The Rookies (Vol 1)

Lowetide
October 11 2010 08:25AM

A look at the overall NHL standings this morning has two unlikely teams at the top of each conference: The Edmonton Oilers are kings of the west and first place in the east belongs to the Big Smoke. Its early. For Edmonton Oiler fans, the W's are fun. The serious business has little to do with W's and a lot to do with three gifted kids making their NHL debuts. Here's a very early glance at the results.

We don't have enough at-bats to reach any conclusions, but as the three kids fill up each column with crooked numbers we can begin to see the picture clearly. Consider this exercise the first few minutes of a Thanksgiving jigsaw puzzle: we're placing all the blue sky pieces at the top and trying to get a feel for the task at hand.

  • Jordan Eberle (2gp, 1-1-2 +2). The best boxcars of the group, Eberle has impressed both the "saw him good" group and the math people. His goal was a splendid shorthanded tally, he's a shooter (averaging 2 shots a game) and a passer and the young man is being used in multiple roles. His 16:01 a night includes 12 at even strength and about 2 on the PK and PP. Tom Renney clearly sees him as a solid option in all areas, and Eberle's intelligent decision making reflects it. The Desjardins numbers are up for the first game but don't give us a feel (yet) for how things are going. Dennis King is tracking scoring chances and so far Eberle (9-5) is well above .500 in his two games. I think we can reasonably rule out luck or onlooker status for #14, he really has been helping send the puck in the right direction. I suspect his Corsi will reflect that as we roll along. A very strong start for this player.
  • Taylor Hall (2gp, 0-1-1 +1). The only rookie in the group to score a point at even strength, Hall has impressed (4 shots) with his work in the offensive zone and his willingness to venture into high traffic areas. He is clearly the youngest of the group in terms of experience at higher levels, and that has shown itself from time to time. However, a lot of this season is about survival for these kids and I don't think it is a stretch to say he's doing way better than that after two games. His 16 minutes have been doled out by Renney like this: 14 at even-strength, 2 on the PP per night. It is a subtle tell, but I think it'll likely hold all season long. His early RelCorsi (38, same as Eberle's) is ridiculous but we don't have enough sorties to consider it a legit number. Nice start, though. Hall's scoring chance numbers (10-5) is a match for Eberle; they have been playing on the same line.
  • This is where we have to talk about context. Hall and Eberle are playing on the 2line with Shawn Horcoff. Now I know Horcoff is thought by many to be a horrible hockey player, but he is in fact a good one. I'm not trying to reduce the impact of what the two kids above have accomplished, but they've done it with calm seas and clear skies (relatively speaking). Some of that is their own doing, but some of it comes from playing with a calm, steady veteran in the middle. The third rookie has not had that kind of luxury, and as we'll see (below) the results have been far different.
  • A quick note about injuries: We (hockey fans) have a tendency to forget about them. In baseball, the at-bat takes time and the announcer will inevitably say (during the at-bat) "Tommy was hit on the hand by pitcher Lightning McGee in July and it really cut back on his power. He hit 14 homers before July 10th, and none after getting plunked." We view that at-bat differently. We know that the batter will probably regain his power, but not this season. Years of observing (or playing) baseball have taught us that this is player who--while valuable--is not completely healthy. We temper our expectations.
  • In hockey, we forget all about it. We find out Gilbert Brule has been hurt and we wait for news about how long he'll be out. If he's in (as he was last night), we (as a group) expect him to perform at previous levels. Part of it (imo) is that hockey is such a fluid game and the announcer may mention it one time during a break in the action. It doesn't have the same impact as it might during an at-bat. Brule's injury may have had an impact on Pääjärvi's game last night.
  • Even if it didn't, Andrew Cogliano's play did have an impact on that line. The late game shuffle by coach Renney saw both Cogliano and Brule spend some time on the bench (Coglaino spent 16 seconds on the ice between the 11 and 17 minutes mark of the third and Brule didn't hit the ice at all during that time. The 4line replaced them and MPS moved up to the 1line) based on poor results. Injury or confusion, doesn't matter. It wasn't working. 
  • Magnus Pääjärvi (2gp, 0-0-0 -1). MPS has been noticed during these two games, often for being the first man back on his line and his tendency to get blown up on a hit (I don't think he has any fear). He's been shooting (3 shots in 2 games) but honestly his line hasn't been in the offensive zone enough to have an impact. He's getting a little less icetime (14 minutes) than the other two rookies but it isn't a lot considering he is on the de facto 3line and that 14 minutes is still a nice total for a rookie (Renney is giving this group playing time, no one can complain). It breaks down like this: 12.5 at evens, 1.5 on the PP. Dennis scoring chance totals for the 2 games so far (5-6) reflect that the 3line is slightly below average overall (Brule is 3-5, Cogliano has had some golden chances and is 5-4). I don't think the 3line will stay together long, unless Cogliano can figure things out in a hurry. Brule's injury did seem to impact his performance; the benching of the two (young) veterans and the elevation of the kid in the third period offers us anecdotal evidence that there will be changes if things continue. It wasn't all roses and sunshine after G1, either. Gabriel Desjardins' RelCorsi had the line at -36 (Brule) -46 (MPS) and -58 (Cogs). I don't think this line is going to stick.

