Gilbert Brule And Red Flags

Jonathan Willis
May 13 2010 10:29AM

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

One of the few positive notes for the Oilers this season was the emergence of Gilbert Brule as an NHL player. He scored a career-high 17 goals and 37 points and played with a nasty physical edge as well. Now, he’s a restricted free agent and the Oilers need to decide how much to pay him on his next contract.

This is where I get nervous. I’m glad that Brule’s emerged, and it’s nice to see him finally playing well after injuries derailed his early career in Columbus. But there are a bunch of different things that would make me leery about tossing money at him, despite his success this past season. Here are factors I see that bother me:

Injuries: At just 23 years of age, Brule’s had a lot of them. Broken leg, broken collarbone, and a sprained ankle that cost him the tail end of the 2009-10 season. It may be that he’s just had bad luck early on, but those injuries have already cost him a lot and with the style he plays it wouldn’t surprise me if injuries continued to shape his NHL career. 

Shooting percentage: Brule was listed as having an “NHL-calibre” shot when he was playing junior, so perhaps he just had a bad run in Columbus, but the goal-scoring increase in Edmonton has largely been a result of shooting percentage. On 183 shots with the Blue Jackets, Brule had a 6.6% shooting percentage, while on 134 shots with the Oilers he’s had a 14.2% shooting percentage. Or put another way: goalies facing Brule as a Blue Jacket put up a 0.934 SV%, while goalies facing him as an Oiler put up a 0.858 SV%. I’d suggest that Brule’s true scoring ability is probably somewhere between those two figures.  Given that we know NHL players generally don't progress through great increases in shooting percentage, this is worrisome.

The Dustin Penner effect: Gilbert Brule was a different player when he was paired with Dustin Penner. That pairing was plus-5, on the ice for 21 goals for and 16 against, and they outshot the opposition 147-133. Penner apart was a little worse (35 goals for, 32 against, outshooting 364-346), something I’d attribute to the fact that he was likely playing better opposition away from Brule. Brule fell off the rails without Penner around, going minus-10 (17 goals for, 27 against) and getting outshot 203-233. That disparity is not a good sign.

AHL results: Last season on a lousy Springfield team, Gilbert Brule managed 24 points in 39 games (0.615 PTS/GM) in the AHL. In the NHL this year he was just a tiny bit worse (0.569 PTS/GM), and that bothers me a little. Perhaps it means that this year, and this year alone, was a breakout season, but it might also be taken as further evidence that Brule isn’t quite the player we saw this year. Also of interest is even-strength goal scoring: in Springfield, Brule scored 0.15 goals/game at even-strength but this year in Edmonton that total jumped to 0.23 goals per game at even-strength.

Points relative to ice-time: In Brule’s last full NHL season, he scored 0.87 PTS/60 at five-on-five. He nearly tripled that output this year, to 2.36 PTS/60. Even assuming (as I do) that his results in Columbus represented the bottom end of his potential, is that a sustainable outburst?

I’m not making any sweeping statements about what Brule is here. There are other factors worth considering, including the physical edge mentioned at the outset and the fact that he seemed to have good chemistry with Dustin Penner. There’s also his junior career and draft number, and without those years in Columbus his junior numbers would suggest a guy who might be an impact player.

What I am saying is that I see a bunch of red flags, and if I were thinking of spending $2.0 million dollars or so, those red flags would bother me a lot. If I were Steve Tambellini, they might even bother me enough to ask what kind of trade value I might get for him at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

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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 Vaclav
May 13 2010, 10:39AM
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On a team filled with either skill and no grit or grit with no skill I would be leary trading the one player who fits both molds. Unless of course the trade involved bringing in a player who can also score and agitate.

I might be inclined to offer Brule a one-year contract to see if last season was an aberration. If he continues to develop in a positive manner then pony up the dough on a longer term deal.

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#2 Bucknuck
May 13 2010, 10:43AM
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Vaclav wrote:

On a team filled with either skill and no grit or grit with no skill I would be leary trading the one player who fits both molds. Unless of course the trade involved bringing in a player who can also score and agitate.

