Deep thoughts IV

Robin Brownlee
December 04 2008 03:28PM

Is Erik Cole destined to fall into the dubious ranks of good players who've been failures with the Edmonton Oilers, names fans file under the category of "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time"?

With just 24 games in the books, it's likely a touch too early to relegate Cole to the Fraternity of Failure inhabited by the likes of Jiri Dopita, Adam Oates and Joffrey Lupul isn't it?

Still, it’s fair to say the usually reliable and sometimes spectacular winger has been underwhelming since the Oilers jumped at the chance to get him from Carolina for future Norris Trophy winner Joni Pitkanen.

With just 3-4-7 and a minus-2 rating, the 30-year-old right winger -- at least when he's actually played on the starboard side by Craig MacTavish -- is on pace for his worst NHL season in terms of points. That, for the record, was 2002-03, when he had 27 points in 53 games.

Cole's off to the worst start of his career and hasn't looked anything like the player MacTavish thought had the skills to play first-line minutes on left wing alongside Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.

Corner gas?

"It's tough to feel real positive about things when you're not contributing as much as you'd like," Cole said. "Hopefully, it's just around the corner."

When he's on, Cole's a good -- not great -- winger with decent hands and a good shot who skates better than many guys considered power forwards. With seasons of 30, 29 and 22 goals, he can score.

Just not here. Not so far. Not a sniff in the past four games has Cole, despite being moved back to his more favoured right side, most recently on a line with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak.

"I've talked to Mac a little bit privately in the past two weeks and I feel a little more confident in my game," he said. "If I keep doing the right things, I'm hoping it's a matter of time."

Great expectations

With a ticket of $4 million this season, Cole's an unrestricted free agent next season. As was the case with Dopita, Oates and Lupul, there was a fair amount of buzz when he joined the team.

And, like that trio, Cole's failed to live up to it and been deemed, at least by some, a bust short of the halfway mark of the season. Of course, there are differences. The dour Dopita was bought out in December. Oates actually offered to give some of his contract back. Lupul? He didn't have a big fan in MacTavish and never did much to win the coach over.

Cole still has the skills and the time to turn things around, of course, but I can't see that happening with Moreau and Brodziak. The question, then, is simple: where does he fit?

Sugar delivers

It was obvious from the first time Jim Matheson and I cornered Rob Schremp at the 2004 Entry Draft he had the brass and the confidence to play in the NHL. If I recall correctly, he told Matty and I he looked forward to making the team the following season.

The question was his commitment to getting faster and stronger and to shoring up the holes in his game.

Schremp, 22, gave us a glance at his work in progress in Wednesday's 5-2 win over Dallas on a line with Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, showing the kind of game to back up the gab he had way back on draft day.

Mac likes it

"I was ecstatic with the way he played," MacTavish said. "I thought it was a mistake-free game.

"He added a lot. We talked about it at the morning skate. It's about what you create minus what you give up. He didn't give up anything. He created at least two goals -- jumping up on Cogs' goal and a good past to Poulie (Marc Pouliot), so mission accomplished for him."

I find myself pulling for the kid because, despite the bad rep he got in the OHL as a bit of a hotdog and a cocky, me-first player, he's kept a bit of that old strut while paying his dues with MacT cutting him no slack. A poser would have folded by now. He's hung in.

The question I have is: Can Schremp prove over the next couple of games he's ready to stick? If so, does that make Robert Nilsson or somebody else expendable in a trade?

And...

-- From the sounds of MacTavish today, expect Ladislav Smid to draw in against Los Angeles, possibly alongside Steve Staios.

"We've got to get him in," MacTavish said. "He's going to play very shortly, maybe as early as tomorrow."

Smid's been in limbo for weeks as MacTavish has sat him or played him as a left winger. This isn't the point in Smid's career to be doing that. Find out if he's a keeper or move him.

-- Tough guy Steve MacIntyre could be medically cleared to play within a few days, but he's not OK to fight because his broken left orbital bone still needs more time to heal.

