Ten Points: Oilers on the up-swing

Jonathan Willis
August 03 2012 11:42AM

Looking at the Oilers’ year-over-year improvements from 2010-11, the various predictions for Jordan Eberle’s point totals, the benefits of another season in Sweden for Oscar Klefbom (should that happen) and the proper ways to use and defend against offer sheets.

1. The Oilers improvements at even-strength. In 2010-11, the Edmonton Oilers scored 132 even-strength goals. In 2011-12, they scored 142. They also slashed goals-against, going from 174 in 2010-11 to 162 in 2011-12. Put it all together, and the team’s goal differential at evens went from minus-42 to minus-18. That’s an incredible improvement, and the single-biggest reason for optimism about next year’s team. It’s also a number I’ll be digging into in the days ahead, to see where the improvement came from – a big chunk of it is undoubtedly the Hall/Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins trio, but I’d be surprised if that’s the only difference.

2. The Oilers improvements on the power play. For all the attention the power play got last year, it really didn’t drive the Oilers’ goal differential improvement. In 2010-11 the unit was plus-42; in 2011-12 it finished the year plus-47. How is that possible, given that the unit jumped from 27th in the league to third in the league in total percentage? Two reasons: first, there were fewer penalties called in 2011-12, meaning that the Oilers got 42 fewer power play opportunities year-over-year, and second the team allowed seven short-handed goals after allowing only two the season before. The fact that the Oilers’ improvement didn’t rely on the power play is actually a good thing, though – because there’s strong reason to believe that the unit will be worse next year.

3. The Oilers improvement on the penalty kill. This is the area, other than even-strength, where the Oilers made huge strides. After going +8/-74 in 2010-11, the Oilers’ kill went +4/-51 in 2011-12 – leading to an improvement of 19 goals. Some of that was because they were short-handed 25 fewer times (mostly due to the drop in calls – the Oilers were still one of the least disciplined teams in the league, finishing with the fifth-highest number of penalty kills in the NHL in 2011-12), but the big improvement was a 5.4% jump in penalty-killing efficiency, leading to 5 less goals for every 100 times short-handed. With new veterans like Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth back on the unit next year, as well as with Nikolai Khabibulin relegated to the backup role, there’s no reason this can’t continue.

4. The “gap” in Jordan Eberle predictions. For all of the debate over Jordan Eberle in the past few days, the actual gap in terms of predicted offense between the optimists and pessimists is pretty minute. Robin Brownlee has Eberle slated for 67 points, David Staples figures 68 and at the other end of the scale Tyler Dellow’s most recent piece has it looking like Eberle will pick up 60 points. If I had to pick a number it would probably be 62 – as I like Tyler’s method but have some quibbles that push the total a tiny bit higher (Note: Lowetide’s “Reasonable Expectations” piece had Eberle pegged for 55 points, but as he’s taken pains to explain it wasn’t a prediction so much as it was a line in the sand). Now, maybe that eight point gap between the high and low ends of those predictions means we should launch holy war, but somehow I doubt it.

5. Oscar Klefbom in Sweden. At this point it isn’t 100% clear where Oscar Klefbom is going to play in the fall, but the smart money seems to be on another year in Farjestads, where he’ll play a feature role. As interesting as it would be to see him in North America this year, I think this is a good thing overall. Klefbom just turned 19 – there’s no harm in letting him continue to develop at home for another year, rather than throwing him to the wolves in the NHL (which, given the Oilers' track record developing highly-touted prospects, would almost certainly happen). The Oilers did that with Smid (who was older but clearly could have used a little more minor-league seasoning) and it didn’t speed up his development any. Two other benefits: Klefbom will likely get more offensive minutes this year in Sweden, and his entry-level deal will slide, meaning that instead of his contract expiring in 2015, it will expire in 2016 instead.

