NO FIXED ADDRESS: WHY THE WAIT ON RN-H?

Robin Brownlee
October 24 2011 06:19PM

If being the Edmonton Oilers best forward through seven games this season isn't enough to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the NHL beyond his next two games, I'm not sure what is.

So why, then, hasn't coach Tom Renney given Nugent-Hopkins the tap on the shoulder and told him to find a place in Edmonton? What, exactly, am I missing? While I cannot and do not claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I don't get it. Do you?

I remain perplexed even after listening to Renney answer questions today about the status of Nugent-Hopkins, who leads the Oilers in scoring with 5-2-7 after a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers Saturday at Rexall Place.

While Renney has other decisions to make with his forward lines and is trying to fit all the pieces together, I can't for the life of me comprehend why any of the questions moving forward should involve Nugent-Hopkins, based on what the kid has shown.

Somebody explain.

MULLING IT OVER

First, we had GM Steve Tambellini stressing from almost the moment the Oilers selected him first overall last June that it shouldn't be construed as a failure if Nugent-Hopkins didn't play the season with the Oilers. How many times did you hear Tambellini say it?

Now, we've got Renney saying all the right things about what he's seen from Nugent-Hopkins, yet he's obviously not convinced enough to tell the kid to find himself a place in town.

"I don't think that we've really identified an internal time-line," Renney told reporters today. "We talk about all our players every day and he's certainly one of the ones we talk about a lot.

"I can tell you that's it's all favourable, you know? The kid's doing a good job. At the end of the day, and I've said many, many times, it'll be the body of work we'll look at.

"There are other players who are involved in this process, too, that we have to make decisions, so it's not just about him. It's about a number of other players we have to pay attention to in terms of whether or not they're part of the line-up."

SAY WHAT?

What other players? Linus Omark? Sam Gagner? Who? What do they have to do with the buzz Nugent-Hopkins and linemates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have created as a line?

And as far as the "body of work" Renney refers to, what does he mean by that? Considering Renney and Oilers management had seen enough of Hall's body of work last season to tell him he wasn't going anywhere after four games -- Hall had one assist at the time -- that doesn't wash.

I haven't had the chance to ask anybody in management, Tambellini or president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, in recent days if they're sold on keeping Nugent-Hopkins yet.

If they aren't, I'd certainly be interested in hearing what more they need to see. If they are convinced that The Nuge is a keeper and should never darken the door of the Red Deer Rebels again, I'd like to know how they are taking Renney's reluctance to commit.

Is there a disconnect with the coach?

WHAT ABOUT POTTER?

Cam Barker got most of the ink when it came to free agent signings Tambellini made to bolster his blue line. Through seven games, Corey Potter and his bargain-basement $525,000 deal has provided most of the results.

Potter, 27, selected 122nd overall by the Rangers in 2003, was an afterthought when he signed with the Oilers this summer. He isn't one any more. So, is Potter a classic case of a late-bloomer the Oilers should be looking at as a fixture on a the blue line for the next year or two or is he a flash in the pan?

After asking around this summer, I had an inkling Potter might turn out to be a dark horse in the blue line sweepstakes a couple of weeks after he signed with the Oilers. On July 17, I wrote:

"One wildcard will be former Michigan State product and free agent Corey Potter, who signed a one-year, two-way deal July 1. Renney knows Potter, 27, from his days with the New York Rangers. He likes him a lot."

That said, I wasn't sure Potter could or would do enough as an outsider to displace Jeff Petry or Taylor Chorney. He's obviously managed that, so the question remains: have the Oilers seen enough early to offer Potter a one-year deal at, say, $700,000 or two years at $1.6 million or so?

I'm guessing stats guys will it's too early to know, but Potter strikes me as a guy who has found the right circumstances and looks poised to make the most of it this season. If he does, he'll cost more than $700,000 a season in a new contract next summer.

While it doesn't hurt that the Oilers could save some money if they move on Potter now, that's not a good enough reason to do it. That Potter looks like he might be the kind of defenseman they hoped Barker was -- a guy who can play top-4 minutes and get something done on the power play -- is good enough reason. It's worth considering.

AND . . .

-- Those who scoff Nikolai Khabibulin's .969 saves-percentage through his first four games isn't sustainable are selling him short. Of course it isn't sustainable. So what?

While I count myself among those who doubted Khabibulin could rebound from a 2010-11 campaign in which he had a pitiful .890 saves percentage, he has so far SIUTBOHC. He has been outstanding with the minutes he's been given and deserves credit.

