Robert Nilsson: To Trade Or Not To Trade

Jonathan Willis
January 04 2010 12:21PM

Robert Nilsson, abandoned for dead by most people following the Oilers (including me) at training camp, has come alive since returning to the lineup from injury, to the point where he’s been one of the Oilers best offensive players over the last dozen or so games. The question is this: does he have a long-term future with this team?

We can’t look at Nilsson’s recent run of brilliance without also looking at his early season stretch of futility. Here are his numbers on the season, split by that lengthy stretch outside the lineup:

  • Before: 12GP – 1G – 3A – 4PTS, -12
  • After: 15GP – 5G – 5A – 10PTS, +2

There’s quite a contrast in those two stats lines. In the first sample, we see a player struggling in both ends of the rink, and in the other we see one of the rare Oilers exceeding expectations. So which is Nilsson?

The simple answer is that he’s both. There’s a similar split we can look at: the difference between 2007-08 and 2008-09. In the first instance he was the best member of the ‘Kid Line’, the only one who could be trusted to some degree defensively, and a guy who could play in a sheltered role and dominate. In the second, he was a borderline NHL’er, drifting in and out of the line-up. This inconsistency has been a Nilsson hallmark since he first broke into the league with the Islanders, showing flashes or disappearing for stretches. When he’s on, he’s a tremendous player: gifted offensively and capable of playing a solid two-way game. When he’s off, he’s something else entirely.

Nilsson’s numbers over his Oilers’ career look like this:

Year GP G A PTS +/- 5v5 PTS/60 5v4 PTS/60 QC Off. ZS Rel. Corsi
07-08 71 10 31 41 8 2.37 2.66 10th 53.6 6.1
08-09 64 9 20 29 1 1.22 4.59 7th 55 3.4
09-10 27 6 8 14 -10 1.72 4.57 10th 47.5 1.4

5v5 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-5 situations. Anything over 2.00 is high-end territory, while anything below 1.50 is fairly sad. Nilsson’s been both over the course of his career, and while I fully believe he has the talent to hang out in the high end of that range, I don’t believe he can do it consistently.

5v4 PTS/60 is Nilsson’s scoring rate in 5-on-4 situations. The first number (2007-08) on that list is atrocious, while the latter two are very good. I think that the first number is the aberration, and that the latter two reflect Nilsson’s true range; I’ve thought that since the end of 2007-08, actually, which was why I thought he had room to improve on that effort. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on his even-strength offence falling away.

Off. ZS shows the percentage of offensive/defensive zone face-offs in the offensive zone. Nilsson has consistently been among the team leaders in this category, and is again this year, although Quinn seems to care less about getting players out in particular zones than MacTavish did. QC is a measure of Quality of Competition, and the number reflects Nilsson’s ranking among regular forwards on his team. It’s a combination of how opposing coaches view his line and who his coach lines him up against, and we can see that Nilsson generally plays against poor players. MacTavish went for that matchup with Nilsson, and in Quinn’s case it seems to be a result of opposing coaches not worrying about Nilsson. From those two statistics (provided by Gabe Desjardins, as with the rest of this stuff) we can see that Nilsson’s been put in a position to succeed during his Oilers career, generally at the expense of guys put in a position to fail (Reasoner/Stoll/Torres in 2007-08 and Horcoff/Brodziak/Moreau last year).

The final number on the list is relative corsi, adjusted for ice-time and strength of team. Corsi is the sum of all shot attempts for and against, and reflects territorial advantage. Nilsson has positive but relatively modest totals here, but when we consider the difficulty of his minutes (lots of offensive zone starts, lots of weak opponents) those totals look vanilla.

It is my opinion that if Nilsson continues on his current run, Steve Tambellini should move him at the trade deadline. The Oilers have an abundance of small forwards, and they have an abundance of forwards who can’t be relied upon to play difficult minutes without a baby-sitter, and some of these guys need to be cleared out. Nilsson certainly has some value to a team short of these guys, but with Cogliano and O’Sullivan already on the roster (I’ve excluded Gagner because he’s significantly ahead of both the previous duo and Nilsson) and with all of Omark, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson joining the team in the near future and all meeting one or both of my earlier caveats, there’s no room for him.

In short: let Nilsson get hot a little while longer. Than maximize the return.

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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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#51 RossCreekNation
January 04 2010, 02:42PM
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Freudian slip(s) of the day...

... both Bob Stauffer and Kevin Quinn indirectly referring to Kevin Lowe as GM.

