The Big Picture View of the Small Forwards

Jonathan Willis
September 25 2009 05:00AM

Small hockey player

The Oilers, as of right now, have nine forwards under 6’ tall on their roster. Four of those forwards are locks for the team, and two more are likely.

Locks

  • Sam Gagner: 5’11”
  • Patrick O’Sullivan: 5’11”
  • Andrew Cogliano: 5’10”
  • Mike Comrie: 5’10”

Likely

  • Robert Nilsson: 5’11”
  • Gilbert Brule: 5’10”

Possible

  • Rob Schremp: 5’11”
  • Jordan Eberle: 5’10”
  • Liam Reddox: 5’10”

Of that group four of those guys (Gagner, Cogliano, Comrie, Nilsson) are not a fit anywhere but on a scoring line, although Gagner and Cogliano might be able to grow into two-way players.

Additionally, Patrick O’Sullivan is probably best utilized in a scoring role against less than stellar opposition, and Gilbert Brule hasn’t shown that he’s capable of playing a defensive role; in other words, everyone but O’Sullivan needs to be put in a position to succeed – not too many own-zone starts, and not too many shifts against the Getzlafs and Iginlas of the league.

This is all relatively common knowledge, and has been discussed ad nauseum on message boards, radio, TV, and this site.

Let’s Step One Year Forward

Does anyone here believe that Jordan Eberle isn’t going to get a push next season, or that he’ll be anywhere other than on the Oilers’ roster? He should go back to junior this year, but the fact that he’s pushed his way into the conversation at this camp, combined with his draft pedigree means that he’ll almost certainly be an Oiler in 2010-11.

Let’s not forget 5’9” Linus Omark. Omark is coming off a tremendous season in Sweden, and so far has apparently had some issues with his KHL team. Maybe he makes the team, maybe he doesn’t; either way, it seems very likely that he’s going to challenge for a spot on the roster next season.

Next, we consider Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson. Paajarvi isn’t in the same range size-wise (6’1”, 201lbs) as the other players we’re considering, but his skill-set certainly is: he’s a young player with offensive talent who needs to round out his defensive game and probably needs some shelter from his coaching staff when he comes to North America. Maybe he starts next season in the AHL, but it’s easily within the realm of possibility that he pushes for a roster spot.

The Oilers are going to need to make decisions on all three of these guys, and it’s very difficult to imagine that either Eberle or Paajarvi are going to be tossed aside. Based on what he did in Sweden, it also seems like it would be a shame to send out Omark without taking a look at him.

In Other Words…

The Oilers are over-stocked with small players with a largely offense-only mindset. They have three remarkable prospects coming in next season, all of whom are going to be (at least initially) of much the same skill-set.

Individually, there’s an argument to be made for every one of these players. Gagner and Cogliano are obviously valuable players. Robert Nilsson, coming off a bad season, continues to show flashes of brilliance and is a guy who would be nice to keep. Mike Comrie’s had a strong preseason, and brings some experience and edge that the other players don’t. Patrick O’Sullivan has a few skills (shooter, penalty-killer) in short supply on the Oilers, and on top of that has put up better totals in the NHL than any of the other young guys. Gilbert Brule was a 6th overall pick in 2005 and has untapped offensive ability and a physical edge.

The fact of the matter though, is that however valuable these players are individually, there isn’t room for all of them. Certainly one, probably two and possibly as many as three are going to be shipped out by the start of next season.

Barring an outstanding return, Gagner, Cogliano and O’Sullivan are the three currently on the roster that I would keep.

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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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#1 shabazz
September 25 2009, 05:19AM
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yikes. can we at least get through THIS SEASON'S PRESEASON before we even consider who MIGHT be challenging for a spot at NEXT YEAR'S ROOKIE/TRAINING CAMP? So uh, if Kip Brennan gets sent down this year, do you think he could wind up playing enforcer on a Hartikainen/Eberle line? lines aren't even set this year.

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#2 jdrevenge
September 25 2009, 06:11AM
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If Eberle doesn't stick with the big club he's back to junior. Hes not old enough to play in the AHL as of yet.

