It's the same old story in Edmonton. Out with the pricey, cask-aged veterans; in with a newer vintage that could do with a little more cellaring. Having shed an established defenseman and two of three leading scorers since March, the Oilers look to raw youth and unrealized potential to fill the void.
Subtract Janne Niinimaa and Edmonton still has a decent top four on defense. But he played 26 minutes per game, leaving a gap that inexperienced fellows like Alexei Semenov must help plug. Replacing Todd Marchant's and Anson Carter's combined 115 points is another challenge. A youthful combo of Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Brad Isbister, Raffi Torres and others will pick up the slack. That's the plan, anyway. Former 31-goal scorer Radek Dvorak will rediscover his touch. That's another plan.
Health and productivity among the veterans is a must. Mike Comrie, supposedly the top centerman, was a major disappointment last year. Eric Brewer and goaltender Tommy Salo lead a defense that slipped from second-best in the NHL in 2001-02 to 19th last season. A continuation of that trend will kill playoff hopes in a hurry.
Trouble: From the goaltender out, the Oilers need to renew their vows with the defensive game. And they have to do it without trusty two-way center Todd Marchant.
On the Spot: Salo and Comrie. The goalie is paid $3.9-million, huge money by Edmonton standards, and he wasn't very good last year. Another 51-point, minus-18 season from Comrie and his days as a number-one center are likely over.
The Forecast: The Oilers are set up well for the back half of this decade, as long as the next collective agreement makes veteran hockey players more affordable. It's hard to imagine how any luxury tax or salary restriction could place the Oilers on an equal financial footing with the Rangers or Red Wings. But they live in hope.
The Call: Ninth in the Western Conference.
Assistant coach Craig Simpson
Whos Out: Goaltender Jussi Markkanen (trade to New York Rangers)
Center Brian Swanson (free agent to Atlanta)
Right winger Daniel Cleary (free agent to Phoenix)
Center Todd Marchant (free agent to Columbus)
2002-03 Regular Season Numbers:
$30,931,100, 24th overall
(Hockey News, November 15/02. Bonuses not included.)
- Record: 36-26-11-9 for 92 points.
- At home: 20-12-5-4.
- On the road: 16-14-6-5.
- Finish: Tied for 13th overall, 8th in the Western Conference, 4th in the Northwest Division.
- Goals for: 231 (2.82 per game), 9th overall.
- Goals against: 230 (2.80 per game), 19th overall.
- Goal differential: Plus-1, 15th overall.
- Power play: 14.5 percent, 19th overall.
- Penalty kill: 82.6 percent, tied for 19th overall.
- Tommy Salo, 65-29-27-8, 2.71 GAA, .899 SV PCT, 4 SO.
- Jussi Markkanen, 22-7-8-3, 2.59 GAA, .904 SV PCT, 3 SO.
- Scoring: Left winger Ryan Smyth, 66-27-34-61.
- Power play points: Center Mike York, 71-7-14-21.
- Game-winning goals: Center Mike Comrie, 6.
- Ice time: Defenseman Janne Niinimaa, 26:26 per game.
- Plus/minus: Center Marty Reasoner, plus-19.
2002-03 Playoff Numbers:
- Round One: Lost to Dallas 4-2.
- Tommy Salo, 6-2-4, 3.15 GAA, .888 SV PCT, 0 SO.
- Jussi Markkanen, 1-0-0, 4.29 GAA, .917 SV PCT, 0 SO, (13:57 played).
- Scoring: Three tied with 4 points.
- Power play points: Three tied with 1.
- Game-winning goals: Two tied with 1.
- Ice time: Defenseman Eric Brewer, 25:31 per game.
- Plus/minus: Three tied at plus-2.