How much does the Oilers’ 3-6-1 start matter?

Jonathan Willis
October 23 2013 08:49AM

Has Edmonton dugs itself into a whole that will be extremely difficult to get out of? Is the team’s 3-6-1 start a hallmark of things to come?

The Last Five Years

The chart above shows every team over the last five 82-game NHL regular seasons to start with just three wins in their first 10 games played. I was surprised to find that six of the 11 teams ended up in the post-season; my assumption had been that the lousy start would have some slight predictive value but if it is there the predictive value is too slight to show up over an 11-team sample.

Put shortly, many a good team has started a year poorly. There is little to worry about inherently in a poor 10-game start.

The Caveat

The interesting item with that list is what happens when we add a category to show if the team in question had made the playoffs the year before. Of the six teams to make it into the post-season after a lousy start, five had been playoff teams the year prior and the lone exception (the 2009-10 Nashville Predators) had missed by only three points in 2008-09. Of the five teams to miss the playoffs after a lousy start, four had missed the year before and the exception (the 2009-10 Anaheim Ducks) had been an eighth seed in 2008-09.

That’s where the worry comes from. It isn’t that Edmonton has had a poor start, which shouldn’t matter much given the sample of games involved. It’s that Edmonton had a poor start and is coming off years of failure – there is ample evidence for anyone that believes this is what the Oilers really are.

Dallas Eakins had a line in training camp about rookie defencemen trying to break on to the team. After explaining that the depth chart had eight guys who were NHL defencemen, he said it was extremely hard to take a job away from players with that kind of background.

The same applies on a larger scale to teams: for any team that was on the outside looking in, it is extremely difficult to push somebody else out of a playoff position. Looking at the last two 82-game NHL seasons, three of the four teams to make the playoffs in 2010-11 made them again in 2011-12. Not that dramatic change is impossible (one of the new playoff teams was Ottawa, which went from minus-58 in 2010-11 to plus-9 in 2011-12); it’s just very difficult.

Did Craig MacTavish do enough in the summer to get the Oilers over the hump? If not, can he make a difference now? We’ll see; the early start isn’t reason enough to write Edmonton off but they’re trying to climb from a long way back.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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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#2 The Towel Boy
October 23 2013, 09:02AM
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This article made me happy and then very sad.

WHY MUST YOU TOY WITH MY EMOTIONS LIKE THIS, J.DUB?!? WHY!?

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#3 northof51
October 23 2013, 10:18AM
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Bill French wrote:

As usual the selective use of statistics can paint any picture a propagandist wants it to paint. The subjective use of data is misleading and inflammatory. Oh yeah that's what you hockey bloggers want.

When the "Trash" button just isn't enough.

Bill, your comment is trash!

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#4 Ducey
October 23 2013, 09:16AM
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Meh. They are 5 points out of a wild card spot. A little early to get excited.

Interestingly they are in 24th right now - right where they wound up last year.

I expect that they will get stronger. There are a lot of factors that contributed to a slow start - new coaches and system, multiple new players, Belov missing most of camp, Nuge learning to use his bionic shoulder, Gagner being out (although Arcobello has replaced him nicely) and DD's early struggles. Hall's injury is a concern, but they should be able to play .500 for the rest of the way.

I still don't think they are a playoff team, but an improvement to around 18th to 19th overall should be possible.

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#5 Manfly
October 23 2013, 09:17AM
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i hope Pitlick stays up...he did exactly what he said he was going to do last night, worked hard and hit as many Hab players as he could. if you want a guy with some offensive talent on your 4th line, who can grind and hit and hopefully score a goal or two, he's the guy.

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#6 Retsinnab5
October 23 2013, 09:12AM
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if Dubynk can steal a couple games we make the playoffs.

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#7 pkam
October 23 2013, 10:21AM
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"How much does the Oilers’ 3-6-1 start matter?"