Will it last? Not like this. Again, so what? If he comes in at something around .910 when this season is in the books, that would represent a pretty decent comeback season, no?

-- Tom Gilbert is the poster boy for an Edmonton blue line that was much-maligned (deservedly so) going into the season. He's been much better than I expected. Now, if Barker would get something done.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Oilcruzer
October 24 2011, 06:22PM
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Oh, we all love the "suspense".

Last year was different tho. The ticket base would have lynched Tambo

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#3 knee deep in it
October 24 2011, 06:34PM
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I wonder if Tambo is shopping a forward? If so, he probably doesn't want to weaken his position by shopping a guy considered surplus?

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#4 mick swagger
October 24 2011, 06:36PM
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Epcor had to replace a fire hydrant outside rexall and called my company into replace the concrete so being the Hugh nuge fan I am I wrote his initials in the concrete right in front of the fire hydrant there is no way they send him back now! Look for it its the only one in the front of rexall

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#5 Crackenbury
October 24 2011, 06:37PM
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I agree with your take on RNH. I asked the same question the other day. It makes no sense to me other than the Oilers were anticipating sending him back right from the beginning and RNH is making things very difficult for them. Maybe they want to spread out some contracts? I don't know, but it seems to me this isn't the best way to manage your #1 pick. Everyone knows he's here to stay. If he struggles early in the year they can always lend him to CDN Jr team over Christmas.

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#6 hippohero
October 24 2011, 06:40PM
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RNH is the leading forward right now because of his insane shooting percentage: 29%. Completely unsustainable. It'd almost be like locking in Khabby for starter because he's #1 in the league for GAA right now. The coaching staff need to look past RNH's incredible start and see if his development could be better served in junior.

Sam Gagner was able to put up 50 points in his rookie season, but I think most people would agree he was rushed in to the big league and could have used some more seasoning.

That said, from what I've seen I think I'd like RNH to stay with the club, but let's take it easy. The coaching staff have a much tougher decision on their hands than we give them credit for.

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#7 magisterrex
October 24 2011, 06:47PM
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Gagner did not need junior seasoning. He needed AHL seasoning, but was too young. It was as it was.

RNH has the same problem. ..

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#8 ItsTheBGB
October 24 2011, 06:49PM
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hippohero wrote:

RNH is the leading forward right now because of his insane shooting percentage: 29%. Completely unsustainable. It'd almost be like locking in Khabby for starter because he's #1 in the league for GAA right now. The coaching staff need to look past RNH's incredible start and see if his development could be better served in junior.

Sam Gagner was able to put up 50 points in his rookie season, but I think most people would agree he was rushed in to the big league and could have used some more seasoning.

That said, from what I've seen I think I'd like RNH to stay with the club, but let's take it easy. The coaching staff have a much tougher decision on their hands than we give them credit for.

No they don't, Gagner wasn't close to the Nuge in skill level and isn't even now.

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#9 esa tikkanen
October 24 2011, 06:49PM
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I completely agree Robin. The Oilers braintrust (if that is not an oxymoron) seem to think doing things with ten seconds to go and not telling anybody what it will be somehow makes decisions better.

If they wanted RNH weeks before the draft, why not say so? Why the secrecy?

Seems to me these secrets serve no purpose other than to keep fams frustrated and give blogs a topic.

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#10 LoweBlow
October 24 2011, 06:52PM
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If Nuge doesn't stay, I'll defecate in a place other than my toilet.

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#11 cp
October 24 2011, 06:58PM
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What the hell is SIUTBOHC? A google search pulls one one mention... This article.

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#12 Tayranchula
October 24 2011, 06:59PM
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When Peckham was benched early in the season I was somewhat dissapointed with the decision cause I believed they needed that edge and I thought Sutton was over the hill. Well Sutton has deffinately changed my opinion on him and Potter seems pretty decent so far. Still not completely sold on him (Potter) cause we have only seen a handfull of games. I think Baker just needs confidence and it doesnt happen over night. He will get it going cause I havent seen anything terrible from him nor have I seen anything great. He is rather steady and that isnt a terrible thing. If Potter can keep it up Baker will be a great bottom pairing dman in my opinion.

Not sold of Bulin cause it is a contract year. He will probably play great and what do the Oil do if he does? Resign him? I really hope not.

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#13 Romulus' Apotheosis
October 24 2011, 07:02PM
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I'll say this. At least RNH is a stand up kid. There isn't a sign of petulance on him. I think that if they do send him down (which I haven't heard a good case for yet either), he would take it in stride and make the best of it. He's no Spezza or (closer to home) Schremp that will sulk and piss away their opportunity.

