GDB 20.0: HORCOFF RETURNS

Jason Gregor
November 13 2013 12:43PM

For the past five seasons, when things went wrong for the Oilers you could always fall back to one thing, "Blame Horcoff." It didn't matter what was ailing the Oilers it seemed it was always Horcoff's fault, mainly due to his $5.5 million cap it. If the Oilers top line wasn't scoring, and Horcoff wasn't on it, it was still his fault.

On my radio show it became somewhat of a cult mantra. People would end their texts or emails with Blame Horcoff. Mainly it was a parody of South Park's "Blame Canada," but the odd person believed it to be true.

If Horcoff was still here, he likely would have been blamed for not stopping Nail Yakupov from going public with his frustrations. It was a simpler time for some Oilers fans, because no matter what went wrong you could always blame one guy.

Horcoff is gone, but surprisingly (not at all) the struggles of the Oilers remain.

Horcoff played 796 games as an Oiler, 5th most all-time behind Kevin Lowe (1,037), Ryan Smyth (911), Mark Messier (851) and Glenn Anderson (845).  He is 9th all-time in goals and points, and despite what some feel he was a solid Edmonton Oiler for 12 seasons.

Horcoff is playing just over 14 minutes a game for the Stars, mainly on the third line, switching between wing and centre, and recently he was put on the 2nd unit PP for a net-front presence. Horcoff's game was never flashy, but he earned his icetime over the years. He started out as a 4th line centre, and worked his way up to the top line, and he was the #1 centre and leading point getter amongst forwards when the Oilers went to game seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

He was unfairly vilified because his owner and general manager overpaid him. It was never his fault the Daryl Katz and Kevin Lowe signed him to a $33 million contract, but many people expected him to be an elite player after that deal. It never happened, because Horcoff was never an elite scorer. He was a tireless worker, who could produce offensively, but he wasn't going to be a consistent 75-point player.

I never felt bad for Horcoff, and neither did he. He knew the expectations would be raised when he signed that deal, and at the time he signed his six-year contract he felt he could produce. We all believe we are worth what we make. If your boss came into your office today and offered to triple your salary, you'd gladly accept it, and feel that you are worth it.

The Oilers could use a 27-year-old Shawn Horcoff right now. A guy who could produce offensively, 73 points, but knew how to play defence, and actually loved the challenge of going against  the likes of Joe Thornton, Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Getzlaf. Horcoff wasn't the biggest guy, but his work ethic and smarts allowed him to battle and often shut down the opposition's star players.

The final few seasons of Horcoff's career in Edmonton weren't very good. The team was a consistent bottom-feeder and he missed almost half of two seasons. This summer was the right time for him to leave, but I always felt he was under appreciated as a player due to his final contract with the Oilers.

QUICK COMPARISON....

Yesterday, Nail Yakupov went public with his frustrations about a lack of icetime. Every player wants to play more, so he isn't alone with his thinking, but rarely do players go public about it, especially after only 65 NHL games. Yakupov choose that route and some feel it will cause a rift in the room or with management. Only time will tell if that occurs, but many have compared Yakupov to Steven Stamkos so I did a quick comparison of their first 65 NHL games.

No comparison is completely fair or accurate because the players had different coaches, teammates and other factors. Most notably, Yakupov's first 65 games were interrupted by a six-month summer break. It is difficult to start a season how you ended the previous one, but the comparison does give us some insight into how these two snipers were used.

FIRST 65 GAMES

Stamkos                                                        Yakupov
14-19-33 points                                           19-16-35 points
13:47 TOI/game                                           14:47 TOI/game
2:22 PP TOI/game                                       2:25 PP TOI/game

Yakupov was upset over his icetime in his previous four games. In Yakupov's first 65 games he had 11:45 or less of TOI seven times. In Stamkos' first 65 games he had 22 games with 11:45 or less of TOI.

Stamkos was a healthy scratch three times, while Yakupov has been a healthy scratch twice. Yakupov is -18 in his career while Stamkos was -14 in his first 65 games.

Barry Melrose was fired after only 16 games into Stamkos' rookie season, and his replacement Rick Tocchet didn't automatically start playing Stamkos more. Stamkos earned his icetime, and he gained a lot of momentum in the 2nd half of his season.

