Armchair GM VI: No news is bad news

Robin Brownlee
November 17 2009 03:18PM

With the Edmonton Oilers back home for five straight games at Rexall Place and slowly returning to health, an optimist might suggest there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Pat Quinn's outfit, it's probably a train.

Back from Columbus after dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Blue Jackets Monday, the Oilers could use some home cooking as they try to put the brakes on a four-game losing streak after getting four of a possible 10 points from a five-game road swing.

The problem for the Oil, now sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference at 8-10-3, is that this homestand, and three road games that come after it, will be against teams higher than them in the standings.

The Oilers open the stand Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, who have to be sour about getting clipped by Edmonton 5-3 Oct. 8 in Denver to open the last swing. Then, it's Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose.

After that, it's six straight on the road, with the first three in Vancouver, Detroit and Dallas before stops in Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

Anybody see the Oilers getting more than, what, eight points from those next eight games?

Do it now

I'm baffled why GM Steve Tambellini has yet to make a personnel move to address two glaring and connected needs that date back to last season -- a defensive centre who can win face-offs and kill penalties.

While I get it that Tambellini hasn't had a full roster to assess because of injuries and illness, the players he's been without to this point aren't going to address the issues even when they return, so I don't understand what he's waiting for. More time to assess, perhaps.

Unless I'm mistaken, and I'm not, the Oilers weren't good enough on the dot last season, when they finished ranked 25th at 47.9 per cent. Anybody with two eyes and half-a-brain could see it, no?

Chasing me-first guy Dany Heatley this off-season made for great intrigue and inking Mike Comrie in what seemed an unlikely return made for a good kiss-and-make-up story, but neither pursuit addressed the need.

Same old same old

Twenty-one games into this season, the Oilers are ranked 29th in the NHL in face-offs at 46.1 per cent. Apparently, Tambellini thinks he's good enough down the middle with Shawn Horcoff (50.0 per cent), Sam Gagner (46.4), Andrew Cogliano (40.3) and Gilbert Brule (52.0).

Or maybe Dustin Penner (42.6), who has been taking a lot of draws to minimize wear and tear on Horcoff's shoulder, is the answer. I think not.

If Manny Malhotra or Blair Betts weren't perceived as the answer over the summer -- Malhotra was asking for way too much money and the Oilers were only lukewarm on Betts -- fine. But what about now?

Finding another centre more proficient at winning face-offs isn't going to solve all that ails the Oilers, the penalty killing being high on that list, but failure to address the need is going to be a costly blind spot for Tambellini.

By the numbers

With special teams, the good news is the power play has looked better despite playing most of the season without Sheldon Souray. The bad news, as I mentioned earlier, is that the penalty killing again stinks worse than a minivan full of carnival workers in mid-July.

-- With two goals on the power play in Columbus, the Oilers are 19-for-86 for 22.1 per cent, leaving them 11th going into play Tuesday. In 2008-09, the Oilers finished 22nd on the power play at 17 per cent.

-- The penalty killing, which most thought would be considerably better this season, is operating at almost the same dismal clip as it did a year ago, when a 77.5 per cent success rate left the Oilers ranked 27th. They're at 77.6 per cent right now, leaving them 24th.

-- Even with four straight losses, the Oilers aren't far off last season's pace after 21 games. In 2008-09 they were 9-10-2 for 20 points. They're sitting at 19 points as the Avalanche come calling.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. 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 The Towel Boy
November 17 2009, 03:30PM
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Aye carumba.

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#2 Souby
November 17 2009, 03:37PM
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Tambo is faced with some hard decisions. Does he stand pat and give the team a chance to gel again now that he some bodies back? Or, does he take a chance and make a deal or two to help address the weaknesses? Can he make a fair assessment of all of the team's needs due to all of the injuries and illnesses they have had to deal with? It is fun to play armchair GM but I do not envy Tambo in this situation.

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#4 swany
November 17 2009, 03:44PM
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RB couldn't agree more, this lets take our time and see how things are is nonsense, is it going to be like last year where we were told it's comming it's comming and nothing happens. It's time to unload some guys or waive a couple players to make room for another body. Nilsson is just taking up a spot plus it would save 2 mil off the cap. RB with Quinn liking the play of Chorney could we see one of Gilbert or Grebs traded away also. Chorney looks like he's ready to play here and he might not have Grebs passing he also doesn't have the giavawayitus either. What could you get if you packaged up Gilbert and Cogs with a pick, the reason I ask is we have Horc, Gags, Brule down the middle and as you say we need that shutdown centre so Cogs could go as for the D-man like I said above I think Chorney could step in your thoughts.

