Dan Barnes’ Must-Read Column

Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009 09:38AM

even-keel

As happens with astonishing regularity, Dan Barnes has once again written a must-read piece on the future of the Edmonton Oilers. It’s both wide-ranging and incriminating of much of the roster, although I’m only going to focus on a couple of excerpts.

Much of the article is based on a conversation with a surprisingly candid Sheldon Souray; although for my money the best quote is this one:

"It would be like Mardi Gras in here after a win and then we would lose in such a poor fashion that all momentum was lost. There was none of this," Souray said while holding his arm straight out to simulate an even keel. "Even to consistently be average, we couldn't do that."

We’ve heard tales of rifts in the room before, but to my knowledge no other player has talked so plainly about the emotional roller-coaster in the dressing room. Craig MacTavish has hinted broadly that the team was far too up and down (“the vortex of death”) but this is the most explicit statement and there’s no reason to disbelieve Souray – all the evidence is there.

That even keel shouldn’t be viewed solely as the fault of the youngsters either – it seems to be a common enough problem in young players, and it’s up to the veterans and the coaching staff to instill the professional culture that the team needs. Souray, refreshingly, painted with a broad brush, omitting only goaltender Dwayne Roloson from criticism.

President of hockey operations Kevin Lowe will ease further into the background and general manager Steve Tambellini will step forward to put his mark on the team. This will not be a Lowellini roster next September.

I have been told MacTavish will not be here to see it through, that he will step away because he has failed to achieve the desired results more often than not. He surely knows how damaging this season has been for the organization and is cognizant of exactly where this buck stops. While a host of players should take the rap for their terrible seasons, and there will undoubtedly be significant roster changes, MacTavish will pay the biggest price.

Lowetide wrote about this at some length yesterday, but this summer is going to show one way or the other which direction the Oilers are going. Here’s the comment I made on one of his posts:

If the Oilers do the right thing (hire a coach from outside the org), we're not going to note it as the start of a trend. We'll note it as the continuation of a trend that saw Steve Tambellini, Rob Daum, Jeff Truitt and Rick Olczyk hired from elsewhere.

The news today that Kevin Lowe will step back from the team (and the reiteration that Mactavish will not return) means that in just a year of ownership, Daryl Katz will have completely overturned the brain-trust in Edmonton. People playing significant roles on the team have come from outside the organization, and if Katz holds true to form, the next head coach will as well. Scott Arniel should be one of the names considered (and is a logical candidate since he has some past history with Tambellini), but the important thing is that whoever is brought in be the best candidate for the job; an experienced coach, someone with (at least) an extensive track record in the AHL or as an NHL assistant.

For all the negativity this season (and there’s more to come), if the Oilers make the right changes this summer we could be watching the renewal of the team and a cultural change taking place right before our eyes.

Tambellini wants a bigger and stronger top-six corps of forwards and will probably have to move a defenceman to do it. Because, by playing their way out of the playoffs, the Oilers sent a strong signal to potential free agents; this is not a team ready to win much more than it loses.

I hope that the team realizes that Barnes is correct and avoids a likely-fruitless run at Marian Hossa. If another top-six forward is brought in, it seems to me that some of the current group (Robert Nilsson being the likeliest name) will not be brought back. Although from the sounds of it (and not solely from Barnes – both Brownlee and Gregor have said similar things) the trade that Barnes refers to will be just the tip of the iceberg.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 11:03AM
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Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

Well it would be interesting to see Canada line up with Reddox-Crosby-Iginla

Have you ever considered coaching the Oilers. As I understand it they might be looking for a coach soon.

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#52 Darren
April 09 2009, 11:04AM
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should say because 'of' Iggy's power -

I also should have added that we probably don't need the other two to play particularly well on that line if Reddox just goes out there and does his job! :)

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#53 DRoy
April 09 2009, 11:10AM
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Darren wrote:

should say because ‘of’ Iggy’s power - I also should have added that we probably don’t need the other two to play particularly well on that line if Reddox just goes out there and does his job!

*pictures Reddox taking on a whole team with MacT cheering him on*

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#54 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:10AM
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Rick wrote:

I am not saying Spector had all his facts lined up on this one but a little self preservation from negative public opinion on Horcoff’s behalf wouldn’t surprise me either.