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#3 ebi
September 25 2009, 06:35AM
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Great article Jonathan.

I also read your "Edmonton Oilers Rumours: Jaromir Jagr, Linus Omark and the Nashville Predators" post on your Hockey or Die site.

I think you're doing a good job of writing for your target audience. That is, your HoD post is a bit more of a high level view of the Oilers situation while this one delves deep down into the nitty gritty details.

Keep it up!

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#4 Petr's Jofa
September 25 2009, 07:05AM
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Before I decide who to keep on the 2010-11 Oilers I need to know:

-Did Penner last on the 1st line? -Does Jacques finally turn into a NHL player. -Does Ganger show up for a full season? -Can Cogliano play wing? -Can Nilsson show up every day? -What type on $ do Cogliano and Ganger demand in the off season? -Will Mike Comrie become the most loved Oiler of all time by re-signing a 1.125 mil contract again after putting up 30 goals this season.

Yes many of the young/small guys on the team are soft and need sheltered minutes, but maybe, just maybe, they will learn something over the next 82 games and be able to play less sheltered minutes.

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#5 Petr's Jofa
September 25 2009, 07:06AM
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Edit button: Gagner, Gagner, Gagner

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#6 Chaz
September 25 2009, 07:57AM
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Off topic and I know it's been discussed ad nauseum in ON since last year, but the lack of a reliable faceoff man is a huge concern with this team, and was painfully obvious last night. Lost faceoffs in our own zone directly led to the tying and winning goals by Tampa. I know Horcs wasn't dressed, but come on! This team has to address this need now IMO. Hoping some of the current roster just magically improves in this dept. seems very risky to me.

Haven't been doing the online thing with the other pre-season games, so I'm not sure if this was normal. Is this the way it's been so far? Hope last night wasn't a microcosm of how faceoffs will affect this team all year. If it is, it's going to be painful...

* Tries to shake it off and tries to stop being such a Negative Nancy.

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#7 Schnoodles
September 25 2009, 08:00AM
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So why wasnt Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson at camp? Or did I just miss that?

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#8 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:02AM
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What did Ray Ferraro say yesterday, if the hockey card says he is 5'10 then he is 5'10, although he said something about standing on phonebooks.

I know what we are getting at with size, but guys like Brule, Comrie and Reddox play bigger then they are. Brule goes out and hits just about anyone. Comrie digs into the corners and Reddox will he is a combo of both.

Going forward I don't know who we keep. If by same possibilty Cogliano and Gagner both get 70 points this year then we will probably have to make a decision on one of them next year.

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#9 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:03AM
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@ Schnoodles: I think it was because he was going back to his club in Europe and there season pretty much starts when our camp does.

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#10 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:08AM
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As for Eberle, MPS and Omark making the team next year. Do we really even know if any of them will be ready next year? I wouldn't mind all three getting a year of the AHL before the NHL.

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#11 Schnoodles
September 25 2009, 08:14AM
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Is it just me or are we in trouble in the goaltending situation aside from the bulin-wall?

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#12 Petr's Jofa
September 25 2009, 08:17AM
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@ Schnoodles:

I think we are in trouble in the goaltending situation period. Khabby = 2009-10 goat.

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#13 Jeff
September 25 2009, 08:18AM
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I could see Ebs or Omark challenging for next year. MPS may be the Eberle of this year. Either way some contracts are coming off next year(Pies, Comrie, Big mac) so there will be space.

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#14 Chris
September 25 2009, 08:20AM
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@ Johnathan Willis:

It's like you wrote a whole article in response to my drunken, post midnight rant just last night:

(Comment #363) This was probably adressed earlier in the thread but:

The TSN panel offered some pretty stinging critism of the makeup of the Oiler roster. I can’t say I disagree. The Oilers have too many of the same type of player… Like Barnaby said, “They look almost interchangeable out there”… then something like, “Having a small skilled player or two is great if they are scoring seventy or eighty points a season, but filling out the bulk of your roster with a bunch of small guys who get you only forty points is a recipe for disaster.” *(not an actual quote… more of a remembered jist)

This entire thread has been about Pisani, Staios, Moreau, or any other goat du jour… but aren’t we all ignoring the principal flaw of this team? When will Tambellini choose between Gagner and Cogliano? Or is it wise to keep both? If O’Sullivan and Comrie play well together, should Tambellini offer Comrie an extension? How do the Oilers integrate Eberle into an already undersized group next season? Is Brule and Reddox just more of the same… I mean gritty or not these guys just bounce off thier checks…

Just food for thought.

