The Blame Game

Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009 11:23AM

lowe-tambellini

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you place the blame.”

- Oscar Wilde

With the Oilers all but eliminated from the playoffs, Craig MacTavish took a chance last night. Down a single goal in a must-win game, he asked for a measurement on Teemu Selanne’s stick, a decision which backfired when it turned out that Selanne’s stick was legal. Ducks players were surprised; Bobby Ryan said that they “got lucky”, while Scott Niedermayer suggested that Selanne had a chance before the game to switch to a legal stick.

It doesn’t much matter now. MacTavish was wrong, and he took the blame for it afterwards – calling the decision a “terrible mistake” and saying that he felt his choice sabotaged what looked like a terrific comeback. That’s as it should be, of course, but that willingness to accept responsibility contrasts in an ugly way with Ethan Moreau’s post game comments.

“A lot of that game we played really well. I thought we were physical, we stood up for one another. There were some good hits, good fights and we went to the net harder in the third period and created some offense. There’s going to be games where we have to get four or five goals to help Roli out, and we haven’t found that offensive output yet.”

He expanded on that with Dan Tencer later in the evening; Tencer mentioned special teams and again Moreau said that they couldn’t score when they needed to.

It’s interesting to me that a guy like Moreau (who plays a major role on the penalty kill, and doesn’t play at all on the powerplay) would point a finger at offensive production on a night where powerplay production matched the penalty kill’s ineptitude. The Oilers went 1-for-4 on both the penalty kill and the powerplay. 25% is a fine rate for man advantage production (it would be second in the league over the course of an entire season) but it’s an awful number for the penalty-kill to be lugging around.

It’s especially ugly when you consider that it was Ethan Moreau who made the decision to creep out to the point and double-team Ryan Getzlaf; a decision that left the man he was covering (Scott Niedermayer) alone in the slot. Niedermayer then scored the first of three Ducks’ powerplay goals on the night. Given that it has been the penalty kill, more than any other single factor that has sunk the Oilers this season (and sunk them again last night) it comes across as self-serving for the team captain (a defensive specialist) to blame the offense on the night of a 5-3 loss.

There’s no doubt that Craig MacTavish bears much of the blame for problems this season. He’s likely to pay for that with his job, and if he holds true to form he’ll publicly claim responsibility for a poor season. Individual players deserve some of the blame, and that includes the captain, even if he is unlikely he is to admit it. Still, none of those targets should hold the final responsibility if (likely when) the Oilers miss the playoffs.

It was Kevin Lowe who decided this summer that the Oilers only needed one veteran centre on the team. It was Kevin Lowe who traded away key members of the penalty-killing unit without bothering to replace them. For that matter, while Craig MacTavish is frequently blamed for years of low achievement, it has been Kevin Lowe who assembled those teams from the G.M.’s office.

Steve Tambellini was brought in this summer after Lowe’s promotion. Whether the blame should fall to him or to Lowe is impossible to say from this vantage point, but between the two of them they decided not to address the penalty-kill all season long. They decided not to bring in another veteran centre; leaving Shawn Horcoff to play far too many minutes and take nearly every critical faceoff. They decided to invest a second-round pick in Ales Kotalik; a powerplay and shootout specialist who has helped the team but who is not only likely to depart this summer, but who never could be the answer to the Oilers’ biggest problems in the first place.

The problems with this team may not stop with the two men making the decisions, but there’s no doubt that they start there.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 EMAC
April 01 2009, 11:38AM
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Could not agree more. Moreau will never take accountability for this inferior play. The minutes Horcoff, who is not a number one center, and Moreau, who at best is a 4th liner, get is ridiculous.

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#2 BURKEtheTURD
April 01 2009, 11:47AM
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I agree, there isnt much accounatability. However, I do believe like you said Mac T will take the blame when its over and will/should lose his job. Who knows about the managers, but I do think they made a great trade for Sulli for Cole, as Sulli is signed for a few more years and a reasonable price, and he will help the PK.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 11:50AM
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@ BURKEtheTURD:

I loved the Sullivan trade. My issue with the managers is more what they don't do than what they do.