6. Selling players as a group in Colorado. An idea that has been floated more than a few times is that the Oilers should try and sell their young players on the virtues of keeping the band together. It’s what Pierre Lacroix did in Colorado after winning the Stanley Cup in 2001 – he brought all the key UFA pieces together (Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake) as well as Peter Forsberg into the Avalanche dressing room, which he’d had left in the same shape as it was when they’d won it all, and basically told the entire group what he’d be offering each individual. There was a lot of hardware between that trio – Roy had won the Conn Smythe, Sakic the Hart Trophy, and Blake was only a few years removed from winning the Norris. All three signed, for lots of money but less than they could have got on the open market, but it didn’t happen right away – it took a few weeks before terms were agreed on with all parties.

7. What I like about hockey. I occasionally get asked to expand upon what I like about hockey, since I approach it in such a dry, bookish fashion. I don’t usually spend much time on it, because it isn’t interesting: I like the same things about hockey that everybody else does. I got into the game back in 1993’s Western Conference finals between L.A. and Toronto. My mom, as a Gretzky diehard, was cheering for the Kings while my dad preferred the Leafs; given that I was seven it’s probably not surprising that I picked the Kings because Kelly Hrudey had an awesome red bandana. I’m a fan-boy at heart – I lived and breathed the 2006 Run, and have never lost the soft spot I had for all the guys involved. First on that list, by the way, was Steve Staios – who blocked a shot with his face and then got trapped on the ice, trying to hold off the opposition while clearly in a daze until the Oilers finally cleared the zone. But as a writer, it doesn’t matter: when analyzing and projecting, personal attachment to players and teams gets in the way of clearheaded analysis. I know some fans prefer a rose-coloured glasses look, but it bothers me to read them and I try not to write them.

8. Page-view sluts. It’s been suggested, more than a few times, that some guys write articles specifically to get page-views. In a way, that’s true – this is my job, and the only reason the sites I write for can pay me is because people are reading what I’m writing. So, I do things to maximize page-views – I try to write on things people are interested in, promote articles via social media, and link back to older pieces. But I also write honestly: I don’t exaggerate my opinion to get hits, and I’m not one of those anonymous frauds that make up trade rumours. There’s good money to be made in both fields, as Eklund and HockeyyInsiderr and a bunch of others are showing (and if you do it long enough the best end up with a form of credibility, as Eklund’s cameo on Sportsnet and press pass demonstrate) – because some people just like to be entertained and others are gullible – but I couldn’t do that sort of thing without losing respect for myself. Everybody has their own line, mine’s honesty.

9. The offer sheet. I thought Philadelphia’s offer sheet to Shea Weber was a brilliant play on their part – even though it didn’t work out in the end – but I’d have been aghast had the Oilers tried it. Why? Because in the last five years the Flyers have five playoff appearances; the Oilers have none. It’s a weapon that works best when wielded by a team that’s already highly successful, and a weapon that the Oilers might be able to use once they’ve hit their peak. Right now, though, there’s a pretty decent chance that Edmonton misses the playoffs next year, and it’s far from an impossibility that they end up with another lottery pick.

10. Signing key RFA’s early. One of the bonuses to getting contract extensions worked out with key pieces early on is that it limits the ability of other teams to hamstring via offer sheet. It’s something the Oilers will be vulnerable to in the coming years if they aren’t careful; Hall and Eberle have expiring contracts in 2013 (at the same time that Ladislav Smid turns UFA), and then the trio of Nugent-Hopkins, Petry and Justin Schultz all expire in 2014 (the same time Nick Schultz turns UFA). Getting extensions done early will keep teams from trying to poach.

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Archaeologuy
August 03 2012, 01:27PM
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@Chainsawz

Dont even know how to respond to you right now because I think you either dont read what others write or are simply incapable of understanding it when you do.

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#2 Aron
August 03 2012, 06:55PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

I predict Eberle will blow a shoulder and play with it injured just long enough to weaken it for life and he will never again break 45 points.

Dude shut up.

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#3 Eastern Oil
August 03 2012, 12:11PM
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JW, if you're a page-view slut (and I say this with tongue-in-cheek and with all due respect) what does that make my thrice daily checks on Oilers Nation in the hopes of a new article?

Being an Oilers fan from southwestern Ontario I have to say that your articles (along with others from the great sites) are a breath of fresh, non-Leaf tainted, air. Well written and supported, keep up the great work.