Read more: hxxp://www.oilersnation.com/2009/09/gdb-minus-2-its-crunch-time/#ixzz0S7zifSNo

Thanks J.W.

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#15 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:23AM
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@ Jeff: Contracts may be coming off but Omark and Ebelre aren't replacing Macintyre and Pisani, Comrie I guess.

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#16 Jonathan Willis
September 25 2009, 08:34AM
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The real problem is less size than it is age and skill-set. Too many fledgling skill guys without well-rounded games.

RE: MPS as this season's Eberle, it's important to remember that MPS is a) bigger b) a much higher draft pick. I'd like to see him in the AHL next season, but I'd be very surprised if the Oilers don't put him in the roster at 19, since he's a better prospect than Eberle.

And given his training camp, it's hard to see Eberle out of the picture at 20.

Regardless, it's long past time for this team to deal from a position of strength (young skill forward) to address a position of weakness (veteran bottom-sixer).

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#17 Chris
September 25 2009, 08:40AM
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Management needs give either Cogliano, or Gagner a long term contract next season... but not both. They are too similar. For me, who you move depends on what you can get back.

If Comrie plays well, and has decent chemistry with O'Sullivan... great! That doesn't necessarily mean he should earn a rich contract extension by Christams. At the very least, the Oilers need to head into free agency before tying up those dollars.

Brule should be traded. The guy spent more time on his arse last night than on his feet... While I admire his energy, and pedigree: Brule has done F-All at this level, and the Oilers don't need another small forward anyway. (Besides how many brutal giveaways was he guilty of in just last nights game alone... three... four?)

Nilsson and Schremp should be waived/traded or whatever. Nilsson is still Nilsson, even if he chipped in offensively last night. Schremp hasn't improved enough since JR.

Reddox is a great depth player... send him down.

Two yeras from now: even if all these guys are traded, dumped, waived, whatever like I suggested; Even after every closet Brule fan, or Nilsson apologist is finished yelling about it: The Oilers will still have a very small top six.

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#18 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:41AM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Well that's it, we need to move some bodies. And not 4th liners. Quinn should have an idea to whether or not Eberle will be NHL ready next year and if he is then Tambo has a year to make room for Eberle.

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#19 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 08:45AM
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@ Chris: Gagner is a passer and Cogliano is a finisher. Not sure I would consider them the same player.

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#20 Schnoodles
September 25 2009, 08:47AM
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So does anyone else think that the Oilers are really stinking up the Pre-season? What happened to the team that would normally go with like 1 or 2 losses in the pre season? I think size has a part to do with it but it just looks like there is only a half a dozen players playing with heart. I thought this coaching change was intended to fix that.

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#21 Ogden Brother
September 25 2009, 08:48AM
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Chaz wrote:

Off topic and I know it’s been discussed ad nauseum in ON since last year, but the lack of a reliable faceoff man is a huge concern with this team, and was painfully obvious last night. Lost faceoffs in our own zone directly led to the tying and winning goals by Tampa. I know Horcs wasn’t dressed, but come on! This team has to address this need now IMO. Hoping some of the current roster just magically improves in this dept. seems very risky to me. Haven’t been doing the online thing with the other pre-season games, so I’m not sure if this was normal. Is this the way it’s been so far? Hope last night wasn’t a microcosm of how faceoffs will affect this team all year. If it is, it’s going to be painful… * Tries to shake it off and tries to stop being such a Negative Nancy.

I was laughing (actually crying) about that last night....easy hole to fill... for some reason it wasn't. If that was the regular season no FO guy cost us a point.

