Denis Grebeshkov and the Defense

Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009 10:21AM

Grebeshkov celebrates

The Edmonton Journal is reporting today that Denis Grebeshkov is likely to return to the Oilers and is close to signing a three-year deal worth a shade over 3-million dollars a season.

This is excellent news, as the 25-year old emerged as a legitimate top-four defenseman last season, recording 39 points and leading the Oilers with a +12 rating. The dollars are around what I expected to see; a little higher than I’d hoped but reasonable, and the term is encouraging as well. There’s some worry here about sustainability, since Grebeshkov is being paid based on one excellent campaign (he improved his two-way play to end 2007-08 but it’s his offense that’s bringing in the money) and he wasn’t exactly called upon as the team’s premiere shut-down defenseman.

Grebeshkov also benefitted from an above-average on-ice shooting percentage (20% better than team average at even-strength). I don’t think that will continue, so his offense may dip a bit next season, but he should still be good for 30 or so points, and may maintain his current offensive pace if he gets more powerplay time.

Also in today’s Edmonton Journal, John MacKinnon suggests some changes to the Oilers’ blueline:

On the back end, Denis Grebeshkov, Tom Gilbert, Lubomir Visnovsky, and young Taylor Chorney are similar players. A careful cull is required here, too. So is acquring a genuine, banging, stay-at-home defenceman or two, preferably, to help out Ladislav Smid and one of, but not both, Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick.

I notice that Sheldon Souray, who just had (rather improbably) the finest season of his career at the age of 32, was not mentioned on that list. Souray was the subject of trade rumours at points after the season (pointed out by OilersNation’s own Robin Brownlee, if I’m not mistaken) and while he denied them, he has voiced public displeasure at various points druing the season. The San Jose Sharks, who supposedly pursued him as a free agent two summers ago, would be one team that might be a good fit for the hard-nosed defenseman.

Despite his (rather dominant) season and the new coaching tandem, I don’t think Souray should be perceived as untouchable. He’s a big-money, long-term contract on an Oilers team filled with them, and on top of that there should be some real questions about whether a repeat performance of this past year will happen.

Both Steve Staios and Jason Strudwick had somewhat disappointing seasons; they were sheltered on the third pairing and given a ton of offensive zone draws, but still were outscored and outshot at an alarming rate. Neither is a strength right now, and Staios in particular is a concern because of the length and and cap hit of his contract. Strudwick was repeatedly praised for his work ethic, physical game, and character but on a good team probably isn’t higher than #7 on the depth chart.

Tom Gilbert’s name is frequently mentioned in trade rumours, and he’s a player that gets criticized for playing a soft game. It’s worth noting that while he isn’t a big hitter, especially for his size, he did block 136 shots this season, good for second on the team and roughly twice as many as Sheldon Souray, who played similar ice-time; and this despite the fact that Souray waso n the ice for more shots against. I think it would be wrong to ignore that when discussing Gilbert’s willingness to pay a physical price.

As a G.M., I’d probably look at moving one of Gilbert or Souray for help up front, and I’d try to move Staios. I wouldn’t be against retaining Strudwick if he comes cheap (in the #7 role). Visnovsky, is in my opinion the best defenseman on the team, and Denis Grebeshkov brings good value for his contract (assuming those numbers are correct), so they’d both stay, as would young Ladislav Smid. That ideally leaves two spots, which I would try to fill via trade or free agency with a physical second-paring defenseman and a reliable third-pairing type (perhaps Daniel Tjarnqvist or Matt Walker, although there are plenty of options out there). That should save some much needed cap space while allowing prospects like Theo Peckham and Taylor Chorney to learn the game more fully in the AHL – there’s no need to rush these guys into the lineup; the odds are good that they’ll play when injuries strike anyway. Chorney in particular is not ready for the NHL game.

That’s my personal feeling, based on a few premises that I think are reasonable:

  • Veteran players are more dependable than prospects
  • Prospects with significant time invested in them (Smid) should not be lightly discarded
  • Players having career-best seasons in their mid-thirties should be regarded with some caution
  • Cap space should be saved wherever possible

Thoughts?

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 Tyler
May 28 2009, 10:27AM
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how about trading moreau, pisani, and staios their cap hits add up to more then sourays and they are all over payed and overrated. Keep the players who are living up to their paycheck and since katz has all this money if know one wants these players send them to play in the minors and clear up cap room. while your at it send pouliot down there with them.