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#52 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 04 2010, 02:45PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

Freudian slip(s) of the day...

... both Bob Stauffer and Kevin Quinn indirectly referring to Kevin Lowe as GM.

Oh god. More fuel for the conspiracy theorists.

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#53 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 02:46PM
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My stat of the day. We score 3+ goals and we are 15-4-3, score 2 or less and we are 1-18-1.

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#54 Smokin' Ray
January 04 2010, 02:46PM
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Nilsson, O'Sullivan, Moreau, Staios, Horcoff, Pisani, Pouliot, Khabibulin. Get rid of these guys first. There is more to add to the list, but if a new direction is the way to go, start with them.

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#56 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 02:47PM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

I do question why Lowe is the one that talks about this kind of stuff more often then Tambo. I guess they do the group thing with Lowe still have quite a bit of influence.

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#57 Smokin' Ray
January 04 2010, 02:47PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

My stat of the day. We score 3+ goals and we are 15-4-3, score 2 or less and we are 1-18-1.

Wow. That's kind of shocking. But I'm not surprised either.

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#58 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 02:49PM
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@Jonathan Willis

You have a link for that guys site? I was wondering about it the other day. How accurate are those numbers once a player comes over?

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#59 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 04 2010, 02:50PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Original Ogden Brother:

Yes and no. I believe that he's a compelling enough player that the Oilers should bring him over and have a look at him.

With foreign guys I usually look at Desjardins league equivalency numbers, which are based on players who come over from the KHL/SEL/wherever and their performance in the NHL. Here are Omark's:

07-08: 82GP - 10G - 20A - 30PTS 08-09: 82GP - 21G - 29A - 50PTS 09-10: 82GP - 33G - 19A - 52PTS

That tells me he has a reasonable shot at 40 points over here, and every time I've seen him play I've had the same impression; namely that he could be an NHL player.

I'm not saying he'll pan out the way Gabe's numbers show him, because there are obviously other factors (adjustemnt to N.A. being one of them). But it's enough for me to think he deserves a look-see.

Interesting, I've seen those "cross league" projection numbers for CHL/NCAA etc, but never other pro leagues.

To me he's a smaller Robert Nilsson (and those numbers seem to support that).

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#60 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 04 2010, 02:50PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

My stat of the day. We score 3+ goals and we are 15-4-3, score 2 or less and we are 1-18-1.

What great team defense!

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#61 David S
January 04 2010, 02:52PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

I don't think the "keep who's hot, trade who's cold" theory is that strong.

When deciding who should be delt vs who they want to build around managment should be looking at the big picture, not just the last 15 games.

Its not an issue of hot and cold, rather it seems that POS is simply a bust. Its like stocks. Holding on to sentimental favorites is almost always an epic fail. All I'm saying is that you consider ditching POS over Nilsson. Problem is, as Jonathan has mentioned, he's playing so poorly that he's become pretty much untradeable.

Welcome to the Edmonton Oilers, where you're more expendable the better you play.

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#62 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 04 2010, 02:52PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

I do question why Lowe is the one that talks about this kind of stuff more often then Tambo. I guess they do the group thing with Lowe still have quite a bit of influence.

I always laugh when people come out with:

"Lowe wont let Tambo trade.... that's why nothings been done!!!"

Really? A GM that was arguably too activite wont let his replacement trade?

Lowe has to be one of the only team presidents that has constant calls for his head.

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#63 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 04 2010, 02:56PM
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David S wrote:

Its not an issue of hot and cold, rather it seems that POS is simply a bust. Its like stocks. Holding on to sentimental favorites is almost always an epic fail. All I'm saying is that you consider ditching POS over Nilsson. Problem is, as Jonathan has mentioned, he's playing so poorly that he's become pretty much untradeable.

Welcome to the Edmonton Oilers, where you're more expendable the better you play.

I would say the sentimental pick would be the guy that's currently hot.

And that's really my point, just like with a stock you can't let emotion cloud your judgement (fear and greed). Sound business decisions needs to be made with the Oilers roster.

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#64 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 03:00PM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

I still think he talks too much and should leave that sort of talk to the GM. Thing is the Oilers tried to kinda make it known that Tambo was the guy in charge 100%, but then Lowe comes out with an interview like todays and it makes you wonder what is going on.

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#65 RossCreekNation
January 04 2010, 03:00PM
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BOOO! (Kevin Predergast)

BOOO! (Rick Olzyck)

Those two should be relieved of their duties imo.

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#66 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 03:01PM
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@RossCreekNation

Not Fernando's twin brother.