All things considered I think the trio has had a nice start. It is (very) early but to my eye each of them has shown exceptional natural ability and a surprising amount of intelligence. That combined with some real courage in physical areas tells me their arrows are all pointing in a positive direction.

The rookies are doing well.

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Lowetide has been one of the Oilogosphere's shining lights for over a century. You can check him out here at OilersNation and at lowetide.ca. He is also the host of Lowdown with Lowetide weekday mornings 10-noon on TSN 1260.
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#1 Bryzarro World
October 11 2010, 08:39AM
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I am loving this season. As long as we stay reasonably healthy and protect our rookies we should have a very exciting next few years.

Loved the bit on TSN too. They are finally having fun again. LOL... I just can't see Moreau ever doing a bit like that... Good call as Horc as Captain.

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#2 Bryzarro World
October 11 2010, 08:47AM
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I also think that Horc is a great fit for the 2 rooks on his line. Can let them fly and can cover up some of the defensive misque's.

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#3 DonDon
October 11 2010, 08:55AM
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LT points out the importance of having good centres, a big weakness for the Oilers.

Acknowledging that a fit and healthy Horcoff is doing his job, what about Gagne, Cogliano and Fraser? This is going to be a make or break season for Gagne. Renney has certainly provided him the tools, Penner and Hemsky. Even though Renney has provided Cogliano Paarjavi and Brule, as LT notes, this isn't working out very well. And then there is Fraser, who hasn't impressed very much, however, it could be on account of limited ice time. We know he can't score on an empty net.

Is Brule better fitted to centre a line with Paarjarvi and say Omark? The club knows what Cogliano can and can't do, why not reach down to OKC and bring up another young gun. What is there to lose?

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#6 Max Powers - Team HME Evans
October 11 2010, 09:06AM
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Great article to temper the "sky is falling/plan the parade" Oiler fans' expectations.

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#7 Death Metal Nightmare
October 11 2010, 09:06AM
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that third line needs to be broken up immediately and the Penner/Gagner/Hemsky line does also. they both looked very average regardless of the points they put together. the third line being too small, the other line just being out of sync. Paajarvi should be with Hemsky and Brule (shooter) or something and Gagner, Penner and Cogs should get a line. seems more balanced for physical play, or puck possession but of course the Gagner line "demands" more ice time cause widdle-baby Sammy cutie needs to be handed the reigns of success.

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#9 OilFan
October 11 2010, 09:27AM
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@Lowetide

They need to trade for a number one center. Making Horcoff second, Gagner third and Cog's fourth. Fraser is by far the slowest skater I've seen and was he just dumping the puck in the corner to kill time in the end ? Jarret Stoll has had one good season and a bunch of half ass seasons shouldn't be hard to replace oh wait never mind

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#11 ken
October 11 2010, 09:31AM
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Paajarvi has to learn how to bump the guy off the puck.Coming from euro hockey it will take time but he will come along.I dont think they can take Penner off the #1 line to help him .After he recovers from his injury Brule will show he is a better player than last night and should fit with MPS

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#12 technomage500
October 11 2010, 09:45AM
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What was up with Penner last night? Too much turkey before the game? Every time he got the puck he either had it taken away or just threw it away to the corner or gave it to Gagner or Hemsky. This was the 2nd game of the season and he has no energy??? We don't expect wins every night, but a little try will work wonders.