I completely agree. We can't take Horcoff's word for it - but we can't take Spector's either. At this point it's an accusation that's been uncorroborated, and until it is I'm not going to run around screaming at Katz/Horcoff/whoever.

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#55 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:11AM
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@ Archaeologuy:

Given that Olczyk was the one who negotiated the Nilsson/Gilbert contracts, it's a stretch to call him powerless.

Like it or not, he is the assistant GM, and he has real responsibilities. The Oilers aren't paying his salary just to throw fans off the scent.

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#56 RossCreek
April 09 2009, 11:12AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

RossCreek wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: RossCreek wrote: @ Ogden Brother: How? No more “old boys club” because of who they are but Tambs can hire his friends because of who they are? I’d like to see someone brought in from outside the orginization as well, just find it laughable how many people critize the Oil for hiring friends when a large % of teams do the same thing. The point is people are sick of the Oilers naming Bucky or McSorely or Simpson or Anderson or whomever as their new coach. Tambellini may hire friends or people he has connections with, but at least they’re qualified. Can you not see that? Crawford has his own pedigree, but a connection to Tambellini could bring him here. Thats a good thing. Yes every team does it. But not to the extent the Oilers have. Calgary’s management and coaches aren’t made up of Jim Peplinski, Lanny McDonald, Theoren Fleury & Mike Vernon. I’m not even saying it so much myself, the people are. They want someone new. They don’t care if its Tambellini’s buddy (as long as he’s qualified). They just don’t want an ex-Oiler. Nope, but Keenan is buddies with Sutter, and it’s often hinted that, that is why he got the job.

Oh no doubt about that. But they didn't play for the Flames. Pick a name as GM and I'll show you a name that he hired thats his buddy.

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#57 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:12AM
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#58 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:13AM
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Every team in the league has nepotism.

But the good teams only hire their buddies after they have the requisite qualifications.

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#59 Rob
April 09 2009, 11:15AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Dammit Jon, stop it! With every passing minute the cup gets further away with this craptastic organization.

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#60 Mike Krushelnyski
April 09 2009, 11:15AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Have you ever considered coaching the Oilers. As I understand it they might be looking for a coach soon.

Well as you can see from the name, I do have all the requisite credentials...

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#61 Mike Krushelnyski
April 09 2009, 11:17AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

And since I’m on a roll, did you know that the Oilers have turned over two-thirds of their roster since 2006-07?

That's why I hate when people resort to the "we're only firing the coach bewcause we can't fire all the players" argument. We quite literally have fired all the players over the course of this regime.

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#62 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:17AM
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Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

Archaeologuy wrote: Have you ever considered coaching the Oilers. As I understand it they might be looking for a coach soon. Well as you can see from the name, I do have all the requisite credentials…

Knock it off! Everybody knows that Rem Murray is due to return to Edmonton any day now.

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#63 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 11:18AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Ok, I concede that Rick Olczyk has something to do during the day. He negotiates the contracts and manages the Cap. However, the role of Asst GM is to do those day to day tasks based on the guidelines set by the GM (or whomever tells the GM what to do). He is an important asset to the club, but I would be VERY surprised if he had any autonomous power.

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#64 Mike Krushelnyski
April 09 2009, 11:19AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Jeez, ever hear of assistant coaches? Actually I'll need two, I wonder what Igor Kravchuk is doin.

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#65 RossCreek
April 09 2009, 11:19AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

And since I’m on a roll, did you know that the Oilers have turned over two-thirds of their roster since 2006-07?

How many players did the Anahiem Ducks have from their 2003 finals roster when they won the Cup in 2007? Look it up (Andy McDonald, Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, Jean-Sebastien Giguere)

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#66 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 11:21AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Knock it off! Everybody knows that Rem Murray is due to return to Edmonton any day now.

Now there was a floater! I watched that guy skate in one big circle every shift he played. Didnt touch the puck unless there was a missed pass. Of course he could only skate in one big circle because his medical condition forced him to keep his head turned in one direction, but still.

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#67 DRoy
April 09 2009, 11:22AM
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b>Jonathan Willis wrote:

Mike Krushelnyski wrote: Archaeologuy wrote: Have you ever considered coaching the Oilers. As I understand it they might be looking for a coach soon. Well as you can see from the name, I do have all the requisite credentials… Knock it off! Everybody knows that Rem Murray is due to return to Edmonton any day now.