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#67 RossCreekNation
January 04 2010, 03:02PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

I still think he talks too much and should leave that sort of talk to the GM. Thing is the Oilers tried to kinda make it known that Tambo was the guy in charge 100%, but then Lowe comes out with an interview like todays and it makes you wonder what is going on.

In fairness, today's interview (and Bob stressed this) was to talk Olympics and World Jr's more so than to talk Oilers.

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#68 John K
January 04 2010, 03:03PM
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Of course the problem, as in all stock market transactions, is did you sell the stock right before it really exploded?

If consistent Nilsson exists, I would be against trading his 2M salary.

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#71 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 04 2010, 03:18PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

RE: Omark.

Apparently, I was looking at Gabe's old equivalencies. His most recent set can be found here.

Correcting Omark's numbers gives us this (all over 82GP):

    • 07-08: 13G - 24A - 37PTS
      08-09: 28G - 39A - 67PTS
      09-10: 30G - 17A - 47PTS
  • As for the accuracy of these numbers, they're based on averages; they give us the most likely translation with similar ice-time.

    It's a guess, an educated guess based on past experience and nothing more. Based on that guess and what I've seen of Omark, I think we could pencil him into the spot Nilsson currently inhabits without too much trouble, and see how it works out.

    Thanks. Second question, how much better is Omark defesnively? He may put up 10 more points then Nilsson, but overall is he much better?

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    #72 Crash
    January 04 2010, 03:19PM
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    David S wrote:

    Move Nilsson over O'Sullivan? Maybe I'm not paying enough attention and there's this red-hot, outplaying his contract O'Sullivan playing for Edmonton that I'm just stupid and not aware of. Because the POS I watch night after night is a POS. Has been since the day he got here.

    Then there's the rich assumption that our two hottest JUNIOR prospects are going to walk into top 6 positions right out of camp. AND dominate in their first year in the show, enough to outstrip what Pat Quinn has described as one of the best players currently on the team. OK.

    Seriously. Is there no slight possibility that an athlete can improve? I mean, come on. The Robert Nilsson I've seen over the past while deserves the benefit of the doubt. He knows its his last at bat and it appears he's making the most of it. The more he plays the way he's playing right now, the more he'll believe he can continue to do so over the long run. Not to mention that he and Sam sure seem to work together pretty nicely.

    So we're OK with borderline players like Stone and JFJ taking up roster spots, but we're ready to trash one of the truly gifted NHL players we have on this team. Oh man.

    No, again, you are putting words in everyone's mouthes with the statement that there is a rich assumption that our two hottest junior prospects will "dominate" in their first year. I don't think anyone said they would dominate. You have it in your head though so you can claim how everyone was wrong and you were right.

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    #73 Dan the Man
    January 04 2010, 03:25PM
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    Per Dan Tencer on Twitter:

    Calgary restaurant Osteria de Medici is under investigation by Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission for over-service of alcohol...Investigation surrounds night Oilers were in attendance...could take up to months to complete. Restaurant faces fine or loss of license.

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    #74 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
    January 04 2010, 03:31PM
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    @Crash

    Maybe not dominate but be qutie a bit better then what we have. Lots of people are so ready to draft Hall and have Eberle and MPS make the jump next year, what's going to happen when people once again get their hopes up?

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    #75 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
    January 04 2010, 03:32PM
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    @Dan the Man

    I wonder if this was done by the Oilers? Fight fire with fire.

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    #76 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
    January 04 2010, 03:34PM
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    Dan the Man wrote:

    Per Dan Tencer on Twitter:

    Calgary restaurant Osteria de Medici is under investigation by Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission for over-service of alcohol...Investigation surrounds night Oilers were in attendance...could take up to months to complete. Restaurant faces fine or loss of license.

    This is how you deal with that sort of situation. No Ethan Moreau press conference necessary.

    I wonder, though, if they mean 'over-service' in the sense that they weren't cutting people off when they should have been, or if they mean they were padding the bill.

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    #77 Bob Cob
    January 04 2010, 03:39PM
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    Smokin' Ray wrote:

    Nilsson, O'Sullivan, Moreau, Staios, Horcoff, Pisani, Pouliot, Khabibulin. Get rid of these guys first. There is more to add to the list, but if a new direction is the way to go, start with them.

    Nilsson, POS, Moreau, Pisani and Pouliot are movable, Horcoff and Khabby, no, due to, if you had been paying attention, dollars per year and length of contract. In short we are stuck with both Khabby and Horcoff whether we like it or not.

