Veteran Coaches

Jonathan Willis
August 27 2009 05:30AM

The hiring of Wayne Fleming continues a trend that we’ve seen with Steve Tambellini: a preference for veterans in the coaching position.

The hiring of people like Pat Quinn and Tom Renney might seem like a no-brainer decision in retrospect, but the route Steve Tambellini has taken differs sharply from the route Kevin Lowe took as a rookie general manager. Let’s start by looking at the coaching staff Kevin Lowe assembled:

  • Head Coach: Craig MacTavish
  • Assistant Coaches: Charlie Huddy, Bill Moores

This group of three featured a pair of relative new-comers in MacTavish and Huddy, with Bill Moores being the sole veteran coach. Moores had spent two seasons as an assistant with the Rangers in the mid-90’s but he’d had a long career in coaching before that, coaching everything from the University of Alberta Golden Bears to the WHL to a team in Japan. Charlie Huddy also had a couple of seasons with the Rangers under his belt, and prior to that had spent a year coaching an ECHL team.

Craig MacTavish had the longest NHL run of the three, with three years as an assistant coach before being granted the top job. Combined, the group had seven years of NHL coaching experience, none of it in the top job.

Steve Tambellini has gone in precisely the opposite direction with his coaching staff:

  • Head Coach: Pat Quinn
  • Associate Coach: Tom Renney
  • Assistant Coaches: Kelly Buchberger, Wayne Fleming

Pat Quinn alone has 19 years of experience has an NHL head coach – and in those 19 years, his teams have missed the playoffs only twice. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals on two occasions, although he’s never won, and has twice been the NHL’s Coach of the Year. He has won Olympic gold though, as Canada’s head coach in Salt Lake City.

Tom Renney has been an NHL head coach for parts of seven seasons, prior to which he had a nice run with Hockey Canada. Before that, he coached a very good Kamloops Blazers team. Under his watch, the New York Rangers have made the playoffs each of the past four seasons. He’s worked with Team Canada at the World Championships on a number of occasions, and coached the team to a gold medal in 2004.

I wrote quite a bit about Wayne Fleming the other day; he’s coached extensively in Europe and more experience as an NHL assistant than all of Kevin Lowe’s initial hires put together. Like Renney and Quinn he’s worked a lot with Hockey Canada, and most notably served as Quinn’s associate coach on the 2002 team.

Kelly Buchberger’s the sole exception to both the extensive experience and Hockey Canada thread that ties the rest of the coach hirings together. His time with the Oilers has featured a fairly rapid strong of promotions – he started as an AHL assistant in 2004-05, became the Oilers’ development coach when they closed down their farm team for a couple of seasons, and came back as the AHL head coach in 2007-08. Rob Daum was unceremoniously dumped to make room for him on the Oilers’ staff in 2008-09, and he was the sole survivor of a purge that claimed the jobs of the head coach, his fellow assistants, the goalie coach and the video coach. I was initially cool to the idea of keeping Buchberger, but as I detailed at the end of June I think he may complement the new hirings nicely.

Combined, this group brings 36 years of NHL coaching experience to the table, and in Quinn and Renney the Oilers have added 26 years of head coaching experience. Whatever mistakes Steve Tambellini has made this off-season, I find it very difficult to criticize the men he’s brought in to run his team.

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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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#1 99thoilerfan
August 27 2009, 05:37AM
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The rebuild of the players on the team, might not have happened the way the Nation hoped this off season, but I agree, Tambo has done a great job, with the rebuild of the coaching staff.

I am excited to see how our boys will respond.

I should also include the re tooling of the farm club, as there has been some strong additions this summer.

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#2 ebi
August 27 2009, 07:18AM
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Lowe's coaching decisions may have seemed risky at the time, but if MacT wins Game 7, then Kevin Lowe looks like a frigging genius. Alas, Game 7 was not won. Still, MacT and co. were solid and worked well with what they had (up until last year imo).

Experience isn't always the most important factor (see Bylsma, Dan), but I guess it's certainly the "safe" route to take.

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#3 Poo Czar
August 27 2009, 07:43AM
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Oh fer crissakes, ANOTHER Willis article?!?

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#4 Librarian Mike
August 27 2009, 07:43AM
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As I've said before, if this team craps the bed it won't be because of bad coaching. The flipside of getting rid of MacT is that it's all on the players now. I really hope they're up to it.

