What go-to guys?

Robin Brownlee
March 06 2009 12:00PM

newhope2

When the Edmonton Oilers miss the playoffs, they'll look back on losses like Thursday's indifferent 4-2 shoulder shrug against the feeble Ottawa Senators and untimely no-shows by their best players as the reason why.

It's fine and good that GM Steve Tambellini did what he could to address the Oilers lack of secondary scoring with the acquisitions of Patrick O'Sullivan and Ales Kotalik Wednesday.

But, really, doesn't that amount to an exercise in futility when the primary scoring has gone south faster than a charter bus loaded with grey-haired grannies packing cupfuls of quarters destined for Reno?

Having welcomed O'Sullivan and Kotalik with Thursday's gritty, determined throw-down against the Senators in a game they absolutely had to win, the Oilers didn't get much out of the new guys. Understandable.

But what's the excuse for Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray? Craig MacTavish's go-to guys haven't done much of late in the name of a playoff push, just when the team needs them most.

The go-to-guys have gone away.

No-shows

O'Sullivan and Kotalik can fill the net -- they won't -- but it won't be enough unless Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner and Souray start producing again.

Horcoff has one assist in his last five games. Hemsky has two goals in his last eight games. Penner doesn't have a point in eight games. Souray has been held off the sheet in four straight games.

Fernando Pisani has one assist in the four games he's played since returning from a broken ankle. Robert Nilsson had no sniff in seven straight games before MacTavish yanked him from the line-up three games ago.

The only veteran who has consistently pulled his weight of late is Dwayne Roloson, and he looked like he's wearing down against the Senators after making 20 straight starts.

With the deadline come and gone and 18 games to play, there's no help on the way as the Oilers cling to eighth place, for now, going into games against Toronto and Montreal to wrap-up a four-game road trip.

Early tee times beckon.

It takes time

Expecting a player acquired at the deadline to contribute offensively right away is a risky proposition, even when a team's supposed go-to guys haven't had their hands turn into frozen blocks of wood.

As often as a player comes in an makes an immediate impact the way Olli Jokinen did with Calgary, it takes players a handful of games to settle in. That's why O'Sullivan and Kotalik, who hadn't exactly been tearing up the pea patch when acquired, are in a tough spot.

Some players have arrived at the deadline and contributed right away. Sergei Samsonov comes to mind during the 2006 Stanley Cup run. Sammy scored 5-11-16 in 19 games down the stretch.

Petr Nedved also lit it up on his first tour after being acquired in 2004 from the New York Rangers. Nedved tallied 5-10-15 in 16 games, although he wasn't enough to get the Oilers into the post-season.

For others, the transition hasn't been as seamless. In 2003, Radek Dvorak managed 4-4-8 in 12 games, but Brad Isbister didn't pack as much punch with 3-2-5 in 13 games. In 2002, Mike York arrived from Manhattan and struggled to 2-2-4 in 12 games.

While it's not like Erik Cole was burning out bulbs in goal lights when he got his return ticket home, the glare of the spotlight on O'Sullivan and Kotalik will be intensified as long as Hemsky and Co. are impersonating Todd Marchant in a non-contract year.

Just asking...

  • If a player's name is "O'Sullivan," is there something wrong with referring to him as, well, "O'Sullivan?" What is this debate between "Patty-O" and "Sully?" Both are so witty, so brilliant, does it matter which one you use?
  • With almost two full seasons in the books since Penner hit the Oiler version of the Pay Day Lottery, is there anybody out there who still thinks he's going to earn his salary during the life of the contract? Anybody?
  • What's this I hear about Ladislav Smid and his agent asking for a trade on two separate occasions?

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm 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 phattj
March 06 2009, 09:03AM
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In full Agreance with u Robin, Why is there no want or urgencey? My question would be wat is the Oilers system play? Turnover hockey? pond hockey or are they just not listening anymore a reused question that still has no answer.. As for laddy smid I can see why he gets no chance and when he did he thrived so y is MacT limiting him and playing an over age staios in the top 4 when at best he is a 5-6 guy hope we dont lose him..