Ironically enough, in the final 14 games of his rookie season (game 66 to 79) Stamkos scored 9 goals and 13 points. He continued that pace into the next season and he has been the most prolific goal scorer since the beginning of the 2009 season.

I don't see Yakupov emulating Stamkos' success, mainly because it would be extremely difficult, but also because Stamkos skates better than Yakupov. Both are former #1 overall picks, but their games are very different.

I said yesterday I didn't have a major issue with Yakupov saying what he said. He is frustrated, and he willingly made his comments. They weren't done in the heat of the moment after a bad loss. He had 40 hours to think about his plan, and he elected to go through with it.

His agent, Igor Larionov, had two contract disputes in his career, so I can see why he didn't advise his client to stay quiet. Larionov has never been afraid to stand up to management, although he wasn't 20 years old and only 65 games into his NHL career when he made his stance.

I don't think Yakupov's comments will change much. Dallas Eakins isn't going to be pressured into playing him more, considering Yakupov is averaging 15:28/game this season, and I doubt Yakupov is suddenly going to become a great defensive player. For the past year I've stated the Oilers were going to have to deal one of their four kids, and Yakupov's comments might make that decision a little bit easier, but that is about the only impact I feel his comments will make.

When you compare his icetime to young players around the NHL in their first 65 games, he hasn't been treated unfairly. I'm glad he wants to play more. You wouldn't want a guy who was satisfied with his icetime, but his play will earn him more icetime, not venting publicly.

One other quick comparison between Yakupov and the other young Oiler draft picks.

Here is their point totals in their first 65 NHL games.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:  22-34-56 
Taylor Hall: 22-20-42
Jordan Eberle: 18-23-41
Ales Hemsky: 8-29-37
Nail Yakupov: 19-16-35
Sam Gagner: 7-28-35

Hall (18), RNH (17), Eberle (17), Gagner (15) had more icetime in their first 65 games, while Hemsky played 12:20 if you look at TOI. Every situation is different of course, and in the NHL there is no such thing as "fair." But it is interesting to look at how each of them started their NHL career.

LINEUP

Perron-RNH-Eberle
Hall-Gagner-Hemsky
Smyth-Arcobello-Yakupov
Joensuu-Gordon-Jones

Ference-Petry
Belov-Larsen
N.Schultz-Potter

Dubnyk

The Oilers sent Taylor Fedun down to OKC and called up Potter. They want a bigger body and a heavy shot on the 2nd PP unit. Fedun had an unreal start to his NHL career, and he will be back, but he needs to get a touch faster. He made a great first impression. Potter might be bigger, but he rarely plays big. He'll be highly motivated to play well, at least he should be, because if he doesn't he likely won't get another one-way NHL contract.

SYSTEM TALK

There has been lots of talk about Eakins system and how it is costing the Oilers games. Eakins tweaked the system after seven games, because the players couldn't play it, however, the current system is not that difficult according to some veterans. 

"It is just about recognition, said Nick Schultz."You have to be looking around; too often we get to puck focused. You need to take a quick look at the puck, but you need to be aware of your position and your man. We have to work away from the puck and have recognition. 

"I think any system in the league, regardless of where you play, is pretty similar. You are either attacking or sitting back and it is just a matter of understanding your position, and where you have to be in all situations on the ice. Whether it is forechecking, coming through the neurtral zone or in the D-zone every player has to know where to go. You have to be aware of what your job is and where you are. You have to be able to rely on one another. I think we are starting to show spurts of that, but we need to be able to do it all the time," Nick Schultz said. 

Schultz played in Minnesota where they won because of their system. They didn't have as much skill as other teams, but they were dedicated and committed to their system. Once the Oilers can rely on one another in every area on the ice, they will win, but the players have to be willing to do it. The system is not the issue. The players need to execute it properly more often.

Captain Andrew Ference said this yesterday on my show about their defensive zone coverage.,

It is unfortunate when you look at the goals we are giving up they are a product of our mistakes more than the other team taking it too us all game and finally breaking through. We have been doing a much better job defensively in D zone coverage lately, clogging up the other teams chances and their time, but as you call them the five-star mistakes are costing us games. 