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#5 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
November 17 2009, 03:44PM
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Matt Cullen was the guy I was throwing out there. If Pisani is gone for the year then Cullen would fit no problem.

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#6 swany
November 17 2009, 03:49PM
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RB side note what's this with PJ Stock in Montreal saying talks between Edmonton and the Habs they want Cogs and PJ is saying we are after Chipchura, and the brother who played with Gags I call bull

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#7 Souby
November 17 2009, 03:54PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

What is to assess? Is there anybody coming back from injury or in the system now that can address the need for a centre who can win face-offs? Who is out now that's going to make a difference to the PK when they return?

I hear you. I am just saying that the team started off well, but soon after got bit by the injury/flu bug. I know that the need for a face-off man and PK were still there, but when I say assess, I meant that Tambo has other important areas that need to be addressed. How about a bigger forward or two to beef up the team? What about another goal scorer? Sure the Oil need to be better on the dot and on the PK, but wouldn't it be nice be more physical and spread the scoring out? Just my two cents...

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#8 SirFozz
November 17 2009, 03:57PM
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Kind of hard for them to play many teams that are lower in the standings. God, haven't we seen this movie before. Year after year it's the same thing. Makes you want to drink, unless you're already drinking, then it makes you want to drink more.

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#9 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
November 17 2009, 03:58PM
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Souby wrote:

I hear you. I am just saying that the team started off well, but soon after got bit by the injury/flu bug. I know that the need for a face-off man and PK were still there, but when I say assess, I meant that Tambo has other important areas that need to be addressed. How about a bigger forward or two to beef up the team? What about another goal scorer? Sure the Oil need to be better on the dot and on the PK, but wouldn't it be nice be more physical and spread the scoring out? Just my two cents...

I think we should fix the areas that are easy to fix first. We always go for that homerun (Hossa, Heatley) and then we don't fix the easier positions. How the hell are we always look for a pk/faceoff man when numerous guys like that are being signed across the league come the off-season.

Not saying that signing a Malhotra or Moore makes us a contender, but it gives us one less area to focus on during the year.

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#10 Wanye
November 17 2009, 04:02PM
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Carnival workers in July. Oh Brownlee, you've done it again!

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#11 Souby
November 17 2009, 04:11PM
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@Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

I agree, we should be able to sign someone that is good on the dot and would help the Pk as well. I still believe that we can use more scoring, but I do not want them to go for a guy like Hossa or Heatley. I was thinking more along the lines of a second line scorer that would be more affordable. Actually, the guy I would love to see in an Oiler's uniform is Dustin Brown. He scores, is physical and is a leader, although I doubt LA would part with him.

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#12 freeze
November 17 2009, 04:12PM
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that opening was great!! ok, now back up to read the rest. I hope the awesome continues...

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#13 freeze
November 17 2009, 04:24PM
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...ugly news. sh!tanusly bad. I don't expect any help to come until some of our prospects make a difference.

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#14 I'm a Scientist!
November 17 2009, 04:36PM
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Sure is easy to state that the oilers should get some new team members, but who? how? We are precariously close the cap and nobody wants a 12th place team cast offs. Are we willing to trade Cogs for a faceoff specialist? will ANYONE take Nillson? or Pouliot?

I think there is a lot of doom and gloom in this article and i don't think it is as bad as it seems.

Colorado is slumping, we have beat them once, we can beat them again. PHO is starting to fall back, LA is not the powerhorse it started out being (i predict an OT loss for us there)...we are also going to be getting some key players back in the next couple of weeks. JFJ on saturday, Stone in a week or two... Let's not get too down here...

*sips of the koolaid*

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#16 I'm a Scientist!
November 17 2009, 04:39PM
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@Robin Brownlee

No, i agree that we NEED to, but i just don't know how.

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#17 BUCK75
November 17 2009, 04:40PM
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Makes you wonder why they wouldn't take a chance on a guy like Vernon Fiddler this past summer. YEG boy, pretty good stats for a 3rd or 4th line player & 56% this year on the dot.

