The Ottawa Options

Jonathan Willis
January 11 2009 01:11PM

Ottawa-Edmonton rumours have been the norm this season, although they seem to have intensified the last little while, at least in the Ottawa papers. On the other hand, I haven’t seen much on either of these in the Edmonton papers, which could mean that a) the Edmonton media have missed the boat/are keeping quiet, b) I haven’t been paying close enough attention, or c) this rumour really doesn’t have much in the way of legs just yet. Knowing the Ottawa media, I’d go with option (c), but anything’s possible. In any case, here are the links and excerpts.

Ken Warren, Ottawa Citizen:

There are, however, fresh rumours that Spezza could be traded to the Edmonton Oilers for a package of players that includes centre Shawn Horcoff and perhaps a skilled defenceman.

Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun:

The Edmonton Oilers are eyeing the Ottawa Senators for help at centre, but their No. 1 choice might not be Jason Spezza. While league sources say the Oilers have a mild interest in Ottawa's top centre, the man Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini really wants is Mike Fisher. Fisher has been struggling this season with only three goals in 35 games going into last night, after scoring 23 last season. But the 28-year-old isn't one of the players the Senators are looking to move -- despite his struggles and contract, an average of $4.2 million US for the next five seasons. The Oilers wouldn't rule out bringing in Spezza, but his seven-year, $49-million contract is tough to take on. Plus, Edmonton would prefer to add a hard-nosed player such as Fisher, who has a no-movement clause in his contract until the end of the 2009-10 season.

The problem with these rumours is that there should be some real doubts about how much authenticity there is to them (unless Gregor or Brownlee chip in below with verification, of course). Warren doesn’t say where his sources are coming from, and while to my knowledge he isn’t a rumour-monger, he could just be borrowing from somebody like Garrioch.

The problem with trusting Garrioch is that his rumour authenticity threshold is lower than pretty much any other print journalist in Canada. He’s not quite in the Eklund range, but he’s the closest thing you’ll find in a newspaper. So please, consider these caveats before putting much faith in either of the two aforementioned possibilities.

With that in mind, let’s take a statistical look at how these players have performed over the past three seasons. First, the traditional numbers:

Jason Spezza

2006-07: 67GP – 34G – 53A – 87 PTS – 45 PIM - +19

2007-08: 76GP – 34G – 58A – 92 PTS – 66 PIM - +26

2008-09: 40GP – 17G – 16A – 33 PTS – 32 PIM - -7

Mike Fisher

2006-07: 68GP – 22G – 26A – 48 PTS – 41 PIM - +15

2007-08: 79GP – 23G – 24A – 47 PTS – 82 PIM - -10

2008-09: 36GP – 3G – 9A – 12 PTS – 23 PIM - -14

The first thing that I think, looking at those numbers, is that neither of these players is ever likely to do worse than they have this season, statistically. In other words, both guys are at as low a value as they’ll ever be; so if there’s a time to trade for either, now is the time.

Next, let’s look at where each player has ranked among forwards on his team in Quality of Competition:

2006-07: Fisher (4th), Spezza (7th)

2007-08: Spezza (3rd), Fisher (4th)

2008-09: Fisher (2nd), Spezza (6th)

Followed by Quality of Linemates:

2006-07: Spezza (1st), Fisher (11th)

2007-08: Spezza (2nd), Fisher (5th)

2008-09: Spezza (1st), Fisher (7th)

Now, these rankings don’t show everything; for example, in 2007-08 the drop-off from 2nd to 5th in linemate quality was huge. Over the past three seasons, Jason Spezza has consistently played with Heatley and Alfredsson, and the biggest concern with him (outside of his salary) is that he’s riding on coattails. Those are three terrific offensive players, and Spezza’s had the luxury of playing with them against second-tier opposition (save in 2007-08, where they were used in a more power-vs.-power role).

Fisher, in contrast, has been used in a checking role, most often with poorer teammates, and has posted declining numbers as the Senators organization has fallen from prominence. I’d strongly suspect that on a good team, his numbers would rebound tremendously.

