canada at the management level as Director of Player Personal (2002 Olympics – Gold) and the GM of the 2003 and 2005 IIHF World Hockey Championships (Gold/Silver).

With that immense experience – how could you not love the addition of depth in the front office to help in the hockey operations decision-making process and adding variety of opinion.

The move highlights the impact that new owner Daryl Katz is having on the Oilers organization. It is clear to me that Katz feels that it isn’t only the players on the ice that lead to success but the management team running the organization – which isn’t rocket science but can sometimes be overlooked in hockey.

Any successful business, whether hockey or pharmacies, needs an effective management team with a variety of talent and skill sets to handle the operations as well as move the company forward. A well laid out structure allows for efficient decision making – no bottlenecks with one person doing the work of multiple people – and higher level thinking that moves the company forward, which is often put on the back burner if the top executive team is muddled down with the day-to-day.

This reshuffling moves the Oilers to a better structure on the hockey side of the business.

There have been some that suggest ulterior motives to the move – from Lowe leaving to Mactavish being  fired – but to me there is nothing more complex to the move than it being a reshuffling of the front office to increase its depth and strengthen the overall company. It will also allow the front office to be more agile in the decision making process with Lowe now moving away from GM task so we will likely see a lot more decisions made a lot quicker.

And at the end of the day – the Oilers are better off for it.

Impact of the New NHL Schedule

•July 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The 2008/2009 season will see the introduction of a new schedule that will see the Oilers play every team in the league at least once – instead of skipping over one eastern division a year.

For the upcoming season:

  • 24 Games against Northwest division teams (three home/three away).
  • 40 Games against non-divisional western conference rivals (two home/two away).
  • 18 Games against the Eastern conference teams (one game each – with three wild card games)

At its simplest, we see eight games transferred from  Northwest rivals to Eastern conference teams. While this is a welcomed change for this Oilers fan – nice to get to see more Eastern teams – it does add a new dynamic that could impact the Oilers overall results. Maybe even for the better.

Since the lock-out, the Oilers are 114-106-26 (46.3% win rate) – a big impact on this was the poor 2006/2007 campaign.

Against the West, the Oilers are 102-96-18 (47.2% win rate).

West W L OT Win %
2008 36 31 5 50.0%
2007 28 40 4 38.9%
2006 38 25 9 52.8%
Total 102 96 18 47.2%
Average 34 32 6

Against the East, the Oilers are 12-10-8 (40% win rate).

East W L OT Win %
2008 5 4 1 50.0%
2007 4 3 3 40.0%
2006 3 3 4 30.0%
Total 12 10 8 40.0%
Average 4.0 3.3 2.7

In the Northwest division, the Oilers were 39-51-6 (40.6% win rate).

NW W L OT Win %
2008 13 16 3 40.6%
2007 11 20 1 34.4%
2006 15 15 2 46.9%
Total 39 51 6 40.6%
Average 13 17 2

For the Central and Pacific, the Oilers were a combined 63-45-12 (52.5% win rate).

Pac/Cen W L OT Win %
2008 23 15 2 57.5%
2007 17 20 3 42.5%
2006 23 10 7 57.5%
Total 63 45 12 52.5%
Average 21 15 4

As can be seen, the Northwest hasn’t been a place of great success for the Oilers as they have been unable to play above .500 in any of the last three seasons (40.6% average win rate). This isn’t too surprising as the division has often been considered to be one of the strongest in the NHL.

The team will now be playing eight less games against their tough divisional rivals, which comes as a welcomed relief – both for increasing variety and moving away from an area of historical weakness.

As mentioned previously, these eight games are being transferred to the east, where we will be playing each eastern team once (Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto – twice). However, the east hasn’t exactly been a place of great strength for the Oil, as we have only won 40% of our games against them.

But they have been steadily improving since the end of the lock-out from 30% in 2006 to 50% last season. Also, there is a relatively small sample to draw from as we only played a total of 30 games out east out of 246 games, which makes it more difficult to get a true sense of our competitiveness against the east.