Maybe we can pry Stoll back out of LA? It would have to be tough to get any of the really elite face off guys, without giving up on some talent, but I'M READY!

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#18 Dan the Man
November 17 2009, 04:42PM
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I think it's inexcusable that the glaring need for a faceoff/PK guy hasn't been addressed.

There is always a reason (aka excuse)not to make a trade but a GM's job is to improve his team and the only trade he's made since last year is letting Brodziak go for a draft pick, which you could argue is the type of player this team is lacking.

No more excuses Tambo pull the trigger and make this team better because you know what they say about excuses.

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#19 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 17 2009, 04:46PM
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nhl is fcuked up. the way it stractured and organized definitely dont offer much for trades and roster overhauls. you can almost guess; where a A-list superstar during free agency will sign, what team will sign who during play-off push, and what the trading partners are during trades. take edmonton for example we never trade with a weestern team and out of the east its teams like islanders, flyers, huricannes and rangers.

going along with my no respect in the league thoery, there is also too much pride as well. pride amongst the ex-players/coaches general managers. most of the people in the higher positions on the teams are products of the organization. with almost every team in the western confrence as our fiercest rivals, no one wants us to improve and we dont want to see no one inprove either.

if we want a big change on the roster, we need look no further then the huricannes, and if they dont want to dance we might be able to make soemthing happen with panthers or canadiens.

speaking of canadiens. whats up with the fans there ? they sing that stupid na-na-na-na "french" chant, and then they chant Go Habs Go in english ?

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#21 Librarian Mike
November 17 2009, 04:48PM
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In other news, the NHL just got a little bit less awesome today. Shanahan retired. Now THAT was a hockey player.

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#22 The Real Scuba Steve
November 17 2009, 04:48PM
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He probably won't pull a trade till the trade deadline but by that time it might be to late.

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#23 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 17 2009, 04:50PM
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The Real Scuba Steve wrote:

He probably won't pull a trade till the trade deadline but by that time it might be to late.

there is rarely any trades before that anyway.

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#24 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 17 2009, 04:52PM
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what will make teams trade lots during and off season is if the nhl allowed only 6 teams into the playoffs from each conference.

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#25 AlbertaRanger
November 17 2009, 04:56PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Well said about a need to get a defensive-minded centre who can win faceoffs. Rather than being so focused on getting Heatley way back in July 1 (probably the biggest mistake ever made by Tambo), I really wished the Oilers would have signed a guy like John Madden.

He is something that would have addressed their dilemmas on the dot and at $2.5 million, a contract he inked with Chicago, he would have made huge gains for the Oil.

Compare that to Comrie's contact and Tambo would have definitely needed to shed some payroll. It would have been a solid move, however. And guess what? Madden is 20th in faceoffs won so far this season and he's eighth in faceoffs won while shorthanded.

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#26 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 17 2009, 05:01PM
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AlbertaRanger wrote:

Well said about a need to get a defensive-minded centre who can win faceoffs. Rather than being so focused on getting Heatley way back in July 1 (probably the biggest mistake ever made by Tambo), I really wished the Oilers would have signed a guy like John Madden.

He is something that would have addressed their dilemmas on the dot and at $2.5 million, a contract he inked with Chicago, he would have made huge gains for the Oil.

Compare that to Comrie's contact and Tambo would have definitely needed to shed some payroll. It would have been a solid move, however. And guess what? Madden is 20th in faceoffs won so far this season and he's eighth in faceoffs won while shorthanded.

i think the trade that didnt go through, was a good thing. well atleast i like to think so. i like to think it lit a little flame under the bumm of DP and also gave Smido's head a shake. all for the better, lets move on.

why would you assume that tambo didnt try to get madden and that madden wanted to come here. maybe he wanted to go play for the hawks, even with there being an offer from the oilers.

way to stick it to tambo with the stats.

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#27 Clarkenstein
November 17 2009, 05:09PM
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Between Oct. 24 and Dec. 11 the Oilers were looking at 8 home games and 15 road games. After 12 games they are 2-8-2. They have 11 left as you pointed out Robin. I will predict here and now that on the morning of Dec. 12 they will be D.F.L. in the West.

