Tom Gilbert, Buttery Soft

Jonathan Willis
March 12 2011 11:45AM

I have to admit that I get my nose a little bit out of joint when people start talking about how ‘soft’ Tom Gilbert is. I realize that he’s a 6’4” finesse defenceman who writes funny things in his blog over at the Oilers’ official site, but I think there is at least one item that should throw the ‘soft’ description out the window.

That item is shot-blocking.

In 2010-11, Tom Gilbert (pictured above) has blocked 156 shots (on pace for 188). There are a few ways to look at that total. It is…

  • 43 more blocks than the Oilers second-ranked player, Theo Peckham
  • The fourth highest total in the entire NHL
  • 78 times as many blocks as tough guy Steve MacIntyre has
  • An indication that Tom Gilbert isn’t a good enough skater to get out of the way of the puck.

In 2009-10, Tom Gilbert (pictured above along with friends watching a playoff game) blocked 165 shots. Once again, there are a few ways to look at that number. It is…

  • 26 more blocks than second-ranked Jason Strudwick, and 74 more than the next closest player.
  • The 10th highest total in the entire NHL
  • More than five times as many as Sheldon Souray, who at that point in time still had his name mentioned by fans in the same sentence as ‘next captain of the team.’
  • Proof that Tom Gilbert is a turnover machine; if he didn’t turn the puck over so many times people wouldn’t shoot it at him so often.

In 2008-09, Tom Gilbert (pictured above, unsuccessfully hawking bicycle tires) blocked 136 shots. As usual, there are a few different comparisons we might make with that number. It is…

  • The second-highest total on the team, 21 back of Steve Staios and 49 more than the next closest player.
  • The 32nd highest total in the NHL.
  • Twice as many as half the defencemen on the team (Souray, Smid, and Strudwick) managed.
  • A number that just goes to show how strange professional athletes are – here’s a guy who lives in abject terror of contact with a hockey player on the other team, but likes getting hit by a vulcanized rubber disc moving at incredible speed.

In 2007-08, Tom Gilbert (pictured above, with BFF Robert Nilsson) blocked 159 shots. Once again, there is more than one perspective on that total. It is…  

  • The second-highest total on the team, 28 back of Steve Staios and 64 more than the next closest Oiler.
  • The 11th highest total in the league.
  • More than the 14 lowest-ranked Oilers combined.
  • Further proof of the poor quality of Tom Gilbert’s hockey sense – we know he can’t be doing it deliberately, because he’s so soft, so he must just be dumb.

In 326 games split over four full NHL seasons and a 12-game call-up in 2006-07, Tom Gilbert has put his body in front of a puck speeding at his own net a grand total of 636 times. Maybe it’s just me, but that kind of consistent, game-in and game-out commitment to sacrificing his body to block shots means that I’d be hesitant to use the word ‘soft’ as my principle standby for describing his play.

Is Gilbert a physical defenceman? No. But words like soft, weak, timid, and afraid are not ones I would use to describe him. I don’t think they fit the available data.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Racki
March 12 2011, 01:08PM
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Basically to sum up... here's the problem as I've seen it: Gilbert is being used as a jack-of-all trades (including 'shutdown' role) d-man when really he excels at one end of the rink only. That definitely isn't entirely his fault, but more a default role he's been forced to take because of injuries... and perhaps somewhat because of unrealistic expectations forced on him due to a bad contract.

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#52 ken
March 12 2011, 01:11PM
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Defencemen who are counted on to move the puck are always going to be high in turnovers. In some ways they are comparible to basketball pointguards who turnover the ball a lot.Just check Steve Nashs turnovers which are near NBA high. The oiler fans like there defenceman to eat raw meat and as they perceive Tom as soft they look for imaginary flaws

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#53 Bucknuck
March 12 2011, 01:12PM
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amen. Gilberts only problem is that he is a second pairing defenseman being treated as a 1-2 defenseman. He is a guy that should be part of the rebuild.

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#54 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:12PM
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@DSF

Duncan Keith- damn soft player...

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#55 Racki
March 12 2011, 01:12PM
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SumOil wrote:

He is definitely not a top defenseman, but he is a very good defenseman. JW already showed the giveaway rate of other top defensmen/players in the league. But that said, he would be very good in a softer minute role. If the Oilers had a shutdown pair, then Gilbert and Whitney would be an ideal player. Another reason i think Gilbert gets so much hate is the emergence of Whitney. However Whitney's numbers are a mirage, He has a .935 sv% and an in oce sh% of over 12.5. Those are huge. So penciling Whitney as a #1 Dman will also be miscasting him. him and 77 are best suited to softer minutes than ones they have faced this season.