So the answer to the question of the impact on the new NHL schedule… it is likely a good thing we are not playing as much against the Northwest but we aren’t moving to the most fertile grounds in the east – too bad the games weren’t against the Pacific and Central divisions (52.5% win rate).

But at the end of the day, playing the Wild a few times less a season is a welcomed relief.

ESPN: Edmonton Oilers 5th in West

•July 29, 2008 • 4 Comments

Scott Burnside, at ESPN.com, posted his summer NHL power rankings, which has the Oilers slotted in at 5th in the West based on the Oilers stong finish to the end of the season and the off-season additions of Visnovsky and Cole.

While it is nice to see the Oilers get some respect from the media (THN – I am looking at you) the power rankings of an ESPN columist are just that – the power rankings of an ESPN columnist. But it does beg the question of the worthiness of that ranking.

Are we truly the 5th best team in the west?

The last true point of reference we have for the Oilers place among the western teams is the final regular season standings. The Oilers finished three points out of the playoffs in 9th place.

This leads us to the question of whether or not we have done enough in the off-season to now be worthy of jumping pass four other teams in the west – all who finished ahead of us in real terms last season.

My West Top 4

#1 – Detriot – won the cup, added Hossa, and lost no one of significance in the off-season. It makes it difficult, if not impossible, to bump them from the top spot in the west.

#2 – San Jose – the Sharks continue their reputation as playoff-duds but in the regular season remain a powerhouse. With a revamped blue-line, thanks to the additions of Boyle, Blake and Lukowich, and no major changes up front the team looks even better than last – but they are starting to get older and the window is closing.

#3 – Dallas – while some expected Dallas to falter last year, the Stars did nothing of sort thanks to the strong performances by Ribeiro and Morrow. With the addition of super-pest Sean Avery and a full year of Brad Richards this team should be even better than last year and only points to them moving higher up in the west.

#4 – Anaheim – feelings aside, as a die-hard Oilers fan, the Ducks are likely to remain a significant presence in the West. While they didn’t have an inspiring off-season – Morrison and Montador – they are still a big strong team with solid goaltending, two world class defencemen (if Niedermayer would make up his mind) and two dynamic forwards in Getzlaf and Perry. But a lack of offensive depth remains and points to them slipping out of the top three.

Bottom – Up

#15 – St. Louis – the Blues finished the season tied for second last in the west, which would lead one to expect John Davidson and company to make some big moves in the off-season to turn things around. If Matt Foy and Brad Winchester are the “answer” – the Blues are in great shape to win the lottery pick. A look at their roster does little to inspire one to suggest that St. Louis will do anything but get worse this year.

#14 – L.A. Kings – the Kings finished tied for last in the NHL last season. A look to the offseason sees the team lose significant defensive depth with Visnovsky and Blake moving on and being “replaced” with Matt Greene and Denis Gauthier – yikes! They also lost some scoring depth in Cammalleri. The youth movement in LA remains we may see them move out of the bottom in the west on the backs of Kopitar, Frolov and Brown. However, it remains likely that L.A. will have a shot at Tavares in the 2009 draft.

#13 – Phoenix Coyotes – the Coyotes made a big move early on in the off-season picking up Olli Jokinen in exchange for defencemen Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard. The addition of Jokinen, a high-end talent, will help the Coyotes improve offensively but it comes at a cost to their defensive corps. While hopes are likely high for the Coyotes – their defence is highly suspect. Also, the Coyotes also got tougher with the additions of McGratten and Fedoruk, which makes the Pacific the meanest division in the NHL.

#12 – Columbus Blue Jackets -the lowest scoring team in the west last year has made a few moves in the off-season to provide a supporting cast for Rick Nash – Huselius, Torres, Peca and Umberger. This is much needed with the loss of Zherdev (61 pts – 2nd on the team). Even with the loss of Zherdev, It would be shocking not to see the Jackets boost their 193 goal total. In return for Zherdev, the teams D was improved with the additions of Tyutin and Backman. Expect these moves to play well into the hands of Hitchcock and lead the team to a better 08/09 campaign.