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#28 AlbertaRanger
November 17 2009, 05:09PM
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HansBaurMesserschmittWatson wrote:

i think the trade that didnt go through, was a good thing. well atleast i like to think so. i like to think it lit a little flame under the bumm of DP and also gave Smido's head a shake. all for the better, lets move on.

why would you assume that tambo didnt try to get madden and that madden wanted to come here. maybe he wanted to go play for the hawks, even with there being an offer from the oilers.

way to stick it to tambo with the stats.

You're absolutely right about the trade that never happened was the right thing for the Oilers.

Spending part of June and all of July to lure a malcontent was the wrong thing to do by Tambo. He should have moved on after the first "no" and signed someone else like Madden.

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#29 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 17 2009, 05:11PM
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@AlbertaRanger

i think a lot of the drag-ooon had to do with the weaselness of heatley and his agent. i believe he knew all along that he was going to the sharks and they(weasels) were just trying to save some face.

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#30 Eddie Shore
November 17 2009, 05:59PM
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@Robin Brownlee

One has to think that Tambo isn't oblivious to these glaring holes right? So, if that is indeed the case, why isn't he trying or what isn't he doing that can remedy the situation...

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#31 Petr's Jofa
November 17 2009, 06:11PM
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I have faith. I know that Tambellini will address the team's need for a 3rd line center.

Unfortunately it will be at this years draft when he uses the 10th pick on a larger gritty player rather than a small 'talented' player. Said draft pick will be ready for the 2012-13 season.

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#32 Ender
November 17 2009, 06:21PM
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Alberta Ranger wrote:

Spending part of June and all of July to lure a malcontent was the wrong thing to do by Tambo. He should have moved on after the first "no" and signed someone else like Madden.

Hindsight is soooo 20/20. While most people would probably agree that we're glad that things worked out the way the did regarding Heater, Pens, Cogs, and Smid, I don't think that we can use hindsight to condemn Tambo and Lowe's intentions. If Heater was lighting it up here in E-town and if PDP was still doggin' it in Ottawa and eating up their cap hit for no return and if Cogs was invisible and buried on the fourth line (oh wait; that part actually happened) then I think most Oilers fans would be cheering Tambo and Lowe's persistence and tenacity as a stroke of sheer genius. Tambo (well, actually Lowe probably) did what they thought was best for the club at the time. Things worked out differently, and that's fine. I don't have a problem with what they did then. On the other hand, like Robin I do have a problem with what they're not doing now.

I was going to make a comment about Cogliano being the smallest guy on the team the other day. Before I posted, I double-checked to be sure I wouldn't get ripped for being wrong. Good thing; I was shocked at how many tiny guys are on this team. I mean, I knew we were small but . . . well, I didn't realize the scope of the problem. Add in the FO% which everyone has been watching with grim horror for the past few weeks, and I think the writing should be on the wall for everyone including Tambo: Comrie was a good deal, but he was a good deal the way my wife says her new sandwich griller was a good deal for $20. We made one sandwich with it and it's been in the cupboard for the last year. That was not $20 well-spent since we didn't need a sandwich maker. Similarly, signing a small forward who can't win faceoffs is only a good deal if you need a small forward who can't win face-offs.

Damnit, Tambo, are you listening to us here?! Get your ass out there and find us the player we should have signed in the first place. Yes, I love all our skilled forwards too; they're all great guys but this isn't the smurf village. It's time.

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#33 Ender
November 17 2009, 06:26PM
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And PS: Robin, I loved your piece last week with the Nilsson-Quinn interview. Who'd have guessed that a crusty guy like you actually had a sense of humour buried in there? You should do more of that. ON needs your inside knowledge and analysis, but we like a good chuckle now and again too. If you've got both, man, quit holding out on us!

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#34 Eddie Shore
November 17 2009, 06:42PM
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@Ender

Here-here!

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#35 Wanyes bastard child
November 17 2009, 06:56PM
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Isn't Peca still out there?

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#36 Hemmertime
November 17 2009, 07:19PM
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@Robin Brownlee

@Brownlee Qoute:The problem for the Oil, now sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference at 8-10-3, is that this homestand, and three road games that come after it, will be against teams higher than them in the standings.

76% of the league is above us in the standings right now. Kinda hard for that not to be the problem.

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#37 Hemmertime
November 17 2009, 07:27PM
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@Hemmertime

html fail, Hate new quote system heh

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#38 Travis Dakin
November 17 2009, 07:32PM
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@Ender

Ok that Sandwhich maker bit was gold.