As was mentioned above though, the giveaway rate of 'other top defensemen/players' is much less of a concern because those guys are contributing to much of their team's scoring.

I would also hesitate to call Whitney/Gilbert a shutdown pairing.

Also I find the sv% stat a strange one for people to use, as Dubnyk or Khabibulin do not make better saves when Whitney is out. You of course are implying, however, that 4 of the 5 skaters on the ice are playing better defensive hockey when Whitney is out there, but tossing out the possibility that Whitney is as large or even larger a factor for that increased sv%.

One thing we can agree on though is that Gilbert would be very good in a soft minute role. That doesn't mean shut down role though, but much of the offensive opportunity, pp minutes, etc.. and the occasional defensive zone work.

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#56 Racki
March 12 2011, 01:19PM
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Oh, one last thing.. Whitney, while racking up lots of assists early on, looked equally horrible in the early going of the season, and I called him on that. So those that are using Whitney's shortcomings as defense of Gilbert's.. I don't think that is a very good defense at all.

Eventually something clicked in Whitney though, and he became our best defenseman overall. I honestly think it was when Gilbert and he were split up. I'm not blaming that on Gilbert though. I found that to be odd, to be honest, because those guys were great together at the end of the previous year. But for whatever reason, that pairing stopped clicking.

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#57 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:25PM
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I did not say that they are a shutdown pair. I am sayign Oilers need a shutdown pair to put these guys in softer role.

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#58 DSF
March 12 2011, 01:30PM
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SumOil wrote:

Duncan Keith- damn soft player...

Yes he is.

Fortunately for Chicago, he's is paired most times with Seabrook who isn't.

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#59 DS
March 12 2011, 01:34PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ DSF:

The question is: if Gilbert lacks physical courage - which is generally what people are getting at when they call him soft - why does he block shots, an act that requires physical courage.

My conclusion is that Gilbert doesn't lack physical courage, he lacks a mean streak. Those two things are very different.

I expect if he threw a body check once in a while he wouldn't have that label.

But he doesn't.

I wouldn't call Foster tough and he's recorded 79 hits to Gilbert's 58.

You don't need a mean streak to throw a hit...you just need the desire to separate the puck carrier from the puck.

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#60 SumOil
March 12 2011, 01:43PM
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@DS

so close to 0.9 hits/game is a hit once in a while no?

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#61 Slats
March 12 2011, 01:57PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Last season's top-five forwards, ranked by giveaways:

1. Joe Thornton, 88

T2. Sidney Crosby, 77

T2. John Tavares, 77

4. Alex Ovechkin, 76

T5. Pavel Datsyuk, 73

Gosh, it would be nice if those five players weren't such turnover machines. I mean, maybe one or two of them would pick up an award or something, although I suppose it's too much to hope that any of them could transform into a Selke winner.

Couple of Points:

1. If Gilbert could rack up some comparable points like the NHL-ers in this list (say 45+ pts as a dman)then maybe he too would be forgiven and not so "buttery".

2. At 6'4" I don't wish that he layed more guys out with the big hit but that he would show a bit more tenacity and close in on the angle and "take the puck" ala a Lidstrom-like dman ratherthan hang back. Again plays soft + buttery at the wrong times.

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#62 grantload
March 12 2011, 02:15PM
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THUNDEROUS BODYCHECKS

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#63 Slats
March 12 2011, 02:29PM
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Kodiak wrote:

So Green passes to OvenChicken and Backstrom, Keith and Seabrook to Toews, Kane, Sharp, Doughty to Kopitar, Smyth and Williams. Gilbert passes Horcoff, Cogliano and a bunch of rookies. Of course they are a bigger part of their teams scoring, because their teams actually have scoring. I'm sure most of our lack of scoring is Gilberts fault though.

Gilbert is not physical. So what. Out of the top 50 in defensive scoring (Gilbert is 51st) there are maybe 15 that play a real physical game. Our team is the worst team in the league and Gilbert has put up more points than 10 top pairing Dmen in the league.

Gilbert is not Weber, Burns, or Seabrook and he never will be. Get over it. It doesn't mean he isn't effective and earning his paycheck.

At $4+MM/yr he's not earning his pay-cheque he's earning Smid's.

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#64 DSF
March 12 2011, 02:51PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee:

My suspicion is that if we tallied up the number of times each of those defenceman carried the puck out of their own end or made that first pass, Gilbert would be right up near the top of the list thanks to the minutes he's playing and who he has been partnered with, and that's the reason for the number of giveaways. Many passes = many giveaways, and there's too much noise for giveaways to mean anything as a result.