I might be inclined to offer Brule a one-year contract to see if last season was an aberration. If he continues to develop in a positive manner then pony up the dough on a longer term deal.

I agree with you on the one year thing, with the caveat that it is only as long as he isn't a UFA next year.

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#3 David Staples
May 13 2010, 10:45AM
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How many good organizations trade young players with real promise?

I'm with you that the jury is still somewhat out on Brule, but the notion of trading him strikes me as odd.

Yes, he's been injured and sick a lot and, yes, his shoot percentage was out-of-kilter.

But the guy is tough, he can win faceoffs, he's young, he wins battles, he can skate and handle the puck, he goes to the net, he's OK on defence.

A well-run team wouldn't move such a player, even if that team had a rock solid belief in hockeymetrics.

The GM would think, "Yeah, he got lucky shooting the puck, so let's not break the bank here, but the kid is coming on. Let's see what we can do with this guy over the next five years."

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#5 David Staples
May 13 2010, 10:57AM
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Jonathan. I think the Oilers GM should be worried about getting rid of truly bad players and building a stable, winning culture.

Just like trading away Smid, Penner and Cogliano last summer was a bad idea, in that it would have robbed the club of young, promising players, so is the notion of trading away Brule this year a bad idea.

One way or another, the kid creates far more goals than he gives up, so I put little weight on this shooting percentage issue.

Cogliano struggled shooting percentage-wise this year, but he played better defence, went to the net harder, and made up for that fall-off with his overall play. Brule is likely to do the same.

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#6 MikeP
May 13 2010, 10:57AM
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Vaclav, I think Jonathan's point is he's unsure just how much skill Brule represents, and his injury record shows that the 'grit', while it may be there, can't be counted on day in and day out.

Put another way, for a team finishing 30th this year and hard up against the cap until malcontents can be moved (and even then, are they likely to drop salary), does giving a big pay rise to a big question mark make sense, or do you trade him to somebody who values potential over past results and cut your losses?

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#7 Vaclav
May 13 2010, 10:58AM
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Brule has 2 more seasons before he would be a UFA.

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#8 MikeP
May 13 2010, 11:01AM
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David, there's a difference between floating trading Brule, and actually trying to trade Penner/Smid/Cogliano. The latter move would have gutted the roster of kids-with-talent; moving Brule for a reasonable price wouldn't. If Tambellini can get a second rounder this year for Brule, I think he has to think about it at least. I like Brule, but if he's a 20-20-40 guy, even if he does hit guys for the 60 games he plays a year, he's definitely tradeable.

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#9 OvenChicken8 - Team JSBM
May 13 2010, 11:11AM
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I'm going to be optimistic with Brule. If he and Penner have some Chemistry I say give the kid a 1 year deal worth 1.5-2.0m/year and see what he can do. If it doesn't work out we have a young stud in MPS that can easily take over Brule's top 6 minutes.

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#10 Racki
May 13 2010, 11:16AM
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I was interested in the kinds of players he would have played with in Columbus, as I think that could play a factor as well. I had a look at HockeyAnalysis.com to help with that information.

Looks like in 06/07 he played mostly with Malhotra (200 mins TOI, 0.398 GF/20, 0.995 GA/20) and Chimera (188 mins TOI, 0.532 GF/20, 0.958 GA/20). On occassion though, he did have the benefit of some better linemates in Modin (149 mins 0.401 GF/20), Fedorov (100mins TOI, 0.396 GF/20, 1.387 GA/20) and Nash (97 mins, 0.205 GF/20, 1.026 GA/20), so I wouldn't say so much that that year he wasn't given enough opportunity (which isn't what you were saying, but something I was wondering, myself).

In 07/08, his linemates were Micahel Peca (119 mins, 0.168 GF/20), Dan Fritsche (116mins, 1.027 GF/20, 1.882 GA/20), Fedorov (116 mins, 1.030 GF/20, 0.343 GA/20) and Chimera (90 mins, 0.221 GF/20, 0.221 GA/20). Looks like he faired pretty well with Fedorov that year, but didn't really have all that high a quality of linemates, beyond Fedorov.