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#5 jayoilfan
August 27 2009, 07:57AM
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Librarian Mike, I agree, changing coaches was the first step. Then looking at the players maybe they thought they could work with what they got but would try and see if they could do any deals. When none came through (save Khabibulin) I don't think they are panicing in the head office.

Very solid coaching will go a long way and yes, if they still crap the bed we will know it is in the players that the problem resides. Then we will see the axe come down.

Go the cheaper/easier route and change the coaches first, smart move by Tambellini in my opinion. I have liked all moves by him so far.

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#6 Colin
August 27 2009, 07:58AM
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Poo Czar wrote:

Oh fer crissakes, ANOTHER Willis article?!?

Your right there should be three instead of one actually. I'm a tad disappointed.

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#7 Bob Loblaw
August 27 2009, 08:09AM
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Not just that, check on the posting's time stamp. He put it in at 4-5:30 AM (dunno if it was alberta or bc time).

Jonathan, you gotta sleep sometime. Don't you?

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#8 smiliegirl15
August 27 2009, 08:11AM
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Seeing as we have so many young players on our team, all of the Hockey Canada experience will be a benefit. 06 was fabulous but we didn't get into the playoffs that year on our talent. Vancouver served us up that spot on a silver platter; we weren't in after our last game. Regardless, I wonder if there still would have been the mass exodus from Edmonton had we won Game 7? MacTavish is gone; I don't want to talk about him any more.

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#9 ronaldo
August 27 2009, 08:15AM
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I like the new staff as if nothing else it tells the players that there are no more excuses. (I know this has already been mentioned, I just love seeing my own comments up on the site- ;) @ NS.)

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#10 Librarian Mike
August 27 2009, 08:20AM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

06 was fabulous but we didn’t get into the playoffs that year on our talent.

Well, we got in on ...I hate to say this... Pronger's talent, but I get what you're saying.

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#11 Lofty
August 27 2009, 08:20AM
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Still not enough scoring

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#12 Joey Moss
August 27 2009, 08:25AM
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@ Poo Czar: blame the other writers for not keeping up.

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#13 Poo Czar
August 27 2009, 08:26AM
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I'm still pretty dissapointed George Burnett didn't get another chance. However, I'm looking forward to Bucky's "Blocking Shots With Your Face" drills in training camp.

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#14 -30-
August 27 2009, 08:30AM
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JW, on another note, thank you for continuing to post your analysis and opinions. One of the reasons I visit here daily or even multiple times a day is to see what you have to say.

Don't be discouraged by those who are closely connected with the Oilers and dump on you because you don't have the access they have.

Thanks for all the posts...

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#15 Poo Czar
August 27 2009, 08:35AM
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Poo Czar wrote:

~Oh fer crissakes, ANOTHER Willis article?!?~

I added the sarcasm tildes... I LOVES me some Willis, and would never be saddened by a new article. I picture him writing them in Oilers footy pyjamas.

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#16 smiliegirl15
August 27 2009, 08:41AM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

Well, we got in on …I hate to say this… Pronger’s talent

No, we got to Game 7 on Pronger's talent. I don't think we can forget Roli either. If it wasn't for him, Detroit would have made quick work of us. We got the last playoff spot because Vancouver couldn't win their last couple games, not because we deserved it.

JW, I am happy to read anything new in the Nation. Keep up the good work!

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#17 Travis Dakin
August 27 2009, 08:47AM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

We got the last playoff spot because Vancouver couldn’t win their last couple games, not because we deserved it.

No WE didn't deserve anything but the Oilers did win 41 games that year....

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#18 Jonathan Willis
August 27 2009, 08:48AM
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Again, everybody, thanks.

But don't worry about it ;) I'm not going to stop anytime soon.

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#19 Jonathan Willis
August 27 2009, 08:49AM
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Bob Loblaw wrote:

Not just that, check on the posting’s time stamp. He put it in at 4-5:30 AM (dunno if it was alberta or bc time). Jonathan, you gotta sleep sometime. Don’t you?

I'll confess that I wrote it up yesterday and scheduled it for this morning.

I'm only a little bit crazy; 5AM would be pushing it.

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#20 BigE57
August 27 2009, 08:55AM
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smiliegirl15 wrote:

We got the last playoff spot because Vancouver couldn’t win their last couple games, not because we deserved it.

