Bob Dylan has a song for every human experience and 2009-2010 marks The Changing Of The Guards. Kevin Lowe has turned into the man upstairs. Daryl Katz is more than comfortable in his new skin. Steve Tambellini, with a little help from his owner, is now in charge of personnel, and Pat Quinn, onion belt and all, is behind the bench. The franchise will again spend to the cap and the weight of expectations has arrived in Edmonton.
The Oilers, like every team in the Northwest, are a team in transition. Gone is the supposed methodical overkill of Craig MacTavish and in its place a supposed firebrand motivator. Quinn brought in Tom Renney and Wayne Fleming - the three of whom combine for 37 seasons of NHL coaching, including 23 years as head man. In those 23 years, the group's teams missed the playoffs 3 times. The message seemed clear at the time of the Quinn hiring - make the playoffs. But the offseason personnel moves didn't sync with that message - the Oilers didn't fill the holes that prevented them from making the playoffs last year. Obviously, the management team is expecting big things from the coaching staff, yet handcuffing them with the same swiss cheese roster of a year ago. So much of what the Oilers can accomplish rests on the shoulders of the kids under the age of 24. If they become real NHL players this year, all bets are off. If they stall - the Oilers could easily have another top 10 pick.
Quinn did come into camp to shake things up - he did that by breaking up the locker room and dividing the kids and veterans up evenly throughout the room.
"We say every year that jobs are open and we want you all to feel like (you have a honest shot). "If I say that and stick all the rubbydubs or whatever it is in one room, it becomes false words."
In a bit of a surprise, he's already given a number of previously thought of AHL'ers a long look in training camp. With that, we present the roster possibilities for the Oilers in 09-10, in Pat Quinn speak:
LONG GONE: Kyle Brodziak, Ales Kotalik, Dwayne Roloson
HOMEWARD BOUND: Mike Comrie, Nikolai Khabibulin
HOBNOBBERS: Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Nikolai Khabibulin, Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Fernando Pisani, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky,
HOI POLLOI: Gilbert Brule, Mike Comrie, Jeff Deslauriers, Steve MacIntyre, Ethan Moreau, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, Liam Reddox, Ladislav Smid, Steve Staios, Zack Stortini, Jason Strudwick
RUBBYDUBS: Taylor Chorney, Devan Dubnyk, Jordan Eberle, Johan Motin, Theo Peckham, Rob Schremp, Ryan Stone, Cody Wild
- Center: Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Mike Comrie, Marc Pouliot, Gilbert Brulé
- RW: Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani, Robert Nilsson, Zack Stortini, Ryan Stone, Jordan Eberle
- LW: Patrick O'Sullivan, Dustin Penner, Ethan Moreau, J.F. Jacques, Liam Reddox, Steve MacIntyre
- D: Lubomir Visnovsky, Sheldon Souray, Tom Gilbert, Denis Grebeshkov, Steve Staios, Ladislav Smid, Jason Strudwick, Theo Peckham, Dean Arsene, Johan Motin
- G: Nikolai Khabibulin, Jeff Deslauriers, Devan Dubnyk
STRENGTHS: The majority of commentors and the vast majority of fans that participated in our preseason fans' roundtable point to the defense as the backbone of this team, and with good reason. The unit is made up of two all-stars in Souray and Visnovsky, two burgeoning all-stars in Gilbert and Grebeshkov, a young but experienced kid in Ladislav Smid and a wily veteran with some game left in Steve Staios. The Oilers will spend nearly $23,000,000 on the blueline this year and in return, their top 6 ranks among the best in hockey. As a group, they have great shooting and passing ability, good positional awareness and overall smarts.
WEAKNESSES: The varied responses from the fans' roundtable show that there are a number of holes on the roster. Lack of goaltending depth, centre depth, faceoff capability, penalty kill regulars, players at the prime of their careers, and wiggle room under the cap, are all concerns which need to be overcome for success in Edmonton this year.
THE THIRD WEEK OF APRIL WILL BRING: No other cap team has as many question marks as the Oilers do. Where will the scoring come from? Who will play the tough minutes after Shawn Horcoff? Who will kill penalties? Is Lubo Visnovsky healthy? Can Nikolai Khabibulin stay healthy for an entire season? Will Dustin Penner stay motivated for an entire season? Will Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Denis Grebeshkov and Ladislav Smid make their great leaps forward? Will Pat Quinn and Tom Renney make a difference?
Force me to make a prediction and I see this team hanging on to 8th or 9th place yet again, in desperate need of a tough minutes centre. With that centre, some breaks and some improvement by the kids, they squeak into the playoffs. If not, it won't be a surprise. The transition is underway and as Dylan says:
...your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.
--Special thanks to Bruce McCurdy for his help on this piece.