But I'm not drawing any conclusion from any of this. I was just wondering if he showed signs of clicking with a certain caliber of player, and I'd have to say that there really isn't any evidence of that at all (consider this my own experiment).

I'd say that if the Oilers can't sign him long term to a cheap contract, they should give him a 1-year deal and let him prove himself to not be a fluke. Like David Staples, I'd say that trading him wouldn't be a wise idea though. He brings a lot of those "intangibles" people in the hockey world love to talk about. It's just a matter of the numbers of his contract that they need to think about here, IMHO.

I hate to bring him up again, but we don't want to get Glencrossed again. For the next couple of years, salary shouldn't be TOO big of a problem, as we're about to lose the majority of our big contracts (once Souray is gone, that could help a lot if we don't take much back). So I'd sooner see them give him a year or two at $2M than have us give up on him a bit too early.

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#11 Bob Cobb
May 13 2010, 11:19AM
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Once again your opinion is way out in left field, in fact thats being generous, its sitting in the bleachers in the nose bleed section. You can't trade a guy like Brule based on stats, I bet you could make up stats to say the Oilers should trade Hemsky. As far as injury prone, that would be grounds for trading all the Oilers. The fact is, Brule played with grit and showed he could score, and on this past seasons Oilers thats no small feat. Keep him around in a 2nd or 3rd line penalty killing role, much like Pisani used to be in.

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#12 Wanye
May 13 2010, 11:23AM
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I think you make some very valid points JW. I also think that Brule is somewhat indebted to the Oil for resurrecting his career and that should be taken into account when negotiating his deal.

I'd say sign him to a one year deal and see what the new season brings.

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#15 Bucknuck
May 13 2010, 11:32AM
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Bob Cobb wrote:

Once again your opinion is way out in left field, in fact thats being generous, its sitting in the bleachers in the nose bleed section. You can't trade a guy like Brule based on stats, I bet you could make up stats to say the Oilers should trade Hemsky. As far as injury prone, that would be grounds for trading all the Oilers. The fact is, Brule played with grit and showed he could score, and on this past seasons Oilers thats no small feat. Keep him around in a 2nd or 3rd line penalty killing role, much like Pisani used to be in.

Your opinion is in left field if you think that any player on the 30th place Oilers roster is off limits.

Asking whether Brule had a breakout season or a "blip" is a perfectly reasonable topic of conversation, and the stats don't make an argument for anything other than not overestimating his value.

I like Brule, but he is another small player on a team full of them. Players that can be considered injury prone on this roster should be evaluated very carefully before being signed to new deals.

EDIT - I see that Jonathan already replied. I must type too slow.

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I give him a two or three year deal, but if it means paying him 2+ I don't know. We've seen this same song and dance before only this time it's with a guy with an injury filled past.

The issue I have is if you don't sign him what trade value does he really hold?

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#19 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 13 2010, 11:40AM
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As always, it depends what we can get. If Brule brings us back Price I'd trade other wise sign him up.

As it sits right now he's a decent 2nd liner with potential to be an average 1st line winger. And even if this years offense was an annomaly, he'd still be a usefull 3rd liner (unlike a guy like Nillson)

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#20 Scott in Grande Prairie
May 13 2010, 11:54AM
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Jonathan...

Good analysis on the Penner connection with Brule. Didn't realize Brule was that dependant on Penner.

Not sure if I'm overly worried about the possibility of future injuries with Brule. I mean, yeah, I think his style puts him in harm's way, but the same thing could be said of a lot of players and I don't think other teams are shying away from players of that ilk.

Those three injuries of Brule's were "clean" injuries - breaks and minor sprains. They weren't the kind of injuries (like a wonky shoulder or knee) that are likely to rekindle anytime in the future.

And I'd argue that at least two of those injuries were were "one-off" injuries that were based on circumstance. As memory serves, he broke his collarbone in his first or second NHL game when then-Flame rearguard Roman Hamrlik hit him with a borderline from-behind check.

