Coming into the 2009 off-season, the Edmonton Oilers have several major changes to make. All of the following issues need to be addressed before the team can move forward.
This isn't going to be easy because there are several teams trying to do the same, using the same pool of available talent. If you're an Oiler fan, the major things to pay attention to are as follows:
The Oilers current situation in net is very interesting. With Mathieu Garon traded, Dwayne Roloson now a New York Islander, and only Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers under contract, a huge hole has been created between the pipes.
Trading with another team might be a possibility, but there aren't a large number of teams willing to part with a starter right now—least of all, an affordable one.
There have been rumors of talks between the Oilers and the Minnesota Wild involving the Oilers LW Patrick O'Sullivan and the Wild backup net minder Josh Harding. O'Sullivan was originally a Wild draft pick, and was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in the Pavol Demitra deal. For the time being, that deal seems unlikely.
A much more likely option is the Oilers testing the UFA waters and signing Scott Clemmensen or Craig Anderson. Both are former backups who played more significant roles with their respective clubs in 2008/09.
Clemmensen, who took over for the injured Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, functioned as a great stand-in 'tender, helping his team to their best record in franchise history.
Anderson battled with Tomas Vokoun for the starting job in Florida. While he was there, he played exceptionally, and helped Florida push their way into the ninth and 10th positions just prior to the playoffs. While they ultimately failed to make the playoffs, Anderson's play still resonated as a bright spot for the team last year.
The next major issue the Oilers have to deal with is their lack of faceoff-winning centers. Shawn Horcoff (53.9 percent), being the only centre left on the current roster with a 50 percent or better faceoff percentage, was the go-to guy in the circle for the Oilers.
However, this led to him being overused, and the effects of a long, hard season seemed apparent in the latter stages of the season.
In other words, the Oilers need to find another guy to help support Horcoff this season. Maybe then he can relax and get back to the form he had in 2007/08, pre-injury.
Arguably, the best option on the market in this department is center Manny Malhotra, a UFA from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Malhotra—a 63.8 percent faceoff man—was in the top ten centers in the circle in 08/09.
His presence would take a ton of pressure off of our defense, especially on the penalty kill. With the new rule change last season, dictating that the next faceoff after a penalty call would be in the offending team's zone, winning that first faceoff becomes even more important.
The Oilers need to address the lack of a definitive No. 1 scorer in their lineup—the last time Edmonton had a 40-goal scorer was Petr Klima, back in 1992.
To that end, I believe that the Oilers should drive hard after Dany Heatley. The former 50-goal scorer had an off-year last year and, despite that, still contributed 39 goals to the 2008/09 Senators—that's 16 more than the Oilers' leading goal scorers Ales Hemsky and Sheldon Souray.
With the case of Heatley, Bryan Murray has already stated he will only trade him if the deal is a decent representation of the maligned winger's value. He has also stated that if a deal is not reached by July 1st, Heatley will not be traded because, according to Heatley's contract, he is owed $4 million on July 1st.
Therefore, if the Sens still have to pay that amount to Heatley, they will likely keep him.
In order to pull off the trade, the Oilers will have to offer significant return to the Sens, and it seems that, because Murray is in an awkward situation with the publicity of Heatley's trade demand, no team is willing to offer fair value.
I believe that something in the neighborhood of defenseman Tom Gilbert and left winger Dustin Penner, or left winger Patrick O'Sullivan and a prospect, would get it done at this point—however, with the recent trade involving Scott Gomez, the Rangers are supposedly back in the mix with more cap space.
But really, when it comes to acquiring Dany Heatley, what price is too much? Can any team really waste this opportunity?
And speaking of the cap, the Oilers will also have to wrangle their cap problems in order to fit any new players in.
They currently have $9.294 million in cap space, which may seem like a whole bunch until one factors in that they're missing a No. 1 goalie and have a plethora of RFAs to resign (D Ladislav Smid, D Denis Grebeshkov, and one or two of C Gilbert Brule, C Robbie Schremp, and C Ryan Potulny).
Not only that, but they also hope to add a top-six forward, a center, and a shutdown defenseman.
Basically, it comes down to making cap room. As much as the Oilers would like to trade LW Dustin Penner and his $4.25 million contract, it's not likely. This means that they'd have to trade players with value.
This is why a large number of rumors keep popping up with Gilbert and Souray in the mix. Both players have large contracts and are worth something to other teams.
The last piece to add becomes less important if the Oilers have signed a faceoff winning center, but a shutdown defenseman has been on the Oilers' off-season to-do list for some time.
However, I believe that if you give Theo Peckham a chance to play in that sixth spot, he might surprise the Oilers brass.
The other option would be to play Smid more in a shut down role. Allow him to focus on shutting down the elite players in the league, and he can improve his skill set. Of course, they shouldn't send him out against the NHL elite without a veteran at his side, so I'm sure he will be paired with Steve Staios, as per usual.
If the Oilers decide to go the free agent route, players like Greg Zanon, Paul Mara, and Mike Komisarek should be top of the list. All three are decent shutdown defensemen. Zanon would be a likely candidate because he would be relatively cheap, hovering around the $1 million range.
All in all, the Oilers need to make many changes. How those changes present themselves is still up in the air.
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