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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#1 mayorblaine
November 13 2013, 12:44PM
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good Captain and great Soldier.

Welcome back Horc!

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#2 Spydyr
November 13 2013, 01:00PM
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OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The beat goes on. Oilers lose. Gagner goes minus something. Just for old times sake Horcoff fans on a one-timer in the slot.

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#3 Al Low
November 13 2013, 03:34PM
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Although Horc was overpaid because of 6 time Stanley Cup winner Kevin Lowe's generous overpayment for him (thanks in large part to his 100K hardline stance against Ryan Smyth the year before), I just want to remind Oiler fans about how well he played in the Stanley Cup run in 2006. I may get slammed for this post but it needs to be said, as I reminisce about how fun it was as a fan to be a part of that thrilling run. Although he wasn't the best player on the team, he was the first line centre, great penalty killer, solid defensively and excellent in the faceoff circle in that run. Seeing how bad the team is this year it puts into perspective how Horcoff was not the problem on the team the last few years.

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#4 MessyEH!
November 13 2013, 03:22PM
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Larionov faced down the KGB, the Iron Curtain, and real life consequences that even the Sopranos would shiver from.

Klowe never intimated him. The media hacks in Edmonton won't, and Mactavish's MBA doesn't compare to Gorbachev's KGB.

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#5 OilClog
November 13 2013, 01:08PM
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If Yakupov's comments make it alil easier to move him now, that's pathetic. The way everyone MSM and bloggers have been jumping down this kids throat, it's sickening. Rishaug was a goof yesterday, Jones, Matheson, and now you Gregor. I'm glad Yakupov is barking, he's been treated differently then all the rest! I'd be barking a mad storm too. It's a joke.

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#7 BingBong
November 13 2013, 10:44PM
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3 straight shutouts at home?!? That's not even believable. Unreal. This is now the worst Oilers team in franchise history.

Just saw the Kadri hit; that forearm looked nasty.

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#8 Randaman
November 13 2013, 01:14PM
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The line-up says it all. Yak playing with Smyth and Gordon? Ya, like that is going to help him break out of his funk. FAIL AGAIN!!

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#9 DSF
November 13 2013, 01:51PM
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Taylor vs. Tyler.

Giddyup.

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#10 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 10:44PM
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I feel like a dead horse being repeatedly beaten with 6 rings.

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#11 Shaun Doe
November 13 2013, 10:43PM
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Figures the one night we get goaltending we can't put a puck in the net...

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#12 druds
November 13 2013, 12:58PM
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Damn that Horcoff! He's screwed us again!

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#13 TDSM31
November 13 2013, 10:56PM
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Gagner out on the ice again for last minute when we need a goal. This coach for the Oilers...not too bright.

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#14 **
November 13 2013, 12:53PM
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Oilers will lose this one 4-1. Yakupov will be benched again.

Jason, I think it was on your show that a former Tampa GM was on the phone and he talked about how he traded Jokinen in february of Stamkos' first season in order to allow Stamkis to play more because they recognized he was the future even though Jokinen was playing well. Stamkos finished tat season with -9, and mind you he plays centre, so it was more important for him to be defensively sound than it is for Yakupov.

Do you think the fact that Hemsky is still around has affected Yakupov's handling by the coaching staff?. The way I see the Oilers management and coaching have been pumping Hemsky's tires quite a bit in order to gather interest from other teams, even with Eakins saying he wished there were more Hemsky's on the ice, even though Hemsky is -12 right now.

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#15 Lowe Expectations
November 13 2013, 01:38PM
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Jason

Please start predicting oiler losses. Reverse psychology is all I got left.

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#16 coolcanuck1
November 13 2013, 10:43PM
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Too bad this isn't the Connor McDavid draft year! But hey, with another lottery pick this year, and if Eakins remains coach, maybe we'll have a chance for #1 pick in 2015!! Something to look forward to!

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#17 Quintana
November 13 2013, 10:54PM
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I can't believe Eakins still has a job.What a joke.....

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#18 Towersofdub
November 13 2013, 01:24PM
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I always liked Horcoff. From his first shift on the 4th line, to his All-star appearance in '08, winning gold with Canada, and being man enough to captain the oilers through the most miserable time in their history, not including this season. He gave everything he could to the oilers, including picking up Smyth's teeth in the playoffs against San Jose...

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#19 dougtheslug
November 13 2013, 01:45PM
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Whatever one thinks of Horcoff as a player, we can all agree that he was signed to a bad contract. And the way he was signed to that contract seems emblematic of the impulsive, ill-conceived way of doing business that is the hallmark of the Kevin Lowe era.

Remember he was signed to a 3 year 10.8 million dollar contract in 2006, after his break-through offensive season, and then regressed(some might say regressed to the mean) the following year with 51 points in 80 games and a -22. In the second year of his contract (at age 29), he had a stellar start to year, with 50 points in 53 games, but his season was shortened by injury. Rather than wait to see how he bounced back from injury, or to see if there was another regression(based on the data, not terribly hard to predict), Kevin Lowe signed him to a 6 year 33 million dollar extension , not kicking in until 2009, and carrying through until 2015, when Horcoff would turn 37, at a yearly cap hit of 5.5 million. The extension seemed at the time, unnecessarily premature and in hindsight, very bad management.

