Are they nuts?

Robin Brownlee
January 01 2009 12:13PM

As Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish likes to say, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

Fans can only assume, then, MacTavish and bosses Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini have seen enough in the wake of a 6-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on the final day of 2008 to understand they need to make a deal or maybe two before we get very deep into 2009. That, or check into a rubber room.

MacTavish's 29th-ranked killing units were abysmal yet again in Cowtown as the Flames powerplay lit them up for three goals in five attempts. No matter who MacTavish throws over the boards, it's like sending somebody to fight a fire armed with a can of gasoline.

Hand in hand with that miserable performance, MacTavish's centres got schooled in the face-off circles again. The All-Thumbs Unit of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak went 25-40 on the dot for 38 per cent (including 7-23 in the defensive zone).

Neither of these issues is stop the presses stuff.

Enough is enough

"We've got to find a way, or find some new guys that can kill penalties," an exasperated MacTavish said after his men in the middle and the PK soiled their straight-jackets again.

"It's been an aspect in our game from the start of the year and it's gone poorly from the start. We can't clear the puck when we need to. Somebody's got to step up and try to kill penalties or we're going to have to try and find somebody that can."

To be fair to the ATU, the Oilers feeble penalty-killing record doesn't rest solely with the pivots. That said, lost face-offs and lack of puck possession play a big part in it.

The biggest difference between this season and 2007-08, when the team was ranked fifth on the PK, is the Oilers have lost two key face-off men and penalty killers in Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner.

Stoll, shipped to Los Angeles with Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky, is ticking right along with the Kings. He's ranked seventh in face-off percentage at 57.6. Reasoner, with Atlanta, is ranked 49th at 50.3.

By the numbers

Horcoff, ranked 36th, remains the Oilers best face-off man at 51.8 overall despite a hideous mark of 8-16 on a night he'd rather forget Wednesday. After Horcoff, it gets thin.

Brodziak, the only pivot to break even in Cowtown at 9-9, is rated 55th at 49.9. Gagner is 118-148 for 44.4 per cent. Cogliano is 107-179 for 37.4 per cent. Say no more.

So here we are. The aforementioned centres continue to work with assistant coach Bill Moores on face-offs after practice. They go through buckets and buckets of pucks on a daily basis. They're trying to get the hang of it, but the results speak for themselves.

At some point, as MacTavish said Wednesday, personnel trumps practice and the faces have to change.

Good and cheap

If I was Lowe, I'd be picking up the phone and putting the arm on old friend and confident Scott Howson in Columbus and inquiring about what it might take to get Manny Malhotra.

I can't think of too many reasons why I'd want a former first-round flop like Malhotra (seventh overall in 1998) on my roster, but there's no question the 28-year-old journeyman has an element the Oilers need.

When it comes to face-offs, Malhotra isn't only good -- he sits fifth in the NHL with a face-off percentage of 58.6 -- he's earning a relatively modest $1.5 million this season as he heads into unrestricted free agency.

Malhotra is 286-202 in face-offs overall, and he's a demon on the dot when the Blue Jackets are shorthanded. On shorthanded face-offs, Malhotra is 54-36. The other thing worth noting is he's better on the road at 59.5 per cent than he is at home, 57.6 per cent.

Pull the trigger

You'd think an efficient, inexpensive player like Malhotra and a chance to address face-offs and penalty killing might be worth a call from Lowe or Tambellini. Maybe -- again, I'm assuming evidence of this fatal flaw down the middle is sufficiently obvious -- the call has already been made. I'll try to find out in coming days.

In any case, even if it's a long shot, it's a far more attractive and likely proposition than trying to lure Stoll back from the sunny sands of Newport Beach or watching the ATU get schooled.

The way I see it, Moores can dump rubber on the dot until his right arm falls off and MacTavish can diagram the penalty kill until the cows come home, but it won't make a difference.

A trade will. Or, at least, might.

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 CurtisS
January 01 2009, 12:20PM
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Blah. Faceoff % is a minor piece of the puzzle.

Doesnt Calgary have one of the worst faceoff % in the league. Yet their PK is in top 5.

