Kelly Buchberger: The Perfect Fit?

Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009 01:49PM

bucky Photo by Håkan Dahlström. View his Flickr stream. When the Oilers announced major changes to their coaching staff this summer, the only survivor was former captain Kelly Buchberger. Head coach Craig MacTavish, assistants Charlie Huddy and Bill Moores, and video coach Brian Ross all saw their employment terminated. Goaltending coach Pete Peeters was let go a few weeks later, and Springfield Head Coach Jeff Truitt was let go earlier in the year. Assuming that at least of these guys knew their business (a reasonable assumption) why was Buchberger – with his comparatively short resume – preserved? Some would argue that his behind the scenes connections kept him in Edmonton, but I don’t think that’s it. After all, it’s probably a reasonable guess that guys like Huddy and Moores were fairly connected to, given their long tenure with the organization. I think the real reason is both more interesting and more encouraging: merit. This is a bit of an about-face for me; I was highly critical of the decision last summer to bump Rob Daum into limbo so that Buchberger could take his job (Daum took a job as a scout and is the new coach in Springfield). It felt like one more act of nepotism from a club that already placed too much importance on on-ice accomplishments from two decades ago. Two things have helped persuade me that Buchberger may be a valuable asset to the coaching staff.

Springfield: Going From Bad to Worse

Kelly Buchberger’s record in Springfield was not, in my opinion, an asset; at least, not prior to this season. They recorded only 80 points, missed the playoffs, and were outscored 257-214. Jeff Truitt took over this season with a relatively similar roster, and the Falcons recorded 20 fewer points, and scored 26 fewer goals while allowing one more.

Jeff Truitt is no dummy. He has a very good record as a junior coach, a record that includes championship victories, and he was hired quickly in the off-season to boot, despite his record in Springfield.

Individual players responded to Buchberger’s methods in Springfield (despite his reputation as a bit of a taskmaster). Rob Schremp had the finest season of his career, and Liam Reddox went from being an ECHL bit player to getting NHL icetime. From this vantage point, it’s probably fair to say that Kelly Buchberger’s limited time as a head coach was successful.

Experience

It seems a little funny to cite experience as an asset when Buchberger has spent relatively little time doing it (he was first hired as an AHL assistant in 2004-05). But the fact of the matter is that there probably isn’t a single person in the organization with the same feel for every prospect and young player in the system than Kelly Buchberger.

Buchberger not only has that experience by virtue of his work as an assistant and later head coach with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, but also because of what he did in between. He was in a bit of limbo himself in 2005-06; the Oilers AHL franchise dissolved, and it seemed like he bounced around the organization as sort of a jack-of-all-trades. In 2006-07, he became the team’s development coach, working with every prospect in the system – including those playing for amateur teams. Lastly, this past season he saw every Oilers player from the vantage of the video room and during practices.

Given that Pat Quinn’s been away from the NHL (and freely acknowledges he doesn’t have a read on his players yet) and Tom Renney has been coaching in the East, doesn’t it make sense to leave a guy on staff who knows every player in the system; their strengths weaknesses, and history with the team? Furthermore, doesn’t it make sense to leave a guy who has shown throughout his playing career that he doesn’t mind filling any role that’s expected of him – particularly given that both Quinn and Renney are coming in as former head coaches and will certainly be the two guys making decisions?

At this point, Kelly Buchberger is probably the perfect fit to round out the coaching staff.

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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 Prop Jay
June 23 2009, 01:58PM
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I have not even read this yet. i was so excited to see a post I came here first

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#2 Cam
June 23 2009, 02:01PM
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Nice post JW. I couldn't agree more.

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#3 Cam
June 23 2009, 02:01PM
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Prop Jay wrote:

I have not even read this yet. i was so excited to see a post I came here first

Damn you Prop Jay... you beat me to it

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#4 Chris.
June 23 2009, 02:01PM
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Nice post. You raise some valid points. Buchberger also seems to have the ability to remain genuinely upbeat in the face of adversity... a real plus in an organization trying to make changes.