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#39 Travis Dakin
November 17 2009, 07:33PM
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@ Hemmertime

Jeanshorts told me we had an edit button now....

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#40 Dan the Man
November 17 2009, 07:34PM
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If we are planning on using Cogs as a 4th line centre we should trade him. He is not at all suited for that role and we have Eberle coming next year. Cogliano has value and I think he's expendable.

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#41 common sense
November 17 2009, 07:36PM
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Tambo is revealing to us why he never made it as the Nucks GM. Seems like this guy is scared to make a move or is handcuffed by the cap.

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#42 rubbertrout
November 17 2009, 08:02PM
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Souby wrote:

I hear you. I am just saying that the team started off well, but soon after got bit by the injury/flu bug. I know that the need for a face-off man and PK were still there, but when I say assess, I meant that Tambo has other important areas that need to be addressed. How about a bigger forward or two to beef up the team? What about another goal scorer? Sure the Oil need to be better on the dot and on the PK, but wouldn't it be nice be more physical and spread the scoring out? Just my two cents...

The team started out well because they had an unsustainable shooting percentage. They were lucky, pure and simple.

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#43 TonyT
November 17 2009, 08:14PM
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@Robin Brownlee

As the trade deadline draws nearer, doesn't the possibilty of landing a compentent shutdown centre diminish? Can we then call out Tambo?

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#45 Harlie
November 17 2009, 08:31PM
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I agree. We've got management and coaching coming out of our ass and yet these guys sit on their hands and can't or won't make a trade? Sup?

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#46 Harlie
November 17 2009, 08:49PM
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Mike Fisher's numbers look good and he has a similar cap hit to one of our young D's

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#48 AlbertaRanger
November 17 2009, 09:28PM
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Ender wrote:

Alberta Ranger wrote:

Spending part of June and all of July to lure a malcontent was the wrong thing to do by Tambo. He should have moved on after the first "no" and signed someone else like Madden.

Hindsight is soooo 20/20. While most people would probably agree that we're glad that things worked out the way the did regarding Heater, Pens, Cogs, and Smid, I don't think that we can use hindsight to condemn Tambo and Lowe's intentions. If Heater was lighting it up here in E-town and if PDP was still doggin' it in Ottawa and eating up their cap hit for no return and if Cogs was invisible and buried on the fourth line (oh wait; that part actually happened) then I think most Oilers fans would be cheering Tambo and Lowe's persistence and tenacity as a stroke of sheer genius. Tambo (well, actually Lowe probably) did what they thought was best for the club at the time. Things worked out differently, and that's fine. I don't have a problem with what they did then. On the other hand, like Robin I do have a problem with what they're not doing now.

I was going to make a comment about Cogliano being the smallest guy on the team the other day. Before I posted, I double-checked to be sure I wouldn't get ripped for being wrong. Good thing; I was shocked at how many tiny guys are on this team. I mean, I knew we were small but . . . well, I didn't realize the scope of the problem. Add in the FO% which everyone has been watching with grim horror for the past few weeks, and I think the writing should be on the wall for everyone including Tambo: Comrie was a good deal, but he was a good deal the way my wife says her new sandwich griller was a good deal for $20. We made one sandwich with it and it's been in the cupboard for the last year. That was not $20 well-spent since we didn't need a sandwich maker. Similarly, signing a small forward who can't win faceoffs is only a good deal if you need a small forward who can't win face-offs.

Damnit, Tambo, are you listening to us here?! Get your ass out there and find us the player we should have signed in the first place. Yes, I love all our skilled forwards too; they're all great guys but this isn't the smurf village. It's time.

FOR THOSE SUGGESTING OR THINKING TAMBO CAN MAKE A DEAL NOW: Fuggetaboutit!

The Oilers are way too close to the cap. Tambo would have to unload (like, maybe Penner and Cogliano) to pick up that ideal defensive-minded centre. That's why I thought it was a mistake to sign Comrie only because when this team fights for a playoff spot come trade deadline day, they won't be able to swing a trade because of their cap situation.

Thank you, Kevin Lowe!

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#49 AlbertaRanger
November 17 2009, 09:37PM
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P.S.: By the way, Ender the Dragon, your points were on the money. I just don't think the Oilers can swing a deal right now.

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#50 Chris.
November 17 2009, 09:48PM
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Didn't Katz promise us some fun?

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