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Where Are We Going?

This post makes one big assumption- that Joni Pitkanen is already done, and will be traded and minute now. With that assumption in mind, let's take a look at the Oilers roster, minus all of the unrestricted guys, to figure out where we need to shore things up.

Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky
Cogliano - Gagner - Nilsson
Torres - Brodziak - Pisani
Moreau - Pouliot - Stortini

Visnovsky - Gilbert
Souray - Staios
Grebeshkov - Smid


*Note: I've slotted Smid as a right-side defenseman, because one of the lefties will need to be playing the right side.

Notice any glaring weaknesses? I'd argue that there are three, the same three I've suggested all off-season, although the order has probably changed a little:

1) 3rd line centre
2) Tough-minutes defenseman
3) 2nd line left wing

Regarding the first hole, the obvious candidates inside the organization would be Cogliano, Brodziak or Pouliot, none of whom has ever slotted into that role before. Marty Reasoner is another name tossed out there as a possibility, but he got killed last year with Stoll playing tougher minutes, so why would he be a viable replacement?

The one thing that makes slotting one of the youngsters into the 3rd line role is that both Torres and Pisani should be healthy come training camp, and both are established, even elite options, as 3rd line checkers. Of the three players mentioned, my preference would be Cogliano. The other thing about slotting him in the third line role is that it opens up a position at left wing.

Next, we assume that Pitkanen gets moved for the LW; it's the most sensible proposition. The final step in addressing the clear areas of need is signing a tough-minutes veteran from the Sauer/Malik family to shore up the back end at a reasonable price. Our roster then looks like this:

Traded LW - Horcoff - Hemsky would be the first line and play power versus power minutes.

Penner - Gagner - Nilsson would dominate against relatively soft opponents.

Torres - Cogliano - Pisani would stand a good chance of holding their own against relatively strong opponents, plus it would give Cogliano needed experience in out-scoring tough opposition.

Moreau - Brodziak - Stortini would get mop-up duty, odds are that they're better than the majority of 4th lines around out there. Pouliot and Schremp serve as filler for the roster. If absolutely neccessary, Reasoner can be brought back to play when Moreau gets hurt.

UFA D - Gilbert would play the toughest opponents at even strength; Gilbert's already shown ability against toughies, and presumably are UFA signing would have as well.

Visnovsky - Staios play the next tier of opponents; it's a role both can succeed in.

Souray - Grebeshkov would get mop up duty and have a good chance of outplaying their opponents; Smid would be brought in when Souray gets injured and should also be up to the task.

The powerplay would have no shortage of options; 8 of the top-9 players up front can play there, and Visnovsky, Gilbert and Souray are all really nice options with the man advantage.

Penalty-killing has always been a strength under MacTavish, and there are enough returning personnel both up-front (Torres, Pisani, Cogs, Brodziak, Horcoff, Moreau) and on the back end (Visnovsky, Staios, Souray, Smid, UFA) that it should remain so.

The team I've outlined would almost certainly make the playoffs, even allowing for Souray/Moreau to miss most of the season, and with a few breaks could even be a darkhorse contender. Best of all, it does it while still allowing the majority of the kids (Smid, Schremp and Pouliot might miss ice-time) prime development time.

Will it happen? I've seen nothing from Lowe & Co. to make me believe that a veteran defenseman is on the way; we'll have to just watch for the rest of the summer before we'll know what their plan is.