In other words, it'll likely be January before he returns. He could play earlier if he wore a visor and didn't fight, but I'm guessing MacTavish will resist the urge to use him on the power play and will opt to keep him out.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 mab47
December 04 2008, 03:46PM
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if schremp keeps playing the way hes playing, that will hopefully motived players like Cole to play better, and maybe then his game will pick up

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#2 Hockeysmack
December 04 2008, 03:56PM
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Cole is salary cap filler should the Oil actually make a big trade. Seems like a nice guy, but frankly I doubt he'll be resigning here in July. The Curse of the Pronger Trade continues...

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#3 Dennis
December 04 2008, 03:57PM
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All these cases had special circumstances:

- Dopita was getting up there but at the time the Oilers were so desperate for a big pivot that Lowe gambled a pick. I remember his only career goal in Atl but I don't remember him creating a lot of chances either.

- Oates was done in by age so there's a theme.

- Lupul wasn't ready to play in a real hockey market and he was more interested in making excuses than anything else. Some guys can't play at Fenway or at Yankee Stadium and Lupul couldn't play at Rexall. Plus, you shouldn't pay guys who can't play against real players so good riddance. He was a bad fit in the first place and I'll cut you some slack today:) but it would've been nice if someone would've brought that to the public's attention.

You could see a bit of trouble ahead for 26 because if he couldn't play LW with 10-83, that meant he would either slide in with 89 plus one of the other kids OR he'd be asked to play secondary tough min with a less than offensively inclined pivot. Last night 18-51-26 took on Modano-Richards so that 10's line wouldn't have to and it worked out and if it keeps working out then it's not a total waste. He's not gonna score goals with 18-51 but there's only so many guys you can pander too and good ole Vish Throttler spent way more money on picks on 27 then he did 26 so you know who's gonna get the push.

To segue into another one of your points, yes it would be nice to see the other half of the Pronger bounty get back into the lineup. I thought the 24/43 duo had a good game last night but they've been absolutely brutal for a long time now. I think MAcT's gone so long without having vets on his scorecard that he got a little vet happy and just shoved 5 to the side. Or maybe enough time's passed that optics are no longer an issue where you're afraid to bench part of the Pronger package. We know once upon a team optics decreed that he's start in the top four alongside 24.

In any case I'd bet he'll never come close to covering his trade bet but he should be damn well playing ahead of 43.

I mentioned the possibility that a good show by 88 means we could move away 12 and it would be the best for the Oil if that's what happened.

12 plus 37 might get us a good top four dman to augment the 44-71-77 troika.

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#4 swany
December 04 2008, 03:57PM
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I see Cole working hard every game ,but he tries to do to much by himself, last night he had the puck many times but failed to use his linemates and gave the puck up, when he hit the post on the empty net that was a sign at how his season is going. If he would look to pass the puck to Moreau or Brods and drive the net the goals will come but he can't beat everyone to score.

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#5 baggedmilk
December 04 2008, 04:12PM
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I like the way Schremp played last night, I hope he can find a way to make himself stick in the line up. Robin, I think you may be right, if he can play as he did last night he has the play making skills that may get Cole out of his funk.

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#6 Smokin' Ray
December 04 2008, 04:15PM
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Good read Brownlee. I am also cheering for Schremp. He did look really good last night.

As for Cole. If he doesn't get any better, I am going to expect him gone by the trade deadline.

Did Oates really try and give money back? That's awesome. I wish we could do that for all the craptacular guys on the team. Besides... Oates earned what he got because he taught Horcoff and Stoll how to be better in the faceoff circle. That made him being around worth it. To bad Horcoff forgot what he learned.

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#7 RobinB
December 04 2008, 04:26PM
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Ray: Yes, Oates offered to give money back.

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#8 milli
December 04 2008, 04:33PM
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I think Cole has looked alot more comfortable of late. He will be the clutch guy on our cup drive.

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#9 BB
December 04 2008, 04:34PM
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At least it seems like Cole is being proactive while in his slump... seeking help from the coaching staff and such. He has skills that the Oilers need, its just a system/lineup issue is that we don't really have a good fit for him in this lineup.

