Everyone Hates Edmonton

Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009 11:00AM

There’s a feeling, often voiced around these parts, that free agents don’t want to play for the Edmonton Oilers. The reasons offered are varied – anything form the weather, the nightlife, Kevin Lowe, the travel, Ritch Winter, or even being on an NHLPA blacklist.

It’s overblown.

Mike Comrie really started it all.

When the local product first broke into the league with the Oilers, first as a rookie in midseason and then for the following two years as the Oilers’ de facto first-line centre, he was roundly praised by the fan base.*

After his trade request - for unknown reasons - he was lambasted by that same fan base and saw his reputation run through the mud** locally. Kevin Lowe subsequently dealt him to Anaheim for Corey Perry and a first-round draft pick… only to quash the deal after failing to extort 2.5-million in bonus money from his star centre. Comrie was subsequently dealt to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywitka and the draft pick who turned into Rob Schremp.***

After Comrie followed a string of other rejections – including a ton since the lockout in the form of Mike Peca, Jaroslav Spacek, Michael Nylander, Marian Hossa, Chris Pronger and most recently Dany Heatley.

Back to Comrie. Jim Matheson recently asked Comrie about the perception that nobody wants to play in Edmonton. Here’s what he said:

“I don't think that's true. There's different mentalities to every organization and every city ... everybody has a different situation. Maybe a kid from a small town in Western Canada might not like playing in Manhattan.”

We look at that list of rejections, and we can see that Comrie’s statement rings true. Peca publicly blamed the travel schedule. Spacek supposedly felt the same way. But that’s something that could easily be said about teams like San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Dallas – indeed, half the Western Conference.

Michael Nylander, meanwhile, actually agreed to a deal with the Oilers (4 years, 5.5-million per season)**** only to have his wife balk at living in Edmonton, leading him to back out of the deal. For what it’s worth, he now says he’d like to come play in Edmonton.

Marian Hossa turned down a mammoth deal with the Oilers in favour of a one-year contract with Detroit. Many complained that this was another symptom of the problem – ignoring the fact that Hossa also rejected Pittsburgh, a team he’d gone to the Stanley Cup final with the year before. Hossa wanted to win a Stanley Cup more than anything, and his decision to pursue one with Detroit has cost him both on the ice***** and in the pocketbook, as he signed a long-term deal in Chicago for far less money than Edmonton offered a year ago.

Pronger fits into the Nylander category; a player whose personal circumstances dictated a need to live elsewhere. Would things have worked out differently if he’d been in Calgary or Ottawa for 2005-06? It seems doubtful.

Most recently we have the example of Dany Heatley. Heatley, as readers will recall, previously demanded a trade from Atlanta. After being dealt to Ottawa, Heatley had some good years, got a shiny new contract, and then saw things go south this past season. He demanded a trade, and because of his no-trade clause was able to limit the number of teams he would accept being dealt to. Bryan Murray played hardball with him and dealt him to Edmonton, only to have Heatley dig his heels in and refuse a deal.

It really isn’t a reflection on Edmonton – particularly if Heatley didn’t include Edmonton in the list of places he was willing to be moved to.

None of this is to say that the Oilers have difficulty attracting free agents. But the difficulties they have are less connected to a distaste for the city then they are to the team’s lousy record over the last decade – and those difficulties are shared by every other lousy team out there.

Just this summer Atlanta, for example, made a serious play for free agent forward Manny Malhotra – reportedly offering a multi-year contract at 2MM per season. Malhotra, who remains unsigned, declined to make the deal because, well, it’s Atlanta.

Meanwhile Florida – a team blessed with good weather and a decent travel schedule – has seen franchise cornerstones Roberto Luongo and Jay Bouwmeester refuse to sign extensions, and has been forced to deal both of them. The reason? Those two players apparently like the idea of winning more games than they lose.

Besides, it isn’t like the Oilers’ don’t have players who wanted to play for them. Ryan Smyth was shipped out of town after the Oilers wouldn’t pay him 5.5-million per season**** (he later signed with Colorado at a 6.25MM/yr cap hit). Free agents like Petr Sykora, Jan Hejda and Marty Reasoner were put on the back-burner or ignored entirely, and that’s to say nothing of Georges Laraque. Sheldon Souray and Nikolai Kahbibulin both followed the money and signed on as free agents.

The point is this: if Edmonton wins games, then it will be an attractive destination for free agents. Detroit, after all, signs whoever they want at below market rate, and it isn’t because of the beauty of the city. If, on the other hand, Edmonton remains mired in mediocrity, there will be no compelling reason for free agents to sign there. That’s really the bottom line.