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#4 The Towel Boy
April 01 2009, 11:50AM
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Should be a juicy summer in Oil Country.

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#5 Librarian Mike
April 01 2009, 11:55AM
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I know it isn't a hard and fast rule that the best player should be the captain, but certainly we can do better than "Captain Sinbin" as our leader.

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#6 Rick
April 01 2009, 11:56AM
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I pretty much agree with what you wrote but the question I have is can the blame be properly weighted out at this point to see if the bigger problem this year was coaching or managment? Ignoring for the moment the players themselves.

Or does it even matter to figure out which is the biggest probelm when it's safe to suggest that MacT will take the pipe for the whole group by himself?

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#7 BURKEtheTURD
April 01 2009, 11:57AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Couldn't agree more. it would be interesting to find out the dynamics of that business relationship and see who makes what calls.

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#8 Archaeologuy
April 01 2009, 12:05PM
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My only fear is that with the fan base looking for a scapegoat the team will turn inwards and wall themselves further up.

I mean it happens all the time in sports, the us against them mentallity and Lowe has been fairly teflon regarding the blame before this season. The excuses seemed valid. So will his first response in this situation be to go back into that old Us v Them player mode? I mean the management and coaching staff are so close to each other and all 3 played the game.

Personally, I think that has to be the only reason MacT has kept his job all season. What GM or President lets the coach decide when he's going to get fired/move on? It's a gutless move that 29 other teams wouldnt make. Before this year I never thought Lowe did a disservice to the team but he was clearly in derriliction of duty, and Tamby is walking around RX1 like he belongs on "Thuderbirds". I say fire them all and poach some real coaches and managers. Steal someone from the Detroit Trifecta and the best possible AHL coach, now.

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#9 socaldave
April 01 2009, 12:05PM
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frickin' Lubo... what IS IT with shoulders on this team? a great trade that would have had this team in a playoff position, had he stayed healthy.

(IMO, of course)

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#10 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 12:09PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

It’s a gutless move that 29 other teams wouldnt make.

I've never liked this particular line because it underestimates the stupidity of certain NHL franchises. There might be ten well-run teams in the league; the Oilers, frankly, are middle of the pack.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 12:10PM
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@ socaldave:

Visnovsky was a great acquisition.

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#12 Archaeologuy
April 01 2009, 12:17PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: You're right Willis. As usual. You'd think by now I'd learn that people are far more stupid than I'd like to believe. You just gave me yet another reason not to smile today, thanks.

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#13 MattL
April 01 2009, 12:23PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

It’s a gutless move that 29 other teams wouldnt make.

Let me guess, you want them to hire a top-notch coach to replace MacT by treating MacT with zero respect? A coach can still "resign" on someone else's terms, ask Tom Higgins...

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#14 The Menace
April 01 2009, 12:23PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: What's Visnovsky's contract status for next year Jon?

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#15 442Junkie
April 01 2009, 12:24PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

You’d think by now I’d learn that people are far more stupid than I’d like to believe.

How can you say that when seven out of ten people believe that they and their friends are above average?

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#16 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
April 01 2009, 12:27PM
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Viso is locked up until 2012-2013

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#17 Mike Krushelnyski
April 01 2009, 12:29PM
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MattL wrote:

Let me guess, you want them to hire a top-notch coach to replace MacT by treating MacT with zero respect? A coach can still “resign” on someone else’s terms, ask Tom Higgins…

How is firing a coach on an underacheiving team "treating him with zero respect"? How many orginizations have never fired a coach?

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#18 Archaeologuy
April 01 2009, 12:32PM
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MattL wrote:

Archaeologuy wrote: It’s a gutless move that 29 other teams wouldnt make. Let me guess, you want them to hire a top-notch coach to replace MacT by treating MacT with zero respect? A coach can still “resign” on someone else’s terms, ask Tom Higgins…

I hope there was some sarcasm in that statement that was just lost on me. 8 years of employment for a coach is more than enough respect needed, not to mention the hightened role he has been given in off-ice issues. You arent honestly saying that it's disrespectful to fire coaches mid-season? It happens so often it cant possibly be considered wrong. If there's a top notch coach out there that's unemployed right now I'm willing to bet that he would sell MacTavish to a Mexican Drug Cartel for the opportunity to coach in the NHL again. There are only a few extremely powerful coaches that might even consider how fairly MacT was treated by the Oilers. And please explain how firing someone is disrespectful?