Kudos to Schremp for showing maturity and growth as a player in last night's game. He played well, especially away from the puck, and showed more hustle that I've seen in any of his previous appearances in Oiler silks. I'll be rooting for him in hopes that last night wasn't a fluke and we see repeat performances of the quality he showed last night.

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#10 Rick
December 04 2008, 04:36PM
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Consider me unconvinced. Instead of getting ready to trade Nilsson how about we just hope that Schremp can do enough to actually up his own value so we can move him down the road?

As for Cole, his season is reminding me of the one Moreau had in '01-'02 when absolutely nothing went right for him offensively. It's a shame really because also like Moreau he seems to haev a lot of try to his game.

I can't imagine Cole would want to re-sign here based on the season he is having and when Pisani gets back someone in the top nine ends up getting bumped to the 4th line.

I wouldn't be too disappointed if the Oilers sniffed around to see what kind of interest there may be for him and move him if the deal looks ok.

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#11 oilerdago
December 04 2008, 04:56PM
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Agree w/Milli - Cole has been looking more comfortable of late. It's time to give him a chance to make the adjustment instead of over-analyzing each thing.

It takes some guys a while to figure out MacT's system and I think that has a lot do do w/Cole's slow start. The good thing about his play lately is he's doing a lot of the little things well - something vets know that kids like Gagner need to learn. If your offense isn't coming, do all the other little things right and it will come.

About time that Smid gets back in the lineup.

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#12 David S
December 04 2008, 06:47PM
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Over-analyzing is what the 'sphere does best I'm afraid. I think Cole will come on when we really need him, which should be pretty damned soon.

And does anybody know the story on Smid? Is it that MacT is trying to balance development with winning and simply can't develop one more guy at this point? I dunno but I'd be really interested to hear your take Robin.

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#13 Hockey Gods
December 04 2008, 07:14PM
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Interesting read Robin, very well done. I have one point to make on Cole and your article. You mentioned where does he fit? I don't profess to be a line maker, but for a brief time in the last two weeks he played some with Cogs. I seen a lot of natural Chemistry with that combo and wonder if a line can be made out of that.

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#14 Dennis
December 04 2008, 07:58PM
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I"ll be content if they hold their own vs tough opp but I won't set up Cole to fail by expecting him to squeeze goal scoring blood from the Moreau-Brodziak turnips.

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#15 stef
December 04 2008, 08:57PM
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I remember when the Cole deal went down, I looked up his game-by-game stats and was a little uneasy with how many points he put up against the teams in the Southeast Div. The pessimist in me thought this was a problem (though i still took him in my big money pool). The optimist in me hoped he could do the same against the NorthWest once he got his feet under him. I guess a part of me is still hoping he can start lighting up the NW, but a small part of me thinks outside of the SE he's nothing special.

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#16 The Towel Boy
December 04 2008, 11:46PM
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Cole's game will come. I have no doubt. I feel he's the type of guy that will do everything he can to make things work.

As a side note..as of 11:44pm his wiki page reads the following:

Playing career Erik Cole was first drafted by the Des Moines Buccaneers for being a douche for four years after a family friend, Mark Pierce, out of West Des Moines, Iowa had multiple scouts take a look. ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Cole

Ahh...good ol' Wikipedia.

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#17 Tyler
December 04 2008, 11:52PM
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You could see a bit of trouble ahead for 26 because if he couldn’t play LW with 10-83, that meant he would either slide in with 89 plus one of the other kids OR he’d be asked to play secondary tough min with a less than offensively inclined pivot.

In all fairness to Lupul, while I loathe the guy about as much as you Dennis, it struck me that he had the same problem in that he wasn't a good fit for the lineup. He shot the wrong way to be Hemsky's triggerman on the PP. Just a bad fit.

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#18 slipper
December 05 2008, 12:39AM
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Cole has individually drawn 15 penalties. That's thirty minutes or less of powerplay time which, going by the Oilers success rate, equates to around 3.5-4 goals.

It's something.

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#19 Greg MC
December 05 2008, 07:52AM
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A stiff breeze would blow Lupul off the puck. Another guy with not enough try in his game.