*For proponents of various theories (“players never have their best seasons in Edmonton”, or “Craig MacTavish is an idiot I wouldn’t hire to coach a Grade 3 ball hockey game”) Mike Comrie has never bettered the 33 goal/60 point season he recorded as a sophomore under MacTavish.  The Oilers remained in the playoff chase to the bitter end with a centre depth chart consisting of Comrie, Marchant, Horcoff, Reasoner and Pittis.  Todd Marchant’s 34 points was the second best total among the centres, and only he and Comrie broke the elusive 23-point barrier.   

 

**One of the least charming attributes of certain portions of the Oilers’ fanbase is its tendency to make up, believe and spread the vilest possible rumours about players who have fallen out of favour.  We saw it with Comrie, we saw it with Pronger and I’m sure we’ll see it again.  It’s not a good thing.

 

***A dodged bullet, that one.  I mean, really, this team almost got stuck with Corey Perry and Anaheim’s 9th overall pick (Ladislav Smid).  Fortunately, the team instead chose to grab Woywitka and the 24th overall pick – a fine decision.  Can you imagine how poorly a 6’3”, goal-scoring winger would fit in the current top six?

 

****If you haven’t caught on yet, footnotes is the theme I’m running with today.  In any case, for everyone complaining about Shawn Horcoff earning 5.5-million per season, imagine how you’d feel if the Oilers had given that money to Nylander instead.  He’s scored 37 and 33 points the last two seasons in Washington.  And since we’re on the subject, wasn’t 5.5-million what Ryan Smyth wanted from the Oilers?  It’s just not a good number for Kevin Lowe.

 

*****I’m struggling to remember who won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 hatesmyjob
August 21 2009, 02:42PM
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OprahsSandwich wrote:

@Joe8919 I might be reaching here but is Joe8919 supposed to be Joe1989, like the year the Flamers won the cup? I wonder who you cheer for? Beat it, puke!

this Joe schmuck must realize that with Jbo on the flames that they still lack scoring other than iggy

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#52 OilerFanInCalgary
August 21 2009, 02:46PM
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Leave it to a Flamer or a Nucklehead to stick their noses where they don't belong. I lived in both Edmonton and Calgary and all the other major cities in Canada and there is no difference in really any of them. All this talk of Edmonton not being a nice city...It's the same kind of place as Calgary (but smarter people in Edmonton), Montreal and Toronto. These comments certainly come from people that have never left their own cities and know nothing of Canada. Morons! Get a life and a clue.

All it takes to get people to sign is to win...That's all, plain and simple. People sign in Montreal and that is the worst place on the planet for media and fans so I don't think that's really an issue...We have to start winning a lot more and players will come here.

I live in Calgary and this place is a crappy city compared to the others in the country...There is certainly nothing special about this place...Except maybe all those Flamers that take the "short bus" around.

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#53 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 02:49PM
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Best part about everyone irritated by Edmontonians writing this sort of article: I don't live in Edmonton.

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#54 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 02:51PM
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Oh, and as for Jimmy Carson, that's a fair and valid point, but I was thinking more of the Kevin Lowe years in particular.

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#55 Travis Dakin
August 21 2009, 02:52PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Best part about everyone irritated by Edmontonians writing this sort of article: I don’t live in Edmonton.

But your heart is there.

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#56 Travis Dakin
August 21 2009, 02:53PM
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it all started when Coffey and Gretzky wanted out.

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#57 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 02:54PM
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Edmonton and Calgary are both on the small side for big cities and located in a hockey-mad, northern climate.

I can't see how a hockey player would see much difference between the two, except as far as their on-ice record goes.

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#58 OvenChicken8
August 21 2009, 02:54PM
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hatesmyjob wrote:

this Joe schmuck must realize that with Jbo on the flames that they still lack scoring other than iggy

Oh whatever do you mean. They have the scoring touch of Joke-anin. *rolls eyes*

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#59 Antony Ta
August 21 2009, 02:58PM
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@ Joe8919:

That must be a joke. Anyone who's been to Winnipeg or Hamilton will know Edmonton is much more the city than its reputation allows.

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#60 humantorch
August 21 2009, 03:03PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Edmonton and Calgary are both on the small side for big cities and located in a hockey-mad, northern climate. I can’t see how a hockey player would see much difference between the two, except as far as their on-ice record goes.

