Young Oilers hope this is the year for playoffs
EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) -- The Edmonton Oilers have been stuck in rebuilding mode for some time, but the hope this season is that this youthful bunch - laced with first-round picks - returns to a place this franchise used to dominate.
Indeed, the Oilers - a once-dynastic franchise - have not qualified for the playoffs in seven straight seasons. But there is a benefit to Edmonton's on-ice failings: The Oilers have been able to stockpile high-end talent in defenseman Justin Schultz and forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Many inside and outside the organization believe Edmonton's collection of skill will eventually lead the Oilers back to a Stanley Cup, which would be their sixth. For now, though, a playoff berth would do just fine.
Edmonton opens against Winnipeg on Oct. 1.
Here are five things to study as the Oilers try to find their way:
PATIENCE ISN'T A VIRTUE: Craig MacTavish was unequivocal about his goals for the Oilers when he was introduced as the eighth general manager in franchise history: ''I think we're at the stage, in terms of the cycle of our hockey club right now, that we have to do some bold things,'' he said. ''We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk, to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion.'' To help out his young crop of high-scoring forwards, MacTavish added some offseason grit. He signed checking forward Boyd Gordon and stay-at-home defenseman Andrew Ference in free agency, and traded for St. Louis Blues winger David Perron.
EAKINS ERA: MacTavish made a bold move himself, and hired Dallas Eakins as the 12th coach in franchise history. Eakins was 157-114-0-41 in four seasons with the AHL's Toronto Marlies and his development of players such as Nazem Kadri for the Maple Leafs made him highly regarded in coaching circles. ''We want to be in the mix every year to win,'' Eakins said.
SIGNED, SEALED AND DELIVERED: Last week, the Oilers announced Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, agreed to a seven-year, $42 million extension. The deal continues a trend in which the organization locks up its core components. Hall and Eberle both signed six-year extensions with the Oilers last summer, prior to the lockout. With the salary-cap ceiling perhaps rising near $70 million next season, the Oilers should have space to sign Yakupov, the 2011 No. 1 overall pick, and Schultz to similar deals.
SLUMPING SEVEN: Let's just say the last seven years in Edmonton haven't been the stuff of legends. The Oilers went 214-267-59 from 2006-13, and have tried several different lines and personnel combinations. This year won't be easy, despite the mix of skill and experience, as well as renewed energy from the front office. Due to the NHL realignment, the Oilers have been relocated to the Pacific Division with 2013 playoff teams Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose and Vancouver.
DUBNYK DILEMNA: For all of Edmonton's talent, the player most vital to their success will be goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The 2004 14th overall selection has a career record of 50-59-19 in 139 games, including a 14-16-6 mark last season. Dubnyk's .920 save percentage was tied with four other players for 10th in the NHL, and his 2.57 goals-against average was 22nd best in the league. Like seemingly everyone else on the roster, Dubnyk has plenty of talent. But will it shine through?