Starting The Clock: Jordan Eberle

Jonathan Willis
July 28 2009 04:18PM

The salary cap era has been interesting, to say the least. One of the common themes of it has been that it pays off far more to develop younger players because they generally make less money due to a more restrictive contract.

That’s true, but many people take it to mean that young players should get more of a shot as a result. In point of fact, the opposite is true – at least for junior-aged players.

It’s because of the basic career curve. Will a player be better from the age of 18-20 or from 19-21 or from 20-22? In virtually every case, the player aged 20-22 will outperform the player aged 18-20.

Take Nathan Horton of Florida as an example. He was drafted in 2003, and spent the 2003-04 season in the NHL (55GP – 14G – 8A – 22PTS). Because of that, when the lockout came in 2004-05, he spent the year in the AHL (21GP – 5G – 4A – 9PTS). In the final year of his entry-level contract, Horton broke out offensively (71GP – 28G – 19A – 47PTS). That ended his three year entry-level deal, and burned three of his RFA years too, taking him closer to unrestricted free agency.

Now, let’s say that he had not been added to the NHL roster until 2005-06, when he was really adding some offense and competing in a top-six NHL role. His three seasons on his entry level deal would have looked like this:

  • 2005-06: 71GP – 28G – 19A – 47PTS
  • 2006-07: 82GP – 31G – 31G – 62PTS
  • 2007-08: 82GP – 27G – 35A – 62PTS

That’s a lot more bang for buck. The Panthers pay the same amount of money regardless, but in the first case they paid it for a player who only contributed top-six minutes for one year of three. In the second case, they pay it for a player who could be counted on for 27-31 goals every season. Additionally, it would have kept Horton a Panther longer – adding two more years of restricted free agency before he could test the open market. Meanwhile, if the Panthers really needed a 22-point scorer in 2003-04, they could have signed one cheaply via free agency; Horton simply wasn’t good enough to provide something the Panthers could have gotten for the same (or given that high-end rookies make considerably more than league minimum, less) money.

This is just an example, but it’s one case of many.

An argument against the policy that seems so sensible from a financial perspective is the development angle. Granted, I haven’t done a full-scale study, but from what I’ve seen and read it seems just as likely that a prospect will have his development derailed by injury in the NHL as he is by slow progress in junior. Horton had both his 18- and 19-year old seasons cut short by shoulder surgery; that may have happened in junior but it would have been much less likely. With a little more weight and physical maturity (which he would have had if he’d come into the NHL at 20) the injury trouble might have been avoided entirely. In the worst-case scenario, a player like Gilbert Brule can see his career completely derailed.

Sam Gagner is another example. He was lucky enough to avoid serious injury – a concussion suffered on a Nicklas Grossman hit during his rookie year turned out to be minor. He’s been more prolific offensively than Horton too, scoring 49 and 41 points.

That said, he was overmatched as a rookie. Those 49 points came along with a -21 rating; a rating that improved to -1 just a year later. He becomes a restricted free agent next year, at age 21. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the age of 25.

The Oilers will probably keep him. They got lucky on the injury front, and they’ll find the money from somewhere. But would the team have been better off to delay his entry into the NHL until he was 19? Probably. His 49 points looks impressive, but that -21 rating was both deserved and wasn’t helping the team win any games.

The point here is not to make this mistake again. The organization is making noises that Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson won’t even get a look until 2010-11. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t get them out of the woods. Jordan Eberle is getting some attention as a roster option next season, and I think that would probably be a mistake. His 74 points isn’t exactly lighting the league on fire; players drafted this past year (Kane and Schenn to name two) posted better numbers than that. He isn’t big, and he probably isn’t going to be a good defensive player right away; he went -5 in just 9 AHL games this past spring.

If he’s ready to contribute – and I mean really contribute, contribute enough offense while not looking totally clueless in his own end – than by all means play him. But don’t bring him up if he’s going to chip in 30 points and be a liability in his own end – like Ales Hemsky was when he was rushed into the league at 19.

It’s stupid to start the clock on these kids ticking before they can actually help the team win games.