But... but... Calgary has better nightlife! Because all hockey players want to do after games is go to Flames Central, am I right???

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#61 Scott
August 21 2009, 03:10PM
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Seems like the real problem here is K-Lowe. Maybe his next promotion should be out the door.

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#62 Lenny
August 21 2009, 03:14PM
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You can add Jagr to that list. Comrie asked for a new contract and K. Lowe would not let him come to the training camp. Players refused to come to Edmonton and left town after 06 Cap finals too so wining is not the bigest part of it. THEY ALL HATE K. LOWE. Willis, finally some one had the guts to tell the truth. I have been pushing Brownlee to admit that for a long time and all I heard was insults instead of demanding his firing. As a local media you have to keep menegemant feet to the fire and tell is the way it is to keep the menegemant honest.

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#63 OvenChicken8
August 21 2009, 03:17PM
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Lenny wrote:

As a local media you have to keep menegemant feet to the fire and tell is the way it is to keep the menegemant honest.

Seriously what is menegemant?

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#64 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 03:19PM
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OvenChicken8 wrote:

You can add Jagr to that list.

Jagr said he would come play here, but, he's kind of legally obligated to fulfill the contract he signed with another team in another league. So, no, you can't add him to "that list".

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#65 Librarian Mike
August 21 2009, 03:23PM
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OvenChicken8 wrote:

Seriously what is menegemant?

I think it's French or something...

What I'd like to hear from Robin is his take on Heatley's "Press Conference". I have a couple of ideas of how DFH could take a bigger role on his team:

1. Carry equipment on/off the bus

2. Wipe down the equipment in the weight room

3. Stop whining about the coach, shut up, and focus on helping your team.

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#66 Lenny
August 21 2009, 03:34PM
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@ OvenChicken8: So I wasn't born in Canada and I don't live in Canada but I love the Oilers. If sometimes somebody misspell something it does not mean that you can make fun of him. Bytheway can you spell in Russian?

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#67 Lenny
August 21 2009, 03:47PM
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Yes you can add Jagr to that list because last year they asked him to come to Edmonton and he prefered Sibiria. Now he has 2 years contract with Avangard, Omsk.

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#68 Harlie
August 21 2009, 03:50PM
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Lenny wrote:

can you spell in Russian?

Владисла́в Алекса́ндрович Третья́к

I stole the above from Wiki. He's my favorite Russian player of all time and I have a signed ARTIS goalie stick from him that he did up in the early 80's while he was in Vancouver for something.

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#69 Boris
August 21 2009, 03:58PM
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I think KLowe had responsibilities in how the team looks today but there are players that like him. Case in point; a defenceman that left the team is entering Rexall Place with his new team, KLowe stops him to ask how he is doing and about his new baby while MacT looks at him and then looks the other way without even a hello. It is not Klowe that the players do not respect it is the old coach.

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#70 Batman34
August 21 2009, 03:59PM
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@ Lenny: Dude ,Jagr wanted to come but kevin Lowe could not give the contract he wanted.Jagr ask for a three year deal but klowe only could give him two because they were over the cap.

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#71 David S
August 21 2009, 04:01PM
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Lenny wrote:

So I wasn’t born in Canada and I don’t live in Canada

So let me get this straight. A guy who doesn't even live in Canada somehow has the "inside scoop" that the reason players don't want to come here is Kevin Lowe?

Yeah. That'll hold some water.

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#72 bingofuel
August 21 2009, 04:03PM
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@ Lenny:

Hey Lenny! Welcome to the site. Don't pay any attention to these grouches. They're just upset because... well, because we're closing in on the beginning of another hockey season and NOTHING has changed from last year.

*headdesk*

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#73 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 04:03PM
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"I was pretty excited when I heard that Edmonton pushed pretty hard for me to get (there)," Jagr said Thursday at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. "I really appreciate it.

"If I ever go to (the NHL), they would be my No. 1 pick because they showed the interest first. I never forget that and I respect that. They would be my first pick."

Definitely hates Edmonton.

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#74 Lenny
August 21 2009, 04:11PM
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b>@ jeanshorts:I never said he hates Edmonton. I said he hates K. Lowe.

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#75 Lenny
August 21 2009, 04:15PM
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bingofuel: Hey Lenny! Welcome to the site. Don’t pay any attention to these grouches. They’re just upset because… well, because we’re closing in on the beginning of another hockey season and NOTHING has changed from last year. *headdesk* Thank you, and that is exectly what I ment when I said Management.

