Strudwick is confident

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

A year ago, they were supposed to be division contenders.

Essentially the same cast of characters who will report to the Edmonton Oilers training camp next month.

This season, however, public opinion suggests unless a drastic move is made, dead weight is shipped out of town and a star can be acquired, the Oilers don't stand a chance.

"It's funny how things change," said Oilers defenceman Jason Strudwick. "Last year everyone was all fired up, and now this year, we're dogs. Personally, it doesn't really matter to me what people say.

"We have a group of guys that almost made the playoffs last year. With 10 games left, we were in a pretty comfortable spot, relatively speaking, and we faded. That sat pretty poorly for a lot of guys on the team."

Oilers GM Steve Tambellini vowed changes would be made following another disappointing campaign, where the team failed to earn a playoff spot for the third consecutive season.

The entire coaching staff, with the exception of Kelly Buchberger, was dismissed. That included the goaltending coach and the video guy.

Pat Quinn and Tom Renney were both brought in to steer the ship in a new direction.

Then on the first day of free agency, the Oilers signed goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year contract, replacing Dwayne Roloson who was looking for two.

Put the Dany Heatley fiasco aside and it's the only major player personnel move the Oilers made this summer.

It's not for a lack of effort, but trying to woo a petulant star has left the impression Edmonton is not a destination desired by marquee players.

"I wouldn't agree with that," Strudwick said. "There has just been some pretty high-profile cases where that's happened. The thing that everyone has to remember when a player is a free agent, there are 29 other options for a player. And sometimes, for whatever reason, Edmonton isn't an option to them."

Heatley, who will address the media in a conference call today, refused to waive his no-trade clause when the Oilers had agreed to a deal with the Ottawa Senators, sending Ladislav Smid, Dustin Penner and Andrew Cogliano the other way.

"The thing with these no-trade clauses, is that there is a lot of power in the player's hands," Strudwick said. "Ottawa signed that contract and they have to live with the rules of it. It's not like 15 years ago, when a player asked for a trade, the team could just trade him anywhere.

"Dany, I hope he finds the place he wants to be. I'm not sure where that is, but whether he does well, or doesn't do well, that's not going to affect our team at all."

The three Oilers now have to come to training camp with the knowledge that their club essentially traded them. Talk about awkward.

And with little room under the salary cap to manoeuvre, the Oilers are going to have to go with what's on the table, which, when you consider the strength on the blue-line and the fact so many forwards underachieved last season, may not be a terrible thing.

It's tough to imagine all of the forwards having bad years again.

"I expect a lot of guys to have had a good summer or training, come back and put up the numbers that were more on par with the expectations they had for themselves last year and moving forward," Strudwick said. "We have new coaches and everyone is going to be uncomfortable at first, that's one thing I guarantee. No one knows what Pat or Tom are going to do and how you're going to fit in. Everyone is going to be uncomfortable and just from that, I expect a lot more jump and competition in camp."


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