Im pretty sure it goes beyond that.

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#2 rindog
January 01 2009, 12:22PM
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Robin,

What about an even cheaper fix???

Yanic Perrault would come even cheaper and is a faceoff and PK specialist. He could "mentor" our younger players as well.

Oates got alot of credit for showing our younger guys how to win faceoffs - maybe Perrault would be able to do the same???

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#3 rindog
January 01 2009, 12:25PM
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@ CurtisS:

But when it's not working - you have to look at all the elements - and face-offs are definitely a problem...

Is that you Szafron?

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#4 RobinB
January 01 2009, 12:38PM
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@ rindog: Yes, he's another possibility and, based on past performance, maybe one of the better options. My point is it's possible to get a player who fits a need without having to orchestrate a big trade or spend wads of money.

And Curtis . . . Blah? You're not paying attention. What the Flames do and how they do it is distinctly different than what plagues the Oilers. If you don't think face-offs are a significant part of the PK problem here, you're mistaken.

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#5 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 12:43PM
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Sweet Jesus, is there any way to move Steve Staios? He looks like he spent his off-season lighting it up in Vegas and he's waiting for the stupor to wear off. I think rolling him out there 20 odd minutes a night isn't helping the PK or 5-on-5 either. I suspect moving his unfavourable contract will be almost as difficult as making the head coach accountable.

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#6 rindog
January 01 2009, 12:55PM
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@ hockeysmack:

100% agree!!!

Staios should be getting 13-14 minutes/game (if any).

We have 4 guys that can log a significant amount of minutes. There is no reason why Staios has to play so much (other than the teacher's pet theory).

It's the same reason why Moreau is out on the ice with the extra attacker against Ottawa???

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#7 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 01:09PM
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The teacher's pet thing is more than a theory. How else can you explain why MacT's favourites manage to get fat, ridiculous contract extensions while players with offensive potential get run out of town? Please explain how Moreau, Horcoff, Staios and Pisani are worth their respective contract extensions? Nice frigging core.

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#8 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 01:15PM
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Love the suggestion of Malhotra - he's a good, cheap, responsible forward who can handle defensive assignments.

As for Perreault, he's not a penalty-killer. Here are his average minutes per game on the PK the last few seasons:

2007-08 - 0.43 2006-07 - 0.24 2005-06 - 0.08

He's soft, a defensive liability, and he's never been used on the PK. In other words, I don't think he's remotely what this team needs.

Malhotra's a better player, but one possibility (who the Oilers could have for free) is Chris Gratton. He's tough, is better than 60% at faceoffs, has been used as a penalty-killer every year since the lockout, and adds size to boot.

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#9 Joey Moss
January 01 2009, 01:16PM
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i would contend that it isn't so much a matter of winning face-offs but recovering possession once at has been lost... for the most part, the oilers are too small to get the puck back after its gone. this team needs a few decent grinders (or one awesome power forward) that can throw a shoulder and work the boards to recover possession more than it needs a middling face-off specialist to take up a roster spot.

forget Perrault and Malholtra, bring back Smyth.

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#10 CurtisS
January 01 2009, 01:16PM
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@ Robin B

"You’re not paying attention. What the Flames do and how they do it is distinctly different than what plagues the Oilers. If you don’t think face-offs are a significant part of the PK problem here, you’re mistaken"

Well why keep playing a system that allows us to fail. If I got one of the worst f/o % in the league lets adjust to a different pk system. Calgary does. Why cant we.

I think its part of the problem just a small piece.

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#11 CurtisS
January 01 2009, 01:17PM
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@ Noel

You know who you are.

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#12 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 01:17PM
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For the record:

Steve Staios currently ranks 5th among the Oilers top-six defenseman in average time on ice at 18:03. I'd argue Smid should be ahead of him (13:43), but it's not like MacTavish is bumping Gilbert or Souray to make room for Staios.

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#13 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 01:25PM
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That doesn't mean it isn't 18 largely wasted minutes taken up by a player who has a hard time clearing the zone or front of the net or handling the puck right now. Oh well, only 2 more years at a $2.7 million cap hit after this year. That's money well spent.

