Every so often, I get the fairy-tale notion in my head that the Oilers could contend next season. Lowe's ambiguous statements ("We wouldn't mind trying to get another top-end forward") can be interpreted to support that idea.
The I get thinking about the current group. Can we win with a top line of Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky? I think so. All showed an ability last season to handle any kind of competition, and I think all of them are legitimate first line players. I look at the defense and think it could use one more player, a point I've made so many times that I should probably not make it again.
I look at the forward depth. I'm completely sold on Pisani - Torres as two-thirds of a really decent tough minutes line, and I like all of the guys contending for a 4th line position. I'm not sure how Stoll fits into the equation- likely he'll get another try at the 3rd line pivot spot, but in this whimsical scenario, he's replaced with a more legitimate tough minutes guy.
However, to turn this team into a contender, I do see one other large hole (outside the defense), and that's on the second line. Cogliano - Gagner - Nilsson, despite the lovely stretch run, are not a group I'd want to rely on for secondary scoring. I think Nilsson's fine as a complementary player, incidentally. Gagner is a special player, albeit one who isn't ready for a key role on a contending team, but someone who is going to stay with this team for the foreseeable future, and in all likelihood will eventually be the man on offense.
This takes me (finally!) to my point. The player who would have to go in this scenario is Cogliano. Now, Cogliano is a good player. He had nice results against soft opponents last year as a rookie, and he brings a variety of wonderful skills. That said, it seems extremely unlikely that he repeats his Kovalchukian shooting percentage next year, as I've noted before. He's small, as with virtually every other top-six forward on the team (Penner being the lone exception). He has a really nice upside, but this actually works against him - he probably won't ever be an elite player, so he's expendable, but at the same time he's good enough to be the key piece in bringing back a top-6 forward.
That is where this scenario falls apart. The Oilers must not trade Cogliano. He's a key member of the youth movement, a player with dazzling speed who (in my opinion) will be a key penalty-killer next season, and should turn into the slightly-damning projection that we've been hearing since he was drafted ("Todd Marchant with hands"). Laughable as it is, Todd Marchant with hands is a very valuable player (the main problem being that whenever we hear that projection, all I hear is "Todd Marchant redux" - ie Jason Chimera). I really feel that Cogliano will be defensively responsible, filling either the 2nd or 3rd line centre role on a contending team. As long as the Oilers add some size on the wings, I don't see any reason not to go with Gagner/Cogliano down the middle in the future.
This coming season should see improvement from the Oilers. Acquire a decent shut-down guy and the playoffs are a lock, in my opinion. The key here is to have reasonable expectations - because that is what's best for both the mid- and long-term success of the club