EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers are well aware that putting a hockey team together during training camp is one thing, but keeping it together for the balance of a season is another.
After staggering through a 2007-'08 campaign that saw them lose a club-record 346 man-games to injury and miss the playoffs for a second straight year, the Oilers start putting the pieces together again Saturday with their first on-ice session of training camp.
That means new faces like Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky mixing in with familiar ones like Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau, all of whom were expected to play big parts in coach Craig MacTavish's plans last season but for didn't.
Given Edmonton's injury woes last year, it's fair to characterize this year's camp as a do-over for MacTavish and his staff.
"We feel like everybody is surgically rebuilt," MacTavish told reporters Friday at Rexall Place while the Oilers took medicals and did fitness testing. "You never say never in this business, but it's going to be almost impossible to think we're going to have an injury problem to the extent we've had the last couple of years."
While much of the pre-camp buzz is about Cole, obtained from Carolina for Joni Pitkanen, and Visnovsky, who came from Los Angeles for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, it's almost as if MacTavish is getting new players in Souray, Horcoff, Pisani and Moreau, given after all the time they missed.
"That's why we're all excited," MacTavish said. "Everybody is healthy.
"Young players have developed. We've got lots of depth in virtually every position. We're curious to see that we've got."
Souray missed 56 games with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Moreau broke his leg in pre-season and missed 57 games. Horcoff was leading the team in scoring when a shoulder injury ended his season after 53 games. Pisani missed the first 26 games with ulcerative colitis.
Raffi Torres, dealt to Columbus this summer for Gilbert Brule, missed 49 games with a knee injury. Greene missed 34 games with a broken ankle. Pitkanen missed 19 games with varying ailments.
"We didn't stand a chance with the injuries and the different intervals with Fernando, Horcoff, myself and Sheldon," Moreau said. "You just can't overcome that.
"Now, everybody that had significant injuries is healthy and we'll see what we have."
Even with the injuries, the Oilers went 14-5-1 in their last 20 games in a frantic playoff push. Despite finishing three points short with 41-35-6 record, there's certainly reason for optimism.
"We have a lot of realistic expectations of ourselves," said Horcoff. who had 50 points when he was injured. "The good thing is that, because of the injuries, we were able to develop some of the younger guys. It's going to help with our depth."
Cole looks like he could be a fit with Horcoff, who signed a six-year contract extension this summer, and Ales Hemsky on the first line. Cole's presence could see Dustin Penner bumped down as far as the third line if MacTavish keeps Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson together as his second unit.
"We're getting guys back into this lineup an they're quality guys, impact guys," Horcoff said. "That leaves the level of expectation a little bit higher - not just with the fans but with the players and the organization and the coaching staff. It's probably at an all-time high since I've been here."
Visnovsky is an established puck-mover and will play the power play with Souray. The obvious question with Souray is durability. It's worth noting the Oilers have US$16.75 illion in salary tied up in Visnovsky ($7 million), Souray ($6.25 million) and Tom Gilbert ($3.5 million).
"I'm excited to get back out there and just do what I wanted to do last year," said Souray, who managed just 10 points after a career-high 64 with Montreal in 2006-'07. "It's been talked about so much, last year and the situation, so really I'm just looking forward to getting out there and into some games.
"I feel better than I've felt probably ever."