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#20 Unleaded
December 05 2008, 09:03AM
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FINALLY!

I like the veteran presence that 24-43 brings, but they've needed to mix that up for 10 games. Glad to see Smid playing, and moreso that its actually as a defenseman.

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#21 Cam
December 05 2008, 09:16AM
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Towel Boy: I thought you were putting us on with that quote from Wikipedia, but I went and looked and you were right. That's hilarious!

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#22 Fiveandagame
December 05 2008, 09:24AM
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"but I’m guessing MacTavish will resist the urge to use him on the power play and will opt to keep him out."

HA! Quote of the day.

I agree with RB, you can't help but root for Schremp. The fact that he's kept the moxie but learned to work hard, proves he's ready for the NHL. He is a classic case where, everything was easy for him early in his career, and instead of throwing him to the wolves (alla Brule in Columbus) the Oilers did the right thing, were they exposed his mistakes and game weakness in the minors and worked on his overall game so he didn't fail on hockey's biggest stage.

Having a bad game in Springfield and having a bad game in Edmonton are two very different things.

He kept his confidence and had success without being exploited for his lack of speed and defensive short comings.

As frustrating as it was to us fans who saw Schremps razzle dazzle on you tube and in training camp. The way the Oilers have handled him is going to pay off in the long run for not only the organization but also Rob Schremp, where ever he plays.

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#23 RobinB
December 05 2008, 09:38AM
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Fiveandagame: I've probably done 20 stories and columns on Schremp since draft day, but I've spent even more time just talking to him and shooting the breeze in conversations that never showed up in print.

He's not a jerk. He's not a fake. He's a very confident guy, and that rubs some people the wrong way. My doubts about him, were, as you alluded to, were based on not knowing if he had the jam and fortitude to work on the holes in his game.

Being a fossil, I've seen countless players who've put up bigger numbers than Schremp as a junior never make it because they couldn't or wouldn't do what it took to get better when they went to their first pro camp and things didn't come easily for them.

It's clear to me, based on what I've seen and who I've talked to, Robbie isn't just some smirking flake who talks a good game. He'll make it.

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#24 Fiveandagame
December 05 2008, 11:18AM
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@ RobinB:

Let's hope for the Oilers, Schremp finds himself a home with the Oil this season.

The thing that really got me about his game against Dallas was his passing. Hard, crisp, tape to tape. Hitting Cogliano in stride, not in his feet or behind him. THAT alone could make him dangerous at this level. We have some good speed up front and if he can hit those guys on the fly from our blue line, we'll be carrying some speed into the offensive zone. The other thing that got me was he was backchecking like Horcoff.

We've seen his hands but I have a feeling thats just the tip of Rob's potential.

The raucous crowd on wednesday in his support was great, it was 4 years of pent up cheering they unleashed on him. What a welcome.

Say Shremp keeps this up, when Nilsson comes back do you drop Robbie to 3rd Line with Cole and Pouliot? and then have Moreau Brodziak and Pisani (when he's back) as our fourth line?

Or do you think a trade would happen first?

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#25 Cam
December 05 2008, 11:48AM
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Fiveandagame, you make an interesting point.

Everyone seems to have this idea that you need two scoring lines and a checking line and an energy line. Am I missing something, or is it a crime to have three scoring lines? Is it economics that determine the standard line themes, or is there another reason?

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#26 Fiveandagame
December 05 2008, 12:09PM
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@ Cam:

Buffalo two seasons ago ran 3 scoring lines with Vanek potting 80+ pts as their third line center. They went to the conference final.

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#27 Antony Ta
December 05 2008, 12:26PM
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Shawn Horcoff should give the phone number of his sports psychologist to Erik Cole.

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#28 Cam
December 05 2008, 01:15PM
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Fiveandagame, thanks. It's good to know I am not alone, then.

It seemed to me that if your line scores more than the line you are playing against then you win that matchup. I can't help but wonder what Schremp and Cole could create together with Moreau creating mayhem on the boards. Moreau is no sniper but he has enough ability to pot twenty goals if he has some talent playing with him.

