Weightlessness has been known to make people queasy and wobbly,
and Edmonton fans know the feeling. Their condition, and the
gravity of this situation, stems from the loss of the Oilers'
captain and leading scorer, Doug Weight.
In the summer Edmonton shed Weight, an arbitration-eligible
restricted free agent whom it would have had to pay more than $6
million a year, trading the 30-year-old center to St. Louis for
young forwards Jochen Hecht and Marty Reasoner and minor league
defenseman Jan Horacek. "The question is who will replace his
offense," says general manager Kevin Lowe. "We'll do that by
committee. This gives us a little more balance and has us rely
less on Dougie and more on the overall team."
A brave rationale, but Weight's contributions should not be
underestimated. He led the team in scoring in six of the past
seven seasons, averaging nearly 70 points a year, and last season
he put together his best numbers (25 goals, 65 assists) since
1995-96. If the Oilers fail to replace that production, they risk
missing the postseason for the first time in six years.
Edmonton expects significant contributions from Hecht, a
24-year-old center who was the key pickup in the Weight deal, as
well as from left wing Ryan Smyth, the Oilers' top goal-scorer
last year, with 31. Center Mike Comrie, 21, is developing into
one of the team's best scorers, but Lowe and coach Craig
MacTavish don't want to rush him, saying they'll limit the
second-year man's ice time if he struggles. "We're going to rely
on our eyes," MacTavish says. "There are going to be nights when
he's not going to be able to do it for us, and on those nights
we'll try somebody else."
Goaltender Tommy Salo is coming off a career year (36 wins, eight
shutouts, 2.46 goals-against average), but the Oilers have to
hope he has another healthy season because his backup is rookie
Jussi Markkanen, a fifth-round draft pick. Of Edmonton's young
and promising crew of blueliners, Jason Smith has emerged as one
of the league's better defensemen, finishing last year in the top
10 in hits and blocked shots. "We've got plenty of experience yet
still plenty of upside," Lowe says. But with no Weight, the
Oilers are, at best, drifting toward another first-round playoff
--Kristin Green Morse
No goaltender allowed as many power-play goals last season as the
Oilers' Tommy Salo, who surrendered 53.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 13 Keep an eye on the Smyth-Comrie combo
DEFENSE 15 Smith's a rock; Brewer should emerge as an
GOALTENDING 8 Salo is one of NHL's best-kept secrets
SPECIAL TEAMS 11 With Weight traded, PP needs to find go-to guy
MANAGEMENT 4 G.M. Lowe trades and drafts intelligently