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#19 beedouble-R-You-In?
April 01 2009, 12:33PM
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The blame has to be solely put on the team itself and a lot of guys not showing up every night. When the Oilers skate, shoot and hit they make plays and make the other team look winded. MacT has been here nine years and made the playoffs four of those nine years and in this league its just not acceptable. I see too many gaps in this team and little to no coaching in the areas they need to address.

Someone said that Ryan Smyth should have stayed and I'm starting to agree there. His leadership and effort on a nightly basis had never come into question and I hope they come to their senses and try and get him back here. I spend too much time invested as a fan trying to get home early to watch a game and I'm frustrated. Three years of no playoff action, heads have to roll and please get some people here who know how to win.

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#20 Kevin
April 01 2009, 12:33PM
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Just face facts Oiler fans this team is managed on a reactionary basis. When we had too many grinders, we drafted all small, skilled forwards. When we lacked offense on the blue line, we brought in 4 players in that role. They don't seem to be able to fill the one or two pieces this team needs to move forward. Maybe its time to trade away one or two of the cornerstones to move forward. This group just can't get it done. Is there a plan in place at all????

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#21 Peter Pan
April 01 2009, 12:38PM
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Good write up Jonathan. I agree with you and share your perspective. Personally, I would like to see the Oilers rebuild their PK before re-structuring their PP. They don't need to restrip the line up. They do have good players here. But they lack specialists. They need to rebuild their 3rd and 4th line. Those are the lines that provide the spark and energy. The Pouliots of the world dont cut it for these lines. They need muscle, crashers and bashers. Like the Marchants, Maltbys, Griers of old.

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#22 The Menace
April 01 2009, 01:06PM
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You know, I like most of the guys we have. I'm really interested to see what would happen with a different voice behind the bench. Did anyone recognize the guy wearing #27 in the last two games against the Ducks? That was the guy that KLowe signed the offer sheet for. Maybe a different coach could get that kind of effort out him on a more consistant basis.

I'm not saying that the players don't deserve thier share of the blame for this season, but sometimes a different face behind the bench wakes players up.

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#23 Traktor
April 01 2009, 01:21PM
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"It was Kevin Lowe who decided this summer that the Oilers only needed one veteran centre on the team."

And it was Craig MacTavish who refused to use the logical replacements, Pouliot and Brodziak, in the third line role.

Whether you have a team full of Crosby's or a team full of Stortini's is irreverent - the only thing a coach can be judged on is how he performs with the resources available to him.

Bottom line: This team isn't individually or collectively playing up to potential.

"This is the best team I've ever had. This team can win the division." - Craig MacTavish

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#24 William
April 01 2009, 01:21PM
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Given that it has been the penalty kill, more than any other single factor that has sunk the Oilers this season (and sunk them again last night) it comes across as self-serving for the team captain (a defensive specialist) to blame the offense on the night of a 5-3 loss.

Jonathon,

How is that blaming the offence? He stated that SOME games you need offence to score more. The Oilers score five on five, but their PP is almost just as bad as their PP. To me he was stating that sometimes they have to bail out their goalie and score. God knows the goalie bails them out enough.

If you think they will win playing shut down defence you are dreamin. Look at the stats five on five, they are decent, but the PP is just as much to blame as the PK.

They have a 4 on 3, and don't score late in the second. That is the chance to turn the game back in their favour. And they didn't do it...AGAIN.

You love to blame Moreau for everything. It is embarrassing. Taking a quote and then saying you know exactly what it means is misleading.

He also stated that the PK needed to be better.

Why don't you blame Horcoff...you know the guy who you think is better than Getzlaf (still the stupidiest comment ever).

He plays PP and PK, and they both suck. Moreau if I'm not mistaken has as many goals, if not more than Horcoff five-on-five.

But blame the captain again. That makes a lot of sense. Give me a break. Try to write without your personal bias just once....