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#14 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 01:29PM
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@ hockeysmack:

It's a bad contract. It was reasonable money when Staios signed it, but the term was too long. Moreau was getting 2-million a season when comparable players were getting 1.25-1.5M; the mistake was compounded by the contract's length.

Staios is fine as a bottom-pairing defender. The problem is that he's getting paid like a top-4 option.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 01:30PM
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@ hockeysmack:

How would you order the defense by time on ice? Personally, I'd go:

1. Visnovsky/Souray 3. Gilbert 4. Grebeshkov 5. Smid 6. Staios

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#16 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 01:37PM
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BTW, faceoff percentages for Oilers with more than 100 draws:

Horcoff - 51.8% Brodziak - 49.9% Pouliot - 49.6% Gagner - 44.4% Pisani - 41.7% Cogliano - 37.4%

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#17 rindog
January 01 2009, 01:44PM
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@ hockeysmack:

What the overall TOI ice stat fail to mention is that is predominately the PP time that seperates the dmen's icetimes.

If we just look at regular strength icetime for Oilers Dmen:

Visnovsky: 17:54 Gilbert: 16:06 Souray: 16:01 Grebeshkov: 16:01 Staios: 14:05 Smid: 12:35

Do we really want Staios on the ice for only a couple of minutes (shifts) less than our top 4 guys??

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#18 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 01:48PM
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I agree with your ordering, particularly with Smid's improved play and Staios skating like my 57-year-old dad. I'm also hopeful Jason Strudwick will take a seat in the pressbox soon, and not return either as a forward or d-man. As you referred to earlier, the terms of the contract extensions are ugly; Horcoff taking up that $5.5 million in cap space at 35 and 36 years old is not a good thing. Rewarding good soliders with these kinds of extensions is only a positive if your team has been, you know, successful.

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#19 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
January 01 2009, 02:23PM
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Does the owner,management or players care about this team? Everyone outside the organization is looking for a trade or change yet we are faced with the same old status quo what gives? Are we going to turn into the old Maple Leafs? A full hockey arena,great fans and a owner and management that think they can do what they want, because we will still be there win or lose, we just keep getting more and more frustrared!!! somebody do something before it is to late and we can say good bye to another season!!!

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#20 RobinB
January 01 2009, 02:25PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Gonna try to slip Gratton in again, eh?

Gratton's ON-ICE resume in not without merit, given the Oilers needs. Then again, Joni Pitkanen's ON-ICE resume is not without merit, either. Get my drift?

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#21 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 03:20PM
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RobinB wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Gonna try to slip Gratton in again, eh? Gratton’s ON-ICE resume in not without merit, given the Oilers needs. Then again, Joni Pitkanen’s ON-ICE resume is not without merit, either. Get my drift?

Robin, you're not going to break into the Jason Gregor speech about how Chris Gratton would cut into the development of Kyle Bordziak are you? Other than that, are you implying that Gratton's commitment is a little sketchy?

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#22 Hanson#4
January 01 2009, 03:33PM
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Lowetide has a great post along the same lines. He is throwing out Mike Sillinger.

Somehow when I think of Oiler trades I get the feeling they are looking big ... like Kovalchuk big ... even though a little PK specialist pick me up is really what is needed. And long overdue.

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#23 Jonathan Willis
January 01 2009, 03:49PM
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@ RobinB:

I follow. Slowly, it's true, but I follow.

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#24 Fiveandagame
January 01 2009, 04:07PM
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I think the oilers should look for someone younger that can fill the needed role with this team long term while also having an offensive upside.

I think the Oilers should be looking at pending RFA Brandon Dubinsky of the NYR.

At 22yrs old and 6'1 205lbs, he may not be a monster center but he plays big. He leads all NHL centers with 106 hits, he is also 50.8% in the dot. Not bad for a 22 yr old.

The Oilers have a gluttony of undersized offensive forwards trying to crack the top 9 and one extra D.