If the team you're battling can't win their last games how do they deserve to earn the spot. The Oilers got 8th spot in '06 because they had more points than Vancouver, the team with more points gets to go to the playoffs....there are no "style" points.

And for the record the Oilers beat Anaheim in their second last game on a goal by Ales Hemsky that blew the roof off Rexall. While Vancouver lost the same night eliminating themselves from contention. I think the Oilers last game was a meaningless tilt against Detroit a couple nights later.

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#21 sittingatmydesk
August 27 2009, 09:00AM
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Do you ever sleep!!

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#22 Kieso
August 27 2009, 09:09AM
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Just a comment about the 2006 team and the level of coaching. Many people bash MacT for 8th place finish which I think is unfair.

That team would have likely had 6-10 more points that year if the team had a goalie of any substance to start off the year or Roli got settled into the team a little faster.

That would have placed the team in 3-5 place slot in the conference. I will always think MacT was a good coach but his time had just run its course in Edmonton and a change was needed.

Might be a good article or analysis of 2006 if there was a way to check on one goal games and goalie save percentages in the first part of the year.

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#23 Travis Dakin
August 27 2009, 09:11AM
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@ Kieso: Not to mention it also took Pronger 20 games to find his groove after the long off season. He'd have won the norris that year if he played all 82 the way he played the final 60.

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#24 Kieso
August 27 2009, 09:19AM
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@ Travis

I agree. I have always had a problem with people bashing MacT by saying his teams only just got in the playoffs. That was the first year, and last year, he had any real talent on multiple levels (ie all lines) to work with.

How would you feel at your job if you finally got some success and then have all your resources or funding pulled away. You might be just a little frustrated or disheartened too.

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#25 smiliegirl15
August 27 2009, 09:19AM
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@ Travis Dakin:

You sir, are splitting hairs.

@ BigE57:

My point is, it was not our spot to win, that ship had sailed. It was Vancouver's spot to lose, and lose they did. It took the 06 Oilers a long time to get into the groove and I think the whole situation would have been different had we had Roli earlier in the season. The fact remains Pronger, and a majority of the team at that, did not play their best hockey until they were in playoff mode. All the pieces fell together at the right time and it was awesome. Right now I would love to see a team who can get us into the playoffs. Anything after that is gravy.

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#26 Dan the Man
August 27 2009, 09:22AM
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Should have kept Huddy over Bucky but aside from that it's an all star cast.

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#27 Kieso
August 27 2009, 09:26AM
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@smiliegirl15

Yes, for Vancouver that is what happens when you don't have coaching and the players to work with. It happened with 15 games to go with the Oilers last year. Coaching was off last year and along with it so to were the players.

I am more surprised the team was in a playoff spot for so long rather than losing the spot (I can't recall a team that could not make three passes in row on a consistent basis ever making the playoffs).

Was this the result of coaching for most of the year? Or was the coach holding the team back. With so few changes to the team I guess we fans will find out in a few months.

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#28 OvenChicken8
August 27 2009, 10:07AM
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Travis Dakin wrote:

Not to mention it also took Pronger 20 games to find his groove after the long off season.

How dare you mention he who must not be named!

But seriously you are totally right. If the Norris was awarded for post allstar performance it wouldn't have been close.

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#29 10 Cent Horcoff
August 27 2009, 10:08AM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

As I’ve said before, if this team craps the bed it won’t be because of bad coaching. The flipside of getting rid of MacT is that it’s all on the players now. I really hope they’re up to it.

Exactly!! For the past couple years I've been wondering what this team would do with a new coach. Now its time to see if my view of MacT is justified or if I'm full of it.

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#30 DeepOil
August 27 2009, 10:12AM
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@ ebi:

It is Lowe's post 2006 cup run actions, overpaying many players, be it Pisani, Roloson (now Khabibulin - 4 years when Biron signed for 1.4mm) with Penner (RFA picks) and Horcoff working out with Katz (Tie Domi taught him this) for a $1mm bonus per year, signing Nillson when MacT thought he was a lazy ass.... bottom line is the Oilers have no cap room, no trades on the horizon, no players want to come to the armpit / siberia of the NHL, so when you have lemons, make lemonade and hire more coaches.... change the tape, fire the professor and see if the new message will light a fire under this sad sack bunch of average professional hockey players.

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#31 Bob Cob
August 27 2009, 10:22AM
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Its a decent coaching staff, I would still prefer to have Daum over Buchberger.