As for his offence, I agree with you, but I'd argue that Gilbert's usage this season (i.e. in way over his head as the #1 shutdown option on a bad team, generally with either an inexperienced or even less qualified partner) is impacting his production in a major way.

In any case, I wasn't really trying to compare Gilbert to a guy like Duncan Keith; I was simply trying to point out that a raw giveaway number is essentially meaningless.

As is a raw shot blocking number.

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#65 K-UGER Industrial Smoothing
March 12 2011, 03:17PM
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Has anybody noticed how well Montgomery and Teubert have played in OKC since the trade? At least from an outsiders perspective, they look to be excelling.

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#66 Milli
March 12 2011, 03:18PM
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JW, I agree, also, that was a funny read!!!!

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#67 jake
March 12 2011, 03:29PM
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Blocking a shot takes courage but there is pretty much zero chance you may to fight after doing so.

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#68 TonyT
March 12 2011, 04:05PM
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@ Jonathan Willis

No doubt blocking shots takes courage. While this makes Gilbert brave, however given dictionary.com's definition of "soft" (seen below), Gilbert is pretty soft.

1. yielding readily to touch or pressure; easily penetrated, divided, or changed in shape; not hard or stiff: a soft pillow. 2. relatively deficient in hardness, as metal or wood. 3. smooth and agreeable to the touch; not rough or coarse: a soft fabric; soft skin. 4. producing agreeable sensations; pleasant or comfortable: soft slumber. 5. low or subdued in sound; gentle and melodious: soft music; a soft voice. 6. not harsh or unpleasant to the eye; not glaring: soft light; a soft color. 7. not hard or sharp: soft outlines. 8. gentle or mild: soft breezes. 9. genial or balmy, as climate or air. 10. gentle, mild, warm-hearted, or compassionate: a soft, grandmotherly woman. 11. smooth, soothing, or ingratiating: soft words. 12. not harsh or severe, as a penalty or demand. 13. responsive or sympathetic to the feelings, emotions, needs, etc., of others; tender-hearted. 14. sentimental or flowery, as language: soft, meaningless talk. 15. not strong or robust; delicate; incapable of great endurance or exertion: He was too soft for the Marines.

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#69 The Real Scuba Steve
March 12 2011, 04:07PM
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Gilbert might be be hard to trade with bloated salary. He would be here for years to come.

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#70 Bucknuck
March 12 2011, 04:34PM
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Fredi wrote:

Certainly not trying to be a sh** disturber here, and I do like Tom Gilbert as a defenseman. But I also know that in the NHL statistician's guidelines, a blocked shot does not necessarily mean you are "sacrificing your body". Blocked shots include any puck headed toward the net which is deflected and/or blocked with the blade or shaft of a stick or can go off a skate in front of the net. Still gets recorded as a blocked shot. I do not know the percentage of Gilberts blocked shots that would be with the body vs with the stick but nonetheless. So not all blocked shots are a sacrifice of the body.

Yes, you are right. It does not mean that, but have you actually watched the Oilers play and see how often he takes one in the body? It's a lot.

Also I don't think you get to be near the top ten in the league without blocking them every which way you can.

I still remember Horcoff blocking one in the playoffs with his face. Now I don't know whether that is courage or stupidity or a little of both but wow.

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#71 DSF
March 12 2011, 05:21PM
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Peterborough wrote:

Dude, really? Really??

No Really??? I'm often reminded of old Abe Lincoln's favourite saying, at times like this:

"I have often found it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

And then you went and spoiled everything.

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#72 Rogue
March 12 2011, 05:37PM
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I appreciate his talent for blocking shots, but being there is way more to being a top 4 d man, like taking the body, clearing the front of the net, putting the fear of God into forwards, not giving the puck away. In a perfect world, he would be a number 4 dman, with a tough hombre for a partner.

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#73 DevoKnows
March 12 2011, 05:37PM
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I read almost every article Oilernation outs out, this one is one of the weakest I've ever read. Can anyone actually remember saying, what a nice block by Gilbert, I think not. TWO THUMBS DOWN!!!!

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#74 DSF
March 12 2011, 06:35PM
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SumOil wrote:

and hence the inclusion of the other D men in the list

Gilbert leads Peckham in TOI by a wide margin.

If you adjust Peckham's blocked shots for the difference in TOI, Peckham would actually be ahead of Gilbert.

Incidentally, despite the wide gap in TOI, Peckham has outhit Gilbert 170-58.

Using a raw number to prove a point as JW has done here doesn't tell you much at all except that Gilbert is hanging on for dear life when he's on the ice.

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#75 gcw_rocks
March 12 2011, 07:21PM
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It's nice that he has a niche (blocking shots), but a niche isn't enough on this Oiler blueline.