I would suggest a package that would send a d and a smaller forward for Dubinsky

OR

What I would think would be the more attractive offer to the Rangers would be Eric Cole.

Cole is a NY native with playoff experience. He is an UFA so his cap hit would only be on the books for the remainder of the year. He could help NYR down the stretch and could find his game again in NY as he plays for a contract.

I would think NYR will struggle to be able to sign Dubinsky with such heavy contracts already doled out to Gomez and Drury down the middle.

I would rather see the Oilers do a deal that is good for the long term development of this team, that continues the youth movement in our front 9 and adds some size to one of our top three lines.

Dubinsky has Jam, is better than average in the dot and has size. What more do the Oilers need in a center?

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#25 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 04:16PM
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@ Fiveandagame: If Dubinsky has all this going for him, why again wouldn't the Rangers find a way to keep him instead of moving him? And if the argument is the Ranger cap situation will force them to move him, how exactly can they recieve any salary back in exchange for him? I guess I'm trying to say I don't see it happening, and sure as hell not for Cole.

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#26 Fiveandagame
January 01 2009, 04:31PM
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@ hockeysmack: The rangers also said they could make room for Sundin if he chose to sign there, so I am thinking some wheeling and dealing could be done for them to handle Cole's 4 mil cap hit.

The Rangers also only have 6 players signed for next year. They won't be able to sign all of them and Dubinsky is in line for a big pay raise. They have to resign Zherdev is playing at a point per game pace among a long list of RFA/UFA's. We may have to take on more Salary from one of their D for someone like Grebs whose cap hit is small considering his minutes played to make this deal work. It becomes a multiplayer deal but it is not out of the question.

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#27 RobinB
January 01 2009, 06:50PM
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@ Dan T: Really? And Brind'Amour( and his $3.6 million cap hit) can be had for the overrated Brule based on what information?

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#28 mjsh
January 01 2009, 07:00PM
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i like Phillips and Vermette for Gilbert and Moreau plus a minor leaguer.

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#29 Fiveandagame
January 01 2009, 07:28PM
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@ Dan T: Rod Brind'Amour, at 38, 3.6 mil and a Joffery Lupul esque -26 just 38 games into the season?

He wins face offs, I'll give you that.

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#30 Easilee
January 01 2009, 08:07PM
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RobinB wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Gonna try to slip Gratton in again, eh? Gratton’s ON-ICE resume in not without merit, given the Oilers needs. Then again, Joni Pitkanen’s ON-ICE resume is not without merit, either. Get my drift?

I've been perplexed ever since he was waived as to why the Oil would not take a flyer on him, as he fill a couple of glaring deficiencies, now I know. Thanks for the scoop Robin.

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#31 ramped up
January 01 2009, 08:07PM
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@ mjsh: Gilbert and Moreau give you way more. First you don't take your captain out of your line up who plays harder...and yes he does take penalties but he works extremely hard and chips in when he can. Give Gilbert a chance to prove himself...he did it last year and could easily do it again once he gets going. Your two guys are good i'll give you that but they are a lot of the same...we need a change that is effective immmediatly

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#32 mjsh
January 01 2009, 08:11PM
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@ ramped up: Moreau is too close to the end. Vermette and Phillips give the Oilers the penalty killers they must have, grit and a shut down d man that they do not have. This is what they are missing. Yes, Gilbert is decent but you have to give up something to get something.

Without the grit, the Oilers are not going to make the playoffs.

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#33 ramped up
January 01 2009, 08:12PM
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Lets remember that our best player was out for two games and what happened??? I guarandamntee you if S-Mac was in the line up Tootoo doesn't hit Hemmer and we win one of those 2 games. We need to get S-Mac back and Hemmer, shore up some pk specialist and get rid of a goalie...sounds easy!!

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#34 Chris
January 01 2009, 08:30PM
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I'm weary of the new collective bargaining agreement. I keep WAITING for a trade that may never happen...I'm sure disappointed fans in many other markets are going through the same thing. Will there ever be any movement? Fact is, KLowe, some media people, and fans like myself figured the Oilers were going to be a solid team that would contend for the division... I said myself, in the offseason, that this team would have what it takes to win... or if not pieces were in place to tinker with the lineup. We were all mistaken BIG TIME. Worst thing is, the contracts have been signed, commitments have been made: This is your team Edmonton: Small, inconsistant, overrated, and generally boring to watch. This isn't a rant; This is an acceptance speech.