The events of the last year (impulsively firing Kruger and hiring Eakins based on "saying the right thing" in an interview, reflex signings of facepunching nonskaters in an anachronistic attempt to address the problem of team toughness, hiring a pariah of a goalie who hasn't played NHL in over 6 months and trading away a popular player for a risky prospect to address a goaltender depth problem entirely of their own making)points to more of the same fly-be-the-seat-of-their-pants decision making that this management structure (KL on down) seems utterly wedded to .

Flipping a number one overall after little more that half a season for less than he's worth seems utterly predictable from this bunch. And points to another long era of bottom feeding and hearing, every June, "The Edmonton Oilers are proud to select, number one overall in the draft....etc....

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#21 Hauk15
November 13 2013, 10:53PM
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NHL 14, where I go to see the Oilers win a hockey game.

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#22 Alsker
November 13 2013, 10:42PM
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My liver is not going to survive this season. Fire Lowe...Fire Lowe...Fire Lowe...Fire Lowe...Fire Lowe...Fire Lowe...etc. etc.

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#25 Ron
November 13 2013, 03:51PM
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If you are so hung up on how H'coff was unappreciated just wait for him to retire and Lowe will hire him.

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#26 James
November 13 2013, 10:43PM
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Asist to Hallsy on the Seguin goal? FML X 100!

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#27 Johe
November 13 2013, 03:30PM
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LET'S BE POSITIVE PEOPLE!!! ENOUGH OF THIS REALISTIC NEGATIVE CRAP!!!

GDP: Oilers win by a field goal.

OGDP: Nail Yakupov scores his first goal at home and celebrates by kissing the Oilers logo at center ice. Taylor Hall beats Tyler Seguin into a coma. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sets up three goals, eliminates terrorism, and plays so well defensively that Dallas Eakins smiles. Shawn Horcoff sheds a tear when the Oilers play a classy tribute to him on the jumbo tron.

NSOGDP: Oilers Nation is happy.

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#28 Harlie
November 13 2013, 02:27PM
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Haha Whiffcoff with a one timer!?? Oh wait a minute, who is our goalie? Damn, I'll give you that one.

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#29 MessyEH!
November 13 2013, 03:00PM
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Ok it's official?! We are running the nondrinking, religious kid, out of town.

But we'll keep the good ole Canadian boys, who party it up after a loss. Good thinking Oilers fans.

Who was the last great player to retire an Oiler?

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#30 wiseguy
November 13 2013, 03:46PM
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@MessyEH!

Can we please never, ever bring up MacT's MBA ever, ever again? It's embarassing to keep strutting these useless credentials out. He obtained an EMBA from Queens, not an MBA:

"The 16-month EMBA program is designed for working managers, and lets them take part in virtual classes and group work from their home cities"

In other words, it's a correspondence course for managers who can pay the $100,000 fee for credentials to attach to their name. MacT did it while unemployed and not in a management position. In other words, he should not have qualified for the program.

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#31 Zarny
November 13 2013, 04:40PM
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DSF wrote:

Taylor vs. Tyler.

Giddyup.

You mean piggyback rides at the bar?

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#32 The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33
November 13 2013, 01:41PM
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Man, every time I look at our line up on paper I think to myself "that's not a bad looking team" then we get our a$$es handed to us. I look back and to see what went wrong then I remember it's Horcoff's fault!

You suck Horcoff...just kidding.. You were a good Oiler......you suck Horcoff.

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#33 vetinari
November 13 2013, 03:27PM
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Hopefully, Yak puts his energy into crushing the Stars rather than yaking about his playing time (or lack thereof). The recipe for Yak's success is not that complicated: first, do no harm to your own team. This means playing solid defensive hockey. Next, make the most of your chances. Eventually, good things will happen. Finally, stop complaining about what you don't have and be grateful for what you do have-- an opportunity. Ask Fedun or Arcobello what an opportunity to play means to them.

As for Horcoff, his contract was an albatross but he, personally, was a warrior and faced the media year after year, loss after loss, without any complaints. I'm happy he got a new start in Dallas and hope that he does well for his new team.

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#35 They're $hittie
November 13 2013, 01:24PM
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The Fab Five or Four is now the dynamic duo. Just Hall and Nuge.

The core group (how ever you define it is not getting it done). Someone has to go to get what we need and to mix it up.

All I know is it isn't Nuge or Hall.

Trade Gagner and Eberle! They make more than they are worth.

Smid is gone, that leaves just hemsky from before Hall was drafted, (unless you want to include dubnyk and Smyth)

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#36 Spydyr
November 13 2013, 01:46PM
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The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33 wrote:

Man, every time I look at our line up on paper I think to myself "that's not a bad looking team" then we get our a$$es handed to us. I look back and to see what went wrong then I remember it's Horcoff's fault!