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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 Andrew W
July 28 2009, 11:35PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: @ Ogden Brother: Jonathan Willis wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: He hasn’t developed any high end talent because he hasn’t been given any. Come now - everyone knows that Rob Schremp was a top-five talent in his draft year.

You're talking about top five left wingers in the Oilers' system under the age of 24, right? In which case, yes. Or at least probably, until this draft year.

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#52 Tull
July 28 2009, 11:37PM
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Great insight Willis.

I completely agree that talent needs to be nurtured, not rushed. The Oilers could be a powerhouse in a few years if they bring along Eberle and MPS slowly - hold onto Gagner and Cogliano, and complement them with guys like Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Plante, Chorney, and Peckham.

This is the core of our franchise - not Horcoff, Hemsky, Souray and Visnovsky. Unfortunately their time will have come and gone once these younger guys are in their primes.

I think the salary cap era has stressed that player development is crucial to success. Free agent signings are making less and less of an impacts each year (see Calgary, New York, Toronto, Phoenix, Philly etc).

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#53 Jonathan Willis
July 28 2009, 11:41PM
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DanMan wrote:

Gagner must have learned someting during that year, though. I think being around NHL veterans, and seeing what it takes to stick, is much better than being around junior players (95% of which will never play in the NHL).

I agree that there are benefits. Generally I believe that the injury risk/damage to the team is more of a negative than the development benefits, but as I've said that's mostly my opinion and I haven't studied it seriously enough.

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#54 Jonathan Willis
July 28 2009, 11:43PM
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Tull wrote:

This is the core of our franchise - not Horcoff, Hemsky, Souray and Visnovsky. Unfortunately their time will have come and gone once these younger guys are in their primes.

I'm pretty sure the Oilers are gunning for the rapid rebuild ala Philly. Hasn't worked so far.

As for the future core, we all forget how young Hemsky still is; he's only two years older than Pouliot, three years older than Schremp, four years older than Cogliano.

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#55 Ogden Brother
July 28 2009, 11:44PM
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Andrew W wrote:

I just noticed that Vaclav Prospal has been bought out by the Bolts. Might he be a decent fit for the LW top line? I don’t remember him playing with much grit, but he does have some size and finishing ability, and his salary demands might not be too high. It’s an interesting development even if it’s also not a likely fit because of the number of forwards already on contract in Edmonton.

He'd be Penner with less size, only way I'd want him is if 3 top 6'ers were sent out for an elite player and we needed a fill in while we waited for MPS/Eberle.

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#56 Ogden Brother
July 28 2009, 11:48PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

As for the future core, we all forget how young Hemsky still is; he’s only two years older than Pouliot, three years older than Schremp, four years older than Cogliano.

Ya I'm hoping Hemmer can really round out his game, so he's a solid, all around player from say 28 - 31 to help lead the young core (Cogs/Ganger/MPS/Eberle) when they are 21-25 and just hitting their strides.

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#57 DanMan
July 28 2009, 11:51PM
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It is scary in a way, knowing that a serious injury early in their career could actually ruin it.

During the second round of the playoffs, I got to thinking of a potential SCF matchup of BOS vs. CHI. The first thing I thought was poor Pat Kane's career ending when he goes after a loose puck on the wall and gets pulverized by Chara.

But there are big guys all throughout the league and these small guys handle themselves pretty well these days, so I say throw them in the fire, the strong will survive.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
July 28 2009, 11:57PM
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DanMan wrote:

But there are big guys all throughout the league and these small guys handle themselves pretty well these days, so I say throw them in the fire, the strong will survive.

Gilbert Brule

2005-06

NHL: 7GP - 2G - 2A - 4PTS WHL: 27GP - 23G - 15A - 38PTS

2006-07

NHL: 78GP - 9G - 10A - 19PTS

During 2005-06, Brule broke his leg and his collar-bone. 2006-07 is the best NHL total of his career so far.

Bluntly: Tossing them in when they aren't ready and hoping for the best is a really, really stupid idea. Columbus turned a possible franchise player into a 4th line plugger by doing it.