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#21 Chris.
May 13 2010, 11:55AM
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Red flags? Every Oiler player has red flags right now. Can Hemsky come back and still be Hemskyish from major injury? Does he still want to be in Edmonton? Can Horcoff bounce back a little bit? Will Penner be the good Penner of the first and last part of last season, or the somewhat less inspired Penner we've also seen over the last three seasons? Will Whitney be the Whitney who has moved through two other organizations... was the last few games an abberation? Khabibulin is one big red flag, IMO. Youth, inexperience, contradictory stats, injury, poor play... these red flags plague the rest of the lineup. Tambellini has to pay somebody to play... he might as well sign Brule. It's not like he's floating in quality alternatives.

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#22 Bob Cobb
May 13 2010, 12:23PM
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@Jonathan Willis

In the last paragraph you suggest Tambellini should see what the value is for Brule, that alone I thought implied that you would trade him or think about it.

Yes the Brule we saw this year is the Brule I think we will see going forward with the potential to score 15 to 20 goals and 40-50 points and yes I am 100% convinced of that. He was too young and not physical mature enough in Columbus, its a known fact that he was rushed. He needed time to develop and the time in the minors with the Oilers helped.

I didn't say Brule played the pk, I meant to say I think he could play the same role as Pisani did before all the injuries and medical issues hit Pisani.

As far as the Oilers and injuries, easy that says the team needs a tough guy that can play who is not a goon. They got pushed around too easily and lots of cheapshots occured because no one was there to act as a deterrent.

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#23 Bob Cobb
May 13 2010, 12:28PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Bob Cob wrote:

Once again your opinion is way out in left field, in fact thats being generous, its sitting in the bleachers in the nose bleed section.

And I can't help adding that consensus doesn't always reflect reality. This summer, something like 70% of voters here at ON were thrilled with the Khabibulin signing.

I didn't like that signing either!!

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#24 Ryan
May 13 2010, 12:28PM
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@Racki: Glencross has had 1 40 point and 1 15 goal season. He's a good 3rd liner, not a game changer. Everybody acts like he would have been Edmonton's savior. He's an Ethan Moreau type player.

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#25 DoubleJ
May 13 2010, 12:37PM
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Everybody played better when they were put with Penner.

I'm not positive with the stats, but it sure looked like Penner played better with Brule.

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@Bob Cobb

Honestly with the results of last year there is no reason why Tambo isn't getting a feel for what he'd get for just about everyone. You never know what another GM wants and maybe there is a team out there that suprises you and gives you more then a certain player is worth.

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@Ryan

The other issue I'd bring up is that there have been many similar players like him over the past couple years that were available and the Oilers decided against signing a player like that.

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#28 semi moronic
May 13 2010, 12:50PM
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Dangle Brule as trade bait? For what? A draft pick? Perhaps as part of another trade? He may garner some value, but probably not a better player than him. Granted, he does fit into that smaller-ish fwd group that we have a lot of...but as someone mentioned, I'd hate for him to turn into another Glencross. I say sign him for a year (maybe two) and see how things go.

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#29 MikeP
May 13 2010, 12:54PM
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Chris, it's not like he's floating in cap space either. It depends what it takes to sign Brule vs what Tambo could get for him on the market. Why spend Katz's money unnecessarily? As you say, SOMEbody has to play, but that somebody might as well be Steve MacIntyre as Gilbert Brule, if Brule wants the farm.

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#30 Racki
May 13 2010, 12:55PM
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Ryan wrote:

@Racki: Glencross has had 1 40 point and 1 15 goal season. He's a good 3rd liner, not a game changer. Everybody acts like he would have been Edmonton's savior. He's an Ethan Moreau type player.

Not saying he was a game changer. I'm saying we want to hang on to the guys that obviously work within the system well. We had a pretty good 4th line going in Stortini Brodziak Glencross, and I would have liked to have seen them keep that going.