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#5 Ender
June 23 2009, 02:06PM
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I know a lot has been said about QUinn and how he deals with players, but I haven't seen anything with respect to goalies. MacT was a big proponent of using the hot hand to the point that when the hot hand cooled off, the other goalie hadn't played in forever and had little to no chance of being in proper game shape. I don't know how much of that had to do with Peeters or just MacT having no idea how to deal with goaltenders, but has there been any word on how Quinn/Renney are with this? I seem to remember Renney being pretty evenhanded during his pre-NHL days, but that was a long time ago.

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#6 Antony Ta
June 23 2009, 02:12PM
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Any chance Paul MacLean joins the Oilers as an assistant coach? I think he was the special teams guy over in Detroit and I remember there was earlier mention of him as a replacement for MacTavish. With Quinn/Renney on board he could fit in well with Buchberger and co.

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#7 Victoria
June 23 2009, 02:12PM
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@ Ender: I'm assuming the coaches aren't going to address how to deal with the goalies until they know what they have in net.

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#8 Austin Ayala
June 23 2009, 02:16PM
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When he's done I think one of:

- Todd Marchant - Rem Murray - Mike Grier

should coach the Oilers. Marchant I can for sure see as a coach.

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#9 Ender
June 23 2009, 02:16PM
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@Victoria

I know that; I'm just wondering how he's dealt with these things in the past. From what the numbers say Quinn tends to go with a 55/30 ish split, but I don't know the way that was arranged.

Long story short, They'll never know if they have anything in JDD unless they give him a reasonable chance, and MacT seemed to be terrified of making any goalie decisions.

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#10 Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009, 02:18PM
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@ Antony Ta:

Would you stop being an assistant coach in Detroit to be one in Edmonton? I wouldn't.

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#11 Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009, 02:23PM
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@ Ender:

I just had to go on an 8-hour drive to take care of some business; anyways, on that drive I was listening to NHL Home Ice on XM and they replayed an interview with Quinn from late May/early June.

They asked him about the goaltedners Edmonton had. After talking about how Roloson wasn't a long-term solution, Quinn said that the goalies they have (he mentioned Dubnyk by name and said he couldn't remember the other one) weren't ready. TIFWIW

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#12 Librarian Mike
June 23 2009, 02:29PM
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Great article, Jonathan. There's a Bucky-type guy in pretty much every organization in the league, so I don't necessarily have a problem with his presence. You've given me hope that the Oilers may be on the right track by keeping him around. At the very least my Mom will be happy, as he used to live by my folks and was always nice to her at Safeway.

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#13 Ender
June 23 2009, 02:30PM
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@Willis

Fair enough. I just don't see how that'll change with him stapled to the bench in lieu of a vet.

I mean, develop a goalie or don't. At this point I just want one or the other.

I hear Markannen was pretty good in the KHL last year, and Conklin's been pretty solid for the last few years.

MacT drove me nuts with goalies and it sounds like Quinn is more of the same.

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#14 Bar Qu
June 23 2009, 02:31PM
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With all this reasonable insight and willingness to change your viewpoint based on actual reasons, I am beginning to lose my faith in the interweb. Where is the adherence to nonsensical positions despite all evidence to the contrary? Where is the lone voice rallying the masses to grab their pitchforks and torches? You, sir, are ruining a formerly dark place with your facts, insights and accuracy. ;)

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#15 Morghasm
June 23 2009, 02:31PM
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(long time ON-stalker, first time organized-enough-to-comment)

As much as I hate to admit it, Buchberger just might have a role to play as we transition from the old coaching regime to the new.

Am I the only one who wonders how long it's going to take Quinn to "get a read" on the players and this team as it currently stands? It's been a full month since he was announced as coach, and as recently as last week his interview with Dan Tencer made him sound like he still didn't even know names/positions of players (ie. the comment that was perhaps about Hemsky playing like the Lone Ranger, but referred to him as a centre).

I realize there is a LOT to learn about a team when you come in as head coach (especially if you haven't been hands on in the league recently) but on the other hand, if you can't speak intelligently about your team after a month, how can you be contributing even in the slightest to decisions about drafting, trading and signing?

With Quinn's current inability to offer any kind of intelligent insight into the team's strengths and weaknesses, one of Buchy's main roles in the immediate future might be to help offer some in his stead.

But Buchy being relied on for intelligent input? Scary.