#11 – Vancouver Canucks – the off-season saw the end of the Naslund and Morrison-eras, however, these are two players whose better days are well behind them. The most notable addition of the off-season was Pavol Dimitra who will help to add offense to the low-scoring Canucks. While Dimitra is a positive step, there is little to get excited about when looking at the current roster, which leads one to believe they will remain stagnent (but they still got Luongo). The Sundin offer remains a cloud over the team and their prospects for the year ahead.

#10 – Colorado Avalanche – a team that could see a fall this upcoming season is the Avs with the exit of Andrew Brunette and Sakic (still up in the air) the team has lost top-six depth. While the addition of Darcy Tucker adds grit and lessens the blow of the previously mentioned offensive losses, the Avs are likely to see a drop in offensive output. Also, the goaltending situation continues to be suspect with the tandem of Budaj and Raycroft, two goalies who can’t hold the number one slot, unlikely to be an area of strength.

#9 – Nashville Predators – a team taking a step back in the off-season is the Predators with the teams third leading scorerer,  Alexander Radulov, jumping ship to Russia. The team still has its two top scorers in Arnott and Dumont as well as its stable of stud D (Weber/Suter/Hamhuis), which should minimize the loss of Radulov. However, there is little to suggest seeing Nashville improve on its 91 pt campaign last year.

#8 – Edmonton Oilers – again there is a lot of hype surrounding the Oilers as Kevin Lowe makes significant moves again to his roster. On the way out – Torres, Stoll, Pitkanen, Greene, Reasoner, Glencross. Coming In: Visnovsky, Cole, Brule, Strudwick. The Oilers add a top-six forward in Cole and an elite-offensive defenceman in Visnovsky while giving up some some depth and grit in players like Torres, Stoll and Greene. Lowe also added some additional toughness in Strudwick who can fight and will help to hold the other team accountable. With the strong finish to last season on the backs of our youth movement and the addition of high-end talent the Oilers have a solid chance at the playoffs. Also, if the Oilers remain healthy and stop suffering from 300+ man game losses the odds improve drastically. However, there are still concerns that make a #5 difficult to justify – the Oilers bled goals last year (251 – 2nd highest in the west) and relied heavily on shoot-out wins. But they are a better team today than they were at the end of the season so the Oilers should make the playoffs.

#7 – Calgary Flames – this off-season the Flames lost some skill in the likes of Tanguay and Huselius, which were two of the top five scorers on the team. Replacing them are Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Cammalleri, which are difficult to suggest as true improvements, as the search for some top-six depth to play with Iginla continues. The Flames continue to look weak from a scondary scoring standpoint and with Kiprusoff getting worse each year, we could see the Flames post a negative goal differential this year but they remain a tough team to play against and still have superstar Iginla.

#6 – Chicago Blackhawks – the Hawks are franchise on the rise on the backs of young players producing like NHL vets (Kane, Toews, Seabrook) helped by a strong supporting cast including Patrick Sharp and Robert Lang. With a solid base in place, the Hawks, added two more pieces to the puzzle in Brian Campbell and Huet. Campbell will only help the team with offense from the back while Huet adds to the goalie depth – and will fight for the number one spot with Khabibulin. The Hawks could surprise many with how well they do this upcoming season.

#5 – Minnesota Wild – while the Wild aren’t known for their offensive prowess the loss of Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra do little to change this impression. To help stop the bleeding from the loss of two of their top four scorers the Wild signed forward Andrew Brunette (similar numbers to Rolston) and offensive defenceman Marek Zidlicky. While the fate of the Wild rests heavily on the health of Gaborik the Wild will continue to remain a strong system team and aren’t likely to falter greatly.

While I am excited about the upcoming season and the Oilers prospects – Burnside is falling for too much of the hype around the Oilers. They are headed in the right direction but it is far too early to annoint them as a powerhouse in the west.