Tomorrow is judgement day for Kevin Lowe and the Oilers
Just some thoughts on hockey before tomorrow's big free-agent explosion.
With a promise to add upwards of eight to twelve new players for next season, Kevin Lowe has his work cut out for him, and his work load will only increase come Canada Day.
The Oilers have glaring needs following last year's 25th-place finish, and Lowe will have to work hard to meet them.
First off, the Oilers have seven unrestricted free agents who have the option of testing the markets: Petr Sykora, Petr Nedved, Daniel Tarnqvist, Jan Hejda, Jussi Markannen, Brad Winchester and Tobey Petersen; none of whom really warrant an urgent return ticket to Edmonton.
While Petr Sykora started the season off hot and set pace for a 40-goal season, he fizzled throughout the mid and late season, instead posting a paltry 20-goal season. While a 20 goal season is still a fairly successful season, Sykora's $3.5 million could be better spent on a player who produces throughout the entire season. Re-signing Sykora may be in the cards, but he should definitely be considered a low-priority signing.
With Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres, Ales Hemsky and Joffrey Lupul returning, and Robbie Schremp and Robert Nilsson apparently ready to crack the lineup, the Oilers have few needs in terms of scoring forwards. They also have a collection of decent defensive forwards in Marty Reasoner, Ethan Moreau, and Fernando Pisani, along with a number of young prospects -- Jean-Francois Jacques, Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Kyle Brodziak, as well as Andrew Cogliano -- who could also make the team.
The Oilers could really use a good high-impact forward. A number of them are available. The lion's share of attention should be directed toward Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Smyth, Teemu Selanne, Robert Lang, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya and Bill Guerin. This should take some of the pressure off Mike Peca, Nils Ekman, Mike York, Jason Blake, Scott Nichol, Radek Bonk, Jozef Sumpel, Martin Gelinas, Kyle Calder, Eric Lindros, Ladislav Nagy, Anson Carter and Vyacheslav Kozlov. Lowe could pursue any of these players -- but forget about Mike Comrie.
But what Edmonton really needs are defensemen. Fortunately, there are a number unrestricted defensemen who could really help this team out. Montreal's Sheldon Souray will be fiercely sought after. Roman Hamrlik likely won't be resigned in Calgary. Dallas' Darryl Sydor (an Edmonton native) could potentially fly under the radar, passed over in favour of Mathieu Schneider, Danny Markov, Andrei Markov, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski or Scott Hannan. Greg DeVries, Bryan Berard, Jiri Fischer and Tom Preissing are also available.
If Lowe goes to the well early and often enough, and negotiates aggressively enough, he should be able to secure two defensemen for his club -- that is, if he doesn't commit too much potentially unproductive time trying to secure a trade for Wade Redden. A fantastic as Redden would be as an Oiler, a trade of this magnitude would open more holes in the Oilers lineup, which Lowe may not be able to fill.
One should also keep in mind that Edmonton is one of the two choice destinations for Dick Tarnstrom as well. That should make some of Lowe's decisions much easier.
Goaltending should be a relatively simple decision: Dwayne Roloson is clearly number one, and Jeff-Drouin Deslauriers is due for a gig as a back-up goaltender. If Deslauriers takes to the NHL, he could be ready to slide right into Roloson's spot by the time Roli's four-year hitch is over.
This should be an exciting off-season for Oilers fans. Expectations are high, but Lowe just might have another summer of 2005-esque coup in his hat.
It's doublful is Oiler GM tenure could survive another sumer of 2006-esque fizzle.