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#59 Ogden Brother
July 29 2009, 12:00AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

DanMan wrote: But there are big guys all throughout the league and these small guys handle themselves pretty well these days, so I say throw them in the fire, the strong will survive. Gilbert Brule 2005-06 NHL: 7GP - 2G - 2A - 4PTS WHL: 27GP - 23G - 15A - 38PTS 2006-07 NHL: 78GP - 9G - 10A - 19PTS During 2005-06, Brule broke his leg and his collar-bone. 2006-07 is the best NHL total of his career so far. Bluntly: Tossing them in when they aren’t ready and hoping for the best is a really, really stupid idea. Columbus turned a possible franchise player into a 4th line plugger by doing it.

He's a good example, but we really don't know for sure what he would have done had he waited 2 more years to break into the NHL. He wouldn't be the first 6th overall player to bust dispite of where he played at 18/19/20

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#60 DanMan
July 29 2009, 12:03AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

That it is a great example, but it is also very rare.

Most teenage NHLers don't get seriously injured. (unless theyre golfing)

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#61 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 12:04AM
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@ Ogden Brother:

True, but he was tracking very, very well.

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#62 Jason Gregor
July 29 2009, 12:07AM
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Andrew W wrote:

For the life of me, I’ve never understood why 18 and 19 year old players are allowed to play in the NHL but not the AHL. Ostensibly, the barrier to the AHL is to protect younger bodies from getting hurt, but aren’t there bigger and faster players in the NHL that are even more likely to cause injury? They aren't allowed to play in the AHL at that age as a "favour" to CHL teams. CHL teams would be unable to build any sort of momentum if they lost players after one or two years. The best of the best are taken, otherwise you would see way more 19 year olds getting time in the minors, and while it MIGHT benefit them, it would seriously hurt CHL teams.

Jonathan Willis wrote:

Come now - everyone knows that Rob Schremp was a top-five talent in his draft year.

Junior talent is much different than NHL talent, and to date Schremp hasn't come close to showing he has NHL talent, nor NHL work ethic to date.

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#63 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 12:09AM
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@ DanMan:

Presumably you have some proof of that? I'm not claiming they do, but you seem so sure.

And when it comes down to that, I'd guess the percentage of teenage NHL'ers under 6' tall who get injured is fairly high.

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#64 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 12:10AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Junior talent is much different than NHL talent, and to date Schremp hasn’t come close to showing he has NHL talent, nor NHL work ethic to date.

Jason - I was being sarcastic. Very sarcastic.

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#65 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 12:10AM
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For anyone confused about where I stand on Schremp:

http://www.oilersnation.com/2009/02/ahl-prospect-rankings-8-rob-schremp/

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#66 DanMan
July 29 2009, 12:27AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Junior talent is much different than NHL talent, and to date Schremp hasn’t come close to showing he has NHL talent, nor NHL work ethic to date.

I think he undoubtedly has shown he has NHL talent. They wouldn't have even called him up if they thought otherwise.

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#67 DanMan
July 29 2009, 12:32AM
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@ Jason Gregor:

And even if you mean what he has shown in NHL games, the guy has played around 60 minutes TOTAL in his NHL career, and was in on 3 goals. It's a small sample size, but nothing to roast his NHL-level talent over.

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#68 DanMan
July 29 2009, 12:53AM
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@ Jonathan Willis:

Thinking of last season, just off the top of my head, Brassard was the only one to have a serious injury. Brandon Sutter was concussed by Doug Weight (Damm I miss him), but, sadly, concussions aren't considered serious injuries.

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#69 West Coast Oil
July 29 2009, 01:58AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Jonathan Willis wrote: As for the future core, we all forget how young Hemsky still is; he’s only two years older than Pouliot, three years older than Schremp, four years older than Cogliano. Ya I’m hoping Hemmer can really round out his game, so he’s a solid, all around player from say 28 - 31 to help lead the young core (Cogs/Ganger/MPS/Eberle) when they are 21-25 and just hitting their strides.

