One year ago, the Edmonton Oilers announced a new coaching staff, a new way of evaluating roles, and eventually a total clear out of players who had hung on too long. One year and one last place finish later, the Oilers are about one word.
For most fans, this year is about optimism. Not necessarily optimism from a perspective of the right now, but for the still to come.
The Oilers are a team which are looking to regain momentum. Key injuries stole some of the momentum last season, which created frustration and eventually a disconnect from the coaching staff, players, and management. Things became so dysfunctional that most of the older players have been moved out of the team, leaving only Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff as the remaining hold overs from the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.
The team this year still has major holes on defence and in goal where the signing of Nicolai Khabibulin has been seen as a major mistake, one the team will live with for three more years. The prison sentence for drinking and driving only adds to the sense of a bad deal.
The new additions on offence of Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Taylor Hall mean that the Oilers will have potent offensive potential to be a good scoring team for years to come. Sam Gagner also will come back into this year looking to build on his first line stats together with Dustin Penner and possibly Ales Hemsky to make a solid first line.
The glaring weakness is on defence, where only a few solid players are in place, means the team will likely give up plenty of goals. Veteran Khabibulin and the kids in goal will struggle. I expect that Jeff Deslauriers is perceived as the odd man out who may get sent on waivers to the AHL if Khabibulin is able to push his appeal back to the end of this season.
The Sheldon Souray saga continues to unfold, and the Oilers will probably have the player at camp and maybe a month or so into the season so he can prove he has not broken down completely after a nagging wrist injury sent him to hospital with an infection just before the trade deadline. His published trade request only made things worse for the team and himself.
The fans and the team will hope optimism for the later years will help the team get over yet another year where they languish out of the playoffs. If the Oilers are a high scoring team, fans will forgive their youthful mistakes. If they are basically the same as last season with hope gone early, then once again fans will be left with nothing but a wait for the 2011 draft to look forward to after Christmas.