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#22 Chris
September 25 2009, 08:52AM
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@ Ogden Brother Jr.:

and one is faster... and so on. I get it. But though, Cogliano and Gagner are genetically distinct, and offer some differing skills; the fact remains that they are both small skilled centers... and no team can afford more than one of those guys on the roster. It's my guess that Cogliano's future as an Oiler effectively ended the day the kid line was disbanded and Gagner was moved off the wing. It's just a matter of time.

Maybe... and I mean MAYBE, Cogliano can outperform O'Sullivan on the wing, and will sign for less than O'Sullivan just to reamain an Oiler... then it's O'Sullivan who is redundant. I doubt it though.

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#23 Ogden Brother
September 25 2009, 08:53AM
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Overpay for a guy like Hartnell or Horton if we have to. Cogs + high prospect (not Eberle/MPS) for Hartnel or Cogs + Gilbert for Horton + high pick/prospect.

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#24 Halibut
September 25 2009, 08:54AM
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I'd say make a trade based on what you can get. If Gagner gives the biggest return in trade then I'm fine with doing it. He's a good young talent but if gets us something else we need (like a shooter) we have more than enough small playmakers to make up for his loss.

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#25 BingBong
September 25 2009, 08:54AM
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Petr's Jofa wrote:

@ Schnoodles: I think we are in trouble in the goaltending situation period. Khabby = 2009-10 goat.

The goaltending has me worried as well. Who knows how Khabby will play this year - he's 37 and really hasn't played well in the past few years aside from his contract year. Did you read today that he loses at least 10 pounds a game? Yikes! I think we'll be lucky if he plays 50 games. I thought JDD looked pretty good last night, but not good enough to save this Oilers team. He's still shaky, and his puck handling is weak. His glove did look good though. So many question marks this year...

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#26 Bob Cob
September 25 2009, 08:55AM
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Ogden Brother Jr. wrote:

Going forward I don’t know who we keep. If by same possibilty Cogliano and Gagner both get 70 points this year then we will probably have to make a decision on one of them next year.

I would think there is a the Oilers can keep both, aren't Pisani, Staios and Nilsson UFA's next year.? That would be close to 6 mill a year off the salary cap, and would make it possible to sign Gagner and Cogliano.

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#27 sofapimp
September 25 2009, 08:59AM
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do you think they will address problems by putting guys on waivers then picking up some. lots of teams in same sit but with to many 3 4 line guys

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#28 Death Metal Nightmare
September 25 2009, 08:59AM
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you could also look at this from another perspective:

the Oilers are built so bad, currently, from top to bottom, that ALL of these young players are being depended on for possible spots. what does that say about the team? well, for one - they draft like crap. two, the vets they have on this team are so mediocre/bad that they have to push the maturation process of a lot of these players, yet at the same time the vets HARDLY help these types of players fit in and transition properly because... welp, they SUCK. these vets can hardly handle their own roles properly, let alone help ween the talents along if 4-6 twenty year old kids.

why? because theyre missing elite talent that eases the mental load on players (wow, Chris Pronger sure helped) so they can find their game.

this team is just spinning its wheels season after season until there is a true paradigm shift in the roster structure. and with how geographically handicapped the team is - thats only coming through trades or drafting. most likely the slow, long process of drafting.

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#29 Chris
September 25 2009, 08:59AM
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Bob Cob wrote:

I would think there is a the Oilers can keep both, aren’t Pisani, Staios and Nilsson UFA’s next year.? That would be close to 6 mill a year off the salary cap, and would make it possible to sign Gagner and Cogliano.

This isn't about money... this is about achieving a level of balance on the roster. I'm sure Tambellini can find lots of creative ways of keeping this inefffective roster together from a financial perspective.

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#30 Chris
September 25 2009, 09:03AM
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sofapimp wrote:

do you think they will address problems by putting guys on waivers then picking up some. lots of teams in same sit but with to many 3 4 line guys

Now your talkin'... move out some smaller "skilled" bubble guys, and carefully target some bubble guys from other organizations to give this team some balance. I hope the Oilers are anlyzing lists of potential waiver fodder right now, and ranking potentially available players based on thier ability to help us.

