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Catching Up With Our Friends In Edmonton

We'll leave our friends in Calgary, jump on Highway 2 and pay a visit up north to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Edmonton Oilers.

2005-06 wasn't that long ago when an upstart Oilers team - led in part by seemingly everyone's favorite guy to hate Chris Pronger - edged out Vancouver by three points to snag the 8th seed, did the Lord's work by dispatching Detroit in the first round and bucked all possible preseason predictions by pushing a seven game series with Carolina for the Cup. Love 'em or hate 'em, you had to be in awe of how some players - Horcoff, Pisani, Hemsky, Smyth, Roloson and even Samsonov for pete's sake - came together during that run.

Of course, since then the Oilers have sunk to a perennial knee slapper, finishing last in the Northwest twice (2006-07 & 2009-10), fourth twice (2007-08 & 2008-09) and enduring a high profile mess or two along the way (Pronger, Smyth and more recently Khabibulin).

During the playoff drive, a common spoiler adage is "nothing's more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose." That's something Vancouver should remember.

Let's see how Edmonton approached a summer where they needed more than a few things to go right.

The Good

> Signed Kurtis Foster to a two year, $3,200,000 deal - Maybe not a sexy selection, but Foster gives them a big body and a good shot (presumably to help offset the pending Souray departure) that will help out their 18th ranked power play. After some injury-plagued years in Minnesota and suffering through Tampa last year, he'll get a chance to play a big role during a rebuild and, if he progresses, could blossom into a top two or four-type defenseman. If not, at least the cap hit is reasonable since Foster has far more upside than Shane O'Brien and is making $200,000 more per. Not to mention your heart goes out to a guy who recently suffered through the loss of his baby daughter

> Drafted Taylor Hall - First Edmonton didn't move the pick. We'll never know what they may have been offered for it (you can never tell when Glen Sather is still employed), but why gamble during a rebuild? If you have to suck, at least suck heading into a draft with a strong top five. With the mind-numbing "Taylor or Seguin?" out of the way, it's probable Hall will be a driving force along the lines of other recent first pick forwards Kane, Stamkos and Tavares in a few seasons. I'll go out on a limb and assume Hall doesn't devolve into Patrick White. However, if he wants to follow the Alexandre Daigle career model, we won't fault him much.

> Waived Ethan Moreau - This doesn't help so much as I just like the statement it makes. Moreau, after signing a four year extension in 2006, got a case of the Sami Salo's, missing 132 games due over four seasons to shoulder, leg and eye injuries. He never returned at the same level, frequently took bad penalties and made it worse by criticizing the team, something that - as team captain - generally makes you look like a bit of a jackass. When Columbus picked him up on waivers this summer, Moreau pissed on the Oilers again. No matter what happens, Edmonton is better off without that attitude masquerading as a leader.

The Jury's Out

> Traded Patrick O'Sullivan to Phoenix for Jim Vandermeer - When Vancouver moved Grabner for Ballard many bemoaned giving up on a potential offensive threat for a costly defenseman. The Oilers did something similar by moving O'Sullivan (coincidentally their version of Steve Bernier) for a unspectacular defenseman who is similar to Andrew Alberts (physical, stay at home) at over double the cap hit ($2.3 million). Though, unlike Ballard, Vandermeer's contract ends this season so he's serviceable and cheaper than O'Sullivan, though maybe just being serviceable is all that was needed. If O'Sullivan does catch on somewhere and regains his 20 goal, 50+ point game from 2007-08, it could come back to haunt mildly annoy Edmonton. Then again, it is August; O'Sullivan could end up in Europe and we'll never see him again.

The Bad

> Nikolai Khabibulin - Man, has poor Nikolai had a year to forget. He cashed out high on the Hawks in 2009 only to end up on the worst team in the league made all the worse by his back injury and the on-going legal headache. A more comical outcome to a bad free agent signing you'd be hard pressed to find. The gangly Drouin-Deslauriers & Dubnyk tandem is a start, but not an ideal one unless one of them goes Jimmy Howard on us.

Any chance they can use some of their cap space on yet another goalie and just end the Khabibulin experiment? Of course there's a chance, so probably not.

Why Can't He Be A Canuck?

> I'm tempted to say Brule because of the Vancouver Giants, but you'd have to be nuts not to cast dreamy eyes at Sam Gagner. The first overall pick in 2007 (the Patrick White year...and yes, you are allowed to vomit) has strung together three straight 40+ pt seasons and he turns a mere 21 this month. Almost half his career goals have come on the man advantage, his shooting percentage is 9.5% and he plays respectably at both ends of the rink. He still has some rough edges to smooth out, but he could be the pivot their offense is built around for years to come. Though not sure where he'd fit, wouldn't it be nice for AV to have him as an option?

Possible Lines (note: this is a best guess, the combinations could be all wrong)

Dustin Penner - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky
Magnus Pääjärvi - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall - Gilbert Brule - Ryan Jones
Steve MacIntyre/Linus Omark - Colin Fraser/Andrew Cogliano - Zack Stortini

Ladislav Smid - Ryan Whitney
Tom Gilbert - Kurtis Foster
Jim Vandermeer - Jason Strudwick

Nikolai Khabibulin
Jeff Drouin Deslauriers/Devan Dubnyk

Sly Prediction

Edmonton has an intriguing mix of skill (Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky) and some of the most impressive prospects on any single team (Pääjärvi, Hall, Eberle to speak nothing of Gagner & Brule). Some black eyes remain (really, Strudwick?), the blueline is - oh let's say - "suspect" and the goalies are rough on the eyes, but to continue using that dirty "rebuilding" word, there's a core forming here that could cause headaches in the Northwest soon.

To that end, Jeff Tambellini's daddy did another thing worth nothing: the coaching switch to Tom Renney. The game may have past Quinn by, but Renney's previous stop in New York showed he knows his asset management, especially when it came to sheltering and slowly nurturing the rookies to the pace of the game (Staal, Girardi and Dubinsky spring to mind). It'll be interesting to see what he does when he gets his hands on this roster.

Lastly, remember that Edmonton exploded with injuries last season. If they can stay healthy, cut the dead weight that is Sheldon Souray's head, fix the goaltending or snag another proven forward or defenseman, they may not be the doormat we've enjoyed mocking for the past four seasons. But the safe bet is they'll be bad again though, even if they are, they'll retain the combo of youth + zero expectations that can make them occasional giant slayers which is one of many things to build on for the future.

May as well get the laughs out now before they suddenly morph into Los Angeles or Chicago while we're not paying attention. That couldn't possibly happen...right?

There's no shortage of Edmonton outlets: Copper & Blue, Lowetide, mc79hockey and OilersNation are all good places to start. Same rules as before: if you go to Bleacher Report for news, smack yourself.