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.

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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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#151 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
November 18 2009, 12:40PM
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@cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

Isn't there a clause there that says a team must be cap complient before taking someone of the LTIR? Could we not just put Nilsson on there and never become cap complient again this year?

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#152 steeves
November 18 2009, 12:40PM
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@roughneck

Didn't get anything, oh well, I don't think I will miss out on much. Enjoy!

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#153 TDSM31
November 18 2009, 05:15PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Wrong. While I've gone on the record repeatedly as having no great use for him because I don't like soft players, Gilbert's track record until this season has been fine and he had 45 points last season. That carries more weight than a bad 21 games.

Had you offered him around last summer you'd get more than that third line centre. There's a GM who'd think he was getting him at a discount right now -- and that third-liner is not too high a price to pay.

Offensive upside? You mean offensive production here and now. Gilbert has already shown "upside" (even if I think it was a one-shot deal). How many D-men in the NHL had 45 points last season?

We're not talking about last summer. We're talking about what Gilbert currently brings to the table which is a big, soft giveaway machine. Horcoff has also put up points in the past (73pts in 79gms and 50pts in 53gms) but GM's wouldn't touch him and his contract with a 10 foot pole now. If you had the opportunity to take on a $4MM cap hit for the next four years for a Tom Gilbert would you do it?? I think not. Don't get too hung up on his one 45 point season and take a look at his actual play. He's painful to watch most nights. I have a hard time believing any GM would view his contract as being at a discount right now.

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#154 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
November 18 2009, 05:45PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Isn't there a clause there that says a team must be cap complient before taking someone of the LTIR? Could we not just put Nilsson on there and never become cap complient again this year?

yes, a team must remain cap compliant when a player returns from LTIR.

in "theory" the LTIR must be approved by the league. A team, again in theory, cant just hide a player there.

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#155 Robin Brownlee
November 18 2009, 06:49PM
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TDSM31 wrote:

We're not talking about last summer. We're talking about what Gilbert currently brings to the table which is a big, soft giveaway machine. Horcoff has also put up points in the past (73pts in 79gms and 50pts in 53gms) but GM's wouldn't touch him and his contract with a 10 foot pole now. If you had the opportunity to take on a $4MM cap hit for the next four years for a Tom Gilbert would you do it?? I think not. Don't get too hung up on his one 45 point season and take a look at his actual play. He's painful to watch most nights. I have a hard time believing any GM would view his contract as being at a discount right now.

I'm not hung up on Gilbert's 45-point season. If you'd been following along, which you clearly haven't, I'm the last person impressed by numbers alone.

Take a look at his actual play? You think I'm sitting in my pajamas at home writing this stuff? You can have a hard time believing anything you want, but I'm actually talking to GMs and chief scouts about players, including Gilbert, not guessing about them from afar, so I'll go with what I know, if that's OK with you.

Gilbert hasn't helped himself with his lousy start to the season, but his value hasn't dropped as much are you are certain it has.

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#156 TDSM31
November 18 2009, 07:31PM
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No, I've been following along just fine. You use Gilberts 45 point season to back up your argument on his perceived value twice in one post. So I'd say your hung up on it...but not quite as hung up as you are on yourself if you believe that GM's and scouts are telling a reporter such as yourself any meaningful intel about a player.

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#158 TDSM31
November 18 2009, 08:24PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Hung up on myself? Writing about hockey is what I've done since 1983. It's my job. Part of that is talking to GMs, scouts and coaches, be it in interview situations or casual conversations. You strike up relationships over that length of time, and if you keep your ears and eyes open you get an insight into how teams value certain players and why. Believe that or not, I don't care.

Maybe suggesting these people, most of whom I'm on a first-name basis with, never tell me anything meaningful makes you feel better, but it's a laughable argument.

I'm not just guessing from afar about my assessment of reporters. My brother has been a scout for a certain NHL team for almost 10 years and I can tell you that he divulges very little of what would be considered useful information and will only give the media enough info to keep them at bay. So I'll go with what I know, if that's OK with you.

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#160 Ogden Brother
November 19 2009, 08:20AM
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TDSM31 wrote:

We're not talking about last summer. We're talking about what Gilbert currently brings to the table which is a big, soft giveaway machine. Horcoff has also put up points in the past (73pts in 79gms and 50pts in 53gms) but GM's wouldn't touch him and his contract with a 10 foot pole now. If you had the opportunity to take on a $4MM cap hit for the next four years for a Tom Gilbert would you do it?? I think not. Don't get too hung up on his one 45 point season and take a look at his actual play. He's painful to watch most nights. I have a hard time believing any GM would view his contract as being at a discount right now.

If Gilberts trade value is now that of a low scoring, soft, give away prone Dman. Then Penners is now that of a top 10 scoring power forward with wheels and leadership.

Niether is true.

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