With the addition of a power forward and an offensive-minded defenceman, the unbridled optimism which marked the end of the Oilers' 2007-08 campaign—spurred by impressive play from the team's rookies—has carried over to the offseason.
Not even missing out on top free agent Marian Hossa (he signed a one-year, $7.45 million deal with Detroit) or ongoing squabbles with Anaheim GM Brian Burke were enough to kill the buzz of Oiler fans, who are once again talking playoffs—thanks to GM Kevin Lowe's wheeling and dealing.
Gone are inconsistent forwards Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll, along with tough defenseman Matt Greene and the enigmatic Joni Pitkanen. Inserted into the lineup are Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Stoll, who was sent to the Kings with Greene for Visnovsky, moves closer to his supermodel girlfriend Rachel Hunter, and hopes to resurrect his once-promising career, which was derailed by a concussion in 2007.
The 31-year-old Visnovsky, meanwhile, will try to bounce back from an off-year in L.A. in which he put up "only" 41 points and was a minus-18. He should have plenty of opportunity to do so in Edmonton.
The 5'10" blueliner is more than capable of quarterbacking the power play. With fellow D-man Sheldon Souray dropping bombs from the point, the Oil could be deadly with the man advantage.
Visnovsky should be an upgrade on 6'3", 210 lb.-defenceman Pitkanen. At just 24 years of age, Pitkanen is chock-full of potential. But many hockey watchers wonder if he'll ever realize it.
The Finn—acquired by Edmonton along with Geoff Sanderson in a deal with the Flyers for former Oiler captain Jason Smith and forward Joffrey Lupul—is a smooth skater who shows flashes of brilliance. However, he also has a reputation for being hard-headed, uncoachable, and soft.
For those reasons, Pitkanen was shipped to Carolina in exchange for Cole—a hulking winger with speed to burn.
Cole has scored more than 20 goals in each of the last three seasons. The Oiler faithful hope he can teach Dustin Penner what it means to be a power forward. Both big bodies will come in handy in front of opposing goaltenders.
Other acquisitions of note for the Oilers include Gilbert Brule, a former sixth-overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Edmonton native Jason Strudwick.
Brule was traded for Torres in what was essentially a salary dump for the Copper and Blue. He'll try to regain the offensive form which made him a star in juniors.
Strudwick, meanwhile, was signed for cheap, and the Oilers expect him to add much-needed muscle to the lineup. The 6'4", 225-lb. Strudwick can play both defence and on the wing.
Can standout rookies Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Robert Nilsson avoid sophomore slumps and help pace the offence? Will Penner start living up to his contract in year two of his five-year, $21.5 million pact?
Can goaltender Mathieu Garon play brilliantly over the course of a whole season? Will the Oilers stay healthy this season? Will Ales Hemsky finally assert himself as a star in the NHL? Who will see more ice time: Brule or Rob Schremp? Can Burke stop taking childish pot-shots at Lowe and the Oilers?
Pitkanen (Carolina), Stoll (LA), Greene (LA), Torres (Columbus), Curtis Glencross (Flames), Geoff Sanderson (retirement?)
Cole, Visnovsky, Brule, Strudwick
UP IN THE AIR
Marty Reasoner, Zach Stortini
First in Northwest Division, third in the Western Conference.
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