Not as much as the remaining 72 games. The playoff is still in our own hands. If you don't believe you still have a chance, you don't have a chance.

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#8 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
October 23 2013, 09:33AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Not sure if everyone's aware, but Oiler insider Anonymous broke the news of a major trade that will be announced before 10 this morning. 3 way multi player move with close to 8 players changing teams.

This will certainly affect the course of the coming season. We best sit tight and wait another 20 games to see how the 3 new Oilers fit into this team.

You wouldn't be bullshipping us, would you Anonymous? We await this Gretzky'esque type announcement.

Nah, the dude's full of it. I'm ready to eat crow, but I'm not banking on it.

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#9 Ducey
October 23 2013, 09:47AM
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Jpinto wrote:

I kind of like Dubnyk but if he has another year where his SP ends up at .920, I think the oil are in tough. -He won't have proved himself -He won't be worth a big raise -Looking at the UFA list for goalies next year,there is nothing that I see as a sizable upgrade on DD, without overpaying. -We need a #1 D more than an upgrade in the net. Looks like a bit of a rock vs hard place.

If he has another year with a .920 save % he will likely be in the top 15 goalies. The thing that save % doesn't tell you is where the shots come from. I would guess that DD's quality of shot is much higher than someone who plays in BOS or NSH.

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#10 Chongler
October 23 2013, 11:47AM
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You forgot about the Oilers' identical 3-6-1 start in the 2005-2006 season. We all know where that one went....

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#11 Dqgc
October 23 2013, 10:02AM
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Alot of it will depend on whether RNH, Hall, Yak, Schultz, and to a lesser extent Eberle can find it within themselves to do the hard things necessary to score. Playing on the perimeter, trying to pass the puck into the net, standing still waiting for someone else to win the puck battle, soft plays that turn the puck over are habits right now these talented players have developed since junior. Because they were so talented they could get away with it. It's obvious NHL champions don't play like that. In Eakins we trust!

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#12 Quicksilver ballet
October 23 2013, 09:17AM
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Not sure if everyone's aware, but Oiler insider Anonymous broke the news of a major trade that will be announced before 10 this morning. 3 way multi player move with close to 8 players changing teams.

This will certainly affect the course of the coming season. We best sit tight and wait another 20 games to see how the 3 new Oilers fit into this team.

You wouldn't be bullshipping us, would you Anonymous? We await this Gretzky'esque type announcement.

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#13 Rama Lama
October 23 2013, 10:16AM
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I think Mac T's best move was NOT moving Hemsky. I have been a vocal critic of Hemsky in the past but the way he is playing makes me want to elevate him to captian.

The deals for Belov and Perron were pure gold! It goes to show there are players across the pond that NHL teams are missing out on, and players in the NHL that are undervalued.

I like the sin last night but Eakins was pathetic in responding to Eller.......he should have accepted the gift and kept his mouth shut! Eller said what is patently obvious to hockey players and fans.......Eakins has no systems!

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#14 tileguy
October 23 2013, 10:13AM
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Not mentioned in the last 18 hours was the play of Ben Eager. I thought he played ok. There were a couple of fly bys when he had opportunity to take the body but I also saw him dish out a couple of hits. I think he deserves another game or two and see if he will start taking the body more, his skating for a big man is awesome. Perhaps one of you advance stat guys can look up how many hits he had last night.

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#15 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
October 23 2013, 09:06AM
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At least Dubnyk looks like he's back. Hopefully Bunz and Roy can recover from the off years they've had, a couple seasons ago the goalie prospects looked like one of the strongest areas organizationally.

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#16 Spydyr
October 23 2013, 09:11AM
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Still some pieces to pick up but this year seems to be trending better than under Mr. Dithers. It appears they are at least trying to win now.

The usual suspect still remain:

1) Top Defensemen. Thinking that will cost one of the kids eventually.

2) Some grit , nasty and size in the top six. Perron helps but they need more.