What about Ulanov?

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#68 Rick
April 09 2009, 11:25AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

And since I’m on a roll, did you know that the Oilers have turned over two-thirds of their roster since 2006-07?

Of course another example would be the Flyers in that same time period.

Point being that looking at the amount of roster turnover is probably less of a factor than simply making poor choices when doing so.

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#69 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:29AM
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Rick wrote:

Point being that looking at the amount of roster turnover is probably less of a factor than simply making poor choices when doing so.

Yep. I just get annoyed when folks say "we need to make massive roster changes!"

Given the choice between quality and quantity roster changes, I'll go with quality every time.

Thing is, I don't think this team even makes a lot of moves that are out-and-out bad; they just create new holes to fill old ones. For instance, I'd trade Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky any day of the week, but then I sign a veteran centre for the third line/PK in the week after.

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#70 Rick
April 09 2009, 11:38AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Thing is, I don’t think this team even makes a lot of moves that are out-and-out bad; they just create new holes to fill old ones. For instance, I’d trade Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky any day of the week, but then I sign a veteran centre for the third line/PK in the week after.

I agree, Lowe's biggest problem as a GM as I see it is that he seems to over react to holes in the line up, as odd as that sounds considering how reluctant he typically was to make a trade before the deadline during the season.

If there is a hole in the line up he he would rob Peter to pay Paul and end up filling in the hole 3 times over but leaving an similar sized hole elsewhere.

If Tambellini can keep a more steady hand on the wheel it should go a long way to solving their problems.

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#71 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 11:42AM
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Rick wrote:

If Tambellini can keep a more steady hand on the wheel it should go a long way to solving their problems.

Souray talking about keeping an even keel works on far more than just dressing room level.

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#72 B.C.B.
April 09 2009, 11:51AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Rob Daum was run out of Edmonton in favour of a card carrying member of the Dynasty group. Truitt was already the asst coach of the AHL club, wasnt he? Steve Tambellini was hired but not given any control of the team, and Rick Olczyk is an accountant. Who cares where we get the accountant from?

Come on Daum was hired from the outside, but you are right should have been given development coach or AHL position at the beginning of the year. Truitt was hired from the WHL, based on his record (without connections to the boys-on-the-bus) to be an AHL assisstent, that is from the outside. Tambo, another outside hire wasn't hired at the best time for a GM to put a stamp on the team (after the draft and Free Agency started), so I don't think we can fault him for not blowing team before he has seen them play (from the inside). Lastly, Olczyk is not a accountant, but a lawyer (with a large amont of inside knowledge from his bro). I just going to name two other sucessful management personal that came from a laywer background: Howson, and Burke.

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#73 RossCreek
April 09 2009, 11:55AM
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Didn't the Oil have Scott Howson & Claude Julien down in Hailton a number of years ago. Wouldn't be a bad look now. Oh well.

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#74 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 11:57AM
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@ B.C.B.: I feel like i already had this conversation.

1) Truitt was the assistant of the Falcons before getting the job, ergo not from outside

2) Daum WAS from the outside, then canned for an insider, then was a scout of some sort, then given the AHL job.

3) Tambi IS from the outside, but not given the autonomy to do his job without K-Lowe holding his hand all season.

4) Olczyk's job is to manage the money. Yes he is a Lawyer, but one that deals with money. Hence my calling him an accountant. I didnt say he wouldnt be succesful, just that his job isnt to make changes when needed or call any shots unsupervised.

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#75 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 12:23PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

1) Truitt was the assistant of the Falcons before getting the job, ergo not from outside

Truitt was hired as the Falcon's assistant from outside the organization - from the WHL.

You're splitting hairs; he had only one year as an assistant, before that he was an outsider.

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#76 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 12:30PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Absolutely true, but MacT was an assistant in NY before he was hired here. Was he an outsider?

If my argument has even one wooden leg to stand on then the answer isnt as black and white as some make it out to be.

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#77 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 12:40PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Absolutely true, but MacT was an assistant in NY before he was hired here. Was he an outsider?

After playing nine seasons with the Oilers. Besides, his time with the Rangers was spent as former Oilers' coach John Muckler's assistant.