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#13 DN
October 11 2010, 09:48AM
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Can they send Cogliano to Oklahoma and bring up a Center ? Promote Fraser to the third line ? This issue has been with us since Stoll & Reasoner left.

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#14 Schmidty
October 11 2010, 09:49AM
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Since the HEH line seems to be working/developing, I'm hoping to see MPS play with Hemmer and Gagner. MPS seemed to complete passes through small seams to Hemmer in the preseason and their ability to play at the same speed should be a big plus.

I would also like to see Fraser take a shift or two on the third line, just to see if he could play there. Fraser-Penner-Brule? I'm not sure but would like to try it.

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#15 madjam
October 11 2010, 09:56AM
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Oilers serve up a Thanksgiving Day Turkey ,only to be rescued by Horcoff's rendition of Wendy's Kick To Win . Meanwhile , on the farm (OKC) rookie scoring sensation T.Hartikanen continues to score 100% of all their goals .

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#16 dohfOs
October 11 2010, 10:01AM
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Hmm.. am I the only one who's impressed with MPS and his movement when defending? Sure, he haven't been smoking upfront but defensively he's been alright (that 2nd goal yesterday had nothing to do with MPS).

I would really like to see Brule as centre, perhaps in between MPS and a player such as Omark as someone above me suggested - I really think that it would work out. But I don't know about sending Cogs to the minors. I bet he'll be grabbed of waivers and that's something I rather not see. Bleh.

2nd line is fine, even though I reckon MPS would do even better then Hall on that line. But keeping Hall and Eberle will be good for the future so stick with it.

Perhaps MPS-Brule-Hemsky & Penner-Gagner-Cogliano. But on the other hand I would really like to see Penner-Brule-MPS again as they were vs. Canucks, looked great so why not try it again.

Penner's looked uninspired and lazy even though he scored yesterday. He needs to get his head up.

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#17 OilFan
October 11 2010, 10:01AM
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@DN

Promote Fraser ? really

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#18 OilFan
October 11 2010, 10:07AM
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For a bit I thought it was the same team as last season. Unable to get a clean pass out of the defensive end. Then we won! Last season that would have been a blow out. Bulin has been great so far and stole the 2 points for the Oilers, we wouldn't get those two points if Doobie or JDD play. Where is all the guys that wanted the Oilers to dump Boozin ?

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#19 Rogue
October 11 2010, 10:09AM
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Nobody looked good last night, other than SBS. Lack of concentration? Hope Renney puts a quick stop to that or we will have a repeat of last year. Mind you, that would be great for the draft. Bad passing, and when the puck actually hit the stick, no one could handle it. Frasers miff was the typical play for the night. It will be interesting to see what this team looks like at the 20 game mark.

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#20 c_tux
October 11 2010, 10:17AM
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If the lines are going to change, really the only changes I believe will be to the bottom 6. Cogs is ineffective at C, so move Brule to C (when healthy) and bring Jones up to the wing on the 3rd line. He has some hands and is one helluva forechecker which will probably result in more puck posession/retrieval in the offensive zone.

It's more difficult to showcase Cogs if he's on the 4th line but I think that he's showed all that he can show. He has 'potential' but I don't think that it will come to fruition in Edmonton.

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#21 doritogrande
October 11 2010, 10:17AM
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I seem to recall a couple people pointing out Jones' offensive chops, even before his goal yesterday. He's a pesky bugger with speed and seems defensively responsible, why not give him the promotion to the 3-line. Bump Brule to C with Paajarvi and Jones manning the wings and I think that line creates some chances.

As the single remaining member of the card-carrying Cogliano fan club, he's wearing out his welcome in Edmonton damn fast. His refusal to play wing last year and won't be able to audition for the wing spots in the Top-6 this year. He's getting lapped by the new kids and that race is almost over. I still think he's not being used effectively as I think he could be an ace PKer due to his speed, but if he doesn't have the trust of the coach at EV he's surely not going to garner that trust a man down. Sad days, as my #13 road jersey looks like it's going to be obsolete pretty soon.