    On to Nilsson, its the same thing year after year, he'll have flashes of brilliance and disappear, if they can get something for him, a pick at worst, they should do it. That is a far better idea than trading Brule, which was an idea floated around not to long ago.

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    #78 Dan the Man
    January 04 2010, 03:40PM
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    Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

    This is how you deal with that sort of situation. No Ethan Moreau press conference necessary.

    I wonder, though, if they mean 'over-service' in the sense that they weren't cutting people off when they should have been, or if they mean they were padding the bill.

    I took it to mean that they weren't cutting people off...but that's just my interpretation.

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    #79 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
    January 04 2010, 03:43PM
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    @Dan the Man

    Who actually follows the rules? Technically they aren't suppose to serve you as soon as you are drunk, well isn't 3 or 4 beers what makes the average person legally impaired? The only time they cut someone of is when they can't walk or talk.

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    #80 Crash
    January 04 2010, 03:44PM
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    Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

    Maybe not dominate but be qutie a bit better then what we have. Lots of people are so ready to draft Hall and have Eberle and MPS make the jump next year, what's going to happen when people once again get their hopes up?

    I think Eberle might already have the quickest hands on the team. All I'm saying is if they are ready then they should make the team. No sending them to the AHL just for the sake of sending them there...Also, I think a number one overall pick stands a very good chance of jumping directly into the NHL...I think that at least the last 9 first overall picks have jumped directly into the NHL.

    I can't speak for everyone else as far as how far they have their hopes up...I do think that Eberle, Svensson, Hall all stand a good chance of being some sort of positive factor sometime during the next 3 yrs.

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    #81 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
    January 04 2010, 03:48PM
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    Dan the Man wrote:

    I took it to mean that they weren't cutting people off...but that's just my interpretation.

    If that's the case I can't see it being an Oilers initiative. You don't criticize a restaurant for serving you too much alcohol if you'd like to do that sort of thing at another restaurant in the future.

    With all the media play this story got, I could see someone from Gaming & Liquor raising an eyebrow.

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    #82 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
    January 04 2010, 03:50PM
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    Crash wrote:

    I think Eberle might already have the quickest hands on the team. All I'm saying is if they are ready then they should make the team. No sending them to the AHL just for the sake of sending them there...Also, I think a number one overall pick stands a very good chance of jumping directly into the NHL...I think that at least the last 9 first overall picks have jumped directly into the NHL.

    I can't speak for everyone else as far as how far they have their hopes up...I do think that Eberle, Svensson, Hall all stand a good chance of being some sort of positive factor sometime during the next 3 yrs.

    I agree, but you are the first one that has mention these key words "next 3 yrs".

    The odd guy has said not to trade away next years 1st as there is a good chance that even with those 3 we could be giving up a top 5 or top 10 pick.

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    #83 Westcoastoil
    January 04 2010, 03:52PM
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    If Bizarro world comes to life and the Oilers picked 1st. What's the better pick Hall or Seguin? With MPS and Eberle headed this way to join Penner a centre make more sense and (apart from making the jr. squad which isn't a career determinant) its a bit of a toss up between them. As an organization they are void of offensive centremen in the system.

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    #84 Dan the Man
    January 04 2010, 03:54PM
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    Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

    Who actually follows the rules? Technically they aren't suppose to serve you as soon as you are drunk, well isn't 3 or 4 beers what makes the average person legally impaired? The only time they cut someone of is when they can't walk or talk.

    You're right, no one does. I'd think it would be difficult to prove as well unless you had eyewitnesses willing to testify.

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    #85 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
    January 04 2010, 03:58PM
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    Dan the Man wrote:

    You're right, no one does. I'd think it would be difficult to prove as well unless you had eyewitnesses willing to testify.

    Unless the restaurant has had previous infractions I doubt anything happens. But who knows maybe the gaming board takes the 40 or 50 people with the Oilers as evidence enough?

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    #86 JackBauer
    January 04 2010, 03:59PM
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    "What's the better pick Hall or Seguin?"

    Mark Syndenburg who is a talent scout says Seguin could have more long term upside over Hall, while Hall is a better player now.

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    #87 David S
    January 04 2010, 04:04PM
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    Dan the Man wrote:

    Per Dan Tencer on Twitter:

    Calgary restaurant Osteria de Medici is under investigation by Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission for over-service of alcohol...Investigation surrounds night Oilers were in attendance...could take up to months to complete. Restaurant faces fine or loss of license.