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#6 Craig1981
August 03 2012, 01:12PM
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Is schultz a UFA after his contract is done? I remember blake Wheeler being a RFA after his contract wirh Boston was done

BTW. In 2012-13 Eberle score 80 points, cures cancer, and finds Atlantis

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#7 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 01:22PM
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Chainsawz wrote:

He might not, but saying the numbers show that he won't with I'm right and you are all just "fans" retort isn't going to help his cause with some people.

Here's a dose of reality: Eberle scored 76 points last year.

Here's a 50/50 shot: He may or may not make that mark next season.

Here's a good way to make traffic: Say he won't.

Here's a good way to make discussion: While focusing on the negaitve numbers, ignore the positive no matter what.

I fall for it everytime.

FFS. You have just effectively removed me from the conversation with pure ignorance.

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#8 DaveChamp
August 03 2012, 12:03PM
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I have to say, Willis, that if you were writing when Gretzky was scoring 50 goals in 39 games, you'd be writing up articles about how he could never sustain it. Sometimes you gotta be optimistic and hope for the best. I understand stats guys like you are just trying to read the numbers, and I respect that, but writing articles about how Oilers players aren't going to match previous totals serves only to anger the fan base, which is I think your intended goal, as it gets more page-views, as you mentioned earlier.

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#9 OilLeak
August 03 2012, 12:11PM
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Haywood Jablome wrote:

My guess is that the pp finishes fist overall in the league propelling the oilers close to a playoff spot.

Not sure if kidding or delusional fanboy.

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#10 John Chambers
August 03 2012, 12:27PM
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This season is lining up to be better, however still unspectacular.

Finishing with 87 points or thereabouts is going to be such a burn ... big enough improvement to sustain interest, and just a top-pair D and backup goalie away from making the bloody playoffs.

And next summer we can start to get all excited about how we're now 'ready'.

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#11 John Chambers
August 03 2012, 12:45PM
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DEFYING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Probably the biggest reason for reading a) Willis, b) ON, and c) the blogosphere is that the content is always challenging the status quo, sensational nonsense, and traditional armchair bullsh!t.

Keep it coming. The establishment is showing their cracks!

Just like the gays who are going to conquer Chik-Fil-A this weekend. Anything that challenges the establishment is a positive step for humanity.

Have a great lw, everybody.

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#12 Archaeologuy
August 03 2012, 01:08PM
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Every writer needs to be a story teller. It can be different stories told in different ways but no one will read a pile of sh*t uncompellingly written by some clown-shoe wearing hack.

I like JW's "dose of reality" stories. When I want to watch an informative program I watch a documentary or PBS, when I want to be entertained mindlessly and lied to I watch the History Channel (see- Aliens, Ancient). When I read a JW article I'm not expecting him to tell us that Ancient Aliens are responsible for Eberle's shooting percentage. I just wouldnt see that coming.

ON has all kinds; writers with access, writers with humour, writers with a predilection towards Rap music. I dont think JW needs to tip toe around the hurt feeling of whiny p*ss babies who cant confront the reality that Eberle MIGHT not score 70+ points next season.

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#13 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 01:10PM
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Chainsawz wrote:

Haha, the author claims to use numbers to form an opinion but dismisses increased ice time, better quality of linemates, and more shots on goal and just focuses on a "predicted" shooting percentage drop.

Lordy, lordy, lordy, pull the other one.

1. Willis has discussed those factors repeatedly. Does he really need to repeat the entire thing every time he references Eberle from here on out?

2. Eberle's most common linemates last season: RNH and Hall. Who are the "better quality of linemates" you have in mind?

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#14 Chainsawz
August 03 2012, 01:28PM
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@Archaeologuy

Props given. For not undserstanding the difference between "dose of reality" and a prediction. Derrrrr.

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#15 AutoOiler
August 03 2012, 01:37PM
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Eberle operated on Taylor hall's shoulder. He was the only one Hall thought had sick enough hands to perform the operation. Little ""Nuge" couldn't make the flight there was a dumptruck in the sandbox calling his name.