3) An upgrade in net. This should happen next summer. This is Dubnyk UFA year and unless he finally proves he is the guy a change will be made ,bringing in a free agent goalie next summer.

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#17 tileguy
October 23 2013, 10:17AM
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looked it up myself (coffee break) Eager was credited with one hit in 5 and a half minuets of play. I saw a couple of rub outs as well, so lets keep the experiment rolling.

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#18 Oiler Al
October 23 2013, 09:15AM
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Almost every single team on the chart that had a noted "yes", had a solid or outstanding goaltender in the line up or at least a goalie that stood on his ahead that year. Not so, with the current Oiler team.

To the point , "did MacT" do enough this summer. Simple answer is NO, but is wasn't for the lack of trying. He came back from his fishing trip without a top-2 D man, a better goal tender and a top six center man.

Not sure that Ference and Gordon, while good are not up to par on his shopping list.

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#19 Bill French
October 23 2013, 09:36AM
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As usual the selective use of statistics can paint any picture a propagandist wants it to paint. The subjective use of data is misleading and inflammatory. Oh yeah that's what you hockey bloggers want.

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#20 **
October 23 2013, 04:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That's me, hardcore Oilers propagandist.

VIVE LE TAMBELLINI!

pow, right in the kisser!

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#21 Wax man Riley
October 23 2013, 06:23PM
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Anonymous(the real deal) wrote:

At 10 last night I announced all deals were off for the foreseeable future due to the Oilers outstanding play last night! End of story ! No trade winds today either! You are most welcome! bye bye.

Rumour has it Anaheim pulled out too!?

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#22 madjam
October 23 2013, 09:24AM
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The start is less than impressive and mostly (80%)against the inferior Eastern clubs . We have no points against our own conference . We have not been much of a contender in recent past and there is little to suggest much improvement with current roster unless that changes .

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#23 CDean
October 23 2013, 12:11PM
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Call me back after the next 10.

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#24 Spydyr
October 23 2013, 01:52PM
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Hair bag wrote:

I agree, but patience will be the key for the whole team. In the next 3-4yrs the core group will be in their mid-twenties which will be their prime and hopefully when they can start making runs at Championships - the painful part will be now until then. They might not make the playoffs this year but if they can be close and progress to the point where they make it next year and go a little deeper the year after that I think it is a reasonable expectation. Oiler fans are passionate, but Rome wasn't built in a day and no matter how much we want success it is still going to be a while yet...

Hey, I think most of the fan base are good with waiting a while longer. As long as they compete every night. They have to stop playing like they did the first period in Montreal last night. Bring it every game , every period , every shift. This fan base will forgive youthful errors but not lack of intensity and try.The time to start building a winning attitude and habits is now.

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#25 Oiler4life
October 23 2013, 02:41PM
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oilerjed wrote:

Seems more liely that Acton goes down and our 4th line looks like Gadzic-Acrobello-Jones/Eager. The 4th line now is a gong show almost every shift on the ice they are trapped in their own zone. Acro and Jones may help that.

I see your point but Arco on the fourth just makes no sense to me he has been producing with everyone he's with and putting him on the fourth I feel suffocates his skill. If they put him on the fourth that how he slowly phases out and back to the minors cuz now he's up against some dude twice his size who's job is to go hard and not score. I see it like this if he stays Hall Arco ebs Perron RNH hemsky Joensu gags yak Smyth Gordon ???

You can rotate that whole top nine to work anyway it just looks like if Arco stays actons out if we can gets something amazing for Arco don't we don that? Acton is more of a 4th liner than Gordon or Arco

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#26 **
October 23 2013, 04:42PM
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Zarny wrote:

"Did Craig MacTavish do enough in the summer to get the Oilers over the hump?"

I assume that question is rhetorical?

The Oilers finished 12th last year a full 10 pts behind 8th.

Off-season moves were marginal at best and did nothing to address the Oilers biggest needs.