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#25 mjsh
April 01 2009, 01:27PM
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The Menace wrote:

You know, I like most of the guys we have. I’m really interested to see what would happen with a different voice behind the bench. Did anyone recognize the guy wearing #27 in the last two games against the Ducks? That was the guy that KLowe signed the offer sheet for. Maybe a different coach could get that kind of effort out him on a more consistant basis. I’m not saying that the players don’t deserve thier share of the blame for this season, but sometimes a different face behind the bench wakes players up.

The new guy behind the bench is going to benifit from what this team learned this year. It will be the memory of losing games they should have won that will make sure they do not lose them next year. Not disimilar to the old Oilers losing to the Islanders one year and coming back and beating them the next year. I for one will miss Mac T.

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#26 Rice
April 01 2009, 01:52PM
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@ beedouble-R-You-In?: You can't put the blame solely on any one thing. K-Lowe organized a mediocre team, Mac-T didn't use the tools he had effectively, and the team didn't show up through out most of the season.

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#27 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 01:53PM
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@ William:

Wow. Just wow. Let's go through it point by point, shall we?

How is that blaming the offence?

Quote: "We haven't found that offensive output yet." How is that not blaming the offense? He wasn't opining on the state of the team in general, he was being asked about last night's loss.

their PP is almost just as bad as their PP

Not last night - both ran at 25% efficiency. Not on the season, either - the Oilers 17.0% powerplay is 21st in the league, while their PK is 27th at 77.2%. 5 playoff teams have a worse powerplay than the Oilers. No playoff team has a worse PK.

If you think they will win playing shut down defence you are dreamin.

Four playoff teams score fewer goals per game than the Oilers. Only one allows more. Of teams from 6th to 15th in the West, only one has more goals than the Oilers. Seven have allowed fewer goals against.

Why don’t you blame Horcoff…you know the guy who you think is better than Getzlaf (still the stupidiest comment ever)

Link? Because I don't remember saying that.

But blame the captain again. That makes a lot of sense. Give me a break.

*sigh* Read the article again. The people getting blamed are the two guys who, you know, have their photo over the top of the article. The point on Moreau was that he deflected blame rather than take responsibility with his comments, which I think was noteworthy.

I don't know why I try, though. Not only are you stupid to accurately interpret the article, but you somehow believe that the offense has been the problem. The offense hasn't been good, but no team goes anywhere in the playoffs allowing as many goals against as the Oilers have been.

Thanks for coming out.

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#28 The Menace
April 01 2009, 01:57PM
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@ mjsh: I don't know about that. We lost lost of games in the previous 7 seasons with MacT too. Wouldn't they have already learned from losing all those games? How many more years would it take until they were "not disimilar" to the '84 Oilers? That means "similar", right?

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#29 Rick
April 01 2009, 02:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

The people getting blamed are the two guys who, you know, have their photo over the top of the article.

I alluded to it before but didn't see a response.

When you look at the roster available do think that the team is where they should be in the standings, or would better bench management have improved their position?

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#30 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 02:16PM
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Rick wrote:

When you look at the roster available do think that the team is where they should be in the standings, or would better bench management have improved their position?

I think better bench management would have helped. There's a lot of good stuff here - Traktor alluded to the reluctance of MacTavish to risk using Pouliot/Brodziak in the 3rd line centre spot, and Rice hits the nail on the head above as well.

This should have been a playoff team, IMO, and at the same time I never particularly expected them to do much in the playoffs if they made it.

I think MacTavish should be fired for his mistakes this year, but I don't blame MacTavish for not winning the division.

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#31 zagreb
April 01 2009, 02:34PM
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This is not Mact`s fault. Jonathan, if mact played 78 or 51 as 3rd line centre, what would he do with 13? He got saddled with two inexperienced centres, horcoff the an allstar tweener, and Brodziak, who yes ideally should have been the 3rd line centre. Just one of many examples of pisspoor planning by management. I think Pouliot is useless, and it baffles me he is even on the team. its KLO who needs to go tho

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#32 Rice
April 01 2009, 02:41PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think MacTavish should be fired for his mistakes this year, but I don’t blame MacTavish for not winning the division.