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#16 Darren
August 03 2012, 02:48PM
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Pretty sure Kelly Hrudey wore a blue bandana - your credibility has just been shot :(

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#17 Quicksilver ballet
August 03 2012, 03:50PM
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Psst, shouldn't there be a question mark at the end of the title?

Cloaked sarcasm perhaps?

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#18 WeridAl
August 03 2012, 04:09PM
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Last season Eberle got off to a slow start, if he gets off to a good start and RNH stays healthy, he'll beat his points from last year. If J.Schultz performs well, he should beat it by quite a bit.

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#19 Pouzar99
August 03 2012, 04:52PM
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It is like playing poker. If you do not know the probabilities you are not going to do very well. All the instinct in the world doesn't make up for ignoring the fundamentals. If there is only one heart left in the deck don't gamble on filling in your heart flush. If a players makes a huge points jump in one season don't expect a similar jump the next one, although it does happen sometimes.

If you remove emotion, collect the relevant information and assess it rationally you have a good chance of being right more often than people that make their predictions on hope and hunches. If you start the season with realistic expectations you are less likely to be disappointed, although inevitably some players will over achieve and others will under achieve. Who could have predicted Petry and MP would have had the season they just completed for example?

I like all those who write articles here but JW is my favourite because his assessments and predictions are the most grounded. Like LT he is a little conservative, which is healthy for us fanatic fans.

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#20 Don W
August 04 2012, 12:09AM
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Imagine if the Sabres didn't match the Vanek offer. that would have sucked.

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#21 Wäx Män Riley
August 04 2012, 04:31PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

It just keeps getting better.

YOU'RE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT, DONNIE!!

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#22 Haywood Jablome
August 03 2012, 11:52AM
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My guess is that the pp finishes fist overall in the league propelling the oilers close to a playoff spot.

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#23 Copperblueandwhite
August 03 2012, 12:05PM
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the Bleacher Report has the Oilers at 30-1 to win the Cup...was 60-1 before Nail and Schultz came on board.

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#24 DaveChamp
August 03 2012, 12:15PM
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OilLeak wrote:

Not sure if kidding or delusional fanboy.

The Oilers' PP was third overall last year, so finishing 1st isn't at all out of the question, especially if the Nuge stays healthy and having Schultz and Yakupov on the PP will only make it better. As for the playoff thing... er...

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#26 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 12:16PM
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@DaveChamp

I predict Eberle will blow a shoulder and play with it injured just long enough to weaken it for life and he will never again break 45 points.

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#28 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 12:17PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

No, I don't have to be optimistic and hope for the best. Fans can be optimistic and hope for the best; when I'm writing I'm trying to be accurate, not trying to be a fan.

As for angering the fanbase getting pageviews, I think you missed what I wrote earlier: I'm honest in what I write. So, if I honestly think that Eberle's totals are going to fall, that's absolutely what I should write. Not writing it for fear of angering people is cowardly. It's important to have the courage of one's convictions.

You know who else is cowardly? You guessed it...Frank Stallone.

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#30 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 12:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

As for the Gretzky thing, two points:

1) It's completely fair to take some time, enjoy the moment, and realize how ground-breaking 50 goals in 39 games is.

2) If you were Glen Sather trying to figure out how many goals your team is going to score the next season, betting Gretzky keeps scoring at a 105-goal pace is a pretty stupid thing to do.

Sportswriters, as a whole, spend lots of time on the former. Fans spend even more time on it. But if what drives you is a desire to understand what's going on, then it's important to recognize the second fact too.

Sure...if Glen Sather was a negative Nancy.

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#31 DaveChamp
August 03 2012, 12:28PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

As for the Gretzky thing, two points:

1) It's completely fair to take some time, enjoy the moment, and realize how ground-breaking 50 goals in 39 games is.

2) If you were Glen Sather trying to figure out how many goals your team is going to score the next season, betting Gretzky keeps scoring at a 105-goal pace is a pretty stupid thing to do.

Sportswriters, as a whole, spend lots of time on the former. Fans spend even more time on it. But if what drives you is a desire to understand what's going on, then it's important to recognize the second fact too.