Truitt, on the other hand, comes from 10 seasons in the WHL as an assistant and head coach, and 4 seasons as a head coach in the AJHL.

It's not the same.

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#78 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 12:46PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Willis, I know it's not the same. That sentence was designed to raise questions with the logic behind who is from the outside and who isnt. Again, I didnt lay that down as a trump card, i was just undermining the argument.

But you cant say that Truitt was hired to be the Head Coach of the Falcons from outside the organization if he was collecting checks from the Oilers for a year before that.

You CAN say he was hired to be an Asst coach from outside of the organization, but that's as far as that goes.

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#79 Jack "FMNF" Bauer
April 09 2009, 12:48PM
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What assurances do we have that Kevin Lowe wont have his hands on this team next year? Unless he is fired or dead, I will never believe he doesnt have some influence over the coaching/talent decisions that Tambillini will make.

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#80 Colin-FMNF
April 09 2009, 01:33PM
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I like what I'm hearing from Souray and glad it's not the typical cut & dried press clipping always recycled by Moreau & Horcoff.

I think he'd make a fine Captain. Alternatively give it to one of the younger players, hand them the reins and see where they can take it.

I haven't heard anything about lowe stepping further back, is there a source on that?

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#81 Dennis
April 09 2009, 02:22PM
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I never felt that Lowe Wasn't the guy in charge of the moves but there's something that feels wrong about the Garon move.

Lowe knows MacT well enough to know how he handles goalies so would be OK such a trade knowing that it left MacT with nothing behind Roli but a kid who's proven very little and is far from trustworthy?

Who among us who's watched this club and knows MacT's tendencies Didn't think it would turn out the way it did? The kid was shelved and Roli was played in the ground and - as best I know - RB is the only quasi-MSM guy who's mentioned just how awful Roli was at times down the stretch.

And do you think it's because he's 39 and played 30-odd straight games?

Nah, me either.

So, this doesn't seem like something Lowe would do because he knows how MacT rolls and it doesn't seem like something he'd approve of, either, if Tambo brought it to the table.

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#82 Rick
April 09 2009, 02:45PM
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@ Dennis:

A few points;

At the time of the trade the Oilers were still looking like a team that could get in a comfortable playoff position and afford themselves a few games with roll of the dice goaltending.

Veteran or not, there was nothing about how Garon played this year that would suggest MacT would have been any more comfortable in playing him down the stretch than JDD in order to give Rollie a break.

Even with the bad goals that Rollie was giving up down the stretch, goaltending was never the thing that sunk the Oilers. Hemsky and Horcoff are as good a place as any to start with the critical glances.

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#83 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 03:01PM
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Willis why doesnt your name show up in the Voices of the Nation section? Are you leaving for the Canucks site? Dont do it Willis, Dont do it!

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#84 Archaeologuy
April 09 2009, 03:01PM
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Oh nevermind. It came back.

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#85 Dennis
April 09 2009, 03:06PM
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Rick: I don't think many teams could get comfortable enough to allow for JDD starts.

And, you know, maybe MacT had given up on Garon and OKed the move because he wouldn't play him but did he tell someone what would become of Roli's GP?

And who thought this club could get far enough ahead of the pack as to afford rolling the Deslauries dice?

Something just seems off here for some reason.

Finally, Roli gave up some hideous goals down the stretch. Brownlee said a Senior B goal would stop Frolov's shot from Tues and he could've said the same thing about the 4-1 goal vs Ana or the 2-0 goal vs Minny.

Roli was brutal and look at how many of those games were one goal affairs. That's not to say he was The problem but he was one of the biggest ones in the final weeks.

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#86 Rick
April 09 2009, 03:28PM
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@ Dennis: You're missing the point Dennis, even if they kept Garon the situation is likely no different. Short of being able to afford the odd loss, Rollie was still going to the guy.

The Oilers never put themselves in a position to afford a loss.

Unless you are suggesting that the team should have blown out both goalies and traded for someone else I think your pinning too much on the wrong detail.

As for describing Rollie as brutal down the stretch, I trust you're trying to make a point more than describe his play.

Yes he looked fatigued and yes there are few that he should have stopped but here is something to ponder. Of their last 7 losses, the ones that killed their playoff hopes, the Oilers scored at a clip of 1.59 goals per game.

