When you cheer for a team that has finished dead last two years in a row, it's easy to be negative. It's easy to look at the goaltending tandem that hasn't changed a whit, or the defense that hasn't added anyone who should be counted on for top four minutes and see that this might be another year in the wilderness. But even if it is, there's a lot to look forward to this season.
5 - The Oilers return to Winnipeg - I was born in 1983, so I only have a vague sense of the glory days when the Oilers were walking over the Jets on their way to the Stanley Cup, but I have very clear memories of Peter Pocklington, Les Alexander, and Gary Bettman coming very close to moving the Oilers to Houston. Thanks largely to Cal Nichols and the rest of the Edmonton Investors Group, the Oilers stayed in Edmonton, but the fans in Winnipeg weren't so lucky and saw their team leave town for the United States. This summer, Atlanta fans endured the same fate, and even though I feel badly for them, I'm really happy for the fans in Winnipeg, and especially those who never gave up hope that their team would come back. The Oilers returning to Winnipeg is only third on my personal list of must-see Jets' games (behind opening night and Teemu Selanne's return), but it's definitely something that I'm looking forward to.
4 - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins making me look like a moron - It's sort of strange to expect to be proven wrong, but that pretty much sums up my feelings. I'm very confident that the young man will be in Edmonton all season, and I think he'll look more impressive than the numbers I've mined this summer suggest. Even in trying to keep my expectations low, I can't help but smile when I think about a player who might be the perfect complement to young scorers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
3 - Taylor Hall growing up - Hall looks like he could be an elite NHL player, a guy who could be considered a top five left-winger in the game when he's in his prime, and he comes with a bit of an attitude too. The Oilers may have lost that game against the Maple Leafs when he talked about having a winnable game in front of him, but I liked that statement of confidence a lot. The Oilers haven't had a player like that since Chris Pronger left town, and he was a joy to watch, even if it was just for one season. Watching a player with that much skill grow up with the organization and the city is just a lot of fun.
2 - Finishing outside of 30th or seeing Steve Tambellini fired - I don't see Tambellini keeping his job if the Oilers finish dead last for a third year in a row. I don't hate the guy or anything, but it's exciting to know that on some small level accountability based on results is making a comeback. Admittedly, the limbo bar is only set at about 5'5'', but hey, at least it's up.
1 - The return of Ryan Smyth - My favorite Oiler of all time is coming back to Edmonton, and I'm excited about that as much as anything else. For a long time it felt like the Oilers were without an identity, and the return of Ryan Smyth somehow fixes that for me (even if it doesn't change much in reality). I don't know that he'll be around the NHL long enough, but it sure would be great to see Smytty lift the Stanley Cup with this new generation of Oilers.