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#16 Ender the Dragon
June 23 2009, 02:37PM
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I'll be curious to see what Bucky's duties actually are. You are right, Jon, to allude to the fact that Quinn and Renney will be calling the shots; Renney perhaps moreso than usual to prove that he is an Associate Coach and not a mere Assistant Coach like Bucky. Once a goalie coach is selected and perhaps one more assisrant, I would be very curious to know how they're going to break down the coaching duties. I agree that Bucky has to have something besides his good-looks going for him to have stayed on when others didn't; lets hope his talents aren't wasted collecting the stray pucks from the corners after practice is over.

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#17 Librarian Mike
June 23 2009, 02:38PM
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I kind of have this fantasy where Bucky and Quinn take Hemsky under their wing and teach him how to fight like in Youngblood....and Robyn Regehr is Racki.

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#18 Robin Brownlee
June 23 2009, 02:39PM
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"It felt like one more act of nepotism from a club that already placed too much importance on on-ice accomplishments from two decades ago."

It didn't feel that way. It was that way. That doesn't mean Buchberger can't work out and be an asset as you suggest, but I wrote that Bucky would survive the purge three or four times before the sackings began because I was told he would. He didn't stick around because of his resume.

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#19 Antony Ta
June 23 2009, 02:40PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Antony Ta: Would you stop being an assistant coach in Detroit to be one in Edmonton? I wouldn’t.

Touché.

However, his contract ends and I know Katz is serious about offering contracts to coaches this off season. Could the Oilers offer him more money, maybe?

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#20 Chris.
June 23 2009, 02:42PM
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Morghasm wrote:

but on the other hand, if you can’t speak intelligently about your team after a month, how can you be contributing even in the slightest to decisions about drafting, trading and signing?

It takes two seconds to scan the depth chart on your own teams website to learn names and positions...

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#21 Morghasm
June 23 2009, 02:46PM
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@ Chris.: That's my point. When he's speaking with the media about the team, he doesn't even seem to have a basic grasp on names and positions, nevermind any insight into players' abilities. And he's been here a month. It makes me nervous that Buchberger might be the one (at a coaching level, of course) with the most insight into the team at this point.

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#22 Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009, 02:47PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Yes, you did; something I probably could have mentioned in the article ;) But did you get a feel as to why? Was he simply buddy-buddy with Katz or did you get the feeling that his knowledge of every player in the system was the reason he was kept over Huddy/Moores?

Sorry if you've addressed this previously - I do remember you saying he would survive, but I don't recall a terribly detailed reason.

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#23 Chris.
June 23 2009, 02:48PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

It didn’t feel that way. It was that way.

HA! I remember how you repeatedly told us this. I absolutely love hearing these tidbits from a guy whose so dialed in....

Thanks to you I've been reading up on Evander Kane all morning.

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#24 Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009, 02:49PM
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@ Morghasm:

I've had similar thoughts. The optimist in me says that maybe he wants to keep an open mind until TC.

I'm not sure I trust my inner optimist though; he's led me astray before.

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#25 ronaldo
June 23 2009, 02:49PM
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@Chris @Morghasm

Perhaps Quin is using the Forrest Gump approach of looking like he is lost but in the end captaining his very own scrimp boat.

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#26 Ogden Brother
June 23 2009, 02:51PM
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Chris. wrote:

Morghasm wrote: but on the other hand, if you can’t speak intelligently about your team after a month, how can you be contributing even in the slightest to decisions about drafting, trading and signing? It takes two seconds to scan the depth chart on your own teams website to learn names and positions…

Ya I'd agree, Quinn is off to an embarrassing start

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#27 RossCreek
June 23 2009, 02:53PM
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Brent Sutter, Ryan McGill, Dave Lowry and Jamie McLennan. Told ya.

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#28 David S
June 23 2009, 02:55PM
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Morghasm wrote:

I realize there is a LOT to learn about a team when you come in as head coach (especially if you haven’t been hands on in the league recently) but on the other hand, if you can’t speak intelligently about your team after a month, how can you be contributing even in the slightest to decisions about drafting, trading and signing?

Quinn said his job was to take the guys he was dealt and make them the best team he could. Coaches aren't fanboys, working out endless trade possibilities in their basements. Their job is more focused on what's in front of them. As it is, we know there's probably going to be alot of changes this summer. So how would he even know who he'd want when the only information he'd have would be based on a roster that will look significantly different 6 months from now.