While "everyone acts like he would have been Edmonton's savior" others on the other side of the argument seem to think that only top six players make a difference in the league. I also think people tend to overreact and think that anyone arguing the case for keeping Glencross are delusional and think he would have brought us the Stanley Cup. That's not it at all. He contributed in a small, but effective way, and it was disappointing that they let him walk for nothing.

It takes 4 lines to build a hockey team, and when you have one line that is working well and comes cheap it makes no sense to dismantle it.

Keep the guys that show up on a nightly basis.

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Maybe I'm the only one that sees this, but everyone complains that we gave up on Glencross too early as is the same with Schremp. So this year and the past year Tambo decides to give chances to guys within the organization. He gave alot a guys a chance to prove themselves and what does Tambo get other then crapped on?

You know if we would've went and signed all kinds of depth guys last year, we wouldn't have seen Brule even be in this situation. He'd be on the blog with Schremp or the one with RFA's from the AHL.

Say what you want to say, but if you want Tambo to sign UFA's then don't complain when a guy like Potulny, Pouilot or whoever turn out to be decent NHLers elsewhere.

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#32 Robin Brownlee
May 13 2010, 01:23PM
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Dangle Brule as trade bait?

If I was to make a list of Oilers players NOT to trade, it would be short, but Brule would be near the top of it.

You say you're not making any sweeping statements about Brule, yet you spent six or seven paragraphs on what you see as "red flags." When I look at the player and not just the numbers, I can't say I share your vision.

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#33 Crackenbury
May 13 2010, 01:24PM
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Brule will be signed. It's a no-brainer. It's not going to cost a pile of money to sign him for a 2-year term. One 17 goal injury-prone season doesn't buy you much stock. That being said, the Oilers will probably sign him to a 4 year 4.5mm per season deal stating that we have to pay a premium to retain players in Edmonton. By the way, I'm one of the 70% that liked the Khabibulin deal. This upcoming year will determine whether it was a good signing or not.

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#35 Robin Brownlee
May 13 2010, 01:31PM
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Crackenbury wrote:

Brule will be signed. It's a no-brainer. It's not going to cost a pile of money to sign him for a 2-year term. One 17 goal injury-prone season doesn't buy you much stock. That being said, the Oilers will probably sign him to a 4 year 4.5mm per season deal stating that we have to pay a premium to retain players in Edmonton. By the way, I'm one of the 70% that liked the Khabibulin deal. This upcoming year will determine whether it was a good signing or not.

So the third and fourth years of the deal, at $3.75 million per, won't matter? If Khabibulin wins 45 games next season, but has two more seasons like the one he just had, it's a good deal?

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#36 Dyckster
May 13 2010, 01:37PM
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Based on the few games I saw him play I thought he had one skill (some may call luck) which most/all of his teammates were lacking. Brule had a nack for scoring some of his goals away from the prime scoring areas. To me that's a critical attribute we will most definately lack if he goes. Whether it was the velocity, accuracy, release of his shot, luck, or something else I don't really care at this point.

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#37 Let's Rebuild
May 13 2010, 01:41PM
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Giving up on players can go both ways. What if Brule turns out to be a solid player, don't you think the fans in Columbus will be all over Scott Howson for trading him away? We are not the only team to lose players who play better on another team.

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#38 Crackenbury
May 13 2010, 01:47PM
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@Robin Brownlee

That's not the point I was trying to make. What I meant to say was, it is too early to write-off the deal as a bad one as many are quick to do. If he rebounds from his injury and plays as expected it was and is a good signing. When healthy, he is a significant upgrade on anyone else in the organization. Also, from what I hear he is a very good locker room guy and willing to work with the younger goalies. Hindsight is 20-20, and it's pretty evident now that there were some pretty decent younger goalies available at the time Khabubulin was signed, but I can't blame Tambellini for signing him at the time. I am concerned that his injuries will continue and if they do, a lot of people will be able to say "I told you so".

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#39 baggedmilk
May 13 2010, 02:02PM
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God it's annoying when people put so much emphasis into stats.