Anyone expecting the Oilers to be much better than last year is really putting a lot of stock in Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov and Schultz being a lot better.

And that is naive to say the least. They should improve but the Oilers aren't going to have four Sidney Crosby's and an Erik Karlsson skating around out there.

I think the one really strong trade Mac T made was David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi has only played two games in St. Louis and the only stat he has is 1 shot. WE've seen what Perron brings. Ference was an upgrade as well because now Nick Schultz is playing on the third pairing where he should be. Call me crazy but I think Boyd Gordon so far has been far superior to Horcoff in all aspects.

The 4th line has been maligned by media but they have solid numbers for the role they play. They don't have as much in terms of offensive production because the Oilers have been chasing the game most of the time and Eakins has shortened the bench very often in those situations.

Eakins is a rookie too, but people forget. What I like is that this season the Oilers are much better 5x5 than they were with Krueger. Special teams are easier to fix IMO than regular play.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Mac Tavish has made some significant moves that have paid off so far. There is work to do, but he is on the job.

I think he will continue to make the necessary moves until the team is a winner.

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#27 Pouzar99
October 23 2013, 12:24PM
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For me the key is how much and how fast Eakins can change the culture of the team. They have to drastically reduce their reckless gambling and giveaways, jack up their compete level and keep it there consistently.

I suspect that as they buy into simplifying their game and competing harder for 60 minutes the wins will motivate them, but their will also be considerable backsliding. They also have holes, lack of size up front and an improved, but still sub-par defence, but if they buy in to the game plan fairly quickly they have an outside chance to make the playoffs. In addition, MacT may be able to make a deal to address some of those issues, or possibly someone like Klefbom might develop fast enough to take Nick Schultz's place, as he is really no more than a depth defencman now.

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#28 Geoff
October 23 2013, 12:51PM
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Just looking at the schedule I think everyone had to know that the Oilers would be in tough circumstances. And I don't think it's so bad they are 3-6-1.

They are playing better hockey and it's a lot nicer to actually watch the guys play unlike last year which was just terribad.

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#29 oilerjed
October 23 2013, 01:52PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I think Mac T's best move was NOT moving Hemsky. I have been a vocal critic of Hemsky in the past but the way he is playing makes me want to elevate him to captian.

The deals for Belov and Perron were pure gold! It goes to show there are players across the pond that NHL teams are missing out on, and players in the NHL that are undervalued.

I like the sin last night but Eakins was pathetic in responding to Eller.......he should have accepted the gift and kept his mouth shut! Eller said what is patently obvious to hockey players and fans.......Eakins has no systems!

IF hemsky survives this year with no injuries AND continues to play like he has do we trade him or sign him? Damn him and his skills though. He is always hurt when we want to trade him and plays well in contract years. I think I know my answer, trade? No wait sign him! Or maybe.................

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#30 Hair bag
October 23 2013, 02:01PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Hey, I think most of the fan base are good with waiting a while longer. As long as they compete every night. They have to stop playing like they did the first period in Montreal last night. Bring it every game , every period , every shift. This fan base will forgive youthful errors but not lack of intensity and try.The time to start building a winning attitude and habits is now.

Agree, I was swearing at the tv when Eberle, Nuge were trying to make fancy passes out of the d-zone and getting picked off. Not long after Jones made his stupid cross ice pass and it ended up in our net. But these are mental mistakes - they need to have better game awareness about what plays can be attempted at what times in the game - sometimes you just need to relieve pressure and get it out or dump it in and go get it again. Unfortunately the boys try to make skill plays all the time and that just doesn't work, sometimes you just have to outwork you opponent rather than outskill them.

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#31 Big Slick
October 23 2013, 03:08PM
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Dog Train wrote:

The moral of this article is that we don't know what is going to happen. I am just going to enjoy the ride and hope that we can at least stay in the mix until the end.