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#2 Bruthah
March 06 2009, 09:06AM
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phattj wrote:

hope we dont lose him..

Agreed, I think Laddy didn't get the chance in the last couple years. Overshadowed by Gilbert and Grebs. Laddy smashing people in front of the net is fun to watch.

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#3 EMAC
March 06 2009, 09:08AM
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The Oilers never fail to disappoint. They will probably win 2 of these next 6 "easy" games.

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#4 Drago
March 06 2009, 09:10AM
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Move over Curse of The Bambino...the Curse of The Human Rake is here to stay.

Lupul, Pitkanen, Cole have come and gone now Smid just as he is developing into a very solid defenceman has asked to be traded. If Kotalik turns out to be a rental as has been intimated then he will be added to the list. The hope now remains in O'Sullivan and Eberle, I am afraid to get my hopes up.

Also, way to go Oilers. Tambellini gives the fans plenty of reason to get excited and optimistic about the upcoming stretch drive and they subsequently go out and lay a giant rotten egg to a lottery team.

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#5 Mike Krushelnyski
March 06 2009, 09:10AM
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So, hypothetically of course, if a certain hockey team was having an extremely lackluster season, had a lame duck coach who was clearly on his way out, but had a young squad that maybe had some hope for the next year, might said hypothetical team consider bringing in a coach that maybe they were considering for next year for the last 20 games of this season so they might have a better idea of what the team might look like on the ice next year and what they needed to do in the off-season? Just saying...

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#6 Matt N
March 06 2009, 09:12AM
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What’s this I hear about Ladislav Smid and his agent asking for a trade on two separate occasions?

Not sure what you are saying here. Is this information you are putting out? Ladi wants out? I sure hope not. I really like the way he has come along. He is starting to add offence to his physical play.

Does anyone really beleive that this team has a shot at beating the top 4 in the west (let alone 2 of them)? I would prefer tanking the rest of the season to get a good draft pick, like they did to get Gagner.

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#7 Archaeologuy
March 06 2009, 09:21AM
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Hey Brownlee, has Daum brought the Falcons go-to guys back to life? I dream of a team with a forecheck and puck support. Pipe-dream i guess.

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#8 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 09:22AM
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Mr Brownlee

Does Smid really want out?? Please tell us more.

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#9 Robin Brownlee
March 06 2009, 09:28AM
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Matt N wrote:

Ladi wants out?

I'd imagine that was the sentiment at the time the requests were made. I've touched on this before in recent items. My understanding is that this is a case of Smid wanting an opportunity to develop and not be cast as a 5-6 D-man in the long term. With Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov and Staios ahead on the depth chart, Smid is not going to be more than a third-pairing guy unless the personnel changes (which it could). Plus, the Oilers have Peckham and Chorney etc on the way. This isn't about not liking Edmonton or blah, blah, blah ala Pronger and Comrie. This is about fit and wanting to know if there's a chance here to be elevated as a top-4 guy.

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#10 Rick
March 06 2009, 09:30AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

You guys have been kicking this around for a while but this is the first time you mentioned the number of times he has asked.

Do you know when these times were? Was one of them as recent as this trade deadline?

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#11 Chaz
March 06 2009, 09:30AM
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Robin. Is it normal practice for an NHL coach to throw newly aquired players into four on four situations? Mac T did this last night in the first period with both O'Sullivan and Kotalik. This was troubling for me for a couple of reasons:

1. Both of these guys were tired and throwing them into a 4 on 4 situation seemed risky, especially considering this was their first game with the team and I doubt they had time to practice such a scenario in yesterday's practice. 2. What does this communicate to the other players? "We're in 8th place in the West, but I still have more faith in two brand new guys running on 2 hours of sleep than I do with all of you." I know that guys have been underperforming up front, but come on! 3. It shows that Mac T is pulling at straws and willing to try anything, even that early in a game, to generate something. It comes across as a desperation move, when it wasn't necessary a desperate time in the game.

