In April, I asked 10 questions about the Edmonton Oilers. Three months later, we have our answers.
- Who will they take #1 overall? April 15 answer: Nail Yakupov. Actual answer: Nail Yakupov. The lottery gifted Edmonton with the number one overall pick and the club added another elite forward prospect in Yakupov. He’s signed, sealed and delivered as an Oiler, and after the prospect camp has already won the hearts of Oiler fans. Best possible result for the Oilers.
- Who will coach? April 15 answer:Tom Renney. Actual answer: Ralph Krueger.The summer did not develop as we expected it to in regard to coaching. In April, Brent Sutter was the name (apparently) in play, with Krueger’s name being mentioned as a secondary item (as in "the other coaches have to know about their futures, too"). As it turned out, Krueger was a major portion of the story and won the day with his articulate delivery of his vision for the team and inspiring way. I’ve followed the Oilers since their inception, and don’t recall a coaching decision as unlikely while still appearing to be painfully obvious when talking to all of the main players in the transaction. Clearly Ralph Krueger can hold sway in a room and that gift might be a key item to this team’s future success.
- How will they improve the defense? April 15 answer: Justin Schultz. Since Bob McKenzie mentioned Edmonton as a possible landing spot for soon to be UFA Justin Schultz Oiler fans have been talking about him. Actual Answer: Justin Schultz. I have tried to put into words what this signing represents, but it is difficult to convey the importance. During the glory years of the Oilers, they were able to acquire outstanding additions to the team via the trade route but it always involved giving up picks or players. When Oiler players approached free agency, they were traded for various parts and picks. That is the world we lived in. After the lockout, Edmonton did acquire free agents, but it involved paying a lot of money (Souray, Khabibulin) for gents who had injury issues and the erosion of age. Justin Schultz isn’t any of those things. He is a young "perfect fit" for the gifted cluster of forwards and the Oilers won his signature with a lot of other very good clubs vying for it. As much as winning the #1 overall selection was a Godsend, the Schultz signing represents what might be a brand new day and is perhaps the first major sign that the hockey world is taking notice of the build happening in the land of the ice and snow.
- If they trade to upgrade D, who will they trade? April 15 answer: Sam Gagner. Actual answer: Incomplete. The Oilers did add Schultz but are not yet done (we hope) in the addition department. It is extremely likely that the team would have to trade a roster defender as part of an improvement, as the team is currently at 8 NHL contracts (Smid-Petry, N Schultz-J Schultz, Whitney-Sutton, Peckham-Potter). We heard rumors of Marc Methot and Mark Streit early in the summer, so there is some evidence of a push to improve.
- Will they move Hall to center? April 15 answer: Yes. Actual answer: nothing so far. Jason Gregor and Dennis King both mentioned it in the spring and there is some logic to the plan. However, with Hall’s rehab this might not be the season to try it.
- Do the Oilers continue the DD-NK tandem or look to improve it? April 15 answer: no. Actual answer: nothing so far. Edmonton’s GM Steve Tambellini has stood by Khabibulin all down the line and it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of action in this area. I do think signing Yann Danis was a wise decision, he posted a strong SP in OKC and should be considered a worthy callup option in case of injury/ineffectiveness.
- Will they make a big splash this summer? April 15 answer: No. Actual answer: No, beyond the Schultz signing. The Oilers always have a way of creating excitement around the draft and did it again this season. Signing Schultz was a huge item, but we haven’t seen him play yet so it’s an idea more than a fact for the fanbase. Ryan Smyth was the big free agent signing, but he’s a known quantity and perhaps not the big splash at this point in his career.
- What will the top 2 lines look like in the fall? April 15 answer: RNH, Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. Actual answer: Same, except Sam Gagner is still here so Ryan Smyth is likely 3line. I’m not absolutely certain the Oilers are done here so we may have to do another edition of this ‘questions 12-13’ in early September. However, as it stands I think we can assume that–based on Krueger’s verbal–the club will pair Nuge-Ebs and Gags-Hemmer together and move Hall/Yakupov around to get matchups.
- How many of their own unrestricted free agents do the Oilers sign this summer? April 15 answer: Two. Smyth, Petrell.Actual answer: three: Smyth, Petrell, Hordichuk. Edmonton surprised by returning three of their wingers from the group that struggled so badly a year ago. The 4line was a disaster, so we wait for the plan. Hordichuk was a signing that allows the team to have a physical option as needed, but he can also sit. He knows the role.
- Which current NHL player on another roster has the best chance of being an Oiler in the fall? April 15 answer: Jason Garrison. Actual answer: nothing so far. Incredibly, the Oilers have a very similar roster now to the one that ended the season. We know Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov will be here all year, and that the young guns will be a year older. I think it is reasonable to assume business isn’t done.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We’re not there yet. That’s my belief. However, I also believe that the long, warm days of summer (plus the monsoon season) have obscured the good works done before noon July 1. Yakupov, Justin Schultz and Ryan Smyth should help and I expect we’ll eventually see that top 4 defender.
The Nuge will be a year older, Hemsky will be healthy, the defense seemed to rally around the Smid-Petry pairing as the season wore on in 11-12. I’m not suggesting any kind of run with the current roster, but the young hockey players on this team are going to be better.
That’s going to be the story of the 12-13 Edmonton Oilers no matter who they bring in.