Or probability Oilers make the playoffs is down to 20% from maybe 30% at the start of the season. What can a fan due but believe?

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#32 Zarny
October 23 2013, 04:32PM
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"Did Craig MacTavish do enough in the summer to get the Oilers over the hump?"

I assume that question is rhetorical?

The Oilers finished 12th last year a full 10 pts behind 8th.

Off-season moves were marginal at best and did nothing to address the Oilers biggest needs.

Anyone expecting the Oilers to be much better than last year is really putting a lot of stock in Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yakupov and Schultz being a lot better.

And that is naive to say the least. They should improve but the Oilers aren't going to have four Sidney Crosby's and an Erik Karlsson skating around out there.

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#33 Quicksilver ballet
October 23 2013, 09:06AM
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Not to worry, someone close by will have a rope.....won't they?

http://youtu.be/SfgE_Asv3pE

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#34 Jpinto
October 23 2013, 09:24AM
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@Spydyr

I kind of like Dubnyk but if he has another year where his SP ends up at .920, I think the oil are in tough. -He won't have proved himself -He won't be worth a big raise -Looking at the UFA list for goalies next year,there is nothing that I see as a sizable upgrade on DD, without overpaying. -We need a #1 D more than an upgrade in the net. Looks like a bit of a rock vs hard place.

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#35 borisnikov
October 23 2013, 11:41AM
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Mix that disturbing trend in with the lagging underlying numbers and injuries and you've got trouble.

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#36 Quicksilver ballet
October 23 2013, 11:47AM
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Last evenings victory must be considered a hollow victory. Any win without Ryan Smyth in the lineup can't be considered whole.

Could take a couple more weeks for Yakupov to get his confidence back after sitting him last week. Watching him struggle on that left side is a stroke of genius by Eakins. Should see of there's some chemistry on a Perron/RNH/Yakupov line.

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#37 Old School G
October 23 2013, 03:24PM
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@Quicksilver ballet

You have a fan in me, your comments are always unique and while I do not always agree with your grim view of our team I like that you take some time to post something different that gets the crowd going!

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#38 **
October 23 2013, 04:33PM
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Well the Oilers matched their worst start since their cup run in 2006, when they had the exact same numbers 3-6-1. That year they had 34 players and 4 goalies dress up at some point.

They traded in march for Roloson, they started the season with a legit top Dman in Pronger, and their offense was led by the three amigos. This year they seem to have more depth in the top 9, but their defense is not as good and the goaltending is still debatable.

The next 10 games they went 7-3-0. Let's see how they do.

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#39 Zarny
October 23 2013, 04:35PM
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oilerjed wrote:

IF hemsky survives this year with no injuries AND continues to play like he has do we trade him or sign him? Damn him and his skills though. He is always hurt when we want to trade him and plays well in contract years. I think I know my answer, trade? No wait sign him! Or maybe.................

If you want to win the Stanley Cup you trade him regardless for the simple fact that he offers nothing different from any of the top 6 F.

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#40 spliff
October 23 2013, 06:38PM
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The oilers had a long road trip, some key injuries and suspect goal tending to start the year.

They really should be 5 wins and 5 losses, but no point dwelling on that.

It could be worse, so right now I cautiously optimistic.

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#41 admiralmark
October 23 2013, 09:36AM
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Although this article has a warm and cozy feel to it. The crux i see is 5 out of 11 teams did not make the post season. And I am willing to wager that the 6 out of 11 that did.. DID Not lose there best player for a month after the 1st 10 games. Odds went from slim to none with Taylor Hall Injury. Somebody needs to perform some kind of voodoo magic ritual to rid this team of its unfathomably poor injury luck! Either that or build a whole new god damn arena. Cuz this ain't working.

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#42 DrunkGuyTy
October 23 2013, 11:43AM
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@Rama Lama

Agreed - but how many times do you think he was asked about it?