HERE HERE!!! (or is it HEAR HEAR!!!)

SO of the three problems, they have taken a step to right one of them (Tambellini over Lowe) and if they move away from Mac-T that should (emphasis on should) solve the third problem.

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#33 DK0
April 01 2009, 02:42PM
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@ zagreb: Here's what you do with 13, get him to quit taking faceoffs until he can consistently beat both his line mates in a practice faceoff-off. If Cogs cant suck it up and play wing (I think he would be an awesome winger, dont know why he hates playing wing) then you just have the RW or LW take the draws and then Cogs plays the actual center position after the draw is done.

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#34 Dennis
April 01 2009, 02:43PM
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Moreau's play and comments - and the media's treatment therein - is just flat out tiring.

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#35 SeanS
April 01 2009, 02:49PM
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We are going to have the biggest problem of all next year, Bigger then who the coach/gm/penner's offseason trainer is.

Who the F*ck is our goalie going to be? If Roli is playing this good right now teams have to realize he might be good enough to win them a cup (He also proved how good he could play with pressure), You really think a) he wants to be back in Edmonton? After moving his family away? (So I heard not sure if that's true) b) Some team isn't going to overpay him for a 1-2year deal worth a lot more then we can afford? Honestly that should be our biggest concern. Scotty Bowman couldn't coach this team to a playoff spot without Roli.

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#36 Mike
April 01 2009, 02:49PM
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zagreb wrote:

what would he do with 13?

Not play him at centre? I don't know how they'd survive the loss of his 27% faceoff percentage, though.

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#37 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 02:50PM
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DK0 wrote:

@ zagreb: Here’s what you do with 13, get him to quit taking faceoffs until he can consistently beat both his line mates in a practice faceoff-off. If Cogs cant suck it up and play wing (I think he would be an awesome winger, dont know why he hates playing wing) then you just have the RW or LW take the draws and then Cogs plays the actual center position after the draw is done.

Now if only there were a guy who could win faceoffs *coughPouliotcough* and then switch over to wing *coughPouliotcough* after and who looked good in his time with Cogliano *coughPouliotcough*

I really don't think Pouliot's a great player, but he's held his own in whatever role he's been tossed in this year, and I'd be happy to see him on Cogliano's LW, but taking the draws.

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#38 Smokin' Ray - NNC
April 01 2009, 02:59PM
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I will say it once again... Need New Captain

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#39 Dennis
April 01 2009, 03:02PM
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I still don't understand why they broke up with 27-10-83 line that did a good job playing in the power vs power role.

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#40 Devin
April 01 2009, 03:18PM
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...ethan moreau is the worst! oilers Captian in history he is Mr. Horrible penalties.....have another players only meeting!

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#41 Reggie
April 01 2009, 03:27PM
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Devin wrote:

…ethan moreau is the worst! oilers Captian in history he is Mr. Horrible penalties…..have another players only meeting!

I'm not happy with what Moreau has done on the ice this year either as he has taken too many bad penalties, as noted.

However, there was never a worse captain than Shane Corson. Simple as that. IMHO

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#42 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 03:38PM
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I haven't hung out in the dressing room, so I'm not going to attack Ethan Moreau as a captain. Statements like the one he made last night bother me, and I've yet to see him be accountable with the media (note: if you have an example, please provide link - I'd like to see it) but it's hard to say what's happening behind closed doors.

Plus he's playing tough minutes, plus he's having a not-bad season offensively. Balanced against this, he's getting badly outchanced, is a key element of a lousy PK and takes more stupid penalties than anyone else on the team.

I'm not a big fan, but I wouldn't call him 'the worst captain in Oilers' history'.

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#43 Librarian Mike
April 01 2009, 03:40PM
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Reggie wrote:

there was never a worse captain than Shane Corson.

Corson gets my vote for 'most overrated player ever'. Having said that, I wouldn't have wanted to play for the '93 Oilers either.

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#44 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
April 01 2009, 03:40PM
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Who would you rank the worst captain in Oilers history?