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#22 OilFan
October 11 2010, 10:27AM
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Cog's has been better at the dot than other Oiler centers, any one notcie Hall is 100% at the dot ? Is Cog's the new whipping boy ? Only one player played good Bulin. Hemsky had some bad give aways as did Eberle in the defensive end did you all miss them ? We better give up on Cog's a 20 year old kid and give Sammy every chance we can

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#24 Vince
October 11 2010, 10:37AM
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If Cogs is looking like deadline trade bait by Xmas I say put him on a line with Hemksy and Penner thru Jan and Feb let him tally a few points before you start shopping him.

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#25 Quicksilver ballet
October 11 2010, 10:47AM
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Let the man drink, If Khabibulin can keep this up, i'll deliver the wine to his place.

Just win baby, and all these issues will fade away......

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#26 @NateInVegas
October 11 2010, 10:51AM
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Calgary & Florida might be the only teams worse at center than Edmonton let's not start the parade yet.

Taylor Hall survived but hasn't impressed & it's time for Paajarvi to play 9 & join the Barons?

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#27 Ashley
October 11 2010, 11:00AM
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Now that we are back watching hockey, let's consider some of the most popular and consistent suggestions for change from all of us amateur GM's in the Oilogosphere over the summer:

1) "Khabibulin is the worst contract ever, terrible goalie, and we should try to void his contract based on his legal problems."

The PR disaster and reputation hit of such a move notwithstanding, this sentiment ignores Khabby's obvious talent. He has been the best player so far this year. He is calm, poised, well positioned, great reflexes. Both Calgary and Florida have had outstanding scoring chances, and we could easily be 0-2 already. For what its worth, he did the same thing last year, but yet by summer, we had all long forgotten how good Khabby is. So when he again gets injured (inevitable?), let us not forget what he can do. When healthy, he is an elite goaltender. Because of his injury problems, Tambo would have taken less risk with a shorter contract, but Khabby was also entertaining other teams in free agency and perhaps the term was required to secure him as a free agent for Edmonton.

2) "Horcoff is the worst player on the Edmonton Oilers. He should be traded, but no one will take him".

As Lowetide has often said, Horcoff is in fact a very, very good hockey player who brings more than boxcars to the game. Is Horcoff overpaid? Sure, probably by 2 million a year, but then again Ethan Moreau and Robert Nilsson were also overpaid by 2 million a year. It's hard to get the contracts exactly right. Where would this rebuild be without a Horcoff type player? These guys are rare AND valuable. Horcoff had an off year last year and so did the entire team. I guess we need to give the man a break.

3) "Tambellini just sits there and does nothing. We need a blockbuster trade. Perhaps at the draft? Boston is willing to trade pick #15, and all Florida had to give up was Nathan Horton!!! We should have offered Hemsky for that pick. Then we could get Dylan McIlrath, a key part of our rebuild. We need a blockbuster free agent signing. Let's improve our team with old veteran signings."

It looks like Tambellini wants to give the kids the opportunity to play, and play they will. While still early, I guess we can now begin asking ourselves, would we really be better off in this rebuild having a couple of 35 year olds taking away minutes from the kids who are trying to learn the game?

One of the most satisfying things about the draft and summer, in retrospect, was the lack of drama and a blockbuster trade. A rebuild is a marathon, not a sprint. Draft picks are grossly overvalued in the week leading up to the draft. Hemsky for #15 overall? Who is Dylan McIlrath anyway?

4) "Peckham is not ready. We shouldn't worry about his waiver eligibility and keep Belle or Petiot so that he can learn the game in the AHL for another long year."

If Peckham hit waivers, Peckham would have been a Ranger or Islander. His upside is enormous. Looks like Tambellini made the right decision again.

I'm happy we have a knowledgable GM like Tambellini running the show. I can't imagine what this team would look like if we were allowed to run it with our hasty analysis, judgements and decisions. We'd make Sather look like a magician by contrast.

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#28 Steve Smith
October 11 2010, 11:07AM
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OilFan wrote:

For a bit I thought it was the same team as last season. Unable to get a clean pass out of the defensive end. Then we won! Last season that would have been a blow out. Bulin has been great so far and stole the 2 points for the Oilers, we wouldn't get those two points if Doobie or JDD play. Where is all the guys that wanted the Oilers to dump Boozin ?

Right here. All together now: sam-pul size! Sam-pul size!

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#29 Steve Smith
October 11 2010, 11:12AM
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Vince wrote:

If Cogs is looking like deadline trade bait by Xmas I say put him on a line with Hemksy and Penner thru Jan and Feb let him tally a few points before you start shopping him.