Mac T often does this with call ups from the Minors as well. He'll throw a guy right onto the first or second power play unit when they're called up. He's coming across as a very desperate coach right now, even more desperate than our situation calls for. It's his job to have clear systems in place for certain situations and I for one have no idea what these are. I don't think the players do either. This is a team with no identity and I think Mac T is to blame.

Sorry for rambling. What are your thoughts on all of this? Am I just coach-bashing?

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#12 Rick
March 06 2009, 09:32AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Sorry for the double post but just to add;

Have you heard anything in terms of what kind of trade value he holds?

Good on Smid that he sees himself as more than a bottom pairing guy but what do the other GM's in the league see him as?

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#13 Abdullah the butcher
March 06 2009, 09:42AM
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The Oilers don't play like a team.

No consistent hustle. No effort.

After dogging the last couple they will no doubt turn in a brilliant effort on Saturday night. That is their MO.

We've seen over and over again how they can turn it on during the last five mins of a game so it's not like they aren't able to play.

What's up with that?

I am praying that like any successful business person Katz, has a plan B for the organization from top to bottom and is letting the season play out before change occurs.

He certainly isn't going to deliver us a championship quality team if he stays the status quo.

Abdullah the Butcher, OUT!

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#14 Robin Brownlee
March 06 2009, 09:45AM
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@ Rick: Not at the deadline. As for trade value, Smid is probably under-valued right now and wouldn't bring the kind of return that, obviously, a Gilbert or Grebeshkov would. Smid's season has been all over the map. He's been in the press box, he's played left wing and he's had limited stretches where he's looked capable of being a 4th guy. There's a logjam in front of Smid that might well sort itself out and allow him the opportunity to rise above the third pairing -- any one of the top 4 now, plus a throw in, would go a long way to landing the Oilers scoring help in the top six. And, let's face it, Smid could make a great case for himself by playing lights out the rest of the way. People tend to remember the final 20 games of the season rather than the first 20. Again, this isn't a case of "Get me out of here no matter what."

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#15 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 09:52AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Thanks for the information on Smid. Still, one would imagine that Steve Staios' assignments get scaled back at some point, yes? Craig MacTavish seemed to be trying to do that at the start of the year.

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#16 Bruno
March 06 2009, 09:53AM
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When you go to the corner store and check your lottery ticket they make you sign it first, right? So... it's no different for R.F.A's who are grossly overpaid for "potential". It's one thing to not produce with a full effort. But when i see a player stop moving his legs when going in the corners and is always seconds behind to start moving his legs on the backcheck thats F@#k@n EFFORT!! Thats frustrating to watch. and pay for to see live.You really see it at the games. I wish they would put the camera on Hemskys face during the game, you will see the frustration towards Penner. Ive seen it. I dont think he will ever earn his salary unless he changes his effort which I can't see happening under this coaching staff.

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#17 Robin Brownlee
March 06 2009, 09:57AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: That makes sense. I'd go further, though, and suggest that, given the chance at the start of next season, Theo Peckham could provide a reasonable facsimile of what Staios does (especially with Strudwick helping him along) at a fraction of the price.

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#18 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 10:04AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Agreed. Staios is a player I've always pulled for - but at this point I just don't see that he brings anything to the roster that justifies his salary. It would be nice if the Oilers could unload him at the draft, although I haven't heard anything that makes me think they have any plans to do so.

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#19 Thorn
March 06 2009, 10:05AM
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This is about as UN-complicated as it can get! It's all about motivating the players individually. How about implementing a reward system designed for each player? The rewards will be tailored to each player so they see the value of playing a hard nosed game. For instance: For every hit & successful pass Penner completes in a game, a cheesburger coupon will await him in his locker (I'm a realist so I won't even factor in a "points" reward system for him) For every bad penalty Souray DOESN'T take, he is allowed to wear the coveted Albino Chinchilla fur coat until the next game.

I will always bleed Copper and Blue, but it seems like some of our guys have booked their vacation home rentals for mid-April and there is a 6 week cancellation policy. How can we come up with that kind of effort with so many Oiler fans in the crowd? I was very close to making the trip for this eastern Canadian road swing but I may just use the money to book myself an April vacation rental.

