Fourth line: Sam I Am

Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009 03:08PM

sam-i-am-gagner

Fans thinking Pat Quinn was just wagging his fleshy jaw when he talked about a clean slate as the Edmonton Oilers opened training camp might want to note that it looks like Sam Gagner will start the season on the fourth line against the Calgary Flames Saturday.

On a morning when Rob Schremp was claimed by the New York Islanders, Liam Reddox was put on waivers before assignment to Springfield of the AHL and Fernando Pisani and Marc Pouliot were placed on injured reserve, Gagner skated between Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini.

And, no, contrary to what one wag playing fartcatcher suggested -- "It's not a message for Sam, it's a reward for Moreau and Stortini" -- it is obvious Quinn hasn't seen yet enough from Gagner to feel he belongs higher up in his line-up.

Show me something

Gagner's been a slow starter in his first two seasons, and that hasn't escaped Quinn's eye.

"I'm just going off training camp," Quinn said. "You certainly look at history and understand what’s gone on here. He did, from my understanding, historically have a real hot spot a couple of years ago.

"It’s three years now, the start of the third year. It's time to start moving that up. I haven't seen that part in camp, yet.

"Most people believe that it's there and it’s going to come. For the purposes of preparing for opening night, that's probably where he is going to start."

Gagner, 20, had a quiet and uneventful pre-season with 1-2-3 in four games, but his place in the line-up between Moreau and Stortini at Rexall Place this morning raised a few eyebrows.

Gagner, as expected, spun things as positively as possible in the dressing room as the horde leaned in, looking for the dope.

"I feel like I've got a lot more in me," Gagner said of his performance to this point. "It's one of those things. There's a lot of new things going on, a lot of new systems.

"I tend to be a thinker and I think I'm just over-thinking things right now. I'll settle in, get a little simpler. I'm going to find my game."

After breaking in as an 18-year-old in 2007-08 and struggling mightily at times last season, it goes without saying fans, like Oilers management, are expecting a bounce-back campaign from Gagner.

To this point, though, Sam I Am hasn't shown Quinn enough to warrant top-six minutes. That could change as early as a couple of shifts into the lid-lifter with the Flames, but that's up to Gagner.

"I don't want to read into it too much," Gagner said of skating at the bottom of the pecking order.

"We have some time off, some practice days, where we can really get the dialogue going. I've got to make sure I have the right habits and good practice time."

I'm of the mind the expectations of Gagner -- talk about "upside" and the suggestion by some Gagner should've already displaced Shawn Horcoff as the No. 1 centre -- have been overblown, considering he's had seasons of 49 and 41 points. Apparently, at least as of now, Quinn agrees.

"Part of our job is to bring all these guys to a higher level, including Sam or anybody else," Quinn said.

Pisani out long-term?

With Schremp gone, Reddox on waivers and Pisani and Pouliot on IR, Quinn is suddenly at the 23-man roster limit for Saturday's opener and need not make another move for now.

While that addresses the line-up, if not the salary cap, there is a concern Pisani's bad back could keep him out long term. He had an MRI Monday and the team's medical staff is awaiting results. If Pisani has structural damage, like a herniated disk, he could be on the shelf awhile.

"You can't predict when injuries take place," said GM Steve Tambellini. "It does provide an opportunity for other people, possibly, to get a longer look or a chance to play in positions that wouldn't happen if we had to be down to 14 forwards today.

"It presents opportunity to some players who, like I said, wouldn’t have the chance to go further."

One of those players is Robert Nilsson. Nilsson skated on the fifth line with Steve MacIntyre today.

Hemsky hobbled

Ales Hemsky took a quick twirl at the beginning of today's session but left the ice within minutes to rest and get treatment on the what team is saying is a pulled groin.

Rather than risk aggravating the problem and turning it into something that nags Hemsky in the long term, the Oilers are taking a cautious approach with an eye to having him ready for the Flames.

