2011-2012 season preview: Edmonton Oilers

2010-2011 Record: 25-45-12, 62 points; 5th in Northwest, 15th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Despite the amount of future talent in Edmonton, the Oilers were horrendous last season. Exciting forwards, a lack of depth, poor defense, and goaltending that was both bad and hung out to dry. So did anything get better in Edmonton? Let’s just say the Oilers at least have a lot of young stars to watch grow.

Offense

The offense will, at the very least, be fun to watch. How could it not be? Taylor Hall returns after a solid but injury-shortened first season. Jordan Eberle spices things up with his electric moves while Magnus Paajarvi looks to build on his solid first season. This year’s No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may or may not be joining them for the full season to really make everyone else look old. Ryan Smyth makes his triumphant return and joins up with old pals Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Eric Belanger will help them win faceoffs and youngster Anton Lander could be a factor as well. Fun pieces and a fast tempo will keep fans from turning their noses up completely at the team.

Defense

What will make fans grumpy is how their defense sets up. Cam Barker joins up looking to redeem his career after playing so poorly in Minnesota after starting so well in Chicago. The Oilers will need Ryan Whitney to stay healthy and Tom Gilbert to play smart to keep the offense rolling. Theo Peckham has developed into a decent physical defenseman and Ladislav Smid is OK out there. Andy Sutton will look to bring his expertise and gruff demeanor in a positive way to Edmonton. Young guys like Jeff Petry and Taylor Chorney will provide depth to a unit that has average pieces. No one here is a real standout.

source: APGoalies

After doing hard time in Tent City in Arizona this summer, Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, hopes to come back with a strong season. The question here is whether he should be the starter over 25-year-old Devan Dubnyk, who showed flashes of brilliance last season and it’s clear he’s got more of a future ahead of him. But will it matter at all with how questionable the Oilers are defensively all over the ice? Both guys are destined to be part of a shooting gallery.

Coach

Tom Renney enters his second season as Oilers’ coach and he’s working more as a school teacher than a coach given the amount of youth all over the roster. Things were about as bad as they could get last year even with the burgeoning youth explosion. He could be in for more of the same this season unless guys like Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi explode in their sophomore seasons and the goaltending does something other than get sunburn on their necks from the goal light.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

Nugent-Hopkins’ status is up in the air as he might get a nine-game peek before being sent back to Red Deer in the WHL. Anton Lander is a possibility for the breakout guy, but we’ll go with a guy who did OK last year but could do even better in his second season. Paajarvi has all the talent to be on that top level with the likes of Hall and Eberle but struggled a bit to find his way last season scoring 15 goals and 34 points last season. Look for Paajarvi to try and push for a 25-goal season and 50-plus points. Full seasons with him and the rest of the young army of players could see all their numbers jump a bit.

Best-case scenario

Edmonton gets all their offense and then some from a rejuvenated Smyth being back in his favorite city while they get healthy seasons from all of Hemsky, Hall, and Eberle who blow up big offensively. They see Paajarvi find his stride while Nugent-Hopkins proves he belongs and joins in the scorefest. The defense plays passable along the blue line and doesn’t resemble a line of  turnstiles too often while Dubnyk and Khabibulin hold the fort down and the Oilers challenge for the last spot in the West.

Reality

Health is the biggest thing for Edmonton. So many injuries really helped pile on to what was already a year meant for growing pains. If their whole team can keep it together and evolve together as well, they could be a dangerous team. That said, their goaltending and defense have too many questions and holes to it to take them seriously. It would be miraculous if they made the playoffs.

Canadiens’ Drouin ‘day-to-day’ with upper body injury

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Some mildly concerning news for the Montreal Canadiens on Monday as the team announced Jonathan Drouin will not play in their preseason game tonight due to an upper body injury.

He is currently listed as being day-to-day. He will be replaced in the lineup tonight by veteran forward Torrey Mitchell.

At this point it is just something that is keeping him out of a preseason game, so it’s not really a huge deal at this point. Seeing as how the game doesn’t count there is no sense in risking further injury for a player that is going to be a key piece of this year’s roster. But the fact he still has something that is bothering him enough to keep him out of a game has to be at least a little bit of a concern for Canadiens fans.

The Canadiens acquired Drouin this summer for top defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev and are counting on him to be an impact player. They also immediately signed him to a six-year, $33 million contract extension.

The plan right now seems to be to try him out at center to help fill what might be the Canadiens’ biggest organizational need — a top-line, No. 1 center.

Drouin is an exceptional talent and still has superstar potential and is coming off of a season that saw him take a huge step forward. In 73 games with the Lightning he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists. His 53 total points would have made him the third-leading scorer on the Canadiens. If he takes another leap in his development and solidifies that No. 1 center spot his addition could be a total game-changer for the Canadiens’ roster.

The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

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When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Jets’ Wheeler: ‘It just felt right to take a stance’

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the few NHL players to make some sort of an unprompted statement in response to President Donald Trump’s weekend comments regarding NFL players and their protests during the National Anthem.

During a speech in Alabama on Friday the President urged NFL owners to fire players that “disrespect” the flag by taking a knee during the National Anthem.

On Saturday, Wheeler was critical of the President’s comments in a series of Tweets.

On Monday, Wheeler was asked about why he spoke out and ended up talking for several minutes on the subject.

“I think crossing over into the sports world it hits home a little more,” said Wheeler, via the Jets’ website. “I think a lot of people, similar to my wife and I, it has been kind of a slow boil. The rhetoric over and over, he has just kind of gone a little too far too many times. It just felt right to kind of take a stance.

“There have been a lot of players who have felt a certain way, one way or the other, when you start coming into their territory a little bit. Some of the language that he used referencing NFL players, I think that was kind of the last straw for a lot of guys, whichever way they feel about it to voice their opinion.”

Wheeler was later asked if he would support a teammate if they decided to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler. “I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”

His entire media session is available via the Jets.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he supported Wheeler’s Tweets while adding that Wheeler is “one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

During NFL games on Sunday pretty much every team took part in some sort of a protest during the National Anthem, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans who remained in the locker room prior to their games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, announced that they will be accepting their invitation to visit the White House just one day after the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced they would not be attending.

Lightning will retire Vincent Lecavalier’s number on February 10

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Monday morning that they will be retiring Vincent Lecavalier’s No. 4 this season, making sure that no other player will ever wear it for the franchise.

His jersey will be lifted to the rafters on Feb. 10 when the Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings were one of three teams Lecavalier played for in his career, along with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“It is a great honor to have my number retired and I’d like to thank the Lightning organization and Jeff Vinik for recognizing me with this achievement,” Lecavalier said in a team statement. “The Tampa Bay community and our fans have treated me and my family so amazingly that this honor is extra special to share it with everyone. My family and I are very excited for February 10 when we can share so many memories.”

Lecavalier was the No. 1 overall pick by the Lightning in 1998 and spent 14 of his 17 seasons in the NHL with the team.

He is currently the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and goals and the second-leading point producer. He will be the second player to have his number retired by the team, joining Martin St. Louis.

Lecavalier and St. Louis helped lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup during the 2003-04 season. His best individual season was probably the 2006-07 season when he finished with a league-leading 52 goals.