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18 EDMONTON Oilers
Richard Deitsch
October 04, 1999
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 LA."
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October 04, 1999

18 Edmonton Oilers

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INSIDER

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

OFFENSE

8

Weight is healthy; young players can fly

DEFENSE

14

Poti, Smith, Laflamme will thrive under new coaches

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

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 LA."

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 league.

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."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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