The past is prologue in Edmonton. The new coach is Kevin Lowe,
one of his assistants is Craig MacTavish, the backup goaltender
is Bill Ranford, and the pesky forward in training camp trying
to outskate Father Time is Esa Tikkanen. Even Wayne Gretzky, the
greatest Oiler of them all, will be back on Friday when the team
raises his number 99 jersey to the rafters at Skyreach Centre.
"I asked Gretz if he would consider coming back to play," says
Lowe, a rookie, who replaced Ron Low in early June. "He said
he'd give me a hand with the power play whenever we're in L.A."
Lowe will certainly need a hand early in the season. Some of the
Oilers' best players--top scorer Bill Guerin (64 points),
defenseman Roman Hamrlik, right wing Mike Grier and left wing
Ryan Smyth--missed most or all of training camp in contract
disputes. "We need them," says center Doug Weight. "We want to
harp on Glen [Sather, the team's general manager] that we need
those guys to win."
"I appreciate and respect Weight's thoughts," says Sather, whose
small-market club has a relatively low $22 million payroll. "You
can tell him that if he wants to take a million dollars off his
salary, I can get them signed pretty easily."
To Sather's credit, the Oilers continue to produce an exciting
crop of young players. The best of the bunch is 22-year-old
defenseman Tom Poti, who was +10 as a rookie last season and has
the look of a future Norris Trophy winner. Ranford provides
insurance behind Tommy Salo, the former Islander who celebrated
his escape from hockey's gulag last season by having a 2.31
goals-against average in 13 regular-season games for Edmonton.
The team should have a potent top line with Weight (who played
only 43 games last season because of a knee injury) centering
Guerin and Smyth, and a major asset in 6'3", 230-pound right
wing Georges Laraque, one of the most feared enforcers in the
Returning to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year is
within Edmonton's reach. But with little depth, the closest
these Oilers will come to greatness is the star-studded fete for
Gretzky on opening night. "You don't have to have the highest
salary base to win it all," says Lowe. "We'll be very
competitive, and with a little bit of old-fashioned Oiler magic,
I believe we can go as far as Buffalo did last year."
The Oilers had the worst home overtime record in the NHL last
year (0-4-5). On the road, however, Edmonton tied for the league
lead with three overtime wins.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 8 Weight is healthy; young players can fly
DEFENSE 14 Poti, Smith, Laflamme will thrive under new
GOALTENDING 19 Salo and Ranford are big question marks
SPECIAL TEAMS 11 Quarterback Hamrlik is key to the power play
COACHING 17 Rookie Lowe will relate well to players