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#20 Robin Brownlee
March 06 2009, 10:11AM
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Thorn wrote:

How can we come up with that kind of effort with so many Oiler fans in the crowd?

I thought I heard Comrie getting razz from the crowd while I was reading by self-hypnosis book and having a cigar.

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#21 The Towel Boy
March 06 2009, 10:14AM
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Smid just wants to contribute and play meaningful minutes. I can't fault the guy for that.

As much as I like Staios the man, Staios the hockey player needs to go. High salary and if he were to leave it would dislodge some of the logjam on the back end that this team will have this summer.

Only time will tell I guess.

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#22 Hoodlum
March 06 2009, 10:14AM
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Maybe it's just the way I was watching last night, but didn't it look like O'Sullivan was a little lackadasical on the defensive end, but as soon as the puck got on his stick he tried to make things happen. It almost seemed like he tried to do to much offensivley and ignored his defensive duties. I didn't get a chance to see the whole game, just kinda back and forth, but I can recall a couple shifts with him where this seemed to be the case. Any comments?

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#23 David S
March 06 2009, 10:18AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

And, let’s face it, Smid could make a great case for himself by playing lights out the rest of the way. People tend to remember the final 20 games of the season rather than the first 20.

Absolutely agreed! I give a guy credit for having a great image of himself, but you'd think the quickest way to a top-4 position we be to, you know, play like a top 4. Especially on a team where the coach is more than willing to switch players according to how he thinks they're playing almost immediately.

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#24 The Towel Boy
March 06 2009, 10:26AM
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http://www.sportsclubstats.com/NHL/Western/Northwest/Oilers.html

We went from 54.1% chance of making the post season before the last night...to 42% now... eeeesh.

14-4-0 from here on out and we're solid!

*crosses fingers*

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#25 topshelf
March 06 2009, 10:30AM
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David S wrote:

Absolutely agreed! I give a guy credit for having a great image of himself, but you’d think the quickest way to a top-4 position we be to, you know, play like a top 4. Especially on a team where the coach is more than willing to switch players according to how he thinks they’re playing almost immediately.

Unless your number is 24,18,34 etc...

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#26 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 10:40AM
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@ The Towel Boy:

Yeap

Bye bye playoffs. Winning 2 of every 3 for the rest of the season is a impossible feat for this team.

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#27 Hoodlum
March 06 2009, 10:42AM
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@ topshelf: Why would you put 34 on that list? I know he's only got 1 assist in the 4 games that he's been back, but the guy just missed 41 games with a busted ankle. He needs a little leeway to find his game. After a dozen games and he's not producing, then critisize, but Fernie is a character guy, who does alot of the little things and will improve his line. Also I think he makes Moreau a better player, and given the shitty luck both those players have had with injuries in the last 2 years, it seems to have effected both thier games.

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#28 n00b1AnPr1nC355
March 06 2009, 10:50AM
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As much as everyone has already stated that they agree with the amount of players that are not playing the game with any intensity how can it not be blamed upon the coach. Other teams coaches have simply all found a method to out coach MacT's game plan and counter it. It cannot be said that 11/23 players are not playing with any intensity it must be seen that it is the strategy and system that are being beat not just the players. Last night was as evident as it gets, period. I watched the game and said to myself "why does dustin penner not hit? Why is horcoff not scrambling like usual? Where the uc is hemsky?" I then realized that not only are the players not showing up but the game that they are bringing isnt successful in itself.

We need new blood behind this team as bad as I need to win the lottery. I cannot stand just blaming penner for not sowing up for his 18th straight game. There simply must be more to it. Eventually there is a problem somewhere other than all the players suck. It must be the game they play sucks. The parity in the league is otherwise evident, how can it not be put forth to the parity in skill each team must also have?

Houston, we have a problem here.

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#29 Zamboni Driver
March 06 2009, 11:04AM
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Honestly, Robin I think the ship has sailed on Penner being called a 'go-to' guy.