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#31 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 09:03AM
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After last night game it's pretty clear most of the young guys aren't ready to be in the NHL. I didn't think Bule looked good for most of the game. Schremp either. All I kept thinking was, why didn't we trade or sign some guys instead of gambling on our prospects to be ready??? I guess you have to expect your prospects to step up eventually but I'm a little worried at this point. JDD wasn't too impressive either. Long season ahead. It will be nice to see our complete roster next weekend, these mixes of rookie and vets hasn't looked too great these last 3 games.

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#32 Jimmy
September 25 2009, 09:04AM
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BingBong wrote:

I thought JDD looked pretty good last night, but not good enough to save this Oilers team. He’s still shaky, and his puck handling is weak.

Understatement of the year. JDD coming out to play the puck is as suspenseful as Datsyuk on a breakaway.

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#33 Ogden Brother
September 25 2009, 09:07AM
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Chris wrote:

sofapimp wrote: do you think they will address problems by putting guys on waivers then picking up some. lots of teams in same sit but with to many 3 4 line guys Now your talkin’… move out some smaller “skilled” bubble guys, and carefully target some bubble guys from other organizations to give this team some balance. I hope the Oilers are anlyzing lists of potential waiver fodder right now, and ranking potentially available players based on thier ability to help us.

Ha-ha, I bet those aren't the "waiver guys" the OP was thinking of, well played!

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#34 Chris
September 25 2009, 09:08AM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

For me JDD has been a pleasant surprise... Of couse, based on his career to date, JDD is statistically quite comparable to Danny Sabourin... so I wasn't expecting much.

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#35 R Kenny
September 25 2009, 09:11AM
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@ Bob Cob: Only Pisani comes off the books next year.

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#36 Schnoodles
September 25 2009, 09:12AM
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are there cuts from the team this week?

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#37 Chris
September 25 2009, 09:12AM
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scorecoff hemmercules wrote:

I didn’t think Bule looked good for most of the game.

I agree. What's worse is that he was skating his guts out, was physically involved, and battled hard for the puck: yet remained very ineffecive. Brule is simply not stong enough to play on an energy line.

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#38 sofapimp
September 25 2009, 09:14AM
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i know this is old news but even last night the kids seem to be apart from vets even celebrating after a goal.is moreau still cap for long?

my bad no vets were on ice for goals

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#39 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 25 2009, 09:20AM
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@ sofapimp: No vets were on ice for goals, simply amazing. And we wonder why there may be a divide in the locker room. We have vets taking dumbass penalties and then we have the younger guys scoring goals.

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#40 Jimmy
September 25 2009, 09:24AM
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@ Ogden Brother Jr.:

Bear in mind we had a serious shortage of vets on the ice last night. We didn't ice Horcoff, Hemsky, or Souray. I'm definitely not defending Staios on this one, but it might have been a different game if Souray had dressed.

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#41 sofapimp
September 25 2009, 09:29AM
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Jimmy wrote:

@ Ogden Brother Jr.: Bear in mind we had a serious shortage of vets on the ice last night. We didn’t ice Horcoff, Hemsky, or Souray. I’m definitely not defending Staios on this one, but it might have been a different game if Souray had dressed.

true true but your captian and his main man staois are the leaders even when everyone is dressed. just saying if the coach lost the team could the old locker room regime be over

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#42 Dr. Unk
September 25 2009, 09:31AM
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I'm surprised at how many of you are willing to give up on either Gagner or Cogliano or, even worse, both. We're talking about young talented forwards that have proven that they can succeed at the NHL level. Why would you want to give up on that? Why not run with them and put JFJ on the other wing to give them some size, a la Pat Quinn's "duo plus one" plan?

I thought Nilsson was the odd man out on that kid line and based on his tendency to leave his drive at home would be a lock for trade fodder. Schremp has not impressed me at all this camp and as sad as it is, it's time to let him ply his trade elsewhere. It isn't the first time a major draft pick has been a bust (anybody remember Jason Bonsignore?)