Cap hit is an issue for both players. Spezza is signed for 7-million a season until 2014-15, while Fisher will earn 4.2-million a season until 2012-13.

As for what I think, I’ve personally always thought that if a team gets a chance to snag a player with Spezza’s incredible offensive instincts, they take it. I’ve backed away from that recently, for a number of reasons, but the foremost is because I think he’s the third-best player on his own line, and I don’t think he can handle minutes against top competition. Let’s look at some of Spezza’s underlying even-strength numbers this season, with and without Alfredsson and Heatley.

With Both: 18GF/14GA, 305SF/249SA

With One of the Two: 5GF/9GA, 207SF/256SA

With Neither: 3GF/6GA, 41SF/53SA

Of the three players on that line, Daniel Alfredsson is pretty clearly the difference maker; Heatley’s numbers are even worse without Alfredsson than Spezza’s. I really don’t think that Spezza is the solution going forward.

As for Mike Fisher, in my opinion he’s a very similar player to Shawn Horcoff. He’s defensively responsible and plays against top guns, while bringing a better physical game. At the same time, he doesn’t have nearly as good an offensive track record as Horcoff, although that’s off-set to some degree because he hasn’t played with Ales Hemsky either. There’s another concern with Fisher too –- his injury record, which is as follows:

Nov. 19, 2008 – Right knee injury, missed 2 games

Oct. 4, 2008 – Groin injury, missed 2 games

Apr. 4, 2008 – Left knee injury, missed 5 games

Dec. 15, 2007 – Abdominal strain, missed 2 games

Dec. 28, 2006 – Left knee injury, missed 14 games

Mar. 18, 2006 – Right ankle sprain, missed 9 games

Oct. 11, 2005 – Shoulder strain, missed 4 games

Dec. 30, 2003 – Right elbow injury, missed 25 games

Oct. 31, 2003 – Right elbow injury, missed 33 games

Apr. 9, 2003 – Dislocated left shoulder, missed final 5 games of the season

Jan. 3, 2003 – Knee injury, missed 2 games

May 10, 2002 – Back injury, missed 2 games

Mar. 9, 2002 – Shoulder injury, missed final 19 games of the season

Feb. 9, 2002 – Shoulder injury, missed 5 games

Nov. 4, 2000 – Left shoulder injury, missed 22 games

I think (if Garrioch is correct) Tambellini’s right to put a high value on Fisher. Depending on the cost to acquire him (Tom Gilbert, perhaps), he could definitely help this team right now and for some time to come. The question is whether his body can hold up over the long haul, and how he fits in at centre long-term. As it is currently, one of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano or Sam Gagner will either be moved or converted to the wing at some point; if the latter two develop as expected there won’t be enough ice-time or cap space to have all three down the middle. Mike Fisher would cloud the issue further.

Still, as far as short-term solutions go, Fisher is a very good one.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Joey Moss
January 11 2009, 01:35PM
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are you f-ing kidding me? MIKE FISHER??? how many players exactly like him do the oil have, or have had, in the last 8 years? i am so sick of our GM(s) coveting these middling grinder types.

i'm not saying spezza is the answer to the oilers woes, but it would sure be nice to have a legitimate scoring threat beyond hemsky (or at least have the GM interested in acquiring one).

we need less horcoff/pisani/peca/glencross/stoll/fisher and more spezza/hossa/hemsky.

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#2 baggedmilk
January 11 2009, 01:40PM
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JSBM are reporting a rumour of Dany Heatley for Steve Staios a 7th round pick and 6 rolls of stick tape.

Damn your smarts, Willis. You're making the rest of us look bad.

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#3 RobinB
January 11 2009, 02:03PM
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I talked to Bruce G this morning. He admits he didn't get the Fisher stuff directly from the Oilers or the Sens, but that the person who told him is in-the-know and reliable. Garrioch also stressed it's unlikely the Sens will trade Fisher.