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#35 ramped up
January 01 2009, 09:06PM
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I'm glad we took that year off so we could make the game better...Yeesh!!

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#36 Rod Brind'Amour's Career
January 01 2009, 09:28PM
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Dan T wrote:

Your all forgeting an important person who, if things work out, will be here next week. Rod Brind’Amour, who will give us 3 solid lines and we make us contenders. He can be had for Brule, who in my opinion is way over rated.

Sorry guys but my career is pretty much over. I am 64 years old, I play on the gayest team in the gayest division, and I am barely able to keep up with the new fast-paced NHL.

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#37 hockeysmack
January 01 2009, 09:50PM
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@ Dan T: Dan T wrote:

Your all forgeting an important person who, if things work out, will be here next week. Rod Brind’Amour, who will give us 3 solid lines and we make us contenders. He can be had for Brule, who in my opinion is way over rated.

That would be a swell way to continue to inflate the team payroll with declining, overpaid veterans. Sweet, only 2 years left on that deal after this year! The only way I'd be for that deal is if Garon and Staios were going the other way, which seems extremely unlikely.

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#38 Dan Tencer
January 01 2009, 10:03PM
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Just want to point out that the "Dan T" who posted above...using 630CHED.com as their web site no less...is not me.

Flattered, though.

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#39 Jay
January 01 2009, 10:42PM
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@ Robin

The Oilers miss Stoll and Reasoner clearly on the dot and PK. Reasoner had to go, I don't think we needed to see another year of extra attack time given to Reasoner, but it got worse it went to Moreau and now 1st line time to Reddox, I see a pattern... but back on topic. The other element is Greene, Stoll, and Reasoner played around 3 SH minutes a night. The 'brain trust' didn't replace them. They didn't replace the FO ability. They didn't replace the PK ability (shot blocking hustle and hoockey sense). They also didn't replace the toughness.

Toughness provided for infront of the net... Greene is gone and Smid (who plays tough) is down in SH minutes. Grebeshokov plays more a PK role now and Strudwick ate some minutes, be admittedly he's no Greene either. Also, Pitkanen's wasn't replaced either. Now debate his heart, but he couldrag the puck as well. Now no one does.

Now I agree their needs to be a change of personel, but there was nothing wrong with the old personel.

More importantly, I always hear how the fan overrates the players. Short said it amongst others. Let me be clear, no one overrates the players abilities more than the Oilers staff. Need proof? Reddox on the first line. Peterson experiement. Making checkers scorers and trying to make scorers checkers. Horcoff a 'first line center' (clearly a 2-3 if even a 2 making 1st line money). Poloson overpayment. Pisani overpayment. Gilbert overpayment. Losing trades for Weight, for Pronger, Pitkanen for a UFA in Cole who is not a fit for the MacT system (not unlike Lupul or Sykora). Sestito call up, oveplaying/paying Staios, signing Penner and losing 3 low draft picks in a deep draft (crap shoot? only if you are poor at your job). They've created a passive and soft and easy to play against team with a lack of a genuine leader (Moreau, Staios, Horcoff, Souray have done what?).

Change of personel? I'm all for it. Lowe, Pendergast (I won't go into he drafting), MacTavish (love the 4th line offensive zone faceoffs and the blender), Huddy (love the 1st line with the 3rd pair), Moores, Buchberger especially, and Pete "I destroy goalies" Peters. This is what they built. Then let qualified personel in Tambo and his new staff put their fingerprints on this team, Lowe and Co. have hand their 3 chances.

You reap what you sow.

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#40 RobinB
January 01 2009, 11:21PM
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@ Dan Tencer: I didn't think for a moment somebody has beaten you senseless with the stupid stick.

So, "Dan T," don't come around here pretending to be somebody else. Jackass.