Thats what gets me when people put down Penner. The guy has only played 3 full NHL seasons and his lowest goal total is 17. Hemsky has 6 seasons of experience and his highest goal total is 23 and we agree that he still hasn't hit his peak! Put this in perspective Sam Gagner has 2 full seasons and everyone states he is still learning. Penner went from playing university hockey to the big leagues playing with a talented line on the Ducks to being cast as almost a franchise type player for the Oilers (due to the offer sheet). This guy still hasn't reached his potential yet people and I think he will figure out what is involved in playing in the pros so why are we ready to write him off? People may point to his age but for those who went to university or college at what time did you get serious about life? We know Penner has a playful and fun loving attitude so I am sure parties, friends and having fun were an important part of his post secondary life. Now add to that being involved with sports and I can see why Penner didn't mature right away. Even Tom Gilbert took a couple of years to develop as a player the coaches could trust. Coming out of the post secondary system means the players are mature bodywise but not necessarily mentally. He may be the size of a mountain but in terms of experience he is still a juvenile.

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#70 West Coast Oil
July 29 2009, 02:03AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

West Coast Oil wrote: I also question why we were unable to develop a face off winning center after Oates left. What happened to Kyle Brodziak?

Brodziak is probably the only one out of what a depth chart of about 9 centers? Even then because MacT relied so heavily on Horcoff I thought it showed lack of trust in Brodziak's prowess which is not a good thing...

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#71 DanMan
July 29 2009, 02:08AM
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@ West Coast Oil:

WOw, thats bringin it man!

I'm a big Penner fan. I find that it takes power-forwards longer to develop for some reason. Maybe they really don't know how their own strength, or see how they can physically dominate. I look at the career track of guys like Bertuzzi, Leclair, Gary Roberts, even Cam Neely took a while to become an all-star.

He definitely shouldn't be written off just yet, given the lack of elite-level hockey experience.

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#72 Colin
July 29 2009, 08:17AM
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@ West Coast Oil:

I can see Penner becoming a 35 goal, 80 point power forward, but likewise I can also see him being a bigger, fatter, donairier version of Robert Nilsson.

By no stretch should he be written off, but it could still go either way.

Maybe the team should hire a full time nutritionist/personal trainer to work with him? And Maybe we could send him to Asshole camp so he comes back with a mean side?

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#73 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 08:27AM
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DanMan wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: Thinking of last season, just off the top of my head, Brassard was the only one to have a serious injury. Brandon Sutter was concussed by Doug Weight (Damm I miss him), but, sadly, concussions aren’t considered serious injuries.

How many were there in the league? If there were 20, that's ten percent - off the top of your head.

And concussions are serious injuries.

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#74 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 08:31AM
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@ West Coast Oil:

Dustin Penner's a full year older than Ales Hemsky. You can list off number of NHL seasons all you want, but the fact is that it will be a surprise if he's significantly better than he is today.

Of course, I think he's quite a decent player today, but I don't expect much more out of him - though his point totals may rise through better use.

And who says we all agree that Hemsky hasn't reached his potential? While we're at it, when did scoring goals become the only measure of a player's ability? Fans of the team that Gretzky starred for really ought to know better.

It's like looking at 2006-07 and going, "yeah, Hemsky's just another 20-goal scorer". It's crap - and I don't care who does it, because I've heard hockey people say things along those lines and it just proves that there are some stupid hockey people out there.

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#75 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 08:32AM
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West Coast Oil wrote:

Brodziak is probably the only one out of what a depth chart of about 9 centers?

Pouliot's average. Gagner and Cogliano are bad. Horcoff is quite good. Brodziak is quite good.

Who else did you have in mind?

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#76 OvenChicken8
July 29 2009, 08:45AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: ~Duh... Schremp~ lol.

But seriously, I wouldn't throw Gagner in the same category as Cogs.

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#77 Fiveandagame
July 29 2009, 09:10AM
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Hey what about the Oilers bringing back Mike Grier to play on our third line? Big gritty forward who likes to hit and is already a fan favorite?

As long as its a shorter deal or long term on the super cheap, whaddya all think?

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#78 OvenChicken8
July 29 2009, 09:17AM
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@ Fiveandagame: I think that would hinder Stortini's development.

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#79 Fiveandagame
July 29 2009, 09:26AM
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@ OvenChicken8:

Hmmmm good point.