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#2 sittingatmydesk
May 28 2009, 10:31AM
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I agree that we have to move of our big 4 D-men, either for a top six forward, or stay at home D, Do you think there could be ny takers for staios? im not really sure, i would keep Strudwick as 6 or 7

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#3 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:32AM
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Tyler wrote:

how about trading moreau, pisani, and staios their cap hits add up to more then sourays and they are all over payed and overrated.

Aboslutely. Hell, I'm sure with Moreau and Pisani gone, Andrew Cogliano can handle tough opponents all by himself.

You can't dump your two veteran, tough-minutes wingers without rpelacing them. That should be obvious.

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#4 Wanye Gretz
May 28 2009, 10:32AM
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If this story is true, the Oil must have a few trades in the works. Grebs at three million per? On a team with this cap scenario?

And it's Lord Goatington von Grebeshkov to boot?

Sigh.

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#5 sittingatmydesk
May 28 2009, 10:32AM
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@ Tyler: its not that easy to trade players anymore in the new cap world..

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#6 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 10:32AM
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It would be tough to trade Souray after last season, especially considering how soft our D is otherwise. That said, I'll be suprised if he's able to repeat last year once, let alone three more times. Souray for Michalek (or maybe even Marleau?) might work for both teams....especially if Blake isn't back in SJ.

Michalek: 24 years old 6'2' 225

3 20+ goal seasons

5 more years at 4.33

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#7 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 10:34AM
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Tyler wrote:

how about trading moreau, pisani, and staios their cap hits add up to more then sourays and they are all over payed and overrated. Keep the players who are living up to their paycheck and since katz has all this money if know one wants these players send them to play in the minors and clear up cap room. while your at it send pouliot down there with them.

Interesting point: What are the main beefs from Oiler fans about their team:

Lack of: Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence.

What do all of the above (which are the guys were always trying to run out of town) provide

Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence.

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#8 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 10:34AM
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Very happy to see Grebs staying with the team. I hated him in his first year but he has really improved since then. I also thought it was a bit high at over 3 mil but whatever, isnt the worst overpay ive ever seen on this team.

At first I figured Gilbert would be out for sure if Grebs stayed but I didn't realise he was such a good shot blocker, that said, paying a guy 4+ million for blocking shots and playing kinda soft isnt that great of a situation. Whats Souray's deal anyway?? Too worried about messing up that studly face blocking shots I guess.

I'll be pissed if Smid doesn't stick around, too much time invested there. Hopefully Souray is staying as well or Wanye might have a stroke!

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#9 Mikey
May 28 2009, 10:35AM
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Defensive depth is never a bad thing so I would hope they would resign Struds as our 7th D-man only to play 30-35 games depending on injuries.

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#10 smytty777
May 28 2009, 10:39AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

You can’t dump your two veteran, tough-minutes wingers without rpelacing them. That should be obvious.

This implies that the replacement cost of tough-minute wingers is above $2M and 2.5M respectively. Bourque and Glencross are both tough minute wingers in Calgary and both signed for less.

It also implies that Moreau is an effective tough minute guy, which may not be the case anymore based on last year's performance.

I'm not in favour of getting rid of Pisani, but I think a replacement level for guys like Staios and Moreau might be available for cheaper than their current cap hit.

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#11 Mikey
May 28 2009, 10:39AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Interesting point: What are the main beefs from Oiler fans about their team: Lack of: Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence. What do all of the above (which are the guys were always trying to run out of town) provide Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence.

Effort only goes so far. We can't keep patting these guys on the back because they are vets when they are continually making the same mistakes over and over. We need effective role players. The players mentioned are on the decline of their careers and are eating up too much money as well. Time to cut the strings.

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#12 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 10:40AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Why are people always trying to run Pisani out of here?? He may make a bit too much for his role but I think he's an important part of the team. Now only if he can stay healthy for an entire year that would be great.

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#13 smytty777
May 28 2009, 10:40AM
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On a somewhat related note the Oilers just signed Plante.

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#14 dizzle
May 28 2009, 10:41AM
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I agree that Staios needs to be moved at any cost and my replacement for him would be Greg Zanon for cheap (under 2 mill)

I am not against keeping Souray but if he does want out I am also not opposed to moving him. Basically, he has a NMC and we do not want to pull a Boyle and drive him out of town (Doesn't his NMC expire after next year?) If trading Souray to the Sharks I think we need to include Cogliano and ask for Clowe and Pavelski back. It would answer our 2nd line LW and third line C.