To look like trade deadline bait, he'd have to look like he can help an NHL team. Non-playoff teams don't trade away projects at the deadline, they trade away Actual NHL Players; if Cogs stinks the place up again this year, we'd be more likely to trade him in the off-season.

Also, Ashley, your myth #2 tends not to be believed by the same people who believe the other three, since the other three are based on solid evidence and #2 really isn't (unless you want to count a single year in which Horcoff played injured, viewed in isolation from the rest of his career, as evidence). Khabibulin *could* suddenly, at the age of 36, turn from an average starter into an elite goaltender, but it seems unlikely. There are still gaping holes in the lineup that will hurt the rookies' development by forcing them to play minutes in which they're ill-equipped to succeed, and the balance of evidence suggests that Peckham still isn't ready and would have cleared waivers without difficulty; that way he could have been our #6 once one of our veterans was injured, instead of our #5 once once of the veterans is injured, which is what's actually going to happen.

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#30 BillMad
October 11 2010, 11:13AM
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A bunch of haters and grammatical errors in the comments this morning.

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#31 OilFan
October 11 2010, 11:25AM
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@NateInVegas wrote:

Calgary & Florida might be the only teams worse at center than Edmonton let's not start the parade yet.

Taylor Hall survived but hasn't impressed & it's time for Paajarvi to play 9 & join the Barons?

Lol, you never give up. Props for your effort. Just a guess but do you must like eating crow ?

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#32 madjam
October 11 2010, 11:25AM
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Panic Attack already ? Consistency battered ? Not like this was not expected . Only ups and no downs ? We never gelled all last year , it just might take more than a game or two Oiler fans ! They made the most of an off nite be thankfull for that .

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#33 @NateInVegas
October 11 2010, 11:53AM
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How many games does this group get before the direction of the season is determined?

In 2 games the Oilers have been dominated in 3 periods against teams that won't contend.

If they keep playing Khabibulin and don't get crushed with injury there won't be another lotto pick.

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#34 The Other John
October 11 2010, 11:55AM
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Ashley

Khabby has played VERY well for 2 games.

Today's conventional wisdom, repeated by Oiler management often, is that he was the MVP last year until injured. Go back and look at the #'s. He played like a decent starting goalie. Compare his start last year to Craig Anderson's start and ......there was a MVP start. The reason MK contract is so bad is that it was for more money and a much longer term than the marketplace dictated. He has averaged 44 ganmes over the last 5 years

I don not know anyone that thinks Horcoff is a bad hockey player....ok maybe very few people. We all complain about his contract. You get that he has a cap hit of $5.5 million dollars until he is 36. Presently, he is our second line starter at age 32. Darn good player bad, bad, bad contract, fortunately it only has 5 more years to run. Although Jim Matheson did seem surprised that Horcoff was not paid in the top 25 in contracts.

Management

Lets see: signed JDD for $1 m and Dubnyk for $800K and keeps 3 goalies on roster. Dear God rationally explain that. We are playing someone $5 millon dollars to play on someone elses AHL farm club and you do get that we have needed a RH centre that is good on faceoffs from the day Stoll got traded. How is that coming along again??

Peckham...................is flat out exceeding expectations. Agree completely and hope he keeps it up

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#35 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 11 2010, 11:56AM
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So much for exciting last place hockey.

2-0 and still a pile of pissing and moaning.

You wanted a rookie filled team people, now suck it up.

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#37 TigerUnderGlass
October 11 2010, 12:00PM
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@Ashley

I'm happy we have a knowledgable GM like Tambellini running the show. I can't imagine what this team would look like if we were allowed to run it with our hasty analysis, judgements and decisions. We'd make Sather look like a magician by contrast.

My favorite part was when you chastised us for "hasty analysis" based on a 2 game sample.

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#38 TigerUnderGlass
October 11 2010, 12:07PM
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What I would like to do with the 3rd line is trade cogliano, move Brule to the middle and bring up Omark.

Then you give them shelter like crazy and hope Brule will build some trade value so he can be moved in the off-season for some help on defense and his spot in the middle of that line can potentially go to whoever is the most ready of Lander, Pitlick, or Vande Velde.

