ONE-TRICK PONY

Robin Brownlee
November 26 2013 07:23PM

I'm not sure where the Edmonton Oilers would rank if we rated NHL teams one through 30 based on the offensive skill and prowess of their of top-six forwards, but I'm confident they'd sit higher than 30th or 29th or 24th, which is where they've finished in the standings these past three seasons.

While the Oilers stack up pretty well – on paper if not in actual on-ice production -- in top-six flash and dash with the ability to send Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner out the gate, they are so lacking in other dimensions you get what we have here as they head for Nashville with a 7-16-2 record.

If opponents match Edmonton's level of offensive skill on the top two lines – and there are several teams that can – the Oilers are screwed because if they can't coax teams into a track meet or a no-hitter, they don’t have another way to get the job done, to win games.

The Oilers aren't big enough or gritty enough to win games that turn into a physical battle. They aren't mentally tough enough to prevail in a test of wills. They aren't remotely close to defensively sound enough to lock things down in tight games. They lack gamesmanship. They don't have a goaltender who can consistently outperform the guy in the crease at the other end of the rink.

It's been said countless times. We've seen it play out time after time the past three seasons, including last night in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The mix is wrong. Plenty of reasonably skilled and undersized forwards, not much else to bring to the table. This is not stop-the-presses stuff for fans, media or GM Craig MacTavish. All this we know.

THIS JUST IN . . .

Knowing what's lacking, obviously, is one thing. Doing something about it, changing the mix of personnel and adding different dimensions to the meat of the roster, not the fringes, is quite another because MacTavish hasn't managed to pull it off so far with an eighth straight year out of the playoffs on the horizon.

Until MacTavish does that, until coach Dallas Eakins has a different roster of players from which to assemble his line-up, anything he does right now is, to borrow a threadbare cliché, akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. This team, as assembled, isn't going to compete for the playoffs. Not this season. Not next season. It's not going to happen.

Again, this is not a revelation. That, I suspect, is what frustrates Oiler fans most. Does MacTavish need more time to change the make-up of this team? Sure he does. He's been on the job as GM for months, not years. Fact or not, that's a tough sell for fans who've been faithfully buying tickets for decades. They've been more than patient.

That isn't MacTavish's fault, but it most certainly is his problem. Changing the make-up of this team, assembling the right mix, is either going to take a lot more time or the kind of "bold moves" MacT talked about when he took the job. That, in the end, is going to mean taking a player or two from that talented group of forwards and turning it into the necessary pieces.

Time, I'd suggest, is not on MacTavish's side. That leaves bold. My sense is that, while nobody wants to part with one of thoroughbreds up front, they've seen enough of the same damn thing for years on end to have the stomach for it if the return is right. Until that happens, this one-trick pony of a team isn’t going anywhere, except in circles. It's a carousel of false hope.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 hadenough
November 26 2013, 07:48PM
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Of the top 3, Eberle can be dealt. Not a horrible contract and he has the ability to change games. Im my opinion, he can go because if hes not scoring big goals, hes absent. He'll never make a body check, block a shot, back check, or skate hard. He floats and has terrific hands. We need a buyer.

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#2 Gadzic
November 26 2013, 07:57PM
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This is madness. I am so tired of hearing that the Oilers are bad because they don't hit, or their forwards are too small, not enough grit. Our forwards are the only good part of this team. Are they small? yes. Do they need to work on their defence? Yes. Are they the problem? NO! The problem with the Oilers since the Stanley Cup run in 2006 is that they never have an NHL calibre D corp. Even this year, I understand Smid did not fit in well to Eakins system but trading him for nothing (i.e no replacement) when our D is already the worst in the NHL is not making the team better. Until the Oilers start icing an NHL D corp we will never be able to compete with top teams. Our forwards are not the problem but if we must trade one or two to address our blackhole which we call a defence than so be it. Suggesting that the oilers top six could not win games if we had a capable defence backing them is crazy!

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#3 Retsinnab5
November 26 2013, 07:45PM
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Terran wrote:

Keep RNH, Hall, Perron, and Belov. Everything else is up for grabs, for the right return.