    Sooo...I wonder who made the tip-off call to the AGLC?

    Mess with the bull and you'll get the horns.

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    #88 TigerUnderGlass
    January 04 2010, 04:13PM
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    Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

    Unless the restaurant has had previous infractions I doubt anything happens. But who knows maybe the gaming board takes the 40 or 50 people with the Oilers as evidence enough?

    They have previously been investigated by the commission but I have no idea what resulted.

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    #89 Dan the Man
    January 04 2010, 04:18PM
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    David S wrote:

    Sooo...I wonder who made the tip-off call to the AGLC?

    Mess with the bull and you'll get the horns.

    Apparently it was an "anonymous tipster"

    http://www.inews880.com/Channels/Reg/LocalNews/Story.aspx?ID=1181036

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    #90 Hemmertime
    January 04 2010, 04:21PM
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    Offthebandwagon wrote:

    Ok, good point and thanks for the info. But don't we already have three-four "boom or bust prospects" with two more on the horizon?

    Most likley 80% or more will be Bust. If we only get 1 Boom prospect Ill be content. Better than our 1 per 10-15 years so far

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    #91 JDB
    January 04 2010, 04:54PM
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    @Hemmertime

    Just wondering, nation readers: Anybody have any inside knowledge of what type of "systems" will be introduced to the team during Quinn's announced upcoming two day mini camp??

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    #92 Petr's Jofa
    January 04 2010, 04:56PM
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    JW,

    Do you really think that Nilsson's play over the last 15 games has changed his trade value? I can't see any GM who wasn't intrested in Nilson before now wanting to take a $2 mil for a player that is known to be streaky.

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    #93 DangerMan
    January 04 2010, 05:07PM
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    @JackBauer

    Hall is the more dynamic player, but Seguin is a better fit for the Oilers, thats why I don't think they can go wrong with either pick.

    Seguin plays a Marleau-ish type game and could be the long awaited triggerman that Hemsky has been waiting for.

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    #94 Word
    January 04 2010, 05:27PM
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    OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

    I would say the sentimental pick would be the guy that's currently hot.

    And that's really my point, just like with a stock you can't let emotion cloud your judgement (fear and greed). Sound business decisions needs to be made with the Oilers roster.

    Just like with stocks, the general public tends to make rash, uninformed decisions based on assumed facts and biased outlooks?

    I guess this is why brokers trade, GMs manage, coaches coach and fans blog.

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    #95 Eddie Shore
    January 04 2010, 05:28PM
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    JDB wrote:

    Just wondering, nation readers: Anybody have any inside knowledge of what type of "systems" will be introduced to the team during Quinn's announced upcoming two day mini camp??

    Probably going to work on a 1-4 forecheck.

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    #96 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
    January 04 2010, 05:32PM
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    Eddie Shore wrote:

    Probably going to work on a 1-4 forecheck.

    ~i was more thinking stacking 4 guys on the top of the crease and having 1 rover. wait for a PP and try and score then, otherwise play for the 3-0 loss~

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    #97 Quintana
    January 04 2010, 05:58PM
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    DangerMan wrote:

    Hall is the more dynamic player, but Seguin is a better fit for the Oilers, thats why I don't think they can go wrong with either pick.

    Seguin plays a Marleau-ish type game and could be the long awaited triggerman that Hemsky has been waiting for.

    How about Anton Lander? I noticed he got 2 goals against USA!!!! Where he will be next year?

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    #98 Bam
    January 04 2010, 06:16PM
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    Agree with JW.

    With our current roster and the prospects in the system we have way too many small forwards. Let's hope Nilsson can continue this tear he's on so his trade value is a little higher by the time a move is made.

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    #99 jake
    January 04 2010, 08:36PM
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    If deciding between Nilsson and POS on who to trade, well if the criteria is not trading the one who helps you win games now (and I mean all season long), then you dump POS. I just have no use for him and admittedly am not objective on this.

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    #100 Woodguy
    January 04 2010, 10:43PM
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    @Jonathan Willis

    Jonathan,

    You said:

    "I also doubt O'Sullivan's all that tradeable right now, certainly not for more than 50 cents on the dollar."

    So you get 10 games of Cole and a 4th rounder?

    Make that trade immediately.

    In terms of value of contract vs. performance POS is the worst or 2nd worst on the team (tight race with thecaptainethanmoreau)

    Its addition by subtraction. His 2.9M of cap space is worth much more than the player, especially on this cap challenged team.

    A mistake was made, un-make it and move on.

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