Oilers are a mystery

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Consider me "once bitten, twice shy" when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers and pre-season predictions.

After a brilliant playoff run in 2006, the Hockey News Pool Guide last fall predicted the Edmonton Oilers would finish 12th in the Western Conference and miss the playoffs.

With all due respect to Chris Pronger and the significance of his loss, many, myself included, figured the Hockey News was completely not just out to lunch, but out of line for suggesting that Oilers would plummet to a 12th place finish in 2006-07.

I even boldly stated that with the additions of forwards such as Petr Sykora and Joffrey Lupul, the Oilers might be capable of scoring 280-300 goals.

Well, we all know what happened!

So last month, when the various pool guides came out and many had the Oilers finishing 12th, 13th or even 14th in the West, a rational media person who doesn't have a severe case of "Oileritis" can't really take serious issue with a suggestion that the Oilers might be in tough this season.

Though the proactive acquisition of RFA Dustin Penner had not occurred when many of the guides went to print, even with the addition of Penner, the Oilers could be challenged to score goals.

If Shawn Horcoff bounces back, if Jarrett Stoll stays healthy, if Penner develops chemistry with Ales Hemsky, if Robert Nilsson seizes the day on the second line, if the Oiler powerplay vastly improves with the additions Joni Pitkanen and Sheldon Souray ...

If all those things happen, the Oilers make strides and might make the playoffs.

In my mind, three playoff teams in the West did not improve in the off-season: Nashville, Dallas and Vancouver.

The Predators are in fire-sale mode and could plummet rapidly.Dallas is aging rapidly and remains offensively challenged. The Canucks did not upgrade and are one Roberto Luongo injury or one cold streak away from being in trouble.

The problem for the Oilers is that some other non-playoff teams in the West have improved on paper, including Colorado, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

SMYTH A PLUS

The Avs, who only missed the playoffs by one point last season, brought in character up front with the addition of Ryan Smyth and solidified their defence with Scott Hannan.

St. Louis was a different team after Andy Murray came aboard as head coach last season and now former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson is in the mix - along with Paul Kariya.

The Kings basically added a second line with the additions of Michael Handzus and Ladislav Nagy.

So though the Oilers should be much better in 2007-08 and with an actual transition game might score 220 goals, they still might not crack the Top 10 in the Western Conference, let alone make the playoffs.

RALPH'S A KEEPER

With the Labour Day Classic going Monday down in Calgary, take notice of No. 11 Brett Ralph for the Stampeders because he might have cost Edmonton a championship.

Not the Eskimos, but the Alberta Golden Bears.

Back in the fall of 2004 when the Bears dropped a 21-20 heartbreaker to perennial power Saskatchewan in the Hardy Trophy game, Alberta's best receiver - that would be Ralph - was red-shirting after transferring from Boise State.

Ralph was supposed to combine with All-Canadian wide-out Andrew Ginther to give the Bears a potent pass game for the 2005 season and make them an offensive juggernaught with Vanier Cup aspirations.

At least that's what Bears head coach Jerry Friesen had in mind.

Another head coach, Tom Higgins, had seen Ralph in practice with the Bears, and the Stamps spent a sixth-round pick on him in the 2005 draft.

Despite looking like an "accountant" according to Higgins, Ralph struck with the Stamps in 2005 and has been a productive player.

The Bears went 7-1 in 2005, but were one playmaker short of perhaps winning the Vanier Cup losing to Saskatchewan in the Canada West final.

Bob Stauffer is drive show host of Total Sports on the Team 1260, Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m.


Videos

Photos