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#32 [NOT THE REAL] Dan Tencer
August 27 2009, 10:37AM
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Great article JW, not like you know anything about it.

I also post as Harlie, Barney Rubble and under other names. lovingly edited by bingofuel, because we aren't in the business of making false representations here.

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#33 ronaldo
August 27 2009, 10:44AM
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@ bingofuel Thanks for the edit, I just got to that comment and thought, "sh!t, here we go again". Bad Harlie, bad dog.

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#34 Ender the Dragon
August 27 2009, 10:45AM
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Dan the Man wrote:

Should have kept Huddy over Bucky but aside from that it’s an all star cast.

I like Huddy as a big-club coach better than Bucky, but Huddy's exact role was effectively replaced by Renny, making Huddy extraneous. Bucky had a lot of ties to and a good feel for the kids in development, something that none of the new staff coming in the door could replicate. It sucks to lose Huddy, but if they could only keep one they made the right move.

Bob Cob wrote:

Its a decent coaching staff, I would still prefer to have Daum over Buchberger.

Daum is coaching the farm team now, so if you had him with the big club, who would you have coaching Springfield? Bucky? Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other at best. Of the two, I think Bucky has a better pulse for the current Oilers roster, so I don't see how switching it up gains you much.

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#35 Discharger
August 27 2009, 10:47AM
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Dan Tencer wrote:

Great article JW, not like you know anything about it.

WTF?

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#36 bingofuel
August 27 2009, 10:51AM
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@ Discharger:

It's someone's idea of a joke. That was NOT the real Dan Tencer. I have edited the comment to reflect that.

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#37 MattL
August 27 2009, 10:54AM
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Anyone else find it funny that the Conservatives just appointed an illiterate hockey coach to the Senate?

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#38 cableguy
August 27 2009, 10:54AM
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Lofty wrote:

Still not enough scoring

story of my life

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#39 Ender the Dragon
August 27 2009, 10:57AM
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Harlie . . . [shakes head]

The 'juice' comment last night was you?

That was just not nice, my friend. If you're going to say something, stand up and take the heat for it. If it's not worth the trouble you know it will cause, it's probably not worth saying.

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#40 Travis Dakin
August 27 2009, 11:00AM
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@ bingofuel: Thank you for calling out the imposters like that. Holy crap that is annoying and only slightly less funny than "first post!"

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#41 scorecoff hemmercules
August 27 2009, 11:17AM
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So 20 cent Kane only has to say he's sorry to that cabbie, thats it!

~I'm shocked~

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#42 Ogden Brother
August 27 2009, 11:17AM
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DeepOil wrote:

@ ebi: It is Lowe’s post 2006 cup run actions, overpaying many players, be it Pisani, Roloson (now Khabibulin - 4 years when Biron signed for 1.4mm) with Penner (RFA picks) and Horcoff working out with Katz (Tie Domi taught him this) for a $1mm bonus per year, signing Nillson when MacT thought he was a lazy ass…. bottom line is the Oilers have no cap room, no trades on the horizon, no players want to come to the armpit / siberia of the NHL, so when you have lemons, make lemonade and hire more coaches…. change the tape, fire the professor and see if the new message will light a fire under this sad sack bunch of average professional hockey players.

Here's the catch, theirs really no one to sign that they couldn't afford. So the lack of cap space is basically irrelavant.

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#43 DeepOil
August 27 2009, 11:28AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

DeepOil wrote: @ ebi: It is Lowe’s post 2006 cup run actions, overpaying many players, be it Pisani, Roloson (now Khabibulin - 4 years when Biron signed for 1.4mm) with Penner (RFA picks) and Horcoff working out with Katz (Tie Domi taught him this) for a $1mm bonus per year, signing Nillson when MacT thought he was a lazy ass…. bottom line is the Oilers have no cap room, no trades on the horizon, no players want to come to the armpit / siberia of the NHL, so when you have lemons, make lemonade and hire more coaches…. change the tape, fire the professor and see if the new message will light a fire under this sad sack bunch of average professional hockey players. Here’s the catch, theirs really no one to sign that they couldn’t afford. So the lack of cap space is basically irrelavant.