"We don't think it's severe," Quinn said.

"But, for those of us who've been around this business, groins are one of those things that can be severe. It needs treatment now. We want to make sure the pull doesn't become a tear."

Hemsky didn't knock anybody's socks off in pre-season, tallying three assists in four games. It's not known as of now at what point Hemsky injured himself.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just a Game with Jason Gregor on the Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Ogden Brother III
September 29 2009, 04:19PM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules:

What's really going to get confusing is when we start disagreeing on things...

I guess schizophrenia beats dining alone.

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#52 Ogden Brother III
September 29 2009, 04:21PM
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@ Jay:

It'd be really confusing if we picked up Gagne from Philly.

You'd actually end up with a situation like this:

David S wrote:

Gagner with the breakout pass to…Gagne, who chips it into the corner…where Gagner digs it out, centers it to…Gagne, who makes a wicked deke on Luongo….Scoooooooooore!!!! Gagne from Gagner!”
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#53 David S
September 29 2009, 04:24PM
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Kinda feel bad for Robin. He posts up another great article and look how its devolved to the base state.

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#54 scorecoff hemmercules
September 29 2009, 04:27PM
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Season hasn't even started yet and the injuries are setting in. This sux.

Hey Brownlee, any word on the trade front today??? Did those whispers about Nashville and St.Louis fade out??

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#55 Ogden Brother Jr.
September 29 2009, 04:29PM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules: Apparently so was having jeff,Jeff and JeffG

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#56 toprightcorner
September 29 2009, 04:29PM
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Dan the Man wrote:

David S wrote: You know he was playing games before lots of the guys were twirling around Millenium Place, right? Yes I did know that but obviously something is lacking from his preparation. Do you disagree?

Is it a coincidence that he played at the World Jrs before his first camp and shocked everyone by making the team

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#57 Dan the Man
September 29 2009, 04:32PM
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Barnes had a great point on Gregor's show a minute ago... What if MacT had started Gagner on the 4th line between Stortini and Moreau?

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#58 Ogden Brother
September 29 2009, 04:37PM
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Dan the Man wrote:

Barnes had a great point on Gregor’s show a minute ago… What if MacT had started Gagner on the 4th line between Stortini and Moreau?

I was thinking the same earlier.

Somewhere out there, MacT is having a big laugh.

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#59 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
September 29 2009, 04:39PM
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I guess I could settle on something moderately original. Sorry, Ogden Sr and Jr.

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#60 RossCreek
September 29 2009, 04:42PM
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@ Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things: So this is who, again?

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#61 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
September 29 2009, 04:45PM
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@ RossCreek:

Jimmy.

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#62 RossCreek
September 29 2009, 04:47PM
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@ Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things: Oh... right...

I like it.

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#63 lego
September 29 2009, 04:51PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Dan the Man wrote: Barnes had a great point on Gregor’s show a minute ago… What if MacT had started Gagner on the 4th line between Stortini and Moreau? I was thinking the same earlier. Somewhere out there, MacT is having a big laugh.

MacT never would have put Gagner on the forth line, that was his biggest problem. He had his favorites and they could do no wrong in his eyes.

Gagner was horrible at the start of last year, giving up the puck at every turn, yet his ice time didn't diminish and he never left the second line. Meanwhile Penner has the most goals and the best +/- on the team and he was moved from the first to forth line and eventually the pressbox.

Quinn came in and said everybody has an equal chance and so far he is sticking to his word. (see Jacques on the first line).

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#64 Rigger
September 29 2009, 04:59PM
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lego wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: Dan the Man wrote: Barnes had a great point on Gregor’s show a minute ago… What if MacT had started Gagner on the 4th line between Stortini and Moreau? I was thinking the same earlier. Somewhere out there, MacT is having a big laugh. MacT never would have put Gagner on the forth line, that was his biggest problem. He had his favorites and they could do no wrong in his eyes. Gagner was horrible at the start of last year, giving up the puck at every turn, yet his ice time didn’t diminish and he never left the second line. Meanwhile Penner has the most goals and the best +/- on the team and he was moved from the first to forth line and eventually the pressbox. Quinn came in and said everybody has an equal chance and so far he is sticking to his word. (see Jacques on the first line).