Maybe he might be able to offer suggestions as to who he thinks he needs some time in November, but right now I don't think he could add anything to the trade conversations. That's what scouts and the GM are supposed to do, right?

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#29 Peter Pan
June 23 2009, 02:57PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

“It felt like one more act of nepotism from a club that already placed too much importance on on-ice accomplishments from two decades ago.” It didn’t feel that way. It was that way. That doesn’t mean Buchberger can’t work out and be an asset as you suggest, but I wrote that Bucky would survive the purge three or four times before the sackings began because I was told he would. He didn’t stick around because of his resume.

No doubt! KLowe still feels the desire to shape this team any way he can. Bucky is nothing but a "Buddy-Buddy" hiring.

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#30 Harlie
June 23 2009, 02:57PM
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you make a very good common sense argument J-Dub...I'm leanin your way on this one now too.

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#31 Chris.
June 23 2009, 02:59PM
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I'm afraid I'm a bit of an ageist. (spelling?)

Anyone who has spent time in the car riding through town with Grampa listening to Hallsie call a football game knows what I'm talking about.

Some people are razor sharp right to their deathbed... others; not so much. I've been generally positive about the coaching tandem because it IS a tandem.

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#32 Chris.
June 23 2009, 03:01PM
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Riding through town with Grampa DRIVING I mean.

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#33 smytty777
June 23 2009, 03:03PM
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My problem with Buchberger is that I don't know what he does. What is his role, does he run practices? PK and faceoffs? Shot blocking with your face drills?

It is difficult to see value in someone when you don't know how they are adding to the team. He may be doing an excellent job, I have no idea, but Bucky being kept over Huddy still does not sit well with me.

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#34 Beuke BOOM
June 23 2009, 03:13PM
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Clearly, he was retained so that Pat Quinn and Tom Renney would appear more handsome standing next to him behind the bench.

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#35 Chris.
June 23 2009, 03:16PM
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smytty777 wrote:

My problem with Buchberger is that I don’t know what he does.

I'm no expert on the daily duties of Bucky under MacT's watch...

From various interviews, articles,etc; I gather Buchberger was their "eye in the sky" during the games, and took a particularly active role mentoring and encouraging the young guys.

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#36 Antony Ta
June 23 2009, 03:18PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Ya I’d agree, Quinn is off to an embarrassing start

Though Quinn thinking Ales Hemsky is a center is similarly worrisome to the notion of hiring Marc Crawford thinking our RW's name is Alex Hemsky, we all know the merit of the coach is based not on mistakes/triumphs on the airwaves but rather his mistakes/triumphs on the ice.

Crawford may have a cup, but he's no Pat Quinn.

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#37 Ogden Brother
June 23 2009, 03:26PM
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Antony Ta wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: Ya I’d agree, Quinn is off to an embarrassing start Though Quinn thinking Ales Hemsky is a center is similarly worrisome to the notion of hiring Marc Crawford thinking our RW’s name is Alex Hemsky, we all know the merit of the coach is based not on mistakes/triumphs on the airwaves but rather his mistakes/triumphs on the ice. Crawford may have a cup, but he’s no Pat Quinn.

Obviously, but that coupled with the above post outlining that he didn't even know JDD's name has to make you wonder how sharp and how in touch with the new NHL he really is.

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#38 Jonathan Willis
June 23 2009, 03:34PM
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@ Ogden Brother:

In fairness, that interview happened right after he got the job.

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#39 Jodes
June 23 2009, 03:34PM
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Jon, like many I didn't really agree with the keeping of Bucky, but after reading your article, I have to say you're 100% bang on..

Well said.

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#40 Big Deal
June 23 2009, 03:38PM
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I am not sure I could disagree with Willis anymore. Bucky has no solid NHL experience as an assistant coach, as a technical guy or motivator. You have to earn your stripes and he simply has not. Just because you are a nice hardworking guy and you have put in your time with an organization does not mean you are qualified to be an assistant coach. Billy Moore and Rob Daum would be far better choices then Bucky. Those two are experienced X's and O guy how know how to teach young players how to play the game better. They have proven experience and the knowledge to back up that experience. Bucky has neither.