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#14 Romulus' Apotheosis
October 24 2011, 07:04PM
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@Tayranchula

Is Baker the new Gagne?

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#15 DSF
October 24 2011, 07:09PM
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Ritch Winter just sold his business.

Columbus?

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#17 Call me crazy
October 24 2011, 07:13PM
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I get what everyone's saying.. he seems to have clearly earned a spot. But whats the massive rush to tell him he's staying? Chillllllll out. 2 more games they'll tell him he's here to stay. Life will go on. And The Nuge will be fine not knowing right away. Sheesh!

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#19 Tyler
October 24 2011, 07:17PM
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SIUTBOHC

I laughed out loud. Well done.

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#20 Tyler
October 24 2011, 07:19PM
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It's not a contract year. Khabibulin has another year after this one on his deal.

Someone should tell Doug MacLean. He keeps saying it is.

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#21 Jenga
October 24 2011, 07:22PM
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Robin, do you really think that they are thinking about sending RNH back or do you think they have just been saying it so long they don't know how or when to stop.

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#22 Pronger's Wife
October 24 2011, 07:27PM
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The Oilers also run the risk of alienating last year's #1 overall pick if they chose to send back RNH. It looks like Hall is amping up his "Keep RNH" campaign with each passing day.

Sending back RNH might cause some of the current roster players to wonder if management really knows what they're doing. I mean really - the most promising season start in years, and the Oilers are toying with screwing that up too?

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#23 Dan the Man
October 24 2011, 07:28PM
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cp wrote:

What the hell is SIUTBOHC? A google search pulls one one mention... This article.

Shoved It Up The Backsides Of His Critics...or something to that effect.

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#24 Johe
October 24 2011, 07:29PM
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Sportsnet or Tsn(I can't remember which) said yesterday that on the MSG broadcast of the Oilers Rangers game, Kevin Lowe was interviewed and he said he'd be "extremely surprised" if RNH went back to junior. Considering how this organization plays things so closely to the vest, that's as close to a guarantee of The Nuge sticking around as I think we'll get before the nine game mark.

And I don't think it hurts to have the kid continue to work his butt off every game like it's his last. Nothing should be handed to anyone. Now, that's not to say he doesn't derserve to stay... he does. But what harm is there in having him continually prove himself? Every hockey player should have that sort of pressure applied to him. And isn't that exactly the sort of culture the Oil are trying to establish? I don't know- maybe I'm just out to lunch...

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#26 Gret99zky
October 24 2011, 07:30PM
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I'm pretty sure it is not a contract year for Khabby.

I don't see the point in giving the press important info ahead of time. They probably told RNH he is staying but not to find a place yet or go blabbling to the media until after 9 games.

This "having to wait a couple of games" is yet another example of how impatient some fans, writers, and bloggers can be.

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#27 Harlie
October 24 2011, 07:30PM
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it's all about Nuge's contract, it appears anyways. It's very sad if that's the case. Tambo and Katz can bury Souray in the minors and eat his wage and shuffle off the Mighty Quinn 1 year into his 2 year contract yet they don't/'won't want to burn a year of RNH's entry level?

Here's a big green weiner fans, suck on it..

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#28 Racki
October 24 2011, 07:31PM
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I think this is just for the purpose of appeasing those pain in the rectum fans that feel that you have to go through the most rigorous of gauntlets in order for a new player to earn a spot on the team (i.e. those that repeatedly cite that Gagner is behind in development due to not being sent back to junior in his first year and can't fathom that we actually have a young star that is really ready for the show already).

There seems to be an across the board improvement in how this organization does things. "Due diligence" seems to be one of the big improvements here... ensuring a player is 100% ready to return to play, and in this case ensuring a player is 100% ready to stay in the NHL.

It's pretty anti-climatic... we all know RNH is staying here. Renney and Tambellini know it. But I think they don't want to look as though they've decided too early and haven't been entirely thorough. Just my 2 cents.

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#29 RexLibris
October 24 2011, 07:36PM
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I imagine that the organization is withholding their decision in order to allow them a reasonable amount of time for RNH to display any weaknesses in his game. They probably want to keep their options open for as long as possible, I mean this is the guy who waited until the 11th hour to move Penner when it seemed like everyone knew he was leaving town.

From my vantage point there really aren't any that would warrant sending him back. Everyone mentions his poor faceoff percentage but what would you expect from an 18-year-old centre in this league? He's a cerebral player with quick stickhandling and a desire to constantly learn and improve. He's also surrounded by veteran players successful in that area. He'll be fine.

