Brotherly love, baby

Robin Brownlee
May 06 2008 06:55AM

jasonsmith_grit.jpg

When it comes to Edmonton Oilers fans who still give a rat's patoot about who sips from the Stanley Cup, I don't know if there's a sizeable contingent pulling for the Philadelphia Flyers. I am.

Not only are the Flyers looking to orchestrate a worst-to-first miracle after finishing last in the NHL last season, four former Oilers—Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith, Patrick Thoresen and Jim Dowd—will play a part in it if the Bullies put the grab on the silverware.

None of the other three teams has that many heading into Conference Finals. None of the other teams has the long-deceased Kate Smith belting out her rendition of God Bless America from the crypt by way of old video on the scoreboard. What's not to like?

Besides, the Oilers have done as much as any team to turn the upstart Flyers from 56-point pushovers to Cup contenders with the trade of Smith and Lupul for Joni Pitkanen and Geoff Sanderson last summer, dispelling bogus criticism GM Kevin Lowe doesn't know how to build a winner. In that regard, the Flyers are kinda like Edmonton's team, no?

Disclaimer for the dim: Yes, the above paragraph is another gratuitous poke at Pitkanen and an unfair characterization of a trade that looked far better on paper for the Oilers than it has on the ice so far, but both are meant in fun, so don't get your Stanfields in a bunch...

Anyway, I know I'll be draped in my circa 1974 Gary Dornhoefer No. 12 jersey the rest of the way—if I can stretch the damn thing over my now-gelatinous midsection. Did I weigh six pounds in 1974 or what?

Once an Oiler...

How can you not pull for Smith, who toiled so honestly here? Gator gave the Oilers every ounce of effort and every drop of blood he had during his nose-bending, ligament-shredding tenure. This might be the last kick at it for the tough-as-nails and mean-as-hell captain.

And then there's Thoresen, a spare part with the Oilers who was claimed on waivers by the Flyers. The fact Thoresen's even in Philadelphia's line-up after taking a puck in the pills blocking a shot—there was talk he might lose a testicle—is testament to his grit. He's got balls.

Dowd, leading the post-season porn-'stache sweepstakes with his handlebar cookie-duster, was a handy journeyman to have around in his 70-game stint with the Oilers from 1998–2000. Gem of a guy, too.

As for Lupul, the Oiler faithful will have a difficult time pulling for him, and understandably so. Between Lupul half-assing it and coach Craig MacTavish's inability to coax the best out of him, he was never going to succeed here. If I was Lowe, I'd have dumped Lupul after his failure of a season—just not for the Fragile One.

Lupul not only again looks capable of scoring 25–30 goals a season for the next decade, he can win the Cup he missed out on with Anaheim when the Ducks dealt him for Chris Pronger.

How about those Pens?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are my co-favourites and sentimental pick for the Cup. They face the Flyers with three former Oilers in the fold—Petr Sykora, Georges Laraque and Ty Conklin.

Sykora wanted to re-sign here after a tying for the Oilers lead in scoring with 22 goals and 53 points in 2006–07, but got a shoulder shrug after his horrid second half and signed in Steeltown.

Laraque didn't want to leave Edmonton, but he wasn't in MacTavish's plans and he didn't want to take a pay cut only to be re-signed and traded, so he asked for a no-trade clause. That soured some on Laraque, but why would he accept less money and risk being dealt anyway?

One thing is money in the bank: if the Penguins win eight more games, the Cup will be in Edmonton this summer and Georges will wear the damn thing out passing it around and posing for pictures with fans.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer 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 1011011
May 06 2008, 09:38AM
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"Did I weigh six pounds in 1974 or what?" - thats hilarious, I can sadly relate

I will never understand why the Oilers got rid of Sykora. Certainly he merited some sort of 1 year deal to see if he could pick it up

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#2 Tony Romo
May 06 2008, 10:49AM
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Given Lupul's unwillingness to play physical hockey I can see the Philly fans getting down on him at some point.