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#41 Ogden Brother
June 23 2009, 03:43PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Ogden Brother: In fairness, that interview happened right after he got the job.

Still I bet most people here could name the back up goalie to 80% of the teams in the league and know what position their best player plays.

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#42 Harlie
June 23 2009, 03:54PM
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Chris. wrote:

Morghasm wrote: but on the other hand, if you can’t speak intelligently about your team after a month, how can you be contributing even in the slightest to decisions about drafting, trading and signing? It takes two seconds to scan the depth chart on your own teams website to learn names and positions…

exactly. Names don't mean jack, it's the numbers on the depth chart and how they build a system around the players strengths and weaknesses. Quinn said as much when I heard him on the TEAM or somewhere.

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#43 smytty777
June 23 2009, 04:09PM
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Chris. wrote:

I gather Buchberger was their “eye in the sky” during the games, and took a particularly active role mentoring and encouraging the young guys.

I got a similar impression, but I don't really know what the "eye in the sky" is responsible for and how that translates into tangible results. I suppose I just want some criteria to be able to judge his performance by to have comfort that he is: excellent, incompetent or somewhere in between.

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#44 Ssseth
June 23 2009, 04:11PM
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Prop Jay wrote:

I have not even read this yet. i was so excited to see a post I came here first

That is almost as bad as just saying "First!"

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#45 The Menace IQWT
June 23 2009, 04:17PM
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@ Ogden Brother: @ Chris.: @ Morghasm: You guys are not trusting in Quinn. MAybe it's YOU that's off to an embarrasing start! ;) hxxp://jsbm.spreadshirt.com/us/US/Shop/Index/index

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#46 Chris
June 23 2009, 04:31PM
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Quinn's comments about the "lone ranger" who doesn't distribute the puck kind of amuse me... because it's kind of how I evaluate Hemsky myself... Hemsky often does hang on to the puck too long in the offensive zone. It's like he simply can never decide what he's going to do; linemates have to stop skating, passing lanes disappear, defenders reestablish position... and then... the inevitable turnover. IMO, all the twisting, and turning, and net circling, is not "creativity"; it's full speed hesitation.

That said, I hope Quinn can eventually figure out whose who, and get these forward units to hit the line with speed, confidence, and as a cohesive unit. Hemsky needs to lead line one with a quicker head, and Gagner on line two with quicker feet...

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#47 Cam
June 23 2009, 04:35PM
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Yano... Quinn could have been talking about Gagner... he holds on to the puck too much sometimes too.

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#48 David S
June 23 2009, 04:44PM
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^ With Gagner its a lack of confidence. With Hemsky its a lack of linemates.

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#49 Ogden Brother
June 23 2009, 04:46PM
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Chris wrote:

Quinn’s comments about the “lone ranger” who doesn’t distribute the puck kind of amuse me… because it’s kind of how I evaluate Hemsky myself… Hemsky often does hang on to the puck too long in the offensive zone. It’s like he simply can never decide what he’s going to do; linemates have to stop skating, passing lanes disappear, defenders reestablish position… and then… the inevitable turnover. IMO, all the twisting, and turning, and net circling, is not “creativity”; it’s full speed hesitation. That said, I hope Quinn can eventually figure out whose who, and get these forward units to hit the line with speed, confidence, and as a cohesive unit. Hemsky needs to lead line one with a quicker head, and Gagner on line two with quicker feet…

Hemmer needs to tighten up his play no doubt, but he's still has the 3rd highest assist total amoungst RW since the lockout.

Alffy: 217 St Louis: 197 Hemsky: 192

and he's played 12 less games then Alffy and 35 less games then St Louis. You can criticize Hemmer over alot of things, but criticizing him for not distributing the puck is bordering on delusional.

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#50 Chris
June 23 2009, 04:51PM
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@ Cam:

I think Gagner distributes the puck nicely when he's on... but when he's lacking confidence he has this tendancy to stop moving his feet when he's thinking pass... This makes him easy to defend against. That said, I'd bet money Gagner figures out how to consistantly make good decisions in full stride in the next year or two. Hemsky, on the other hand, can't seem to think as fast as he can fly. I'm not sure Hemsky, at his age, will ever develop the necessary hockey sense to outright lead the Oiler offence. This is a critical year for him.

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