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#39 Butters
October 11 2010, 12:25PM
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I picked Horcoff as my hero. Two goals already, and he hasn't used his stick on any of them. Once he starts using the lumber, look out!

The Oilers were lucky to win last night but some days you should lose and you don't, other times you should win and you don't. It might have been a let-down game after all the hype and adreneline of opening against the Flames, maybe.

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#40 Crackenbury
October 11 2010, 12:31PM
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A little early for the panic button after one poor performance, but it does bring back memories of last year. No effort out of the gate. We can reasonably assume it has nothing to do with the players. Repeated performances like that and the Oilers will be re-evaluating there pre game prep again.

Fraser's first impressions worry me. The guy is slow. He's slower than 4th line slow. He'll quickly become a healthy scratch if his face-off % is in the tank as well. Is he hurt?

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#41 Chris.
October 11 2010, 12:35PM
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I'm not a fan of the Gagner, Penner, Hemsky combo. IMO, The sum of the whole is less than the parts. Penner plays well with Brule. Why not elevate Brule and make a new improved kid line of Cogliano, Gagner, and MPS to play the soft parade?

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#42 Chris.
October 11 2010, 12:39PM
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On another note: who wants to join me in driving Brownlee nuts with the nerdspeak moniker Hallcofferle?

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#43 The Other John
October 11 2010, 12:44PM
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To start with....... I am not a fan of Brian Burke but at front of the following article

http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/mapleleafs/brianburke/article/873359--brian-burke-reveals-his-method-for-leafs-success

Burke refers to meeting with Bill Polian of Indy Colts pre work stoppage to find out what another pro sports guy, working in a salary cap world, was doing. Costs nothing and saves a whale of learning on the job as you go

Also interesting comments at the bottom re what areassets in a cap world

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#44 GSC
October 11 2010, 12:51PM
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Is Horcoff a horrible hockey player? No.

Is Horcoff overrated? I'd say so.

Next subject...

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#45 Chris.
October 11 2010, 01:03PM
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Crackenbury wrote:

A little early for the panic button after one poor performance, but it does bring back memories of last year. No effort out of the gate. We can reasonably assume it has nothing to do with the players. Repeated performances like that and the Oilers will be re-evaluating there pre game prep again.

Fraser's first impressions worry me. The guy is slow. He's slower than 4th line slow. He'll quickly become a healthy scratch if his face-off % is in the tank as well. Is he hurt?

X2 re Fraser. This is a rebuild. Let's trim a goalie already and have another look at Vande Velde with the big club. (at the very least he can push Fraser to skate some)

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#46 GSC
October 11 2010, 01:14PM
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Chris. wrote:

X2 re Fraser. This is a rebuild. Let's trim a goalie already and have another look at Vande Velde with the big club. (at the very least he can push Fraser to skate some)

Why rush? It's a rebuild, it's not supposed to be pretty.

Let players like Vande Velde and Hartikainen develop in the A. Give them time to progress before they get into the show. I say let them spend the entire season in OKC.

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#47 Rogue
October 11 2010, 01:26PM
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Actually I wish we had Nathan Horton. We could use a banger who can score. Somewhere, sometime we will need a winger like this, along with a big center, but that is down the road.

Bye the way, we have only played 2 games, lets wait before we panic. ~Like maybe 4 or 5 games~

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#48 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 11 2010, 01:44PM
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Chris. wrote:

I'm not a fan of the Gagner, Penner, Hemsky combo. IMO, The sum of the whole is less than the parts. Penner plays well with Brule. Why not elevate Brule and make a new improved kid line of Cogliano, Gagner, and MPS to play the soft parade?

Agreed on the Gagner/Penner/Hemmer combo (though I think both Gagner/Penner and Hemmer/Penner can be effective) I think Gagner/Hemsky are very weak together, we've tried it many times with not much to show for it.

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#49 Chris.
October 11 2010, 01:54PM
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GSC wrote:

Why rush? It's a rebuild, it's not supposed to be pretty.

Let players like Vande Velde and Hartikainen develop in the A. Give them time to progress before they get into the show. I say let them spend the entire season in OKC.

Vande Velde is 23 years old. He looked better than Fraser during camp. If Fraser can't pick up his pace a bit... maybe it's time to bring Chris up for another look. The fourth line was an effective shutdown line last night... but with a little more speed, it could provide some energy as well. Just an opinion.

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