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#40 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 13 2010, 02:21PM
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baggedmilk wrote:

God it's annoying when people put so much emphasis into stats.

Same can be said when people put so much emphasis into what they've seen with their untrained eye.

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#41 jake
May 13 2010, 02:38PM
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Dyckster wrote:

Based on the few games I saw him play I thought he had one skill (some may call luck) which most/all of his teammates were lacking. Brule had a nack for scoring some of his goals away from the prime scoring areas. To me that's a critical attribute we will most definately lack if he goes. Whether it was the velocity, accuracy, release of his shot, luck, or something else I don't really care at this point.

I couldn't agree more. I myself can't think of any Oiler FORWARD who scored on a slap shot from beyond 30-35 feet in recent memory other than Brule. I really like this player and hope he can progress as an Oiler. As far as stats go, I am sure his agent will be all over his numbers for this season looking for a home run (or at least a double into the gap) for a contract.

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#42 Archaeologuy
May 13 2010, 02:59PM
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I really liked Brule this year. I'm sure he would welcome a two year deal, even if the salary is lower than he wanted (although he should cost a fortune), because I think that takes him to UFA status. After next season the Oilers can start working on an extension if he plays well enough.

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#43 rubbertrout
May 13 2010, 03:11PM
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@Crackenbury

I stopped reading as soon as you said you were one of the 70% that supported the Khabby signing.

From that point forward your points were/are/will forever be invalid.

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#44 Oil_Loc8or
May 13 2010, 03:21PM
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@rubbertrout

Why don't you like the Khabby signing ? Length ? Money ? I hope you don't think Rolli would have been better ? Or worse yet, believe JDD or DD were ready ? The Oilers needed to sign a tender. Who would you have signed ? I guess we should all write Khabby off since he was injured this season ?

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#45 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 13 2010, 03:25PM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

Why don't you like the Khabby signing ? Length ? Money ? I hope you don't think Rolli would have been better ? Or worse yet, believe JDD or DD were ready ? The Oilers needed to sign a tender. Who would you have signed ? I guess we should all write Khabby off since he was injured this season ?

It's only been hashed over a million times, but here's the basics:

- He was over 35 when he signed so, their stuck with his cap hit no matter what...now tack 4 years onto that.

- He has a history or missing games

- He had been really inconsistant over the last couple of years (before coming here) and was at one point on waivers in Chicago

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#46 Dyckster
May 13 2010, 03:25PM
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Oil_Loc8or wrote:

Why don't you like the Khabby signing ? Length ? Money ? I hope you don't think Rolli would have been better ? Or worse yet, believe JDD or DD were ready ? The Oilers needed to sign a tender. Who would you have signed ? I guess we should all write Khabby off since he was injured this season ?

We likely could have offered Roli less money over a shorter term, and gotten WAY more games out of him. IMO his stats would have been just as good if not better then rehabbi as well.

Edit: We would have gotten more bang for the $$.

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#47 Crackenbury
May 13 2010, 03:26PM
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@rubbertrout

You're exactly the type of person that I expect will be claiming they were one of the 70% next year. Not sure what it is about a goalie with career playoff stats of .917SV% and 2.40GA that everyone now seems to think is a terrible signing. It was generally agreed at the time that this was a good move. It still may be.

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#48 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
May 13 2010, 03:51PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Same can be said when people put so much emphasis into what they've seen with their untrained eye.

agreed 150%!!!

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#49 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
May 13 2010, 03:56PM
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Dyckster wrote:

We likely could have offered Roli less money over a shorter term, and gotten WAY more games out of him. IMO his stats would have been just as good if not better then rehabbi as well.

Edit: We would have gotten more bang for the $$.

and the risk, especially towards the cap, would have been far less as well.

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#50 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
May 13 2010, 04:13PM
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Crackenbury wrote:

You're exactly the type of person that I expect will be claiming they were one of the 70% next year. Not sure what it is about a goalie with career playoff stats of .917SV% and 2.40GA that everyone now seems to think is a terrible signing. It was generally agreed at the time that this was a good move. It still may be.

Negative

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