He was also injured. I think people are forgetting that, and how much it probably impacted his play during those first couple months. Once Sam took time off to rest his ankle, he improved a lot. Does noone noticed this, or are our memories short?

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#65 Rigger
September 29 2009, 05:03PM
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Besides, it was Penner's work ethic that got him the boot to the press box as it was with Nilsson. As much as Gagner wasn't the greatest at the start of last season, the kid still tried more than the other goats.

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#66 David S
September 29 2009, 05:11PM
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Rigger wrote:

Does noone noticed this, or are our memories short?

Thanks for bringing this up. Sam had an ankle that was very slow to heal, as he told it late last year. Sounded like it was alot worse than the team let on too. Eventually, he had to take some time off I believe.

BTW - Sam wouldn't have been on the fourth line last year because it was a hardcore banging line. You don't put a 19 year-old prodigy in front of trains every night. Either the kid will get squashed like a bug or the whole line suffers because one guy isn't effective. Sam isn't an energy guy and Zack isn't a 20 goal scorer.

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#67 Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009, 05:14PM
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@ scorecoff hemmercules: Nashville and the Oilers may have exchanged calls, but that's far from meaning something is on the table. Poile is difficult to deal with. What is the source of St. Louis whispers? Blogger? Fan board? haven't seen an MSM source on the Blues.

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#68 Rigger
September 29 2009, 05:17PM
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David S wrote:

Thanks for bringing this up. Sam had an ankle that was very slow to heal, as he told it late last year. Sounded like it was alot worse than the team let on too. Eventually, he had to take some time off I believe. BTW – Sam wouldn’t have been on the fourth line last year because it was a hardcore banging line. You don’t put a 19 year-old prodigy in front of trains every night. Either the kid will get squashed like a bug or the whole line suffers because one guy isn’t effective. Sam isn’t an energy guy and Zack isn’t a 20 goal scorer.

I think you're very right in that his ankle was a hidden injury. I'm sure they didn't tell people right away because they had wanted it to improve faster than it did. You also have losers who will take liberties with players they know are nursing injuries, so that probably had something to do with keeping it on the DL as well.

At the end of the day, I think this is sort of a waste of the kid's talents. I can't see where sticking him with two dudes who lack in offense will help him at all. Gags needs space for his game, this much is true, but being stuck with Moreau who thinks he can stick handle like Hemmer isn't the way to get that space. That guy stiffled Cogs for almost an entire season, and he's going to do the same with Sam. It's not like Storts is gonna receieve the sick passes either.

This lineup gives me a headache. I'm sure it won't stick, but it's annoying right now none the less. I'm all for clean slates but some of those guys who are higher up on the depth chart didn't show me any more effort or skill to earn that.

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#69 Rigger
September 29 2009, 05:19PM
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And if Bobby subs in for Hemmer if he's injured on the top line, I'm gonna barf.

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#70 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
September 29 2009, 05:24PM
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Rigger wrote:

And if Bobby subs in for Hemmer if he’s injured on the top line, I’m gonna barf.

~Let's just hope Reddox clears waivers and it doesn't come to that.~

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#71 Jay
September 29 2009, 05:24PM
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lego wrote:

MacT never would have put Gagner on the forth line, that was his biggest problem. He had his favorites and they could do no wrong in his eyes.

MacT would've got crucified (even worse) by the media and fans for putting an offensive talent with potential with plumber's for linemates (see: Schremp, Rob).

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#72 Rigger
September 29 2009, 05:25PM
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Guh, barf or diarrhea, which one's worse! If Hemmer can't play they'd better be moving some people around before firecrotch comes a knockin!

