Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
With the Oilers announcing the addition of Linus Omark, we’ve suddenly turned a corner this off-season. After a long silence from the team’s front office, it seems the Edmonton Oilers are ready to wake up. With rookie camp opening next wednesday and full camp not long after, the 2013/14 NHL season is creeping toward us. Before we take a look at what’s ahead, I’d like to look at the movement this summer.
An argument could be made that the off-season began when general manager Steve Tambellini was fired on April 15th after the Oilers were knocked out of playoff contention. The new GM Craig MacTavish stepped into the spotlight ready to make some changes. In what could be called a renovation, MacTavish proceeded to take a chain saw to the team that finished 24th, 29th, 30th and 30th in the last four seasons respectively. He began by firing Head Coach Ralph Krueger after a disappointing first season as head coach and continued to let go of project players Alex Plante, Colten Teubert and Theo Peckham, while parting ways with under-acheiving vet Ryan Whitney. He traded away team captain and longtime Oiler Shawn Horcoff, as well as progressing swedish youngster Magnus Paajarvi.
Apart from the loss of Paajarvi, an argument could be made that all of these moves were additions by subtraction. Theo Peckham, Colten Teubert, Alex Plante and Ryan Whitney were all contributors to a buttery soft defensive core that’s been the achilles heel of the Oilers club for the last three seasons. Shawn Horcoff has been an oft-injured crutch for this team in a very valuable position. A premium face-off man, Shawn Horcoff was a catalyst for the Oilers for a long time. He played power play and penalty kill, took all crucial draws and was missed when he was out of the lineup. However, with all of his uses, he would often be placed in situations to be injured, leaving the team without the utility player for whom they never had a replacement. His plus/minus totals were a telling statistic, finishing an appalling minus 29 in 09/10 and minus 23 in 11/12. The Oilers finished last in their division both years.
One other notable storyline this off-season was the chase for a true number 1 defensemen. Rumours flew around for the better part of June surrounding Philadelphia Flyers defensemen Brayden Coburn, a tough, skating defensemen who has no issue moving the puck. Coburn was coming off a weak season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs after making it to the second round the season before. He also has a $4.5 million cap hit and after the signing of star centre Vincent Lecavalier, the Flyers desperately needed to move some room. Talks heated up until the NHL Draft, where talks flatlined on the draft floor.
All has not been grim for the team this summer. In the additions column, you can write the names of skillful forwards David Perron and Linus Omark, former Bruin defensemen Andrew Ference, gritty two-way centremen Boyd Gordon and Will Acton, backup netminders Jason Labarbara and Richard Bachman, as well as russian blueliners Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov. Factoring in progressing youngsters Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun, the stage is set for a bevy of competition moving into the approaching training camp. Depth charts are being drawn up everywhere and any way you look at them, the Oilers have taken a serious approach to improving the quality of the roster. With an impressive summer in his back pocket, MacTavish has put his mark on this young team and is now ready to watch it take shape over what can only be a dramatic training camp. Oilers fans will be looking to see if Oscar Klefbom, the swedish World Juniors star, will be ready to make the jump to the big club, or if high-flying right winger Ales Hemsky will be moved in a last minute deal. Plenty of players will be in a position to surprise, especially 26 year old Russian national Anton Belov, who was widely considered to be the best defensemen in the KHL last year, in a season polluted with NHL stars seeking homes for the lockout. Others are Linus Omark and Denis Grebeshkov, young skaters who were shunned from the league on their first trip but are ready to give it another shot under new management, new coaches and better equipped with more age and experience.
Fans could be treated to a feast when looking for their exciting, fast-paced and high scoring Edmonton Oilers this year. The question will be, as it always is with the Oilers, will it be enough to push them into the playoffs for the first time since the game seven defeat in 2006?