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#41 Joey Moss
January 01 2009, 11:41PM
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@RobinB

does that mean i cant pretend to be Joey Moss any more?

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#42 RobinB
January 02 2009, 08:04AM
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@ Joey Moss: You're not Joey Moss?

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#43 Dennis
January 02 2009, 09:39AM
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Look at RB using stats!!

Sniff, sniff, he's growing up!!

It's nice to see that Some people are coming around to the fact we don't need to make a big trade to right the ship and let's see if you can follow along:

27-10-83 - tough minutes 12-89-26 - soft minutes 78-?-34 - secondary tough min; 78-34 have shown some ice chem in the past so let's augment them. Malholtra would be nice but there could be someone else there that could do the job. 18-51-? - at this point all Ethan Moreau should be doing is push-ups and sit-ups to motivate out-of-shape kids. But we'll keep him on the 4th line so that he can tell stories and also because you most likely can't move his salary.

The two question marks are guys that need to be acquired that can kill penalties; one of them has to be able to win a faceoff and the other can just be a PK guy. I've throw out Boyd Devereaux's name as a guy that's just in the minors wasting and there has to be someone else out there.

And the first person in the org who says we can't pick up minor league vets because of the 50 contract rule should be tarred and feathered.

Note: maybe another way to go is if we have enough cap room left to take on a bad expiring contract of a fellow who can fill the PK role.

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#44 Clarkenstein
January 02 2009, 09:41AM
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RobinB wrote:

@ Joey Moss: You’re not Joey Moss?

Ha HA HA.... priceless!!

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#45 Clarkenstein
January 02 2009, 09:42AM
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@ Chris:

Here, here Chris... couldn't have said it better myself!!

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#46 Rogue
January 02 2009, 09:44AM
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Lowe was saying the new NHL would be a fast skilled league after the lockout. That is the plan he has used to build this team. He must of watched too many of the "Charmin" commercials, as this team plays like a bunch of soft pansies. Some one should inform the players that NHL does not stand for No Hit League!! I just wish that any Oil player with a oppurtunity to take someone out along the boards would do it. Every one else does. You dont have to "kill" the guy, just eliminate him from the play for a few moments. Even PK takeouts behind our net, knock the damn guy down! You are never out of position if you do that. Dmen too soft around the net, forwards collapsing down to the circles and no FO superiority whatsoever. Surely someone out there is willing to trade a 3rd. or 4th. line specialist for Nillson. Especially if they are in need of some"potential" offence. This team has too many soft and small playing players. Hello management? Where are you? Quit blowing smoke up our butts about talent and start looking for a way to get the pieces we need or else it will be another 5 years before this team is a threat

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#47 swany
January 02 2009, 09:46AM
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Hanson#4 wrote:

Lowetide has a great post along the same lines. He is throwing out Mike Sillinger. Somehow when I think of Oiler trades I get the feeling they are looking big … like Kovalchuk big … even though a little PK specialist pick me up is really what is needed. And long overdue.

Then if this COULD be the case add a piece and get Marty back as well

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#48 Cam
January 02 2009, 10:14AM
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Jay wrote:

@ Robin Now I agree their needs to be a change of personel, but there was nothing wrong with the old personel.

Pardon?!?

Did anyone else notice that they didn't make the playoffs last year? Or was it just me...

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#49 Jay
January 02 2009, 12:11PM
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Cam wrote:

Jay wrote: @ Robin Now I agree their needs to be a change of personel, but there was nothing wrong with the old personel. Pardon?!? Did anyone else notice that they didn’t make the playoffs last year? Or was it just me…

This is clearly in regard to the PK. Try and pay attention.

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#50 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 12:24PM
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Eklund: One possible domino from this all could be Montreal and Pittsburgh getting much more aggressive on the Bouwmeester front.

I am also looking into a rumour that would send Dustin Penner to Florida along with a MAJOR young player for Jay Bo. _______________________________________________________ With JAY BO's drinking problem and dui - he will fit in with MACT - but I cant see JAY BO sticking around for the fishbowl here in Edmonton - salary dump for RFA in 2009?

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