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#4 Moose
January 11 2009, 02:09PM
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So, not the faceoff help we need, nor a top 3 forward and a $4m cap hit? No, thanks. This team needs to address specific needs, not throw darts at a board. That being said, I doubt there's much in this rumor.

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#5 Pokie Reddik
January 11 2009, 02:15PM
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Now if he is traded are the Oilers "a team still in transission" what sad about this comment is that Fred Stauffer has even MacT saying this is a team in transission. MacT do the hounerable thing and resign, take your post as asst. to K-Lowe and lets get into the playoffs. Quinn is going to go if Lowe doesn't act soon. yes Lowe is still in charge, otherwise I think Tambilini might have canned MacT after the first 20 games. Give up the Pepsi boys and quit living in the past, your best was not good enough 8 years into this. How many points would Hossa have if MacT was coaching? He would be like Sykora? Satan? Whitney? ETC? . MacT can't coach skill plain and simple, we are going to lose this season. Now with Hemsky and Stortini hurt MacT has an excuse, I guess the Gods must be smiling on him.

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#6 Chris
January 11 2009, 02:32PM
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Horcoff takes all the left side draws. He kills penalties. He is on PP unit #1. If Horcoff is moved for Spezza the Oilers will be a worse team in the short term, and better going into next season if the right moves are made over the summer. Hemskey with Spezza. Gagner with Cole. We would need to move Cogliano for a character center to win faceoffs and kill penalties and generally do what Horcoff should be doing. I doubt Cole will be interested in staying unless we can grab someone like Spezza before July 1. It would be nice to get Deslaurier some games...

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#7 baggedmilk
January 11 2009, 02:36PM
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@ Chris:

I can't see them moving Cogs unless it's part of an out of this world deal. I would prefer to see Nilsson leave if anything.

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#8 Chris
January 11 2009, 02:56PM
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@ baggedmilk: I like Cogs also. But if Horcoff is gone for Spezza, the third line center needs to fill these important roles.

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#9 BUCK75
January 11 2009, 02:58PM
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@ baggedmilk:

I agree - but cogs as part of a deal for Spezza. Cogs for Fisher would be foolish. To get something good you have to give up on a few good players.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
January 11 2009, 03:13PM
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My big problem with Spezza is that you need to move Horcoff to get him, and there isn't anybody in the wings to fill Horcoff's role.

Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano aren't close; and I'd argue either is more likely to fill a Spezza role in the next three years than a Horcoff role.

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#11 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
January 11 2009, 03:14PM
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Lets stop dreaming,this team needs more than a oil change, it needs a complete engine over haul, yet no one seems to give a crap, not katz,k-lowe,tambo,mac t or the players.The only people who care are the fans, I know what im going to do tonight, If we start losing I will boo and join in on the fire Mac t chants like last game,what other options do we as fans have?

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#12 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
January 11 2009, 03:16PM
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Pokie Reddik wrote:

Now if he is traded are the Oilers “a team still in transission” what sad about this comment is that Fred Stauffer has even MacT saying this is a team in transission. MacT do the hounerable thing and resign, take your post as asst. to K-Lowe and lets get into the playoffs. Quinn is going to go if Lowe doesn’t act soon. yes Lowe is still in charge, otherwise I think Tambilini might have canned MacT after the first 20 games. Give up the Pepsi boys and quit living in the past, your best was not good enough 8 years into this. How many points would Hossa have if MacT was coaching? He would be like Sykora? Satan? Whitney? ETC? . MacT can’t coach skill plain and simple, we are going to lose this season. Now with Hemsky and Stortini hurt MacT has an excuse, I guess the Gods must be smiling on him.
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#13 oilersseasonticketholdersince99
January 11 2009, 03:31PM
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oilersseasonticketholdersince99 wrote:

Pokie Reddik wrote: Now if he is traded are the Oilers “a team still in transission” what sad about this comment is that Fred Stauffer has even MacT saying this is a team in transission. MacT do the hounerable thing and resign, take your post as asst. to K-Lowe and lets get into the playoffs. Quinn is going to go if Lowe doesn’t act soon. yes Lowe is still in charge, otherwise I think Tambilini might have canned MacT after the first 20 games. Give up the Pepsi boys and quit living in the past, your best was not good enough 8 years into this. How many points would Hossa have if MacT was coaching? He would be like Sykora? Satan? Whitney? ETC? . MacT can’t coach skill plain and simple, we are going to lose this season. Now with Hemsky and Stortini hurt MacT has an excuse, I guess the Gods must be smiling on him.

lets face it Mac T could turn the Red wings into a bottom feeder,This Oiler loyaltiy is a joke,they keep telling the players what it means to be a oiler and about the good old days, well last time I checked they won the cup 18 years ago and lets face it the year after we went to the final it wasnt Mac t who got us there it was pronger and pisani and roli it was the players and then when the season is over how many of them left? It wasnt just pronger,what about Peca,Samsonov,sykora,they would all still look good in Oiler silks, yet we let them all go its time Mac t K lowe bucky and Huddy leave enough allready

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#14 Dennis
January 11 2009, 03:31PM
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These teams certainly link up in terms of their respective strengths and weaknesses so I'd imagine it's down to the Sens really not wanting to throw the Fisher baby out with the bathwater plus the Oilers deciding which of 37-77 they decide to move.

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#15 Milli
January 11 2009, 03:43PM
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I'd love to have Spezza. I don't know if he'd be the answer, but he could fill in for Stortini (a source close to MacT told me this E7). But, that is a bigtime cap hit for a guy who seems to lack intensity (like most of our team).

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#16 Wanye Gretz
January 11 2009, 04:12PM
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Fisher is dating Carrie Underwood.

Nuff said.

Pull the trigger

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#17 Jay
January 11 2009, 04:37PM
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Horcoff or Spezza? I'll sign it right now, where's a pen?

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#18 Jay
January 11 2009, 04:37PM
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Jay wrote:

Horcoff or Spezza? I’ll sign it right now, where’s a pen?

err... should say for not or

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#19 TIM S
January 11 2009, 04:45PM
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Chris wrote:

He is on PP unit #1.

Was this supposed to be a pro? Or con?

With Hemsky out of the line-up it has never been more obvious that we need to add another big time offensive guy. We look terrible right now, and worrying about some how replacing Horcoff would not be my concern.

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#20 Jonathan Willis
January 11 2009, 05:37PM
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You guys do realize that Shawn Horcoff and Jason Spezza are pretty much a wash right now in terms of offensive production- 33 points vs. 29- right now, right?

Spezza's nowhere near to being as good an allround player as Hemsky; and I'm very suspicious of his high-end offense given who was lining up on either wing.

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#21 Devin
January 11 2009, 05:51PM
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Wanye Gretz wrote:

Fisher is dating Carrie Underwood. Nuff said. Pull the trigger

Not one of Avery's X's is she? He's been around the mill like Dan Tencer

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#22 Devin
January 11 2009, 05:57PM
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....on bellamy hill.

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#23 Chris
January 11 2009, 07:07PM
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@ TIM S: I know. Spezza has more offensive dimension than Horcoff. But Horcoff eats up huge minutes for this club. Horcoff kills penalties. He takes critical draws. If the Oilers were to grab a Spezza type center to play with Hemmer and take over time on PP#1 duties in exchange for Horcoff, then someone new will be required to play shutdown minutes against the toughest competition. Replacing these minutes IS a big deal. Our PK, and poor faceoff performance, and inability to shutdown quality competition five on five is what is costing this team wins. Cogliano is not a fourth liner, and his game doesn't translate on either wing, so if we pick up Spezza be prepaired to ditch either Cogliano or Gagner in a seperate deal to grab a quality two-way center. The real question is; with the way Horcoff is playing this year, does anyone want that contract?

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#24 Tyler Fisher
January 11 2009, 08:32PM
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I love the idea of Spezza coming to town the real center we should be looking to come here in addition of Spezza is Vermette. The man wins draws!!!! Also Malhotra out of CBJ. Guy wins draws!!!! P.S our C is Souray. That guy wearing the letter needs to be shipped the hell out for whatever we can get him for. He's a grinder that makes a bunch of money. Not only is he bad on the PK, i think he actually is on the payroll for other teams PP's with his over zealous puck pursuit and it's killing us. Guy needs to go!!!