Go with three scoring lines (lw/rw may be switched, sry) Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky JFJ-Cogliano-Gagner Moreau-Comrie-O'Sullivan Stortini-Brule-Pisani

Of course, I'm limited to playing GM via Playstation, so obviously I've got nothing but what I've seen on the tube to go by.

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#43 blu
September 25 2009, 09:31AM
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Why we didn't pick up Manny "mile-away" Malhotra in the off season, I'll never know.

For faceoffs alone, not to mention some size and grit.

About the 312th faceoff win for the bolts last night I about had an aneurysm.

ps. I'm effing down with Chopper.

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#44 Jimmy
September 25 2009, 09:36AM
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@ sofapimp:

True enough in terms of leadership, but the breakdown towards the end of the game could be a result of Souray's 20+ minutes per game being divided up among players that can't handle more minutes than they usually play (re: Steady Steve at 8:00).

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#45 1bullet2go
September 25 2009, 09:38AM
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These heights for the listed nine players is obviously with their skates on...lol!!!

Sam Gagner: 5’11” Patrick O’Sullivan: 5’11” Andrew Cogliano: 5’10” Mike Comrie: 5’10” Likely Robert Nilsson: 5’11” Gilbert Brule: 5’10” Possible Rob Schremp: 5’11” Jordan Eberle: 5’10” Liam Reddox: 5’10”

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#46 blu
September 25 2009, 09:40AM
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@ blu:

and by effing down, I'm meant effing done.

I see him bust down the wing once more on a partial break and do absolutely nothing with the puck one more time, I am liable to do something very violent.

He often finishes those shifts by slashing someone, and heading to the box, in a miracle of on ice leadership.

At least fake some interference and pile into their goalie and make yourself useful.

I also agree that dressing Souray makes that a very different game. It was also apparent that while I love 'Novsky, he has some conditioning work ahead of him after his injury last year.

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#47 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 09:40AM
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Chris wrote:

scorecoff hemmercules wrote: I didn’t think Bule looked good for most of the game. I agree. What’s worse is that he was skating his guts out, was physically involved, and battled hard for the puck: yet remained very ineffecive. Brule is simply not stong enough to play on an energy line.

The effort was there for sure, almost like him and a couple others were trying too hard to impress and it kinda backfired with alot of giveaways.

@ Chris: JDD makes me nervous, he has made some nice saves but he just looks so shaky all the time.

Jimmy wrote:

I’m definitely not defending Staios on this one

I'm not sure if Staios was trying to put the rookies into tough situations or that he's just that bad at reading the situation. I think sometimes the vets just go through the motions in these pre season games. There's no motivation for guys like Hemsky and Souray who are pretty much a lock to play on the first line.

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#48 scorecoff hemmercules
September 25 2009, 09:43AM
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@ blu:

Someone posted here the other day that Malhotra said he would only go to a "win now" team. He turned down million dollar contracts from some teams to go play in SJ for leass than a million. We never had a shot at him and probably never will unless he wins the cup in SJ this year.

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#49 Jrocks247
September 25 2009, 09:46AM
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Whaaaaa?....we have small forwards?...since when?!?

I'm hoping Nils is gone very soon, he may have helped us get something in return by his play lastnight. What were the faceoff numbers lastnight? I luckily only caught the 2nd period on, and thought we were +50% as a team. I will say that the Reddox,Smack and Stortini line was hilariously bad....can't believe they didn't get scored on...repeatedly. I didn't hate the game last night and I thought we should've won, but hey, it's us

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#50 Watty
September 25 2009, 09:47AM
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Honestly, they could get rid of Staios, Pisani and Moreau tomorrow and I wouldn't even notive them gone.

This would be my starting group of forwards...The thing is, they are going to put Pisani in there which will probably leave Nillson on the outside looking in.

Horcoff-Hemsky-Jaques O'Sullivan-Comrie-Penner Nillson-Gagne-Cogs Stortini-Moreau-Brule

-Penner has been great in the pre-season -Brule deserves to be here -Nillson has finally shown that he wants to be on this team

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