"Hockey is not complicated; no system is a big math equation. It is just concentration, consistency and it is almost 100% mental. It is just resetting yourself after a good shift, resetting yourself after a bad shift and just not carrying baggage from past games or past weeks or past shifts.

It is just focusing on what you are going to do on the next 30-40 second span. It is a tough thing. It is a very easy thing to talk about, but much harder to implement. It is easier the longer you play, because you learned how to do it. But it is hard to learn to do it consistently."  

The Oilers system isn't unique, but the players are still trying to learn to play it consistently. They have improved recently, but when they make a mistake it is usually a major error and results in a goal. They need to become more consistent in their decisions and actions, and when they do, they should have more success. But it won't be easy, it will require every player being willing to commit 100% of the time. 

TONIGHT

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have one home win in six starts. The fans are restless, and the Oilers will finally give them something to cheer about with a 4-3 victory.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Horcoff scores. On a one-timer. Ex-Oilers always score vs. the Oilers. Edmonton-born Vern Fiddler will get an assist on the goal.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION:
Philip Larsen gets in on the "scoring against former team" and he scores a PP goal midway through the second frame. Larsen has five points in five games so far this season and he maintains his point-per-game pace. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#101 James
November 13 2013, 08:32PM
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Alsker wrote:

watching Dallas feed, quite decent game so far. Well if you forget Hemmers give away.

You'd be forgetting almost all the games then. We have 8 give aways to Dallas's 1. Ugh! Acro and Hemmer each with 2.

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#102 Alsker
November 13 2013, 08:37PM
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Nice to see 4-93-14 together. They have been in Dallas zone this whole period. Dubbys biggest save was on Hemmers beauty of a pass giving D 2-0 in our zone.

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#103 Alsker
November 13 2013, 08:40PM
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James wrote:

You'd be forgetting almost all the games then. We have 8 give aways to Dallas's 1. Ugh! Acro and Hemmer each with 2.

I blame my many trips to the beer fridge.

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#104 James
November 13 2013, 08:44PM
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@Alsker

This is a common theme good sir!

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#105 BingBong
November 13 2013, 08:49PM
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Man, Larson really does remind me of Coffey...

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#106 Reg Dunlop
November 13 2013, 08:51PM
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When healthy the oil should be competitive with 2nd tier teams like Dallas. So far tonight they have been. It's a small step in the right direction.

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#107 Rocket
November 13 2013, 08:51PM
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I'm watching the Stars feed and the colour commentator has the line of the night:

"With Larson on the powerplay,it's like having five forwards out there. Believe me if you ever watch him play defence, it's like having five forwards out there."

Lolol

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#108 Alsker
November 13 2013, 08:53PM
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@James

Turnovers or not we have not been trapped in our zone for eons on end as per @ Philly. The game has been fairly evenly played and that is a huge step up from the last 3. And its entertaining so hang the stats grab a brewsky or a few and enjoy. We're not losing...

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#109 James
November 13 2013, 08:55PM
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@Alsker

Oh, I actually meant the trips to the beer fridge were a common theme. Ha! I'm on the way now!

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#110 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 08:55PM
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@BingBong

Phil or Adam?

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#111 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:02PM
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@James

Thank god...thought I was in for a battle with a statoid..cheers oh dont forget the odd chaser(off to the freezer for little polar ice)

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#112 BingBong
November 13 2013, 09:06PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

Phil or Adam?

Ha. I just meant he's really just a forward playing defense.

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#113 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:06PM
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Anyone watching a non tsn feed. Did they do any kind of a video for horcoff ?

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#114 James
November 13 2013, 09:11PM
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@Alsker

Good choice! I'm definitely no stats whiz, that's for sure.

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#115 James
November 13 2013, 09:11PM
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@YFC Prez

Didn't see it, but they did have a video. The Oilers twitter posted it I believe.

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#116 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:20PM
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Throw potter out on the 5 on 3 and blast some damn pucks at lehtonen. I cringe everytime the oil get a 2 man advantage. Simplify it.