Any of the "I really see something in him" guys have got to get the rose-coloured glasses off. This was a guy who fell into 4 million bucks, and just as the coach said, "The contract was his goal"....now he's happy to be fat and lazy.

A beautiful comparison I heard from a buddy.

Buster Douglas

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#30 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 11:29AM
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"Cal Nichols is taking a voluntary leave from his role as chair of Oilers, to pursue matters related to City Centre Airport in his capacity as chair of the business advocacy organization, the Alberta Enterprise Group."

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#31 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 11:42AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Robin, any idea if Sabourin's been recalled? Springfield called up Pitton from the ECHL, so I'm thinking either one of Dubnyk/Sabourin is hurt, or one of them's on the way to Edmonton.

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#32 Ducey
March 06 2009, 11:51AM
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You guys are missing the real story here!

Toronto have been the coach killers this year, with a couple of coaches getting fired right after losing to the Leafs.

Another brutal effort from the boys Saturday and MacT might be history.

I have been a MacT supporter forever, but the team looks lost, players are not developing (except Smid), they don't hit, forecheck or skate. MacT looks exhausted. The response last night was inexcusable.

Time to bring in someone new for the last 20 games.

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#33 topshelf
March 06 2009, 11:56AM
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@ Hoodlum: I'm painting him with the same brush mostly based on history. That may be unfair and it may not be. Only time will tell.

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#34 topshelf
March 06 2009, 11:57AM
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@ n00b1AnPr1nC355: I thought Penner was better last night.. His feet didn't appear to weigh 400lbs and I actually did witness him finish a few checks.

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#35 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 06 2009, 12:01PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

The goaltending situation with this team is an absolute mess. Mactavish should be fired on this basis alone. All credit to Roloson, hes done an incredible job. But what was the point of the 3-headed monster only to not have JDD start AT ALL. If the coaching staff doesnt have any confidence in him, then that needed to be addressed immediately. The more you delay getting Jeff a start, the more a liability he becomes down the stretch.

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#36 Hoodlum
March 06 2009, 12:05PM
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@ topshelf: good call

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#37 Oil4blood
March 06 2009, 12:10PM
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Anyone else think Hemsky and/or Horcoff are playing hurt? Seems to be zero out of those guys lately.

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#38 Soup
March 06 2009, 12:15PM
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It sucks being an Oilers fan in Calgary these days. What's worse, my two teenaged sons, raised to bleed copper and blue, are already questioning the faith. One refused to go with me to a game in Edm a while back because the team was too boring, the other told me how much fun the Flames are to watch. Ouch!

But both have a point. The Flames no long play in straight lines with a dump and chase mentality. They play with a lot of passion and a very up tempo game. I hate the team with every fiber of my being, but they are fun to watch.

Oh yeah - same team that when a friend of the GM was coaching and couldn't raise the passion out of the players was replaced by someone from totally outside the organization. Things that make you go Hmmmmm.

The Oil seem to be listless, emotionless and rudderless over most of this season. The games where someone brings the fans out of their seats are far outnumbered the the games mired by indifference. It seems to me (from 300 Kms away) that there isn't a whole lot of fun in being an Oiler these days. Oilers are now the uncreative dump and chase team that we've hated so long from the city to the south.

Watching the team you can't help but wonder of they are just tired of being forced into a defense first mentality when those little guys with good legs should be given some freedom to skate. Instead, we get the constant diet of Reddox and guys like him that win favor with the coach because they don't screw up. Isn't Oiler hockey about speed and excitement? I think the horses are there to return to a more fun product - agreed not ready to compete with the big boys - but atleast a helluva lot more fun than wathcing this crap we get now. Hell, the screw ups were half the fun with this team before.

New petition - FREE THE OILERS, FREE THE OILERS. MAC-T, LET MY PEOPLE GO!

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#39 bingofuel
March 06 2009, 12:17PM
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Soup wrote:

It sucks being an Oilers fan in Calgary these days. What’s worse, my two teenaged sons, raised to bleed copper and blue, are already questioning the faith. One refused to go with me to a game in Edm a while back because the team was too boring, the other told me how much fun the Flames are to watch. Ouch!