Fair enough, but I think there is a difference between writing what you think and intentionally angering the fan-base to elicit page-views. I think you can just as easily use stats to show why Eberle can easily maintain his scoring pace and even increase it. I think stats can be used however one wants. I don't mean to be overly critical, because I know you take pride in your work and I do think you're a talented writer and for the most part I do agree with your articles. I simply disagree that always criticizing the Oilers on an Oilers fan site is the best thing to do.

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#33 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 12:33PM
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DaveChamp wrote:

Fair enough, but I think there is a difference between writing what you think and intentionally angering the fan-base to elicit page-views. I think you can just as easily use stats to show why Eberle can easily maintain his scoring pace and even increase it. I think stats can be used however one wants. I don't mean to be overly critical, because I know you take pride in your work and I do think you're a talented writer and for the most part I do agree with your articles. I simply disagree that always criticizing the Oilers on an Oilers fan site is the best thing to do.

If it's easy to produce stats supporting the belief that Eberle will improve his scoring rate you should probably do so. You'd be a hero.

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#34 Chainsawz
August 03 2012, 12:34PM
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Any point prediction concerning Eberle that isn't a two digit number that starts with 7, 8, or 9 is low ballin'.

Just being honest so don't go around calling me an "optomistic fan".

Sheesh.

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#35 madjam
August 03 2012, 12:34PM
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With our type of youthfull elites we should finish minimum top 5 in west , and perhaps first or second . Any Gm should be able to give these outstanding kids a solid base if he's worth a grain of salt . No excuses for management this year can / should be acceptable . What other GM would not want the youthfull elite talent we have here to be honest . Playoffs should be a cinch considering !

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#36 TigerUnderGlass
August 03 2012, 12:34PM
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@DaveChamp

Double post.

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#37 dawgbone
August 03 2012, 12:43PM
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DaveChamp wrote:

I have to say, Willis, that if you were writing when Gretzky was scoring 50 goals in 39 games, you'd be writing up articles about how he could never sustain it. Sometimes you gotta be optimistic and hope for the best. I understand stats guys like you are just trying to read the numbers, and I respect that, but writing articles about how Oilers players aren't going to match previous totals serves only to anger the fan base, which is I think your intended goal, as it gets more page-views, as you mentioned earlier.

Except Gretzky couldn't sustain it. He scored 50 in 39, then scored 113 in his next 121 games (which for the record is still fantastic).

Saying Eberle won't match his point totals doesn't mean the Oilers will be terrible either. For every Jordan Eberle there is an Ales Hemsky who you expect will have a bounce back season.

Maybe Eberle is an 18% shooter who can lead his teammates to a 12+% on-ice percentage. It's possible, but I certainly wouldn't rely on it.

We went through the exact same thing at the end of 2007-08 when the kids lit it up and the Oilers barely missed the playoffs. There was so much talk about optimism back then that people ignored the issues.

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#38 Chainsawz
August 03 2012, 01:03PM
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Haha, the author claims to use numbers to form an opinion but dismisses increased ice time, better quality of linemates, and more shots on goal and just focuses on a "predicted" shooting percentage drop.

Lordy, lordy, lordy, pull the other one.

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#39 K_Mart
August 03 2012, 01:04PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I completely agree. It's my job, and the job of the fans to bleed with biased posts. Obviously you are a fan, but it just can't come out in your writing. I agree that the odds of Eberle repeating are against him. It is simply a regression to the norm. I'd be willing to bet that 80%+ of players who see a jump in their numbers over one seasone like Eberle did regress back to more normal numbers the following year.

I do believe Eberle has the ability to pot 40 goals one day in his career, but if you ask me to put money down... then I'm betting against it. Id be more than happy if he puts up 25g and 35a this year.

One thing I'd like to see as a poll question though would be "What do you think is more likely?":

1) Oilers finish in a playoff spot in 2012-13. 2) Oilers finish in 30th

I'd like to know how many people think we are closer to one over the other, and which one.

I imagine the results would be around 50/50 amongst fans and writers... but I'd still like to see.