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#117 BingBong
November 13 2013, 09:21PM
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Snakebit tonight. Missed open nets, a few posts. Lehtonen looks great.

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#118 James
November 13 2013, 09:23PM
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@YFC Prez

This team is clearly missing the "Corey Potter power play".

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#119 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:25PM
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Yes Corey power potter play ! Oh another pp coming maybe we will see it

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#120 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:25PM
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go back as far as 30 years this team has always had to score 5-3 with pretty goals only. Drive it to the net and scrum the ugly one in. They don't count extra if they make SN highlight reel. And where the f^ck was Yak?

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#121 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:29PM
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Dammit dubnyk

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#122 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:29PM
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Dammit petry

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#123 bwar
November 13 2013, 09:29PM
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go oilers go....

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#124 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:30PM
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That was PATHETIC!!! Sorry for shouting.

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#125 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:30PM
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@Alsker

Yak, Belov, Potter. They have some heavy shooters. Blows my mind why none were out.

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#126 James
November 13 2013, 09:31PM
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@Alsker

We have to be one of the worst teams at 5 on 3. It rarely works for us it seems, just like pulling the goalie.

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#127 Sailge
November 13 2013, 09:31PM
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Wow pp. Brutal. Score a damn goal.

Nice coverage there petry.

Gagner is awful. No goals in 19 back to last year.

I am a die-hard but I can't stop watching this train-wreck.

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#128 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:33PM
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@James

Renney had a little bit of success with that weird behind then net pass back and forth thing. But other than that alsker is right. They have always sucked.

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#129 BingBong
November 13 2013, 09:33PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

Dammit petry

Yeah I don't know who to blame for that one. I think the "weak rebound from a horrible angle" wins.

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#130 coolcanuck1
November 13 2013, 09:33PM
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Can't score 5 on 5, can't score on the power play, and yet we have many "skilled" forwards…. weak defence, no goalies, looks like a coaching & management problem to me!

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#131 James
November 13 2013, 09:35PM
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@YFC Prez

They have forever sucks at too many things it seems.

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#132 hockey fan 1976
November 13 2013, 09:35PM
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Eakins is a joke. 0-5 on the PP. where's Belov/Potter or Yuk? Anyone who says its or the coache's fault is out to lunch. How do we go from one of the best last last year in PP to 8 periods with zero goals. Wow.

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#133 Gk1980
November 13 2013, 09:36PM
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4 or 5 posts. No puck luck. What have we done to anger the hockey gods?

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#134 Gk1980
November 13 2013, 09:36PM
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4 or 5 posts. No puck luck. What have we done to anger the hockey gods?

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#135 James
November 13 2013, 09:37PM
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Should I drink more? I can't decide. My heart tells me yes, because it's the only way I can get through the suckitude but my head tells me no on account of I have to work tomorrow and the roads will likely be full of suckitude also.

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#136 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:38PM
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Gk1980 wrote:

4 or 5 posts. No puck luck. What have we done to anger the hockey gods?

ITS HORCS FAULT!

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#137 Rocket
November 13 2013, 09:40PM
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Horcoff looked fired up on that powerplay. He was tenacious on the puck. I bet he was really looking forward to this game.

The Oilers could use a guy like that, although Gordon has been pretty good tonight too.

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#138 BingBong
November 13 2013, 09:40PM
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James wrote:

Should I drink more? I can't decide. My heart tells me yes, because it's the only way I can get through the suckitude but my head tells me no on account of I have to work tomorrow and the roads will likely be full of suckitude also.

Simple formula: Watch game = drink beer Go to bed = no beer

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#139 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:43PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

Yak, Belov, Potter. They have some heavy shooters. Blows my mind why none were out.

There's simply something not right in decision making...not all Eakins. Those 5 guys should have looked to work the backdoor tip in not the 1 timer. Still have to believe Smith/Bucky are not on the same page as the coach(it might be MacTs/kBlowes page though). This has the stench of the blame game.

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#140 FireKLowe
November 13 2013, 09:43PM
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This team is fundamentally bad and so is the coaching. How the fcuk do you not score at least one PP goal out of that many man advantage opportunities, especially on a 1:30 of 5 on 3?