You've smothered them both with pillows and put them out of their misery, yes?

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#40 Soup
March 06 2009, 12:21PM
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@ bingofuel:

Not yet, but good thought. Something to do this weekend rather than watch hockey....

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#41 Darren
March 06 2009, 12:26PM
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@ Soup: Awesome post - I couldn't have said it better myself. They ARE boring, and have been as long as MacT. has coached them.

I agree FREE the OILERS!

Fire MacTavish

also, to Jack FMNF Bauer:

You're right on about the goalie situation. Get a head coach who has a clue about how to handle goalies.

I was going to say I don't know whether to cheer for them to win to make the playoffs, or to lose so they will be forced to fire MacT...but then it hit me, and might even be obvious to the Oilers braintrust:

Fire MacT NOW, so the Oilers DO have a chance to make the playoffs, AND THEY MIGHT EVEN DO SOMETHING THIS YEAR STILL!

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#42 Clarkenstein
March 06 2009, 12:39PM
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I think everyone is looking at this from the wrong end. Why would you want this underachieving, leaderless, schizophrenic poor excuse of a team to make the playoffs? They don't deserve it especially for the sake of getting two home games. They way I look at it is they are chasing PHX and COL to get a better spot in the draft. We're 11 points behind COL so we won't catch them but only 7 behind PHX!! Come on Dogs... come on Higher Draft Choice.

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#43 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
March 06 2009, 01:27PM
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Hey Robin, I got a question. Whats going on with Robert Nillson? Is he on the shelf indefinitly?

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#44 yo
March 06 2009, 01:30PM
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There are a lot of unhappy faces on the bench. It doesn't look to me as if many are out there enjoying the Oiler experience. Tom Gilbert seems to be really mistake-prone this year and not at all physical. Smid is about the only Oiler out there who seems to relish the battles for the puck.

RB - is the lack of intensity and cohesiveness a possible indicator of a division on the bench or a division on the support of the coach? How miserable is Horcoff's life going to be next year when he gets to 7+ mil and has a continuation of this season's production and performance? The Edmonton fans are going to go nuts.

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#45 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 01:48PM
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Robin have you heard anything about the Schremp incident??

Anyway you can get some news on it?

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#46 yo
March 06 2009, 02:02PM
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CurtisS wrote:

Robin have you heard anything about the Schremp incident?? Anyway you can get some news on it?

What Shremp incident?

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#47 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 02:09PM
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@ yo: Troubling Incident Tonight In Win Over Springfield Thursday March 05th 2009, 12:02 am

VERIZON WIRELESS ARENA — NEVER before has this writer seen a player so deliberately fire a puck straight at an opposing team’s bench than was witnessed here tonight when Springfield’s Rob Schremp snapped a puck at the Monarchs’ bench in the third period. One of Manchester’s players deflected the puck with a gloved hand otherwise Monarchs coach Mark Morris later said he was certain the puck was going to hit him. No one was hurt.

Morris said Schremp made direct eye contact with the coach before shooting the puck at the bench.

“(Schremp) turned and looked right at me,” said Morris. “It would have hit me."

Morris said he knows of Schremp since both are upstate New York hockey products. But they do not know each other personally and there is no history between the two. Schremp grew up in Syracuse and “lived at the rink in Cicero,” according to Morris.

You can check out the video at the AHL site just go to free highlites and check out the springfield/manchester game. Its about 3:15 in.

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#48 socaldave
March 06 2009, 02:22PM
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the glare of the spotlight on O’Sullivan and Kotalik will be intensified as long as Hemsky and Co. are impersonating Todd Marchant in a non-contract year.

HA!

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#49 Librarian Mike
March 06 2009, 02:26PM
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@ CurtisS:

How much do you want to bet Schremp was thinking about MacT when he did that? I guess it could be worse. He could have thrown his skate at him.

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#50 CurtisS
March 06 2009, 02:27PM
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@ Librarian Mike: Still doesnt look go on Robbie for doing that at all IMO.

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