I am not opposed to keeping Sturdwick as a 7th dman...I quite like his interviews.

My D would be: Staois out Zanon in Souray out only if he wants out Strudz as the 7th d

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#15 Mikey #2
May 28 2009, 10:41AM
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"Jason Strudwick had somewhat disappointing seasons; they were sheltered on the third pairing and given a ton of offensive zone draws, but still were outscored and outshot at an alarming rate."

JW,

Why does it matter if they started the play in an offensive zone faceoff when we couldn't win any. They don't take the draw so how is that their fault.

The stat of faceoffs starting in the offensive zone proves nothing. The defensive team wins the draw, breaks out and boom they are in the offensive zone, and the defenceman can't do anything about it.

Strudwick is very valuable as a 6 or 7...I doubt he was ever on the ice with Horcoff, so the chances of him being out with guys who win draws was pretty slim.

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#16 gord
May 28 2009, 10:41AM
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Plante signed as per oil.com..

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#17 Jay Gray
May 28 2009, 10:42AM
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Pisani and Moreau have been good soldiers, but it's time to move on. I really like Souray, but the fact is that we need help up front, if that help comes in the form of Marleau, I wouldn't be upset to see SS go. Grebs in my opinion has grown leaps and bounds into a very dependable d-man and I hope he's here for awhile. I feel if we need to use Staios as a throw-in to acquire some help up front we need to do it. Once again, he's bleed copper and blue for the last few seasons and has done everything in his power to help this team win games, but obviously it's not enough, and it's time to go forward.

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#18 Mikey
May 28 2009, 10:43AM
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scorcoff hemmercules wrote:

Why are people always trying to run Pisani out of here??

What does he do? He doesn't score. He doesn't hit. He isn't gritty. So why should he stay? What is his role?

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#19 The Towel Boy
May 28 2009, 10:45AM
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I would be happy with keeping Grebs and possibly losing Gilbert ...Souray I'm on the fence with. It's not so much his offensive production I'd miss, but rather his nastiness, veteran presence and willingness to pound someone's face in if needed....which is only multiplied in awesomeness by his point production.

I'm glad I'm not Tambo. All these tough decisions.

Oh, and do we know yet what the cap is for next year?

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#20 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 10:45AM
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Mikey wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: Interesting point: What are the main beefs from Oiler fans about their team: Lack of: Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence. What do all of the above (which are the guys were always trying to run out of town) provide Heart/Grit/effort/physical play/vetran presence. Effort only goes so far. We can’t keep patting these guys on the back because they are vets when they are continually making the same mistakes over and over. We need effective role players. The players mentioned are on the decline of their careers and are eating up too much money as well. Time to cut the strings.

Like Willis said, if better replacements are available. Then of course dump them (that goes for every player on the team tough) If their isn't (which is at least somewhat likely) then dumping them and replacing them with Falcons will give you a free ticket into the Taylor Hall sweeps.

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#21 DBO
May 28 2009, 10:45AM
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Nice post JW. Seems to be the consensus on the blogosphere that a defenseman needs to be moved. I wonder if they would go the "crazy" route. And by that i mean i wonder if they would look to revamp a lot of the back end. Jay Bowmeester is out there, and while he's a hefty price tag, and in the past it's been suggested he wouldn't want to come here, i wonder if our coaching tandem miught be an attractive piace for some UFA's. if you could deal Souray to San Jose (making him happy with family, etc.) and bring back a Clowe and high draft pick. then move a Gilbert for a younger, cheaper forward who can play LW/C (i would love Dubinsky/callahan), you would have the money to pursue a Jay Bowmeester and possibly Komisarek. We would save close to $3 mill in the SJ deal, and another $1 mill in the NY deal. Our team would be bigger up front, and we would be able to focus on the back end.

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#22 smytty777
May 28 2009, 10:46AM
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Mikey wrote:

What is his role?

His role is to play tough minutes against the opposition's top lines and to kill penalties. He does both very well.

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#23 Mikey
May 28 2009, 10:48AM
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smytty777 wrote:

His role is to play tough minutes against the opposition’s top lines and to kill penalties. He does both very well.

Except there are probably 50 players who do they same job that don't make 2.5 million.

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#24 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:50AM
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Mikey #2 wrote:

Why does it matter if they started the play in an offensive zone faceoff when we couldn’t win any. They don’t take the draw so how is that their fault.