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#43 Spydyr
October 23 2013, 01:34PM
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Hair bag wrote:

I think the first 2 points might be filled from within in the next couple years without trading one of the kids. I'm with you in that I'm not sold on Dubnyk.

I can see Nurse filling number one. Just not as a 19 year old. Not sure if they can wait 3-4 years for him to develop.

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#44 Hair bag
October 23 2013, 01:45PM
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Spydyr wrote:

I can see Nurse filling number one. Just not as a 19 year old. Not sure if they can wait 3-4 years for him to develop.

I agree, but patience will be the key for the whole team. In the next 3-4yrs the core group will be in their mid-twenties which will be their prime and hopefully when they can start making runs at Championships - the painful part will be now until then. They might not make the playoffs this year but if they can be close and progress to the point where they make it next year and go a little deeper the year after that I think it is a reasonable expectation. Oiler fans are passionate, but Rome wasn't built in a day and no matter how much we want success it is still going to be a while yet...

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#45 Oiler4life
October 23 2013, 02:13PM
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Question JW. Arcobello is among the leading rookie scorers. One would have to think his value has increased. When everyone is healthy how is it possible for him to stay without sending Acton down after they told him to find an apartment. It's tough even finding a spot on the wing when they trying to get bigger. So do you think an Arco, first overall and a dman/prospect will bring back a#1 dman? It's looks like Arco could save us losing one of the young guns if he stays playing like that.

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#46 Dog Train
October 23 2013, 02:33PM
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The moral of this article is that we don't know what is going to happen. I am just going to enjoy the ride and hope that we can at least stay in the mix until the end.

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#47 Quicksilver ballet
October 23 2013, 05:39PM
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@Old School G

Thanks for having an open mind OSG.

Alternate theory rules apply. Never been a rose colored glasses kinda guy.

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#48 ubermiguel
October 23 2013, 05:56PM
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Me: What are the Oilers' chances?

Willis: Not good.

Me: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

Willis: I'd say more like one out of a million.

Me: So you're telling me there's a chance!? yeah!

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#49 Anonymous(the real deal)
October 23 2013, 06:21PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Not sure if everyone's aware, but Oiler insider Anonymous broke the news of a major trade that will be announced before 10 this morning. 3 way multi player move with close to 8 players changing teams.

This will certainly affect the course of the coming season. We best sit tight and wait another 20 games to see how the 3 new Oilers fit into this team.

You wouldn't be bullshipping us, would you Anonymous? We await this Gretzky'esque type announcement.

At 10 last night I announced all deals were off for the foreseeable future due to the Oilers outstanding play last night! End of story ! No trade winds today either! You are most welcome! bye bye.

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#50 Oilcruzer
October 24 2013, 05:41AM
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** wrote:

I think the one really strong trade Mac T made was David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi. Paajarvi has only played two games in St. Louis and the only stat he has is 1 shot. WE've seen what Perron brings. Ference was an upgrade as well because now Nick Schultz is playing on the third pairing where he should be. Call me crazy but I think Boyd Gordon so far has been far superior to Horcoff in all aspects.

The 4th line has been maligned by media but they have solid numbers for the role they play. They don't have as much in terms of offensive production because the Oilers have been chasing the game most of the time and Eakins has shortened the bench very often in those situations.

Eakins is a rookie too, but people forget. What I like is that this season the Oilers are much better 5x5 than they were with Krueger. Special teams are easier to fix IMO than regular play.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Mac Tavish has made some significant moves that have paid off so far. There is work to do, but he is on the job.

I think he will continue to make the necessary moves until the team is a winner.

Also the Horcoff trade.

GM isn't just trades. Signed RNH. Immediately signed 2 enforcers after assault on Gagner. Got rid of half of last years starting roster and coach. Tried for Schneider who has taken #1 for Marty. Tried to find way to land Monohan. Signed best option when couldn't. Didn't trade value for limited return.

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