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#76 The Menace
August 21 2009, 04:22PM
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hatesmyjob wrote:

I dont get this organization. It is becoming so difficult to be a true fan when there is so much hype for a fantastic season and the they constantly disappoint. I think this coaching change is a good move but only one step in the right direction

The one thing working for us this year is that expectations couldn't be lower. THN projects us 3rd or 4th last in the conference I think? I would rather have that than coaches and management publically predicting division titles.

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#77 Lenny
August 21 2009, 04:23PM
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@ jeanshorts: I was pretty excited when I heard that Edmonton pushed pretty hard for me to get (there),” Jagr said Thursday at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. “I really appreciate it.“If I ever go to (the NHL), they would be my No. 1 pick because they showed the interest first. I never forget that and I respect that. They would be my first pick. First of all thats what he said this year. Last year he said that he would only play for Pitsbourgh because he loves Mario. Now, isn't Michael Nylander say the same thing now that his carear in NY is over?

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#78 Librarian Mike
August 21 2009, 04:24PM
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@ Lenny:

Hey Lenny. Welcome to OilersNation! I can't believe there are actually Oilers fans outside of Alberta. Just curious, where are you from?

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#79 Lenny
August 21 2009, 04:28PM
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@ Librarian Mike:Originally I am from USSR, now I live in Ohio.

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#80 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 04:32PM
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The Menace wrote:

The one thing working for us this year is that expectations couldn’t be lower. THN projects us 3rd or 4th last in the conference I think? I would rather have that than coaches and management publically predicting division titles.

Yeah, things seem to have swung the other way.

THN underrates this team. It could be a better team, don't get me wrong, but they underrate them all the same IMO.

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#81 Librarian Mike
August 21 2009, 04:36PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

THN underrates this team. It could be a better team, don’t get me wrong, but they underrate them all the same IMO.

~Unlike Pierre McGuire who praises the Oilers for their intangibles, like skating.~

I agree with you on that. It's not exactly going out on a limb, but they'll be in the hunt right until the final weekend. From there, I have no idea what this team can do. I doubt they know either.

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#82 Batman34
August 21 2009, 04:40PM
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@ Lenny: Hey where do you live in ohio.

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#83 Librarian Mike
August 21 2009, 04:44PM
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@ Lenny:

It must feel nice to know that the most absolutely kick-ass hockey player in the world is from your country.

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#84 Boris
August 21 2009, 04:52PM
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@ Librarian Mike: And the best hockey player of all time is from mine!!

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#85 The Menace
August 21 2009, 04:53PM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

I agree with you on that. It’s not exactly going out on a limb, but they’ll be in the hunt right until the final weekend

Last year I believe we underachieved (for a couple of reasons). If we can just play close to our potential this year, I think we're in the 7-8 place mix.

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#86 Boris
August 21 2009, 05:11PM
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@ The Menace: I agree, the team is not as bad as they showed last year. I think the new coachs and systems will give the attitude adjustment that they need.

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#87 The Menace
August 21 2009, 05:14PM
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@ Boris: I'm sure willis would say that the numbers don't bear this out, but I think a new voice giving them direction will give us a bit of a boost. DP and Nilsson in particular.

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#88 jybute
August 21 2009, 05:25PM
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I will come out and say that I am one of the biggest Chris Pronger fans in Edmonton. I will never understand why he wanted out of here. But the way he was dragged through the mud I can totally understand why a lot of high profile players wouldn't want to come here. If I left my job because hmmm, I don't know, the company hired, exclusively, the best friends of management and ownership. Even though they weren't the best person for the job. And if after my departure it was said that I slept with and impreginated a female co-worker or coleague or whatever. Not only would I never consider going back there. I would make it my business to tell all my peers about my experience with that organization. Hiring Tambs is our first step out of this mess and thank anyone who's listening that Moose wasn't hired on here. Patients people. It'll happen sooner than later.

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#89 Bettman4pm
August 21 2009, 05:32PM
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416oil wrote:

Hey JW wouldn’t you ask for a trade from Atlanta after your reckless driving killed a teammate? you can’t really blame him from asking to leave that situation

I am not sure how anyone can essentially give Heatley the benefit of the doubt in a situation where basically was not man enough to deal with the consequences of his own actions. It is well known that he tried to screw over the Thrashers after the incident. He even demanded to be released from his contract so he, at least in his mind anyways, would be able to have the 'option' of signing with a team of his choice. He never even had the guts to go back to Atlanta in the offseason to serve the remainder of his community service, instead exercising the 'option' of serving it in Ottawa for his conveniance. He sure seems to be enjoy his 'options' now doesn't he?