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#141 James
November 13 2013, 09:46PM
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@BingBong

*hangs head in shame* I know, I know.

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#142 Slyers
November 13 2013, 09:50PM
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I don't get it ....why is Gagner is out for the 5/3 instead of Yak. Sam has had a free pass on terrible defensive play for seven years .. His line mates will get benched and even traded but Sam gets ice time no matter what? The only coach to hold him accountable was Quin, and he was vilified for it. Sam has some heart but he does NOTHING else even his offence is average and generally is over a 40 game stretch at best. But these coaches just keep throwing him out there. I don't agree at all with what Yak did.... However it is easy to see how a young player would see a double standard. I have been preaching for years to my friends that the two most overrated players are Gagner and Dubnyk. They both should move on. Or at the very least one becomes a winger and the other a back up goalie. Maybe Sam has some pics of who Pronger was really with? .....hmmmm

Ps. Nice sloppy rebound Dubby!,,

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#143 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:50PM
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James wrote:

Should I drink more? I can't decide. My heart tells me yes, because it's the only way I can get through the suckitude but my head tells me no on account of I have to work tomorrow and the roads will likely be full of suckitude also.

It honestly doesn't help BUT it dpnt hurt either..lol...hey Im a contractor and as long as Im on schedule I can skip stupidity hour on the roads in the AM and simply work later to stay on/ahead of schedule. Now if you talking artificial joy, well that's a different story. "cause you're not sharing!!!

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#144 Alsker
November 13 2013, 09:55PM
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Slyers wrote:

I don't get it ....why is Gagner is out for the 5/3 instead of Yak. Sam has had a free pass on terrible defensive play for seven years .. His line mates will get benched and even traded but Sam gets ice time no matter what? The only coach to hold him accountable was Quin, and he was vilified for it. Sam has some heart but he does NOTHING else even his offence is average and generally is over a 40 game stretch at best. But these coaches just keep throwing him out there. I don't agree at all with what Yak did.... However it is easy to see how a young player would see a double standard. I have been preaching for years to my friends that the two most overrated players are Gagner and Dubnyk. They both should move on. Or at the very least one becomes a winger and the other a back up goalie. Maybe Sam has some pics of who Pronger was really with? .....hmmmm

Ps. Nice sloppy rebound Dubby!,,

Been asking that for years, bigger question is why the 4 year contract extension. Not a 2C, 3C, tough winger, better options anyways,64,4,14,83,57. Why is he here, why is he playing at all???

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#145 James
November 13 2013, 09:56PM
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@Alsker

Ha, no doubt, no sharing there.

I wish I could start whenever. Sadly, I have set hours. Stupid "office" job!

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#146 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 09:58PM
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Holy Moly. I didn't watch the leafs game but just seen a replay of kadri's elbow to whichever wild goalie was playing. That looks pretty ugly. Like a wwf flying elbow smash ala macho man.

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#147 Reg Dunlop
November 13 2013, 10:04PM
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@YFC Prez

Any chance the Eakins effect will turn any of the hobbits into Khadriesque warriors? Doubtful.

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#148 Alsker
November 13 2013, 10:08PM
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James wrote:

Ha, no doubt, no sharing there.

I wish I could start whenever. Sadly, I have set hours. Stupid "office" job!

Thats one of those take the good with the bad. You're stuck to regimental hours but your paycheck is always there, Im much more flexible but go and chase your money...finding work is one thing getting paid is quite another. Amazing how many people think as a contractor its your responsibility to finance their project. Oh well, it been a fun life, back to the game

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#149 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 10:10PM
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@Reg Dunlop

Eakins did turn kadri into one heck of a hockey player when it was getting pretty close to looking like he was going to go the way of Robbie schremp. I do think Eakins will make a good head coach he is just in way over his head right now coaching several kids who are also way in over their heads.

Hindsight is 20 20 but wouldn't it have been great to have Krueger still the bench boss and Eakins an associate coach then make the change in a couple seasons if Mac t still wanted.

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#150 Johnnydapunk
November 13 2013, 10:16PM
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8 periods of hockey at home and the Oil haven't scored, surely they are getting close to a record??

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