Oil has reason for optimism

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:48 PM ET

When the official battle cry of the loser — “just wait till next year” — has been ringing in your ears since April, it’s easy to be overly optimistic in September.

Most non-playoff teams are.

But the way Edmonton raced toward the finish line last season, stocked up its roster in the summer and added a billionaire owner who vows to make his team a first-class contender, there really should be better times ahead.

After finishing 13 and ninth the last two seasons, the rebuilt Oilers and their recharged fans aren’t hoping for a playoff spot, they’re expecting one.

With solid reason. A team that almost snuck into the post-season last year is better at virtually every position.

On defence, Sheldon Souray is back from an injury that sidelined him for most of the year and newly-acquired Lubomir Visnovsky, who finished 17th in scoring among NHLdefenceman last season, should bolster the offence and the power play.

Up front, all-star Shawn Horcoff is back from a shoulder injury, Ales Hemsky’s injured wrist is healed and newly acquired Erik Cole should provide added strength and finish on the first line.

And all those dynamic kids who orchestrated Edmonton’s 14-5-1 stretch drive last season are another year older, stronger and wiser.

“We probably had our best development year in 12 or 15 years,” said president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, who watched Tom Gilbert, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano Robert Nilsson, Denis Grebeshkov and Kyle Brodziak go from rookies and sophomores to key players.

Playoffs? When you take the best group of kids the Oilers have seen in 25 years, re-introduce all the veterans who were out with injuries and throw in Cole and Visnovsky, you have to figure a team that missed by three points will make it this time.

There are still some question marks, such as sophomore jinxes and Mathieu Garon’s ability to duplicate last season’s career year, but “next year” is finally here and the Oilers say they’re ready.

“Being around the game as long as I have, I know enough to know that we have a really good chance to do some great things this year,” head coach Craig MacTavish said. “I feel that this is the best chance we’ve had to win a division that I think is wide open. We’re going to be right there.”


Videos

Photos