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#90 The Menace
August 21 2009, 05:36PM
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jybute wrote:

If I left my job because hmmm, I don’t know, the company hired, exclusively, the best friends of management and ownership.

While that isn't good practice, I dont' think that had anything to do with why Pronger wanted out of Edmonton. I believe Mrs. Pronger's feelings have been well-documented.

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#91 esa tikkanen
August 21 2009, 06:33PM
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Jonathan

Where do you live?

Also, why do you not have Malhotra in your previous article? Do you think he is expecting more money than those you listed?

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#92 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 06:47PM
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@ jybute:

Whoa, I thought I was the only one. I've liked that guy for a good 10 years or so. I tried to play like him in minor hockey, and I still have a Pronger St. Louis jersey hanging in my closet. That said, Pronger got everything he deserved from the media and the people of Edmonton. Not that his personal life is anyone's business, he is a public figure and he owed it to the fans and the city of Edmonton to give them a legitimate reason for leaving one year into a lucrative contract, and just months after he took the team to within one game of a cup. Instead he just kept repeating "personal reasons" over and over, which again is fine, but it's not going to fly with a passionate fan base such as this. If he would have said "look my wife hates it here" or "I made a mistake", "my rich uncle died and the only way to collect the inheritance is to sleep in a haunted house for a night and play for the Ducks", anything like that I'm sure people would have taken it a bit better. But instead Oiler fans were left to feel as if we got dumped for a hotter girl. So of course we are going to be bitter and spiteful.

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#93 JRyanMac
August 21 2009, 06:52PM
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@ Librarian Mike: Believe it or not there ARE Oiler fans outside of Alberta, theres at least three (3!!!!)that I know of here in Nova Scotia! And you guys think your Oilers TV schedule sucks.... I have to buy the Center Ice package to catch more than 5 games a year..stupid sportsnet blackouts...

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#94 jeanshorts
August 21 2009, 06:58PM
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@ JRyanMac:

Oh man it must be even worse when the Oilers play at like 7 or 8 o'clock mountain time. Do you just tape the games or do you tough it our and stay up till like 2 in the morning?

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#95 JRyanMac
August 21 2009, 07:14PM
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@ jeanshorts: I tough it out buddy. Everyone at work knows if there was an oilers game the night before... So many times last year I'd turn off the tv, shut off the lights, and say out loud " Did I really just stay up til 2 for THAT? EFF YOU OILERS." And then do it all again the next game...

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#96 Librarian Mike
August 21 2009, 07:30PM
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JRyanMac wrote:

@ Librarian Mike: Believe it or not there ARE Oiler fans outside of Alberta, theres at least three (3!!!!)that I know of here in Nova Scotia! And you guys think your Oilers TV schedule sucks…. I have to buy the Center Ice package to catch more than 5 games a year..stupid sportsnet blackouts…

Oh man, that sucks. haha. Screw all those guys. I'm going with ustream and watching the games I want to watch.

So........Nova Scotia?..........how about that Crosby?

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#97 Heatly
August 21 2009, 08:27PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: There is a difference and I'm born and raised here.

More opportunity there, from when I go there, better looking girls. Friends always say it's closer to the mountains for skiing, Banff etc.

But I would never leave the big E-Town! Great article though.

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#98 Lenny
August 21 2009, 09:23PM
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@ JRyanMac: I am with you.

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#99 Teufel
August 21 2009, 09:59PM
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I agree with this article 100%. I've actually been making these exact same statements on the Edmonton Oilers message board for months, only when I do it I get completely ignored. No one wants to play in Edmonton because, other than that unlikely finals run, the team hasn't done squat in the past decade. Players gladly go to Detroit because they know they're guaranteed to coast into the playoffs every season and are almost guaranteed a spot in the conference finals.

Once Edmonton starts winning, the free agents will come. Trust me, Detroit and Pittsburgh are total crapholes, no one goes there because they're beautiful cities to raise a family, players go there because they have a chance to win. Period.

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#100 Jonathan Willis
August 21 2009, 11:05PM
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esa tikkanen wrote:

Jonathan Where do you live? Also, why do you not have Malhotra in your previous article? Do you think he is expecting more money than those you listed?

Fort St. John, British Columbia.

And I was only looking at guys in the 1MM or less ballpark; I expect Malhotra gets around 1.5 - 1.7.

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