This team does not have an abundance of Getzlaf type forwards. I mean, do you think any opposition player is concerned about getting hit from Cogs, Gagner, Brule, Eberle, Omark or Hemsky?

I have no problem with a Gilbert paired with a Shea Weber/Duncan Keith type defenceman on a team with more bruisers up front, but on a team with smurfs up front, you need more toughness and that proverbial mean streak from the d.

Gilbert doesn't hit, along the boards or otherwise, or clear the front of the net, and he seems to shy away from contact when other players initiate (perhaps the reason for his games played streak).

He's a good player, but I am not convinced he is a fit for THIS Oilers team. Put him on the Bruins with Chara (recent behaviour aside) and Lucic and he would probably thrive.

Successful teams are made up of complementary players, and sadly this Oilers team lacks synergies. Until the Oilers start focusing on the bigger picture, we will continue to see this mish-mash of players, some good, but that can't WIN together because the peices don't fit.

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#76 Kodiak
March 13 2011, 01:21AM
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K-UGER Industrial Smoothing wrote:

I think you are out to lunch Kodiak. Those are some of the three harder back checkers on our team.

Gagner is so good at back checking he leads the team in scoring and is a -17. My point is our forwards are mostly small, soft and young. As a group we are not very good at supporting our D, clearing the zone effectively or having decent zone coverage. This puts a lot more pressure on the D. That leads to turnovers and a lack of offensive pressure.

Every Dman Gilbert is being compared to has a lot more experienced, bigger, more skilled team in front of them. I bet Lidstrom would have half the points he does and be -10 on this sad sack team.

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#77 Ryan14
March 13 2011, 08:53AM
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Gilbert is also on the NHL's watch list for his nasty headshots.

He is a bonafied bad ass in this league.

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#78 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
March 13 2011, 09:04AM
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Rogue wrote:

I appreciate his talent for blocking shots, but being there is way more to being a top 4 d man, like taking the body, clearing the front of the net, putting the fear of God into forwards, not giving the puck away. In a perfect world, he would be a number 4 dman, with a tough hombre for a partner.

~ yeah, just like that lidstrom fella!~

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#79 Oilcruzer
March 13 2011, 10:04AM
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Wanye wrote:

This could be one of my favourite Jonathan Willis articles of all time.

Yep. TG paid too much? Probably... Does it affect the Oil? Nope, other than difficult to package up for a trade. But does he form a valuable asset? Yes... So why trade him?

Trade because he might be overpaid????? That's why people blog instead of managing nine figure franchises.

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#80 Fredi
March 13 2011, 12:50PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

Yes, you are right. It does not mean that, but have you actually watched the Oilers play and see how often he takes one in the body? It's a lot.

Also I don't think you get to be near the top ten in the league without blocking them every which way you can.

I still remember Horcoff blocking one in the playoffs with his face. Now I don't know whether that is courage or stupidity or a little of both but wow.

I can assure you that it is not possible for anyone to watch more Oilers games than I do. My point is merely that shot blocking does not necessarily equate to sacrificing your body, and I am not aware of any official stats kept that would measure body blocks vs other blocks.

This is not a slight to Tom Gilbert, merely a fact. This is also not to say that you are either right or wrong in your thoughts. However, there are no stats kept on how often Gilbert may or may not take one in the body. Your quote that "It's a lot" is opinion only and I doubt that you have kept a ledger to measure it.

Having said that, you are right that with the number of blocks credited to him, he is likely blocking them in many ways. And in the end maybe that's all that really matters, being in position to make the block and presumably reduce the oppositions scoring chances.

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#81 bam
March 13 2011, 01:44PM
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The only reason Tom Gilbert has so many blocked shots is because he's one of the worst defenseman in the NHL at clearing his zone. He constantly gives the puck away in his own zone which results in the other team getting a lot of shots while he's out there, some are bound to hit his dumb ass.

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That soft piece of horse manure just cost the oil another goal.

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#83 AJ
March 13 2011, 02:00PM
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Just watched Duncan "marshmallow" Keith get done playing the Caps. People who say this guy is good defensively are just flat out lying to your face. Everytime I watch this guy he is making bad plays or not hitting anyone.

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#84 granny2
March 13 2011, 05:20PM
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knobby k wrote:

Gilbert is soft. He regularly bails on the puck and turns away from the play to avoid a hit. He gives the puck away in so doing resulting in numerous give aways. He blocks shots...lovely. He also can be seen standing around at the edge of the blue paint watching an opposing forward hammer the loose pucks into the net. I can't recall the last time he parked someone on their pants in front of the net. On the powerplay??? Geve me a break!!

Anyone pro-Gilbert is just not paying attention. Pass the Kool-Aid.

Amen to that

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