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#73 Rigger
September 29 2009, 05:26PM
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Jay wrote:

MacT would’ve got crucified (even worse) by the media and fans for putting an offensive talent with potential with plumber’s for linemates (see: Schremp, Rob).

True dat, yet somehow people are ok with this when grey balls does it?

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#74 Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009, 05:36PM
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Rigger wrote:

And if Bobby subs in for Hemmer if he’s injured on the top line, I’m gonna barf.

Well, come to think of it, Nilsson did take Hemsky's place on the line with Jacques and Horcoff today after Hemsky left . . .

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#75 vern
September 29 2009, 05:47PM
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When Nilsson is on his game he is one of the best players on the team.

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#76 Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009, 05:52PM
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vern wrote:

When Nilsson is on his game he is one of the best players on the team.

And the other 40 nights . . .?

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#77 Hemmertime
September 29 2009, 05:55PM
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vern wrote:

When Nilsson is on his game he is one of the best players on the team.

I agree, both times last season he looked great!

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#78 vern
September 29 2009, 05:56PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

vern wrote: When Nilsson is on his game he is one of the best players on the team. And the other 40 nights . . .?

I have to fight the urge to throw my beer at the tv whenever he touches the puck.

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#79 Smokin' Ray
September 29 2009, 06:00PM
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ROFL. Barnes said that Rob Schremp's dad sells Schremp Dogs outside an arena in Rochester. ~Everything in the world makes sense now.~ What will they think of next?

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#80 Joey Moss
September 29 2009, 06:01PM
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If he is going off of training camp, how does Horcoff have a top line spot? He looked lost in the last preseason game and has one more point than Sam in preseason. Who has the better chops to be in a checking role, Gagner or Horcoff? Who has more offensive upside, Gagner or Horcoff? Seems like they have these two players mixed up. I guarantee Horcoff and Gagner will be trading spots on the depth chart by the 20 game mark.

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#81 David S
September 29 2009, 06:07PM
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Joey Moss wrote:

Who has the better chops to be in a checking role, Gagner or Horcoff?

Is this a joke?

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#82 David S
September 29 2009, 06:13PM
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David S wrote:

Is this a joke?

What I mean is, why would you suggest putting your #1C (yeah, I know) with the bang bros.?

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#83 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 06:17PM
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Joey Moss wrote:

I guarantee Horcoff and Gagner will be trading spots on the depth chart by the 20 game mark.

You aren't suggesting that Horcoff's on the fourth line by game twenty, are you? Because that would be sort of crazy.

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#84 Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009, 06:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Joey Moss wrote: I guarantee Horcoff and Gagner will be trading spots on the depth chart by the 20 game mark. You aren’t suggesting that Horcoff’s on the fourth line by game twenty, are you? Because that would be sort of crazy.

Gagner and Brule will swap places before the season is three games old. 27-89-13 18-67-46

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#85 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 06:23PM
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Quinn can get away with lot because he's new and he's still regarded as a sane, experienced, competent outsider by the fanbase.

MacTavish could get away with absolutely nothing because half the fanbase had decided that whatever he did was wrong before he even did it.

It's not fair, but it isn't surprising either.

Quinn and MacTavish aren't the same - and track record suggests Quinn's a better coach - but MacTavish was incredibly underappreciated towards the end of his tenure here. The fact that Quinn's come into training camp and complained about the same things (he says 'crust' instead of jam, but otherwise...) just proves it.

None of this is to say that the Oilers didn't make a positive change when they hired Quinn, but the teams chief problems are with the players on the roster and they haven't been addressed yet.

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#86 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 06:24PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

I'm curious for your opinion, if you don't mind:

Do you think Moreau spends much time on the fourth line? Do you think Jacques will spend much time on the first line?

Neither of those look like long-term commitments to me.

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#87 Robin Brownlee
September 29 2009, 06:31PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I can see Jacques and Penner changing spots if there's any stagnation on their lines.