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#29 RobinB
December 05 2008, 01:49PM
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Fiveandagame: The first trade that happens will be to clear up the goaltending situation.

I can't see the Oilers making a trade based on Schremp's performance until they get to see him through the 40-game mark. What he can do in the next 2-4 games is cement the opportunity to get that look.

When Pisani's healthy (January), I wouldn't be against the fourth line you mentioned, even though it's somewhat pricey. I have no issue with three scoring lines and I think Schremp could pick up some things from Cole, even though he's struggled to this point.

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#30 Cal71
December 05 2008, 01:54PM
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When we traded for Cole I said it won't take long for Oiler fans to fall in love with him. Now after a quarter of a season, I'm not so sure anymore. I've never seen anybody work so hard and create so little. Which is both good and bad. Bad because he's not creating scoring chances, but good because it means he's still working hard. Which leads me to believe that if we can just find the right fit for him and he can get a couple bounces going his way, he might start to feel more comfortable in an Oilers jersey and we might get to see the real Erik Cole. I won't give up on him yet.

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#31 Fiveandagame
December 05 2008, 02:34PM
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RobinB wrote:

Fiveandagame: The first trade that happens will be to clear up the goaltending situation.

You know what? For a second there I was so excited that Schremp could get a legit shot to stay in the line up I totally forgot about the three headed monster thats back stopping our team :)

Ignorance is indeed bliss....

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#32 Jonathan Willis
December 05 2008, 03:00PM
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There isn't anything wrong with three scoring lines; it's just that someone needs to play against the opposition's 1st line. Maybe that's Hemsky, Horcoff and Penner, but somebody needs to do it.

As for Schremp, weren't the Oilers' playing him at LW to neutralize his speed disadvantage somewhat? In other words, he won't be 3rd line centre.

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#33 Fiveandagame
December 05 2008, 03:16PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

I could see Pouliot centering Cole and Schremp for our third line. Schremp firing tape to tape passes onto Eric Cole's stick through the neutral zone would be awesome.

If the fourth line was Moreau Brodziak and Pisani, you could double up Horcoff on Shifts at center to neutralize the other teams top line.

I personally feel that your top line should be out against the other teams top line. Power VS Power.

RB pointed out that it's an expensive fourth line, BUT it is already paid for. Might not last long but it could play out for the rest of the season.

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#34 MikeL
December 05 2008, 03:31PM
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Did anyone notice that the picture up there (tagged as Erik Cole) is actually Joni Pitkanen? Appropriate for the article I guessed; but I don't think we've forgotten Cole that much quite yet.

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#35 bingofuel
December 05 2008, 03:35PM
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@ MikeL: Yeah, that's my bad. And my other bad is being lazy and drunk. Three bads don't make a not... bad.

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#36 OilDude
December 05 2008, 06:33PM
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Hey Robin,if Pitkanen ever wins the Norris the beers are on me, ok

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#37 RobinB
December 05 2008, 06:45PM
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Oildude: And on every other fan who called me a blockhead when I was begging the Oilers not to trade for him in the first place after being told by people who would know he was an oddball.

It was amazing how many people were convinced he was on the brink of being a dominating defenceman with no other evidence than good, not great, stats from parts of two good seasons despite red flags all over the place about other aspects of his make-up.

Not that I'd ever gloat, "I told you so."

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#38 joe blow
December 05 2008, 07:14PM
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that's a picture of joni pitkanen, not cole.

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#39 Antony Ta
December 06 2008, 12:34AM
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He's a guy who plays Pisani's role. I remember when everyone complained about Pisani making 2.5 million to play on the 3rd line. Well... Cole was a 4 million 3rd liner in Carolina, what did we expect? But we were all duped into thinking he would light it up on LW by MacT and others.

Now we know better.

But hey, no reason why we can't retain him if it's for a discount from 4 million.

If we had Hemsky, Gagner, Cole, Pisani as our RW depth, we'd probably have some of the best RW depth in the NHL. But that being said, Pisani is more effective at a cheaper price and him being missing from the lineup has really shown on the team. I'd trade Cole for some help in other departments once Pisani returns from injury.

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