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#80 Ogden Brother
July 29 2009, 09:37AM
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Colin wrote:

@ West Coast Oil: I can see Penner becoming a 35 goal, 80 point power forward, but likewise I can also see him being a bigger, fatter, donairier version of Robert Nilsson. By no stretch should he be written off, but it could still go either way. Maybe the team should hire a full time nutritionist/personal trainer to work with him? And Maybe we could send him to Asshole camp so he comes back with a mean side?

Yikes! I'd be (very) happy with 25-30G / 45/55P out of Penner

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#81 Wainwright Dan
July 29 2009, 09:53AM
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I wouldn't mind seeing Cheechoo here. Change of scenery could bring back his scoring touch.

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#82 OilerFanInCalgary
July 29 2009, 10:02AM
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Pierre McGuire is good a what he does but he's got to be less biased! I swear that he wants to have children with Dion Phaneuf.

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#83 Fiveandagame
July 29 2009, 10:08AM
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@ Wainwright Dan: Cheechoo had one prolific season... his price may be a little too steep to take that gamble with where we are with the salary cap. We'd have to unload a Steve Staios size contract + to fit him here.

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#84 OvenChicken8
July 29 2009, 10:16AM
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Fiveandagame wrote:

@ Wainwright Dan: We’d have to unload a Steve Staios size contract + to fit him here.

Where do I sign?

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#85 scorecoff hemmercules
July 29 2009, 10:23AM
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@ Wainwright Dan:

I actually thought he made more money than that but isn't he the opposite of what were looking for??? Right wing, not gritty enough and declining in offense and games played every year. We already have a guy like him named Robert Nilsson that we can't seem to give away.

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#86 oilers123
July 29 2009, 10:29AM
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Hemsky is as good as the line mates let him. I think 80 points is the most he will ever get.

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#87 Oilersordeath
July 29 2009, 10:34AM
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If Gagners attitude and mentality can rub off on Shremp, maybe just maybe we get a harder working do what it takes to win those battles Robbie Shremp. Being optimistic here. And boys can we please stop bringing up Brodziak!! He's gone, accept it, let him go.

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#88 Colin
July 29 2009, 10:36AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Yikes! I’d be (very) happy with 25-30G / 45/55P out of Penner

I didn't mean it was likely he'd every get that many, just that I could see it being possible. He does have quite good hands and size.

I could also see it being possible that I'd bang a supermodel. Doesn't mean either will happen.

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#89 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 10:42AM
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Oilersordeath wrote:

And boys can we please stop bringing up Brodziak!! He’s gone, accept it, let him go.

We've moved on. He was only brought up to show that faceoffs can be taught even without Adam Oates.

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#90 Fiveandagame
July 29 2009, 10:43AM
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@ OvenChicken8:

I would love for Staios to be shipped to another team. I would rather see Pekham play, bigger, stronger, younger. All upside. Not the Roloson tackling down side...

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#91 West Coast Oil
July 29 2009, 10:47AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ West Coast Oil: Dustin Penner’s a full year older than Ales Hemsky. You can list off number of NHL seasons all you want, but the fact is that it will be a surprise if he’s significantly better than he is today. Of course, I think he’s quite a decent player today, but I don’t expect much more out of him - though his point totals may rise through better use. And who says we all agree that Hemsky hasn’t reached his potential? While we’re at it, when did scoring goals become the only measure of a player’s ability? Fans of the team that Gretzky starred for really ought to know better. It’s like looking at 2006-07 and going, “yeah, Hemsky’s just another 20-goal scorer”. It’s crap - and I don’t care who does it, because I’ve heard hockey people say things along those lines and it just proves that there are some stupid hockey people out there.

Penner now if used properly can be a 30 goal scorer and I am happy with that. My point regarding Hemsky and Penner reaching their potential wasn't really directed at point totals (if it came across that way I apologize). My point is based more on the mental play of the game and their mental growth. Knowing when to kick it up a notch, knowing how to handle the pressure and expectations and playing consistently throughout the year. If Hemsky didn't have the lapses/snake bit periods during the year his point total would greatly increase.