I see no reason why Moreau should play more than fourth-line minutes at even strength, plus some PK. If he's more than a 12-14-minute a night player at this point, then the team isn't good enough.

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#88 Word
September 29 2009, 06:32PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Quinn can get away with lot because he’s new and he’s still regarded as a sane, experienced, competent outsider by the fanbase. MacTavish could get away with absolutely nothing because half the fanbase had decided that whatever he did was wrong before he even did it. It’s not fair, but it isn’t surprising either. Quinn and MacTavish aren’t the same – and track record suggests Quinn’s a better coach – but MacTavish was incredibly underappreciated towards the end of his tenure here. The fact that Quinn’s come into training camp and complained about the same things (he says ‘crust’ instead of jam, but otherwise…) just proves it. None of this is to say that the Oilers didn’t make a positive change when they hired Quinn, but the teams chief problems are with the players on the roster and they haven’t been addressed yet.

At least "crust" makes more sense than "jam". As far as the sandwich metaphor goes, I'm thinking the Hemskys are the jam and the Stortinis are the crust. The problem is that we still don't have no peanut butter!

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#89 David S
September 29 2009, 06:34PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Gagner and Brule will swap places before the season is three games old. 27-89-13 18-67-46

Book it! And sanity will reign again in Oilerland.

To my mind, Sam is a special player. When he gets the systems down to instinct, he's going to have a great year. Really looking forward to seeing him come on.

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#90 Jay
September 29 2009, 06:34PM
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Joey Moss wrote:

I guarantee Horcoff and Gagner will be trading spots on the depth chart by the 20 game mark.

*I guarantee Horcoff and Gagner will be trading spots on the depth chart by the 200 game mark. Fixed

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#91 David S
September 29 2009, 06:36PM
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Word wrote:

The problem is that we still don’t have no peanut butter!

hxxp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4sKg18lTqw

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#92 Word
September 29 2009, 06:40PM
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@ David S:

That's what I look like in the crowd at RX1.

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#93 Chris
September 29 2009, 06:47PM
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Gunner wrote:

You mean his wrist shot from 40 ft out went over the net. The guy has 0 offensive skills.

Moreau had more goals than Nilsson last year.

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#94 Chris
September 29 2009, 06:49PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Props to Chris for calling some combo of Gagner/Cogs/Hemsky to feel the wrath of Quinn’s accountability while almost everyone else figured it would be Horcoff/Moreau/Staios etc etc taken the verbal/line-up beatings.

Thanks man.

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#95 Gunner
September 29 2009, 06:59PM
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Chris wrote:

Gunner wrote: You mean his wrist shot from 40 ft out went over the net. The guy has 0 offensive skills. Moreau had more goals than Nilsson last year.

Point being? Just because he scored more goals than a guy who showed up 15 games out of 82 doesn't impress me.

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#96 Gunner
September 29 2009, 07:00PM
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@ Chris: Maybe Ethan should play with Hemsky and Horcoff and be on the PP too?

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#97 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 07:05PM
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@ Gunner:

There's no need to oscillate between extremes. Moreau's a defensive forward with limited offensive skills, but he isn't without scoring ability altogether. In his draft year, for example, Moreau scored goals at a pace very comparable to, say, Gilbert Brule.

He's a bottom six forward with some edge who scores goals because of will and brute determination. He's of the most use to this team as a penalty-killer and checking-line winger.

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#98 Gunner
September 29 2009, 07:05PM
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#19 Gunner September 29 2009, 3:33 pm.

@ Robin Brownlee: So maybe it was a slight over exaggeration.

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#99 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 07:05PM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

Thanks, Robin.

And I strongly suspect this team isn't good enough.

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#100 Jonathan Willis
September 29 2009, 07:06PM
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Gunner wrote:

So maybe it was a slight over exaggeration.

Fair enough.

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