It's funny that Khabibulin's stock seems to be on the rise at the exact moment when the Oilers are less likely to trade him.

As for Potter, I think signing him to a 2-year extension around Christmas (assuming he levels off and remains consistent) would help with the long-term d plans. It buys time to move either Teubert or Musil into the blueline corps as a 5/6 or even 3/4. I don't consider Barker a complete bust because he hasn't really cost this team anything more than a modest sum. He's a passable 3/4 or a good 5/6 who's career appears to be in it's NHL swan song. He's gone at the end of the year and he hasn't put us in a cap crunch or taken the job of someone more deserving (I believe it is in Petry's best interests to play in the AHL for most of the year).

Personally I'm excited to see the Oilers not just now but in 4 years when the veteran forwards can help take the defensive burden off of our (projected) top-end defensive rookies in Marincin, Gernat, Klefbom and Musil (and Ryan Murray, maybe?). *sighs and dreams of David Musil cranking an elderly Iginla into the boards while Hall scoops up the loose puck and races past an inept Flame D for a beautiful top-shelf deke*

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#31 Harlie
October 24 2011, 07:39PM
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DSF wrote:

Ritch Winter just sold his business.

Columbus?

the big question is, could Rich switch from grinding up, to grinding down?

Rococo

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#32 rindog
October 24 2011, 07:43PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Of course it's unsustainable. He still belongs here.

Nugent-Hopkins thinks (and plays) the game more completely than many guys on this roster ever will. He creates chances. He recognizes opportunity. While RNH's shooting percentage is ridiculously good and will fall off, it could be argued he could easily have three or four more assists if Eberle could put the puck in the ocean off a pier right now.

He is ready to play in the NHL.

RB,

I am interested in your take on how the icetime has been given out so far this year?

Specifically the even strength minutes for forwards?

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#33 RexLibris
October 24 2011, 07:49PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Hey Robin, I remember reading a book years ago called Flakes of Winter (a great read if you can find it, although the editing needs work). It had stories like Pat Quinn the night he nailed Bobby Orr and injured him in Boston. He had to go out that night and pick up some beers because he was the rookie. He walked into a bar around the corner from the hotel and immediately was recognized as the guy who had put Orr on the shelf. A man walked up to him, put his arm around his shoulder and bought him a drink. Quinn said something like only an Irishman in Boston could injure Bobby Orr and live to tell the tale.

Anyway, there is a story in there about a guy actually being challenged during a scoring drought that he could put the puck in the ocean (he played for the NY Americans, I believe) and a newspaper photographer even showed up to show him hitting a puck off the pier. One version has the guy shooting it and a seagull swooping down and grabbing it mid-air. That sounds a little too much like a swallow carrrying a coconut to me but the point is made.

Sorry for the long post but when you mentioned Eberle putting the puck in the ocean I immediately thought of that story.

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#35 RexLibris
October 24 2011, 07:53PM
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Is anyone else hoping we can wring some assets from a desperate Scott Howson before he's replaced? Say, Hemsky for a 1st round pick this year or next and David Savard?

I feel for Howson because it was his first job and I don't want anyone to fail miserably on their first go, but he has history with the Oilers and is perhaps in more of a desperate "win-now" position than even the Flames.

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#36 Quicksilver ballet
October 24 2011, 07:57PM
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Hopkins stole their spotlight. Management appeared to be in control of this should he stay or return to Red Deer decision. Hopkins has made that decision for them without even consulting them. Renney may be a little disappointed his opinion on this issue doesn't matter anymore.

Potter may not go low on forwards like the Oilers old #28 did... but he's shown he belongs much like Craig Muni did. Be nice to see a mean streak over the next couple months from Potter.

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#37 Butters
October 24 2011, 07:58PM
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Maybe RNH and the media have been told different things?

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#39 rindog
October 24 2011, 08:11PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

I commented on it last Friday -- Eat Your Broccoli, Oct. 21.

Sorry, I don't know how I missed that article?

So, I am not alone in thinking that the fans have a right to be concerned that the coaching staff is getting caught up in results rather than the process?

To me, this is the year you win or lose with the kids (especially when the vets have failed on a couple of occasions already).

No one expects the Oilers to make the playoffs this year, so why not let them learn where it counts - on the ice?

Next year when expectations are hightened (hopefully), we wont be able to allow them time to learn as they go.

