After last season’s performance, GM Kevin Lowe promised that there would be changes this summer…he didn’t lie. It’s not that the team itself had a poor season, but anytime you don’t make the playoffs, changes will occur.
While most fans still await another “Staios” type of transaction, the fact remains that this probably won’t occur. The problem isn’t that Lowe doesn’t have the money in the budget, but a quick scan of the players that are available on defense in their price range is very limited. The evidence would suggest that the Oilers will begin the season with recently resigned Kari Haakana and Ales Pisa as members of their blueline, that is barring any major trade to reduce the logjam at forward.
One area of concern that Lowe did address was a true second line center. I feel given the chance, York could perform that role, but obviously the size down the middle is a major concern. Add to the equation, Jiri Dopita. Largely considered the best player outside of the NHL a year ago, Dopita had a largely forgetful year. Lowe was willing to role the dice on him, and gave up very little to obtain him from Philadelphia.
One trade that took many people by surprise was the transaction on draft day that sent Jochen Hecht to Buffalo for two second round picks. By no way am I questioning this move, but it was curious. An already young team got much younger, and a low scoring team just gave away 20 goal potential, which could be a problem. The reason of course that the trade was made is the promise of Ales Hemsky. Lowe used the picks to take top goaltending prospect Jeff Deslauriers and Jarrett Stoll, who just captained his team to a Memorial Cup.
While the roster last season for the most part had no real rookies, this year will be much different. Three player look to come to camp with a spot to lose, those being Jason Chimera, Ales Hemsky, and Jani Rita. Many experts have recognized Rita as the best prospect in the AHL last season, and could prove to be the Oilers first rookie of the year candidate in a long time. Also recently signed was Tony Salmelainen, who was a second round pick in the now famous 1999 draft. While he is penciled in to start the year in Hamilton, he will also get a serious look at camp. If two or more of these players do make the team, the Oilers will surely be youngest team in the league again this season. Also signed to add depth in net was Kristian Antila, who has played in Finland for the last couple of years.
While there is still almost two months before training camp begins on September 11th, I for one have been surprised at the Oilers obvious plan to get younger. I do believe that all of the Oilers prospects that are close to making the team, can and will make an impact, but you also have to remember that rookies tend to make several defensive mistakes. Unless some of their underachieving veterans return to form and meet expectations, it could be a very tough season for the Oilers. Then again, it’s still early!
One last thought… is it me, or have the Oilers turned to Finland as a major source for talent lately? I guess if you look at the long line of success they have had, how can you blame them?