Edmonton Oilers 2005-2006

TEAM NAME: Edmonton Oilers

TEAM PAYROLL: $28 Million

GENERAL MANAGER: Kevin Lowe, General Manager Since 2000

HEAD COACH: Craig Mactavish, Head Coach Since 2000

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FORGOTTEN MOVES: Todd Harvey signed as a free agent on September 15th, 2004 to add to the depth at right wing. Harvey is almost a lock to make the initial roster, but is on the fringe of losing his job to one of the bright prospects in the system if his performance lacks. The Oilers are hoping for Harvey to contribute 10-15 goals and have a strong presence on the forecheck. He’s a bargain at $528,000. Also forgotten is the acquisition of Tyler Moss in goal. He probably won’t make the roster, but he was an excellent tutor for Jeff Deslauriers in the AHL last year. If the Oilers run into injury problems, Moss has plenty of NHL experience and can step in when needed.

TEAM MODE: With their off-season additions, the Edmonton Oilers certainly expect to challenge for a playoff spot. The new economic system benefits the Oilers organization tremendously and they have certainly improved their team since 2003-2004. The Western Conference looks to be very competitive this year and the Oilers find themselves in the heart of arguably the toughest division in the NHL. Anything higher than a 6th place finish would be unexpected, but you can expect to see this team seriously challenge for one of the last playoff spots in the West. Even more than the new economic system, the rule changes this season will benefit the Oilers in a big way. The team plays a wide-open, fast-paced style and the elimination of the redline and the crackdown on obstruction will allow the Oiler players to utilize their speed and creativity. The rule change on goaltenders playing the puck won’t affect the Oilers because their goalies aren’t particularly creative handling the puck, but the reduction on equipment is a concern. Both Ty Conklin and Jussi Markkannen are relatively unproven as #1 goaltenders and at this stage in their career it would be nice to give them any advantage possible. However, the addition of Chris Pronger and Michael Peca who are both outstanding defensively should help alleviate the goaltending issues.

TO TAKE CHARGE!: Chris Pronger. Not since Wayne Gretzky have Oilers fans been so excited about seeing a new player in the copper and blue. Don’t expect Jason Smith to relinquish the captaincy to Pronger, but Chris will certainly take a big role in the leadership area. He’ll help immensely with the development of younger defenseman like Marc-Andre Bergeron. Pronger is a key offensively, defensively and on special teams. If he fires on all cylinders, the Oilers will be a much better team; if he has a tough season or gets injured, the Oilers will be in trouble.

ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): To mix it up, I’d like to start with special teams. The powerplay and penalty kill are areas where the Oilers are greatly improved. The last couple seasons, they have consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league on the PP. It’s going to start to sound like a broken record, but Chris Pronger is a major addition. The Oilers now have a quarterback for the powerplay and a major threat from the blueline. I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that some teams will score 100 powerplay goals this year and the Oilers need to stay out of penalty trouble and capitalize on powerplay opportunities. As even strength play is concerned, the Oilers have a strong forecheck and a defensive core that can move the puck. With goaltending a question at this point the Oilers find themselves in the precarious position of needing to generate a lot of offense just in case. They’ll play a wide open style and generate a lot of chances, but they need to work on putting the biscuit in the basket.

COVERING THE D-ZONE: Pronger makes them stronger in an area where they already have strength. Steve Staios, Jason Smith, Alexei Semenov and Igor Ulanov are steady stay-at-home players while Bergeron and Pronger have strong offensive potential. Teams will have a tough time controlling the puck in the Edmonton zone and getting pucks on net will not be an easy task. Speed is a bit of a weakness on the Edmonton blueline and it is likely that they’ll give up a fair share of odd-man rushes. They will have to quickly adapt to the new obstruction rules and make sure they don’t get caught clutching and grabbing in front of their own net.

GUARDING THE NET: The starting job is Ty Conklin’s to lose. Ty has had some excellent outings for the American national team and has started to fine tune his game thanks to some help from Oiler goalie coach Pete Peeters. Conklin will make the first save for them almost every time, but he needs to work on his positioning and rebound control if he wants to have more success. He has a huge upside and if he plays to his potential, the Oilers will be just fine in net. A strong defense in front of him will limit the amount of rubber he sees and should contribute to Conklin’s success. Jussi Markkanen will likely be the backup and will probably see more games than the average 2nd-stringer. Young goalie Mike Morrison turned some heads in the training camp and will stick around until Jussie Markkanen is back to full health.

TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: Rob Schremp is the brightest young prospect in the Oilers organization and has a legitimate shot to make the team. He has a killer instinct around the net and is not afraid to shoot from all angles, something the Oilers could desperately use. Marc-Antoine Pouliot is another prospect in the organization and he’s most noted for having played on Sydney Crosby’s line with Rimouski last season. He has been re-assigned to the AHL but is a definite shot for callup duties. Yan Stastny was recently acquired from the Boston Bruins and has solid potential. He had a wrist injury early in training camp and his shot to make the team was severely hindered by it. He has been re-assigned to the AHL but could see some NHL action later this year. The Oilers are also deep in defensive prospects with Dan Smith, Dan Syvret and Matt Greene. Don’t be surprised to hear those names at some point this season.

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EXPECTATIONS: The Oilers are expected to fight for one of the lower playoff spots in the Western Conference. Depending on who you talk to, they are expected to finish anywhere from 6th to 10th.

PROJECTED: I think the expectations for this team are realistic. They are a dark horse to finish 4th or 5th, but I think we’ll see them slot in at 7th or 8th. If this team missed the playoffs, I’d be shocked.