There were way too many problems on this team to justify a need to keep railing on a trade that boils down to Garon or Deslauriers a reason why they are where they are in the standings.

Again, why not start with the so called top line and more specifically Hemsky and Horcoff?

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#87 topshelf
April 09 2009, 03:33PM
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Rick wrote:

Again, why not start with the so called top line and more specifically Hemsky and Horcoff?

What is Hemsky supposed to do carrying around dead weight all year long on the top line? He basically produced every point he got with little to no help from his linemates for most of the year. He could've easily got 10 more assists if Horc had buried half the chances he was provided.

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#88 Victoria
April 09 2009, 03:36PM
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@ Dennis:

While i agree that Roli wasn't as strong down the last stretch as he had been before, to say he was 'brutal' is an exaggeration. The only reason his mistakes are blown out of proportion is because with the way the team is playing, he wasn't allowed any room for error. That's not the norm for most teams. Also, to say he was the biggest problem in the finals weeks is suggesting that he was the reason for the losses. I the team was actually bailing him out on some games, I'd feel the same way about him, but the fact is, he's bailed them out much more (actually, I don't know if I can point to a game that they won for him).

As for the one goals games, one could argue that it's more the issue of the Oilers not being able to score those crunch time goals to tie it up.

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#89 Victoria
April 09 2009, 03:38PM
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That was suppose to be "If the team...". Stupid no edit options on these posts.

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#90 Rick
April 09 2009, 03:45PM
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@ topshelf:

It doesn't change that the Oilers didn't score enough down the stretch. When that happens you have to start by looking at the guys that are the expected to do just that.

I am sure more than few people are satisfied with what Hemsky did this year.

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#91 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 03:46PM
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topshelf wrote:

What is Hemsky supposed to do carrying around dead weight all year long on the top line? He basically produced every point he got with little to no help from his linemates for most of the year. He could’ve easily got 10 more assists if Horc had buried half the chances he was provided.

Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky were pretty strong together all year. That said, while Horcoff had a bad offensive campaign, centre wasn't nearly as bad a position as the rotating top line LW - Penner being the best of a group including Kotalik, O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Cole, Moreau and Reddox.

As for Hemsky, his performance on the powerplay this year and his inconsistency were two major problems on this team.

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#92 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 03:46PM
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But if we're looking for people to blame, we really ought to start with whoever was coaching the penalty kill.

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#93 topshelf
April 09 2009, 04:09PM
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I find it hard to point a finger at Hemsky when at times he was the only player producing any offense at all this year.

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#94 Dennis
April 09 2009, 04:47PM
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Rick and Vic: my point was I'd rather have Garon as the back-up and the rest that it would provide Roli rather than the marginal package we received in return for Garon.

If we moved him for something that would've helped us, I could've lived with the move. But, we didn't and MacT didn't trust what was left for depth and Roli fell apart.

I"m not saying he was The problem but he was a big one in the games vs Min and Ana and the Kings. Think back to how many crap goals the opposing goalies gave up in those games?

Anyway, Garon is better than JDD and MacT would've probably played him more and Roli would've been better off for it.

Anyway, the problem with the Oil wasn't the top line as much as it was A: 89 couldn't do enough with the soft min that the top line's matching up provided him and B: we couldn't kill a penalty to save our lives.

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#95 Rick
April 09 2009, 04:56PM
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@ Dennis:

I am not sure what they could have gotten that would have helped but I guess it is possible.

One thing that they did get is the open roster spot which ultimately lead to being able bring 2 guys in at the deadline with one going out.

Obviously O'sullivan did sweet eff all down the stretch but the attempt was made all the same.

As for MacT possibly playing Garon, I disagree so we can call it a difference of opinion on that one.

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#96 Andrew W
April 09 2009, 05:08PM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

...and the players executing the PK (or not executing it, as was the case all too often)

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#97 Jonathan Willis
April 09 2009, 05:49PM
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topshelf wrote:

I find it hard to point a finger at Hemsky when at times he was the only player producing any offense at all this year.

As, at times, was Gagner. As, at other times, was Penner.

I thought Hemsky had a decent year, but his powerplay numbers have fallen off and he hasn't been the guy down the stretch that he needed to be. Still a good player of course, but then so's Horcoff and even someone as biased as me can see that his offensive game isn't where it needs to be.

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