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#40 VK63
October 24 2011, 08:12PM
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I like the kid and hope he stays but there are some rather large holes in his game. My personal opinion is that he will find solutions to those issues more readily up here where the measuring stick is real and immediate rather than back in the dub.

The following is a bit of a stretch but given how well rounded RNHs pro game has seemed, perhaps the Oilers would sooner not have the constant reminder of how poor some of the guys they have invested years in actually are.

The argument can be made today that he is the Oilers best playmaker and exceeds the defensive abilities of all the (supposedly) offensively gifted forwards on the roster.

thats both good and bad..... from an organizational perspective.

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#41 cody970@hotmail.com
October 24 2011, 08:20PM
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@RexLibris

I like the way you think rex and if there was a first rounder on the table i think the Oilers would be foolish not to get rid of Hemsky. I love the guy but how effective is he when he never plays? This team needs to move forward with or without Hemsky.

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#42 Fresh Mess
October 24 2011, 08:24PM
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Big News RE: Rich Winter, if true. He must have lined up a president/GM job with a nice fat salary. Can anyone provide a source?

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#43 Butters
October 24 2011, 08:25PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Wouldn't be the first time we've been misled by management and coaches, but we've also asked Nugent-Hopkins if he's been told.

The kid wouldn't fib to us and get off on the wrong foot with all the unwashed notepad-toters, would he? Would he?

No chance he would.

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#44 Smokey
October 24 2011, 08:38PM
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If RNH was sent to RD, I believe Mr. Dithers and Renney would be booed meticulously at Recall. I don't buy the game they are playing and if I was Renney, I'd wear a helmet on the bench the game after he was sent down.

If they sent Hall down last year there would of been a justification for the results were not as evident. Sending the next one down might incite a small riot. I've lost respect for Tambo and Renney and albeit I don't believe they are that stupid, I really don't like the suspense.

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#45 Clyde Frog
October 24 2011, 08:40PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Could it simply be Renney wants to post a winning season and compete for a playoff to keep his job "safe". He has put in a pretty strict system so far and it appears to be doing quite well, but could he be more than a little worried about how the kid will perform when the 50 game daze sets in and he starts getting slower and less effective, especially since that seems to be when most seasons are on the line.

I think they weren't worried about Hall in the same way, simply because he was a much different specimen physically.

The Nuge's stick work and back check have been superb so far, but without that closing burst to get in position it might look more flat?

That's about the only reason I can see Renney actually humming and hawing would be if he feels he has some form of known quantity in the wings that will fit his system. Especially if he feels he has to line match/shelter the kid to generate offence.

Just as a caviat before anyone jumps on me, I personnally think the Nuge has more than earned a spot with his production so far.

And I have no clue who that mystery man in the wings would be.

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#46 justDOit
October 24 2011, 08:44PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Wouldn't be the first time we've been misled by management and coaches, but we've also asked Nugent-Hopkins if he's been told.

The kid wouldn't fib to us and get off on the wrong foot with all the unwashed notepad-toters, would he? Would he?

Absolutely not, but he would do what he was told my mgmt.

I really can't see the reason for this 'outrage' about why he hasn't been told to get real estate in Edmonton.

In fact, I would be disappointed if the Oilers prematurely announced that RNH would remain in the bigs for the entire season. Keeping your options open is the smart way to manage a team, and doesn't hurt the organization or RNH in the least.

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#47 Ken
October 24 2011, 08:58PM
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RNh is going to stay.Book it. The coach and Gm are showing all our wonderful veterans that he must earn his spot

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#48 French Toast Mafia
October 24 2011, 09:07PM
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Tyler wrote:

It's not a contract year. Khabibulin has another year after this one on his deal.

Someone should tell Doug MacLean. He keeps saying it is.

Maclean also mentions about 5 times per interview that he had the lowest payroll in the league and that he did an awesome job in Columbus and hacks on everyone else. I've also heard him say that he " couldn't work for the oilers because he can't say Katz's name properly" at least 3 times in the last month.

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#49 godot10
October 24 2011, 09:16PM
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I think he is staying...BUT

the Oilers have only played two road games where Renney can't control the matchup, and Nugent-Hopkins has zero points in those two games.

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#50 swany
October 24 2011, 09:26PM
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If they send down RNH then all this talk about wanting to try for a playoff spot is hot air. No way in heck does a team pushing for a playoff spot send down a kid that's been in on 50% of the goals, now that's the definition of insanity. He's solid in his own end fantastic in the offencive zone, not much else he can do, he's not Horc or Belanger in the dots but thank god those to aren't him everywhere else.

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