Oilers had to jump to the pump when Rollie took the cash on the island, caved on Khabibulin with a 4 year deal that pushes him past 40 years old, no one to sign is a cop out, rather than due diligence with $10mm in overpayments and bad contracts on this team. The unfortunate part is that most teams have $10mm in contracts that are not performing, this does not relieve Lowe of his mistakes, but shows how easily GM's are willing to give out a no trade and long term deals that they are stuck with. No improvements on this non playoff team for at least 2 years, how does Lowe feel going to camp in Calgary, and not seeing one Oiler on the ice.

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#44 DeepOil
August 27 2009, 11:32AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

So 20 cent Kane only has to say he’s sorry to that cabbie, thats it! ~I’m shocked~

Overcharged, Overpaid, and under appreciated feel the love that NHL players are choir boys, check out http://nflcrimes.blogspot.com/ - what is the worst that has happened since Mike Danton, the STAHL's running aroung naked.... or the crime of former NHL star Wayne Gretzky taking $8mm to coach the YOTES.... http://ballhype.com/story/wild_bachelor_party_ends_with_two_staal_brothers_in/

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#45 Ogden Brother
August 27 2009, 11:49AM
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DeepOil wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: DeepOil wrote: @ ebi: It is Lowe’s post 2006 cup run actions, overpaying many players, be it Pisani, Roloson (now Khabibulin - 4 years when Biron signed for 1.4mm) with Penner (RFA picks) and Horcoff working out with Katz (Tie Domi taught him this) for a $1mm bonus per year, signing Nillson when MacT thought he was a lazy ass…. bottom line is the Oilers have no cap room, no trades on the horizon, no players want to come to the armpit / siberia of the NHL, so when you have lemons, make lemonade and hire more coaches…. change the tape, fire the professor and see if the new message will light a fire under this sad sack bunch of average professional hockey players. Here’s the catch, theirs really no one to sign that they couldn’t afford. So the lack of cap space is basically irrelavant. Oilers had to jump to the pump when Rollie took the cash on the island, caved on Khabibulin with a 4 year deal that pushes him past 40 years old, no one to sign is a cop out, rather than due diligence with $10mm in overpayments and bad contracts on this team. The unfortunate part is that most teams have $10mm in contracts that are not performing, this does not relieve Lowe of his mistakes, but shows how easily GM’s are willing to give out a no trade and long term deals that they are stuck with. No improvements on this non playoff team for at least 2 years, how does Lowe feel going to camp in Calgary, and not seeing one Oiler on the ice.

Great stuff, but it has nothing to do with my comment. The cost of your roster is basically irrelavant when their aren't better players available for less.

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#46 Colin
August 27 2009, 11:53AM
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MattL wrote:

Anyone else find it funny that the Conservatives just appointed an illiterate hockey coach to the Senate?

It could be worse: the Liberals or NDP could have done it.

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#47 Bob Cob
August 27 2009, 12:18PM
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DeepOil wrote:

It is Lowe’s post 2006 cup run actions, overpaying many players, be it Pisani, Roloson (now Khabibulin - 4 years when Biron signed for 1.4mm) with Penner (RFA picks) and Horcoff working out with Katz (Tie Domi taught him this) for a $1mm bonus per year, signing Nillson when MacT thought he was a lazy ass…. bottom line is the Oilers have no cap room, no trades on the horizon, no players want to come to the armpit / siberia of the NHL, so when you have lemons, make lemonade and hire more coaches…. change the tape, fire the professor and see if the new message will light a fire under this sad sack bunch of average professional hockey players.

Well at least your not bitter about it!

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#48 Librarian Mike
August 27 2009, 12:36PM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

So 20 cent Kane only has to say he’s sorry to that cabbie, thats it! ~I’m shocked~

He will however have to deal with getting ripped by players and fans in 28 hockey towns (and Phoenix) mercilessly.

If seeing Savard get fired made him cry, I'm sure our fans can have him sucking his thumb on the bench by the 2nd period.

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#49 Poo Czar
August 27 2009, 12:37PM
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Does this recent output signal the return of DeepOil's batsh@t crazy conspiracy theories to the ON? Can't wait to hear how Katz is privately financed by Al Qaeda!

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#50 Jamie
August 27 2009, 01:00PM
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BigE57 wrote:

And for the record the Oilers beat Anaheim in their second last game on a goal by Ales Hemsky that blew the roof off Rexall. While Vancouver lost the same night eliminating themselves from contention. I think the Oilers last game was a meaningless tilt against Detroit a couple nights later.

Colorado. The last NHL game Igor Ulanov ever played. *moment of silence*

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