The problem is that Strudwick/Staios add nothing and almost nothing (respectively) in the offensive zone. These are guys who should be defensive specialists; two years ago when Staios was getting creamed by fans I defended him because MacTavish used him as a defensive zone specialist, and that always hurts the statistics.

This year, both were used in the offensive zone despite not having much offensive game; the only reason to do that would be to shelter them because they didn't provide enough puck movement as a tandem to clear the zone, and neither could be elevated with any reliability above the third pairing.

One is fine; preferrably Strudwick for cap hit, although it's worth noting that the only Oilers defensemen to block more than 100 shots were Staios and Gilbert, so it isn't like Staios has lost his try. I just don't think he's physically capable of being more than a third-pairing defenseman at this point and he's getting paid too much for the job.

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#25 Mikey
May 28 2009, 10:50AM
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smytty777 wrote:

His role is to play tough minutes against the opposition’s top lines and to kill penalties. He does both very well.

Also, wasn't Horcoff's line doing that this year?

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#26 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 10:50AM
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Mikey wrote:

scorcoff hemmercules wrote: Why are people always trying to run Pisani out of here?? What does he do? He doesn’t score. He doesn’t hit. He isn’t gritty. So why should he stay? What is his role?

When Pisani plays more than 70 games he's a 30 point guy, definately one of the best PK guys on the team. He can play gritty but hasn't really shown that the last two seasons probably due to his illness and broken ankle. I guess you are probably right, if there is a cheaper replacement out there why no do it. I guess I just like the guy, so sue me.

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#27 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:51AM
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Mikey wrote:

Except there are probably 50 players who do they same job that don’t make 2.5 million.

There aren't. The other thing about Pisani's contract is that it expires next season; 2010-11 is when the cap is supposed to come down, so he can be re-signed cheaper at that point.

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#28 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 10:52AM
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~Thank goodness we finished the season with 3 million in cap space, the bonus points that came from that really helped~

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#29 baggedmilk
May 28 2009, 10:53AM
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BAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH

*licks road salt*

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#30 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:54AM
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Clarification on Souray: despite what I've said above, I like the player. I just think his trade value is as high as it's ever going to be, he's got a massive cap hit, and I worry he won't be able to sustain his play.

This isn't about dumping a problem; it's about trading a defenseman who can bring a very significant return up front and clearing cap space at the same time while limiting the team's long-term risk.

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#31 DBO
May 28 2009, 10:55AM
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Another note. Plante signed a three year entry level deal. Our only coke machine defenseman is signed so that's a good thing. Wonder if he'll be an over age WHL player or get fed to the wolves on the AHL team.

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#32 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:55AM
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RE - Cap Space: Next season will be tough, but not impossible. 2010-11 is when the team really needs to shed some money, and that is going to be incredibly difficult.

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#33 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 10:56AM
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@ DBO:

Fed to the wolves, hopefully. He fits team needs in Springfield and it will be good to see him in the role he'll get as a pro (i.e. a defensive, not offensive one).

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#34 King Mob
May 28 2009, 10:58AM
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Mikey wrote:

What is his role?

to activate into UltraPisani during the playoffs and score 14 goals/game.

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#35 Dominoiler
May 28 2009, 10:58AM
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Good read.

If Souray could be traded and size/grit comes back, then it would be easier to deal w gilbert (would have the counter balance filling the hole).. 'The Shot' is a duplicated skill w vish, puck-moving is a skill set widely held but that was the point of the shift in D-man philosophy... plus, will that be a strong suit of the coming in Big D?!.. probably not.. Souray is most needed for size, then shot, then veteran swager... i dont mind him staying tho, if hes actually happy here.. Souray is the closest thing to 'Star Power' this team has...

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#36 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 10:59AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

RE - Cap Space: Next season will be tough, but not impossible. 2010-11 is when the team really needs to shed some money, and that is going to be incredibly difficult.

Depends if the man with the $$$ is willing to eat some players or not.

For those willing to spend, it's more of a soft then a hard cap.

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#37 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 11:00AM
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@ King Mob:

I second that! I'll never forget that game 5 goal for the rest of my life.

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#38 Mikey
May 28 2009, 11:02AM
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King Mob wrote:

Mikey wrote: What is his role? to activate into UltraPisani during the playoffs and score 14 goals/game.

Exactly. He hasn't done anything since except laugh all the way to the bank.

