SUN Hockey Pool

Problems fixed

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers only had two really serious problems last year.

Offence.

And defence.

OK, special teams kind of let them down, and backup goaltending was shaky, and don't even get them started about the injuries ... but offence and defence were the two main diving boards that launched them into that 25th place pool of failure last season.

Couldn't score. Couldn't stop the other team from scoring. Otherwise, they weren't bad.

After an off-season of enormous upheaval and change, though, the Oilers are happy to announce that they're better.

"I'm more optimistic," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club went 2-18 in its final 20 games last year. "I think it's almost a no brainer that we're better. We're healthier."

On defence, GM Kevin Lowe brought in two high-end offensive talents in unrestricted free agent Sheldon Souray and former first-round draft pick Joni Pitkanen, giving Edmonton two more puck-movers than they had last year.

Up front, Lowe signed Dustin Penner of Anaheim to a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet, giving the Oilers a first-line left winger to replace Ryan Smyth. It also helps that veterans Ethan Moreau and Jarret Stoll, who missed over 100 games between them last season, are back and healthy.

In goal, UFA acquisition Mathieu Garon is a big upgrade on Jussi Markkanen, so much so that he's expected to play about 30 games this season, saving a lot of wear and tear on 38-year-old starter Dwayne Roloson.

And finally, after years of watching their prospects fall short, Edmonton has a crop of kids who are ready to play in the NHL - Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Brodziak and Marc Pouliot had terrific camps.

They're better. And not just because a 25th-place team can't get much worse.

"There's good reason to be optimistic," MacTavish said. "We have a lot more ingredients than we've had in the past. It's just up to everybody, coaches and players included, to mold that into a workable team."


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