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#92 Gord
July 29 2009, 10:51AM
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Andrew W wrote:

Secondly, when he had a few skilled players to work with through the `06 drive he coached them very well. Samsonov fit in very well and greatly reduced the quantity of his defensive lapses for a few months. Peca, who has (had?) some underrated skill, was a primary reason why Pisani led the entire league in playoff goals. Hemsky did his dangling lone ranger thing too, and the offensive skill was well distributed throughout the lines. This was the only team that MacTavish had with enough talent to evaluate his management of offensive players, and he excelled with them.

Excelled with? The Oil barely stumbled into the playoffs because the Canucks couldn't win a game down the stretch.

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#93 West Coast Oil
July 29 2009, 10:52AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Oilersordeath wrote: And boys can we please stop bringing up Brodziak!! He’s gone, accept it, let him go. We’ve moved on. He was only brought up to show that faceoffs can be taught even without Adam Oates.

Brodziak I will give you but once again it is probably perception, it felt like MacT had no faith in him and never brought him out much for key face offs. That lowers my opinion of his skill. Was Brodziak good because he was sheltered against weaker face off men?

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#94 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 10:54AM
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West Coast Oil wrote:

Brodziak I will give you but once again it is probably perception, it felt like MacT had no faith in him and never brought him out much for key face offs.

Kyle Brodziak was on the ice for pretty much every defensive zone draw Horcoff wasn't on for. MacTavish generally brought out two centres for key defensive zone draws: Horcoff to take the draw and Brodziak as backup.

He wasn't remotely sheltered.

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#95 Wyseguy
July 29 2009, 10:58AM
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OilerFanInCalgary wrote:

Pierre McGuire is good a what he does but he’s got to be less biased! I swear that he wants to have children with Dion Phaneuf.

for sure, but I think he's more in love with Brent Burns and Shea Weber. I bet he pitches a tent every time he says "He'a a monster!"

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#96 Jonathan Willis
July 29 2009, 11:00AM
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To backup my comment on Brodziak, here are the Oiler's centres on ice for defensive zone draws:

Horcoff: 466 Brodziak: 330 Gagner: 238 Cogliano: 237

When you consider that Brodziak had the least ice-time of the four, it's pretty obvious how MacT was using him.

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#97 Wyseguy
July 29 2009, 11:02AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

To backup my comment on Brodziak, here are the Oiler’s centres on ice for defensive zone draws: Horcoff: 466 Brodziak: 330 Gagner: 238 Cogliano: 237 When you consider that Brodziak had the least ice-time of the four, it’s pretty obvious how MacT was using him.

wow, you found those stats in 6 minutes flat!

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#98 West Coast Oil
July 29 2009, 11:05AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: So that is 1 pretty good centre since. My point is Oates came into the organization and helped Horcoff and Stoll become two elite face off men in the league. If you consider (just of the top of my head) we have Gagner, Cogs, Pouliot, Brodziak and Schremp and only 1 can be counted on for pressure face offs. I wont put Brule on here because he wasn't a prospect from the start and I even wondered about putting Schremp on here but then realized if he was a half decent face off man he may have seen some more time. My entire point was that MacT in my eyes was not the best development coach but had good people around him to teach the skills in the areas the Oilers used to excel in. i.e. Huddy and Oates I would love for the Oilers to bring in an Adam Oates as a face off consultant to help the kids improve...

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#99 Hemmertime
July 29 2009, 11:12AM
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Wainwright Dan wrote:

I wouldn’t mind seeing Cheechoo here. Change of scenery could bring back his scoring touch.

Only with Joe Thornton as his C, Thornton made his season, Cheechoo is a slightly better Torres. Its like Torres playing an entire season with Thornton would have jumped his 27 goals up to 40-50.

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#100 Hemmertime
July 29 2009, 11:14AM
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Wyseguy wrote:

for sure, but I think he’s more in love with Brent Burns and Shea Weber. I bet he pitches a tent every time he says “He’a a monster!”

Bah, Mike Green, MIke GREEN, mike GREEEEEEEEEEEEN.

God Damn Pierre

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