You suck Horcoff...just kidding.. You were a good Oiler......you suck Horcoff.

If weak goaltending, an AHL quality defense and undersized one dimensional forwards .Looks good to you on paper. Stop rolling with that paper.

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#37 match16
November 13 2013, 02:43PM
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I'd be upset if I were Yak too. Eakins talks about accountability but it seems the only one accountable for their mistakes is Yakupov. It's not that he isn't getting enough ice time, it's that he's losing ice time for his mistakes when noone else isn't.

I hope fans will honour Horc tonight for the player he was for the Oilers, and not the contract he was given.

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#38 RexHolez
November 13 2013, 10:41PM
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I fell sorry for Igor Larionov! It's a shame he never played for the Oilers. He could of been a president of hockey ops, or a G.M instead of a lowly player agent like Lowe should be

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#39 Oilersman
November 13 2013, 11:28PM
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Ok, I'm officially ready. I told myself and all my friends that there is no way that we can part with our young talent. Let them go, get something, salvage some pride. I am ready to let go. Go Oil:(

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#40 dougtheslug
November 13 2013, 03:04PM
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MessyEH! wrote:

Ok it's official?! We are running the nondrinking, religious kid, out of town.

But we'll keep the good ole Canadian boys, who party it up after a loss. Good thinking Oilers fans.

Who was the last great player to retire an Oiler?

Kevin Lowe

Oh, wait a second, the question was "Who was the last great player to retire an Oiler?", not "Who was the last Oiler who thought he was great to retire as an Oiler?" Sorry.

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#41 **
November 13 2013, 01:13PM
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@Jason Gregor

Fair point. In the end it's up to each player to make the most of their chances. Ditto for Arcobello.

I remember in the preseason the talk was that the Oilers weren't tough enough. They added a big, engaging 4th line that fought I think 3 times in the first 4 games and the Oilers were playing well, they just got terrible goal tending (and the game in Vancouver).

My mother gave me her two cents yesterday, partly because she's heard me talk about the Oilers a little too much lately. She said it looks to her like they play afraid, not trusting each other, that they need to become a family.

It was a typical mother comment but it made me think that these guys began the season playing with more grit because they knew there were guys ready to step up. The season began going the wrong way, tough players began to play less or even got traded (Brown), and suddenly the Oilers don't seem confident to eve throw a hit. They keep trying to check opposing players with their sticks rather than going for the man.

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#42 Cynic
November 13 2013, 01:38PM
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"Larionov led the revolt with Fetisov against Soviet authorities that prevented Soviet players to defect to the NHL."

I don't think he's afraid of 6-Rings or MBAtavish. Nor worried what fat-azzed scribblers or plagiarists in Edmonton see fit to print. It's best not to talk about the Tier2s on the algores.

The b..bs running The NHLs Worst Franchise can hold all the pressers they want to blow sunshine up y'all's dresses, but when Yak's ELC expires he owns the Oilers, not the other way around.

Stamkos? Phhhht. If you want a comparable, try Radulov.

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#43 mayorblaine
November 13 2013, 01:54PM
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ok seriously. some people don't think Horcoff was a good captain or great soldier? give your heads a shake. what a bunch of dolts.

if nothing else he was these things. year after year after year of losing and he ALWAYS faced the fans and media. never complained.

i'm glad he got traded, i wanted him traded, but i am not dense enough to not appreciate his time served.

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#44 Chainsawz
November 13 2013, 03:01PM
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If the media guys in that scrum have no idea why some fans feel Yak was treated poorly in that interview, they've lost a connection with reality.

Eakins is 40 years old. Go after him, he's a man.

I'm calling Yak City with the Safeway score and win 5 goals but with the game tied going into the third, Yak gets only 2 shifts that period and Horcoff gets the winner off of a defensive lapse from Gagner with 5 minutes to go. 2 shifts later, Gagner is back on the ice and Yak is still stapled to the bench. Somebody asks Yak later if he felt playing 12 minutes that game was enough, should he have got 13?

Book it.

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#45 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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#46 James
November 13 2013, 10:46PM
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Well that was real disappointing as per usual. Peace out everyone. Be safe on the roads tomorrow morning!

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#48 Rob...
November 13 2013, 01:08PM
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GAME DAY PREDICTION: 3-2 win for Dallas

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Dubnyk continues to flip management the bird by making several key saves that kept it close. Too bad he squanders the chance to win or tie due to the wrister from the blue line that goes in for Nichushkin.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Yakupov is confused by Gregor's comparison to Stamkos. He's determined to emulate the player but gets it all wrong as he heads hard for the net with a back checking Horcoff. Horcoff goes down and suffers a broken tibia.

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#49 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 10:25PM
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I am the a big time gagner supporter and I remember telling everyone they were nuts for thinking that arcobello would ever replace gagner but it's not really looking to far fetched now.

Gagners offence is invisible and arco just made another stellar defensive play.

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#50 YFC Prez
November 13 2013, 10:42PM
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When's it gonna stop?

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