Jason Smith on the other hand looks like he typifies Flyer hockey. Given the fact they have kept Hatcher around for so long, and the fact that he is their captain he might be around for a few more years and a few more runs

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#3 OregonStateFan
May 06 2008, 12:25PM
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I don't think the Oilers dumped Sykora. It was more that they put him as 2nd best option compared to Nylander. We all know what happened with that mess, and because Sykora signed the same day with the Pens, the Oil lost their second (and backup) choice. You can understand why they would be upset with Nylander...

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#4 RobinB
May 06 2008, 12:38PM
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OregonStateFan: I never said the Oilers dumped Sykora but the "shoulder shrug" comment was to reflect what you say -- the Oilers knew Sykora wanted to come back, but they put him on the back-burner and looked around at other options. It ended up costing them a talented player who wanted to be here.

As you suggest, Nylander played a part in that. His decision to back out when Lowe thought he had a deal was a first-rate screw job.

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#5 fyvmvv
May 06 2008, 12:50PM
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R.B - I don't think anyone will get their Stanfields in a knot over your comments. Except of course, 'theoil' who probably wears Fruit-in-the-room panties. You may have to explain what pills are because I doubt he has any. It's one thing to get edgy with remarks but I wish he at least would favor us with an intelligent comment.

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#6 RobinB
May 06 2008, 01:15PM
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fyvmvv: If you wade in here and start handing it out and wising off like theoil did -- especially referring to another website that is rife with more than its share of "juvenile foolishness" -- then expect to get some back. It's as simple as that.

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#7 David Staples
May 06 2008, 01:31PM
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Can't imagine you ever weighed six pounds Robin. Not even at birth ;)

Good point about Philly, especially in regards to Thoresen. What do you think about the Oilers getting nothing in return for the guy?

I mean, you would expect some team on the bubble with depth problems would have wanted such a player, and given up something for him, say a 3rd round draft pick.

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#8 RobinB
May 06 2008, 01:43PM
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David: I can't blame the Oilers for exposing Thoresen to waivers. He was a spare part here and he's a bit of a tweener -- some offensive talent and decent defensively, but he didn't really have a calling card and didn't carve out a niche.

He's not the first guy, and he won't be the last, to be discarded and then grab a second or third chance with somebody and make good on it.

Teams wait in the waiver weeds for possible finds like Thoresen rather than pursue trades. The phone doesn't ring for guys like him.

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#9 risto
May 06 2008, 01:56PM
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Pittsburgh will pummel the Flyers. This one won't be close. It should be fun to watch, though. Briere and Prospal are great, but the Pens have some serious mojo and Crosby is still playing well below his potential.

Lupul has proven to me he is simply a coaster who fills lanes. Richards is a game little player, and Umberger is having a Pisani - yet Lupul has half the points of his linemates. He is simply incapable of carrying the puck at all between the blues, doesn't do corner work, not nifty enough to cycle. I'd take Glencross over him all day long.

I can't wait for Pitkanen to come back and dominate for the Oil next year.

Staples, considering how little I know about some of the fellows who make up the Magic 50 - those being under contract with the Oil - I am at a loss why we let Thoresen walk, unless it had to do with Pouloit getting his shot down the stretch.

Tim Kerr (#12 in the 80's) was one of the best players I ever saw against the Oil dynasty. Couldn't stop him around the net.

Was Dornhoefer the Lupul of the Broad Street Bullies?

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#10 RobinB
May 06 2008, 02:04PM
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Risto: No, Dornhoefer earned his living battling for pucks in front of the net and doing the dirty work in traffic -- the antithesis of Lupul.

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#11 OregonStateFan
May 06 2008, 02:43PM
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risto: From what I've seen, the Oilers tend to look for one of two things from players like Thoresen - offensive production or defensive responsibility (or both). Thoresen wasn't developing in either of those categories as fast as the Oilers wanted him to. The solution is either to hope he'll improve in practice and from watching in the press box, or to send him back to the minors to develop more there.

