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.

PHT Morning Skate: Brodeur wants another gold; Epic staring contest between two Leafs

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Rangers put an end to the Flyers’ four-game winning streak last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

• Even though there’s rumors swirling about the Canadiens being interested in Pierre-Luc Dubois, it seems unlikely that Columbus would trade him. (Jackets Cannon)

• Check out this mid-season review of the Bruins season so far. Things are looking up in Boston. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Now that Andrew Cogliano‘s iron-man streak has come to an end, Nova Caps looks back Doug Jarvis’ career and his record run of 964 consecutive games played. (Nova Caps)

Paul Martin is still property of the San Jose Sharks right now, but it looks like they’ll be showcasing him in the AHL. (Fear the Fin)

• Now that the Oilers are on their bye week, it’s the perfect time to look at their mid-season report card. There’s an “F” and a few D grades to go around. (Oilers Nation)

• Flames GM Brad Treliving talks about Glen Gulutzan’s tirade in practice at the beginning of the month and the concept of the bye week for NHL teams in this Q&A. (Sporting News)

• South Koreans are worried about a potential merger between themselves and the North Korean hockey team. (Associated Press)

• Who doesn’t like a good staring contest? How about this battle between Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen. (BarDown)

• Team Canada assistant GM Martin Brodeur has won Olympic gold before, and he’d love to do it again this year. (CBC)

• The Philadelphia Flyers will retire Eric Lindros’ number 88 on Thursday night. (Philly.com)

• Is Max Pacioretty a better trade target than Evander Kane? (A Winning Habit)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.