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#39 Mikey
May 28 2009, 11:04AM
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Dominoiler wrote:

Souray is most needed for size, then shot, then veteran swager… i dont mind him staying tho, if hes actually happy here.. Souray is the closest thing to ‘Star Power’ this team has…

Not to mention our 2nd leading goal scorer.

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#40 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 11:05AM
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@ Mikey:

Actually he almost died, then broke his ankle. All his fault dammit!

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#41 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 11:05AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

For those willing to spend, it’s more of a soft then a hard cap.

Only if you're fine with things like Alexander Mogilny finishing his incredible career with the Albany River Rats, which personally I'm not.

I don't like seeing managers spending millions of their owners' money to hide their greed/stupidity in the minors.

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#42 Jonathan Willis
May 28 2009, 11:06AM
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Mikey wrote:

He hasn’t done anything since except laugh all the way to the bank.

~Ulcerative collitis: ladies and gentlemen, a laughing matter.~

Pisani's not worth the money, but that's Lowe's fault, not his. In any case, he can be re-signed cheaper before 2010-11.

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#43 The Towel Boy
May 28 2009, 11:07AM
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scorcoff hemmercules wrote:

@ King Mob: I second that! I’ll never forget that game 5 goal for the rest of my life.

I have the youtube vid of it in my favorites. :) I watch it when I'm feeling sentimental. Plus I love the ultra sad look on the face of that little blonde kid in the stands...almost in tears. But that was pretty much my face after game 7...so yah...moving on...

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#44 DBO
May 28 2009, 11:08AM
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JW. on the Souray thing. Would you deal Souray and Cogliano to SJ for Clowe and Marleau? Marleau is a big cap hit, but he's off the books next year, can score and play wing with Hemsky. And Clowe is exactly the kind of player we need, and slides nicely onto the 2nd line. you sacrifice Cogs i know, but it is essentially Clowe for Cogs, and Souray for Marleau. While Marleau might not be the "leader in the playoffs", he puts up goals and he helps us get to the playoffs a whole lot faster. And not to mention his cap hit comes off the books when the cap drops and we need to pay Gagner, and if he has success maybe we get him at a discount.

marleau-horc-hemsky Clowe-Gagner-O'Sully Penner-new C-pisani Moreau-Brod-Storts

A lot more size and balance in that lineup

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#45 Mikey
May 28 2009, 11:09AM
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@ scorcoff hemmercules: So when he was healthy and playing what are his excuses there? Everyone is in love with him because of what he did in '06. I loved it too. But that was then, this is now.

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#46 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 11:10AM
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@ The Towel Boy:

Pisani was my hero that year, huge goals at important times. There no better name to hear the announcer say after a huge goal, kudo's to his parents for that!

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#47 Mikey
May 28 2009, 11:11AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

~Ulcerative collitis: ladies and gentlemen, a laughing matter.~

Who was laughing about that? I certainly wasn't and I doubt anyone would if they saw a loved one deal with it every single day.

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#48 scorcoff hemmercules
May 28 2009, 11:15AM
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Mikey wrote:

@ scorcoff hemmercules: So when he was healthy and playing what are his excuses there? Everyone is in love with him because of what he did in ‘06. I loved it too. But that was then, this is now.

When he's healthy and playing he's filling in his role on the team no problem IMO. Like Willis said, he only has one more year. If he can saty healthy next season and play the PK and be a shutdown guy on the third or fourth line I'm fine with that. If he tanks next year, his contract is up and he's probably gone, not that bad of a situation in my eyes.

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#49 Mikey
May 28 2009, 11:15AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: You knew exactly what I meant.

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#50 Ogden Brother
May 28 2009, 11:15AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: For those willing to spend, it’s more of a soft then a hard cap. Only if you’re fine with things like Alexander Mogilny finishing his incredible career with the Albany River Rats, which personally I’m not. I don’t like seeing managers spending millions of their owners’ money to hide their greed/stupidity in the minors.

Fortunatly we don't have anyone that's had an incredible career ;)

Seriously though, from my perspective anyways the emotional stuff doesn't register...if Gretz played a year in the A because of cap reasons, so be it. I simply want my team to win at all costs, including taking advantage of every CBA loop-hole still available.

Also, it's not really hiding greed/stupidity if your owner gives the previous go ahead to "spend away" with the assertation that he's got your back when the inevetable $$'s need to be sacrificed.

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