More often than not, management will make a call to give another player a shot if they're excelling in the minors. Pouloit was doing as well as Thoresen in the AHL, and when he was called up, MacT had made comments several times over the season on how impressed he was with Pouloit's performance.

Sometimes the gamble of sending someone like Thoresen to the minors works. They slip through the cracks of the waiver system, the player figures out the last step in the minors that they needed to fix to make it in the NHL, and they get called back up and make it. Then again, maybe they don't, and they end up moving from minor team to minor team, or eventually leaving hockey for something else.

At least, that's my opinion on player development.

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#12 Bob Stauffer
May 06 2008, 03:18PM
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I can't see the Flyers signing either Jason Smith or Thoersen. Smith is a warrior, but has played fewer minutes as the season has gone on. The Flyers have Van Riemsdyk and Giroux coming that will need minutes. Flyers probablty won't bring Prospal back either. As Robin knows, Lupul has played the entire playoffs with a high ankle sprain-which has limited his effectiveness. This season alone he has suffered a fractured wrist, a spinal contusion, concussion and high-ankle sprain. He has battled and overcome all season; far more then you can say about Pitkanen.

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#13 RobinB
May 06 2008, 04:39PM
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Bobby S: They'll sign Smith. You don't flush your captain after one season, especially when the chemistry is good enough with this group that the Flyers have over-achieved big-time.

As for Lupul, you're right. We know, even though teams don't want us to, who is banged up and playing injured and hurt. Lupul has shown a lot of jam just to hang in. Of course, being Pitkanen-bashers and Lupul butt-kissers, we'll get torched by some intellectual giant for saying that because we're probably making it up.

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#14 milli
May 06 2008, 04:42PM
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Man I'd love to see Gator get handed the cup. That man is a GODDAMNED WARRIOR. With the Oil out, I for one will cheer my ass of for Smith and the flyers (even though it'll cost me my pool as i have tyhe pens!!! Oh well, heart before $$$$$)

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#15 Tim S
May 06 2008, 05:30PM
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I think Smith was exposed this year for what he really is, a defenseman with alot of heart and battle. He is no defensive giant, and 1 would have to think the Flyers are disappointed with his on ice performance. Barring a cup or maybe even a finals appearance Philly is looking for a new captain next season.

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#16 RobinB
May 06 2008, 07:34PM
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Tim S: Exposed this year for what he really is? You mean old? Give the guy a break. He's played his butt off, is closing in on 1,000 games and he's in his mid-30s. His end of the road isn't that far off.

You're right about the heart and battle, but to dismiss him as not being a "defensive giant" is selling his career short. At this point, the wear and tear is catching up to him, but he's still a plus-29 for his career. For a stay-at-home banger who produces next-to-no offence, that's a pretty impressive number.

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#17 jdrevenge
May 06 2008, 09:09PM
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Would love to see Gator tear up when he holds the cup over his head. I can see the Flyers beating the poop out of Malkin and exposing the pen's lack of playoff grit. I think its Detroit's year again though. Too many pieces to that puzzle are hot right now with obvious exclusion to their lack of a goaltender [not that they need it]. Other than Biron is anybody having an exceptional playoff this year?

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#18 Tim S
May 06 2008, 10:41PM
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I did not mean it as an insult, just that everyone seems better as an Oiler. Except Lupul and Pitkanen I guess. There is no doubting Smith gives everything he has every single second, but here in Edmonton he was looked upon as an exceptional defensive defenseman when I think the truth was he was a solid dman on some below average clubs, minus the run to the finals of course.

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#19 David Staples
May 06 2008, 11:40PM
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Count me in as a Pitkanen basher, I suppose.

Not that I don't love the way the guy lugs the puck, I do love that. But he was a goal against waiting to happen in his own zone, even when Lowe paired him with Mr. Steady, Steve Staios. His defensive awareness and intensity seemed to be on the level of Wayne "Swoop" Carleton.

If that's too ancient for you, think Andrei Kovalenko on a bad day.