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#25 RobinB
January 11 2009, 09:20PM
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@ Devin: Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

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#26 Leonard
January 11 2009, 11:11PM
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RobinB. It has been 41 games and it is January. Is it time to make a desision yet? Are you still blaming McT. for not making trades and not calling up Shremp? Don't get me wrong McT. has to go but who is making this dessisions? K. Lowe! He is the one that has to go in the first plase!!! But you still love him!

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#27 Devin
January 12 2009, 12:37AM
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@ RobinB: Not saying there is......

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#28 TIM S
January 12 2009, 12:50AM
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@ Chris:

I just think that when you have a chance to grab an offensive guy you do it. Right now Horcoff is showing his true colors, with out Hemsky he is not an offensive threat. Ideally I would love to see a scoring winger but there are not alot of those around either. If I have a chance to grab of the big name players that have been rumored to be available this year; Lecalvier, Kovalchuk, Heatley Spezza then i make that trade.

Hemsky would be a better player if he had someone to play with, that is a fact. Horcoff had done a better job since he developed his shot but he is not the guy, not if the other guy is Penner or any other left wing currently on the roster.

As far as faceoffs, pk and shut down minutes I worry about that in the offseason. That is a type of player that we could have a shot at thru free agency.

My fear is that there is a deal out there for the Oilers to make for a big time player that they are unwilling to make because they think they have a shot at Hossa, or Gaborik this summer.

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#29 RobinB
January 12 2009, 09:04AM
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@ Leonard: I love him? Is that right? Is that so?

An item from my column in today's Metro . . .

BILL OF GOODS? The focus on the Oilers shortcomings has been on the players and the way MacTavish has used them, but let's not forget the bigger picture. While Kevin Lowe has stepped back from day-to-day dealings since being named president of hockey operations, leaving Steve Tambellini to take over as GM, this is the team he built. Every player on the roster, with the exception of Ethan Moreau, arrived after Lowe took over as GM June 9, 2000. The collection of players here has been drafted on Lowe's watch, traded for or acquired by Lowe and signed to contracts with him calling the shots. With optimism abounding in pre-season, we were led to believe Tambellini was being handed the keys to a shiny new sports car and that fans were in for quite a ride. Instead, it looks like Tambellini's got a clunker in need of a full-scale rebuild. That falls on Lowe.

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#30 Chris
January 12 2009, 09:36AM
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RobinB wrote:

With optimism abounding in pre-season, we were led to believe Tambellini was being handed the keys to a shiny new sports car and that fans were in for quite a ride. Instead, it looks like Tambellini’s got a clunker in need of a full-scale rebuild. That falls on Lowe.

After years and years of excuses it's time to look at what we have: A crappy, boring, NHL franchise that is going to miss the playoff AGAIN. And a crappy boring AHL affiliate that is going to miss the playoffs... Nice legacy LOWE!

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#31 Chris
January 12 2009, 09:46AM
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Sorry. Poor comment on my part. I Love the franchise... Just unhappy with the way the current edition is competing.

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#32 Corbs
January 12 2009, 07:22PM
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I almost wish those 'horcoff+ for Brad Richards' rumours were still swirling around the bowl... at least he was the 2-way, defensively responsible option...

Its kinda funny because people would argue about Brad Richards contract being too much or discrediting his offensive capacity.. yet now its all about complaining about spezza's contract being too much or discrediting his defensive capacity... So there is all this AND NOW as horcoff will be making 5.5, instead of the 3.6, the 'ditch the 3rd liner' retoric intensifies the appeal of a trade.. (hehe, now horcoff makes too much)

What does it all equate... who would want a horcoff that makes too much?! Horcoff and his contract, and his 'abilities', are here to stay... Yeaa...

PS. if trading for spez, also get vermette.. cheers...

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