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#45 The Menace
April 01 2009, 03:46PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Jonathan - you've said a couple of times that you don't think Kotalik will sign here. Is that a hunch, or have you heard something? Doesn't he like being around other Ales's?

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#46 Andrew W
April 01 2009, 03:47PM
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@Devin,

Your comments hardly warrant a response, but with even a cursory glance at the list of Oiler captains, Shane Corson's name should stand out as the worst. To qualify this, I'm not talking about skill and ability, but leadership qualities, which is what the C ought to represent. I mean, Corson is a guy who was so unhappy with his ice time at the end of his career that he RETIRED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRIVE TO THE PLAYOFFS.

I have a lot of sympathy for the demons and the battles that he fought through his career, but these certainly didn't make him a good candidate to wear the C.

You've also overlooked the dedication and work ethic that Moreau has had to this team over the years. Please keep a little bit of perspective and remember the better seasons he had, occasionally carrying the whole team, even with his limited skill set. Hell, just the other night he managed to orchestrate a critical goal again with Pisani.

I agree with most of Willis' critiques of his play this year, and it looks like his best years are behind him. Don't confuse this with a lack of effort, passion, or leadership, though, and these are all qualities that I want to see in the captain of my team. If he's able to curtail his penalty troubles and reduce some of his PK issues, which aren't impossible goals, he still can make valuable contributions to this team as a player and a Captain.

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#47 Andrew W
April 01 2009, 03:53PM
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Hmmm...

Sorry for the rant, there. I just get tired when individuals are targeted for faults on a team sport. When any team fails to meet its goals, as this team looks like it will when it misses its minimum target of making the playoffs, every member of the team needs to be accountable, just like when they win. This includes the management, coaches, goalies, veterans, younger players, and yes, the captain and alternates. Attempts to pin the responsibility for failure at any single level is pointless (although some obviously have more responsibility than others).

Rats, this is becoming a rant again. It's all to easy to be negative today, isn't it?

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#48 Colin-FMNF
April 01 2009, 03:55PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

DK0 wrote: @ zagreb: Here’s what you do with 13, get him to quit taking faceoffs until he can consistently beat both his line mates in a practice faceoff-off. If Cogs cant suck it up and play wing (I think he would be an awesome winger, dont know why he hates playing wing) then you just have the RW or LW take the draws and then Cogs plays the actual center position after the draw is done. Now if only there were a guy who could win faceoffs *coughPouliotcough* and then switch over to wing *coughPouliotcough* after and who looked good in his time with Cogliano *coughPouliotcough* I really don’t think Pouliot’s a great player, but he’s held his own in whatever role he’s been tossed in this year, and I’d be happy to see him on Cogliano’s LW, but taking the draws.

Genius. I agree, I've been saying a similar thing for awhile, just replace Pouliot with Brodziak .

Brodziak is wasted on the fourth line unless you're running four scoring lines, which is obviously not the case.

With what the oilers have I'd run 3 scoring lines and a checking line(Moreau, pouliot, Pisani) Throwing stortini(who's had a suberb season) on line 3 or 4 as needs require.

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#49 Jonathan Willis
April 01 2009, 03:58PM
Trash it!
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@ Jack "FMNF" Bauer:

Corson seems to be the consensus, and for good reason.

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#50 baggedmilk
April 01 2009, 04:01PM
Trash it!
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@ Jonathan Willis:

JW, Thank you for finally saying it. MacT is to blame for some of his misuse of the players. Pisani at center, Cole on the off wing and so on...

What about K-Lowe??? That guy has left such a mess for Steve Tambellini to try and deal with. We're pushed up against the cap with bad contracts handed out up and down this line up.

Horcoff gets paid $7 million next year? Are you kidding me? Yeah yeah I know it's a 5.5 cap hit.

Staios at close to $3 for another few years?

Penner getting too much...

Lack of a centerman that can actually win a draw. Did Cogliano win a single faceoff last night?

A team with Shawn Horcoff (as much as I like him) as the first line center will never be good enough.

"blah blah Hemsky hasn't put up the points he should" some people say...

Look who he's playing with. It's Kevin Lowe's mess just as much as MacT's.

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