Olympic sag ...

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

Olympians Ales Hemsky, Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth will play 30 games in 58 days from February 1 to March 30.

That's going to put a lot of stress on three of Edmonton's best players. And we're not even factoring in the jet lag and emotional hangover that comes from two transatlantic flights and a gold medal game.

It's not as worrisome as, say, Colorado, which is sending 10 players to Turin, but if they aren't themselves down the stretch, Edmonton's in trouble.

"When we came back from '02, it was a tough adjustment," admits Smyth. "You throw everything at the gold medal and then you have to come back to reality."

In the last Olympic season, 2002, Smyth finished with 15 goals, the second lowest total in his career. Pronger finished the 2002 season with his lowest goal total since 1995.

"It really just depends on how the games go coming back," said Pronger, who's playing 30 minutes a night on a cracked bone in his foot. "Once you get over the jet lag coming back and settle down it's just a matter of seeing how you're going to be able to handle the schedule."

On the to-do list ...

Three goalies? OK, Joke's over. It's a situation that's creating stress in Buffalo, and their three goalies are good.

There's no good reason for it here.

Ditch two of them, bring in a proven starter, and use the extra roster spot to get a Hamilton kid some NHL experience.

What they should worry about ...

Calgary has a contender, cap room and a now-or-never mindset.

They've tried for Doug Weight, are talking to Owen Nolan and will be making a big move before the deadline. Count on it.

Minnesota will also improve itself when they deal Dwayne Roloson before the deadline.

The Northwest, already the toughest division in hockey, is only going to get tougher.

Where they have to improve ...

They have to bear down around the net and put more emphasis on scoring goals, not preventing them.

The times are a changing; you win with offence in the NHL now.

Playing it safe and hoping to win a 2-1 nailbiter doesn't work unless you have a game-stealer in goal.

Three of the NHL's six division leaders lead their division in goals, and the three that don't, have netminders named Kiprusoff, Lundqvist and Turco.

Cross your fingers ...

As we saw in January, there is no insurance against injury anymore.

Like all teams in the salary cap age, the Oilers have next to no NHL depth, especially with three goalies and eight defencemen on the roster.

If a forward gets hurt, a minor leaguer has to come in and take his place.

The wrong injury at the wrong position could spell doom.

Worst case scenario ...

Kevin Lowe doesn't find a goalie, or at least a significant upgrade from what they have now, and that .880 save percentage haunts them through April.

Hemsky, Pronger and Smyth run out of gas, or, heaven forbid, one of them gets hurt.

The Oilers continue to play like Rexall Place is the Saddledome and somebody in ninth or 10 catches them from behind.

Best-case scenario ...

The goaltending problem (have we mentioned goaltending is a problem?) is solved.

Smyth, Pronger and Hemsky have enough left in the tank for the stretch drive.

Ethan Moreau, Mike Peca and Jason Smith return from their injuries, and Edmonton stays healthy.

Craig MacTavish takes Georges Laraque off the second line and replaces him with Fernando Pisani, resulting in much-needed offensive support for Smyth, Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff. Then Edmonton makes its traditional late-season charge:

- 13-4-3-1 in the last 21 games of 2001.

- 12-4-2-2 in the last 20 games of 2002.

- 10-5-4-1 in the last 20 games of 2003.

- 11-3-4-3 in the last 21 games of 2004.

Likely scenario ...

The Olympians sag a little, but it's offset by the addition of Martin Biron, who makes a world of difference.

Lowe adds a top six forward at the deadline, but the Northwest is too tough and Edmonton opens the playoffs on the road, which, given their home record, isn't a bad thing. Dallas is nice in the spring, anyway.


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