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#41 Archaeologuy
August 03 2012, 01:17PM
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And, might I add, JW's ability to write so many articles with such a high quality of work WHILE maintaining a professional (read: unbiased) eye is most likely the reason why, out of all the quality Oiler bloggers, he is the one that has articles printed in the Journal's Sports section from time to time.

It would be a shame to throw away all those qualities that have worked so well for him and brought legitimacy to sites like this all because being critical is a buzz kill to Dave Champer.

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#42 Chainsawz
August 03 2012, 01:17PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Every writer needs to be a story teller. It can be different stories told in different ways but no one will read a pile of sh*t uncompellingly written by some clown-shoe wearing hack.

I like JW's "dose of reality" stories. When I want to watch an informative program I watch a documentary or PBS, when I want to be entertained mindlessly and lied to I watch the History Channel (see- Aliens, Ancient). When I read a JW article I'm not expecting him to tell us that Ancient Aliens are responsible for Eberle's shooting percentage. I just wouldnt see that coming.

ON has all kinds; writers with access, writers with humour, writers with a predilection towards Rap music. I dont think JW needs to tip toe around the hurt feeling of whiny p*ss babies who cant confront the reality that Eberle MIGHT not score 70+ points next season.

He might not, but saying the numbers show that he won't with I'm right and you are all just "fans" retort isn't going to help his cause with some people.

Here's a dose of reality: Eberle scored 76 points last year.

Here's a 50/50 shot: He may or may not make that mark next season.

Here's a good way to make traffic: Say he won't.

Here's a good way to make discussion: While focusing on the negaitve numbers, ignore the positive no matter what.

I fall for it everytime.

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#43 Chainsawz
August 03 2012, 01:18PM
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@TigerUnderGlass

So no progress for RNH or Hall either? Is the whole team trending down already? Is this the Vancouver Canucks???

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#45 AutoOiler
August 03 2012, 01:46PM
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So what about Omark. Shouldn't the oilers offer him a 2 way deal that's loaded on the AHL side. And has a 1.5 million NHL number. Still our best call up from the OKC.

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#46 Cody anderson
August 03 2012, 02:28PM
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@AutoOiler

No they shouldn't. We have no room for him and he doesn't want to be here waiting for when he may get time. He is a tradeable asset that we will trade.

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#47 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
August 03 2012, 02:32PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Every writer needs to be a story teller. It can be different stories told in different ways but no one will read a pile of sh*t uncompellingly written by some clown-shoe wearing hack.

I like JW's "dose of reality" stories. When I want to watch an informative program I watch a documentary or PBS, when I want to be entertained mindlessly and lied to I watch the History Channel (see- Aliens, Ancient). When I read a JW article I'm not expecting him to tell us that Ancient Aliens are responsible for Eberle's shooting percentage. I just wouldnt see that coming.

ON has all kinds; writers with access, writers with humour, writers with a predilection towards Rap music. I dont think JW needs to tip toe around the hurt feeling of whiny p*ss babies who cant confront the reality that Eberle MIGHT not score 70+ points next season.

You take that back. Giorgio Tsoulakos is a saint. A SAINT!

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#48 Smokey
August 03 2012, 02:40PM
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AutoOiler wrote:

So what about Omark. Shouldn't the oilers offer him a 2 way deal that's loaded on the AHL side. And has a 1.5 million NHL number. Still our best call up from the OKC.

I think the ship has sailed on Omark.

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#49 DonDon
August 03 2012, 03:30PM
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Oilers on the up-swing?

For the two seasons they placed 30th, there was only one direction to go, up. From 29th place last season, they have two directions they can go, up or down (back to 30th).

With their untradeable assets and unperforming veteran forwards, Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk, Horcoff and Petrill filling valuable slots, and with questions in goal, what will be the Oilers' probable finish in the tough Western Conference? How will Gagner perform? How many games will Hemsky play? Sutton is 37. Will Whitney rebound from all his foot injuries? Will Peckham and Potter be capable?

It is safe to say ST's rebuild isn't half done yet.

As to statistics pointing the way, British PM Disreali is believed to have stated: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" as a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments.

Statistics are interesting. Points count in the win column.

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