But, I wonder, is it too late for Pitkanen to take a big step up in his game? Defencemen often mature a bit later on, around 25, 26, 27. But is he the kind of fellow to take that kind of step up?

I don't know him, so I don't know if he can make that move.

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#20 PunjabiOil
May 07 2008, 03:00AM
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Well, it's no question that Bob Stauffer and Robin Brownlee aren't big fans of Pitkanen. Both have publicly admitted so - and that's fine - they're entitled to their opinions.

That being said, the numbers (advanced) show that Pitkanen was the Oilers best defenceman this past season. Pitkanen has demonstrated strong offensive ability in the past, he's still young, and Ken Hitchcock has had nothing but good things to say about him and his potential.

I can understand those who weren't fans of trading to Good Alberta Boys in Smith and Lupul for a European who comes with some question marks - but the results show Pitkanen is an important part of the Oilers defensive corps, injury prone or not.

Of course I don't expect Bob and Robin to leak things here, that they've been told off the record. The general opinion out there is that Joni doesn't battle through injuries - there might be some truth to it - or it may just be overblown by the media.

A fan of Smith indeed - he gave it everything he got - and the Oilers probably could have used him the past year. However, he's on the declining stage, and when you get an opportunity to get elite young talent, potential norris winner in the future, you have to go for it.

As for as Joffrey Zoolander is concerned - I was initially a fan of him. Then he did a lot of stupid things - like publicly crying every few weeks about ''In Anaheim, I could go have a few beers after games.....blah blah blah...In Anaheim...'' Then, he mentioned how it ''might be fun to party with his old buddies if they won the cup'' Lets face it - the guy didn't want to be in Edmonton, wasn't in decent shape when camp rolled about, and mailed in his performance. He was paired under every possibile combination, given adequate PP time, etc. Did the Oilers give up on him? Probably - but he sure didn't give Kevin Lowe much reason to keep him around. Especially with a 1M salary raise this past season, on what was at that time operated under a budget minded EIG's business plan.

As I said, I'd rather have an elite defenceman, than a guy who struggles to make much of an impact 5 on 5.

Back to Pitkanen - any rumors as to the contract negotiations? Ideally, I'd like to lock him up 4-6 years at reasonable dollars. In the range of 4.5-4.75M cap hit. On a 1 year deal, no more than 3.33M.

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#21 Amber McCormick
May 07 2008, 07:44PM
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Nothing witty, nothing clever, I just miss Jason Smith.

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#22 Hockey Addict 101
May 07 2008, 11:53PM
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Hi guys.

Really a question for all the media guys.

A lot has been written about Pitkanen's "injuries" or lack thereof and him not battling through them.

A lot of people are assuming that the media has some sort of ax to grind etc.

I am not one of them as I read about them in the Philly press and commented on them before Pitkanen was even an Oiler.

But perhaps as much as you can could you comment on why you and other have written this about him.

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#23 RobinB
May 08 2008, 07:09AM
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101: The "axe to grind" suggestion made by fans who don't like criticism of Pitkanen is laughable. Disagree with the criticism if you like, but there's no conspiracy to slag a talented player like Pitkanen based on nothing. Anybody who thinks his durability isn't a question hasn't been paying attention.

As an example, if you ask 100 people about somebody and 99 of them say, "He's a really smart guy" but one person says, "No, he's a dumb-ass," a view diametically opposed to the vast majority, then asking if that person has an axe to grind has merit.

Pitkanen is obviously talented and he could develop into an elite player, but what separates Pitkanen from what he is and what he could be is the question of durability and his passion, for lack of a better term, to play the game. That's the conclusion a lot of people, not just reporters, have drawn.

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#24 Hockey Addict 101
May 08 2008, 11:49PM
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Thanks Robin.

You and I have come up with the same conclusion.

Just too much evidence from too many sources to dismiss it as an "ax to grind"

I saw (as I am sure you did) on more than on occasion last season during the games.

He could turn into an elite player but someone is going to have to find the on switch and it seems like more than one coach has given up trying.

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