No yak? Y U HEFF to be MAD?

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#4 Dog Train
November 26 2013, 08:26PM
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As long as our core players are one-dimensional, we won't make the playoffs. They play the most minutes so blaming the nightly suck routine on an inept fourth line or an incompetent third pairing is hogwash. It's time for the 'kids' to grow up.

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#5 Butters
November 26 2013, 08:11PM
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You could write a thesis paper on why the Oilers suck, but it boils down to them being too small I guess. Better trade skill for a coke machine, that will solve all the problems. Me, I would try to get a better goalie and better defense, and I might not have hired a rookie NHL caoch. But then again I have never built a last place NHL team before

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#6 pelhem grenville
November 26 2013, 07:32PM
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RB said...It's a carousel of false hope.

...so there's still a chance then ?

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#7 Retsinnab5
November 26 2013, 07:44PM
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BRYZlightyear ges the start on thursday yes!!!

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#8 David S
November 26 2013, 08:10PM
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The only thing missing from this article is the part where Robin drops his mic and walks off stage at the end.

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#9 Richard
November 26 2013, 08:13PM
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Imagine if Dave Tippett was the coach for this team for the last 5 years the player development would be much higher.

This has been a poorly coached team, the problem could be the coach could be the GM or Kevin Lowe.

People wonder why players like Hall are not on the Olympic team. No one has taught these players how to play a 200ft game. Lowe's philosophy has been run and gun.

If I were a top 1st rd player i would hope Oilers don't draft me.

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#10 Chainsawz
November 26 2013, 08:26PM
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I think the sentiment that MacTavish has a mess to fix kind of funny.

In one hand I fully agree with it.

In the other we have Kevin Lowe who had signed Tambellini to an extension in June of 2012 so up to that point he must have thought everything was alright.

But of course some would say firing Lowe won't solve anything. To that I say what do the Oilers gain with him around?

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#11 Copper
November 27 2013, 06:22AM
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Have to disagree with you Robin. You, Rishaug and Jason Negative hang out too much. It's not the top 6. We have a 4th line of AHL players and only 1 3rd liner. Since when is a 6'1" 205 lb athlete small? As for "no hitter", last I saw, Oilers were 7th in the NHL in hits, 10th in fighting majors and 3rd in blocked shots. All stats that do not support your position.

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#12 DCC
November 26 2013, 08:50PM
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David S wrote:

Tippett would have walked away from this train wreck. The situation we're in is the result of (purposefully) trading away actual NHL'ers and replacing them with guys no other team would consider if they were serious about winning.

This is the back end of going into the tank to acquire high end draft picks. I have no doubt Katz (who authorized the tank job), Lowe and MacT fully anticipated what we're seeing right now.

As much as I hate to say it, it's part of "the process". This year is about identifying the core, stripping the rest and adding key players through trades and deadline acquisitions. I have no doubt we'll be quantifiably better next year. I also have no doubt one of our shining lights will be part of that transformation, being traded for that elusive D-man or forward.

Oilers management is lucky the fans have such poor short term memories. I very distinctly remember fans, probably the same ones, saying that LAST year was about identifying the core, getting rid of the rest and filling in holes with key players. This organization is a bad broken record.

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#13 hadenough
November 26 2013, 09:05PM
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Retsinnab5 wrote:

"Im my opinion, he can go because if hes not scoring big goals"

Have you watched the world juniors?

What does the world juniors have to do with the last 3 NHL seasons? His NHL contract is not given to him these days for what he did as a jr.

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#14 Jeetz
November 26 2013, 08:44PM
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Butters wrote:

You could write a thesis paper on why the Oilers suck, but it boils down to them being too small I guess. Better trade skill for a coke machine, that will solve all the problems. Me, I would try to get a better goalie and better defense, and I might not have hired a rookie NHL caoch. But then again I have never built a last place NHL team before

I think the answer is as easy as it is sad. At every level in management the oilers think they are smarter than everyone else. Listen to Kevin Low talk, he 'knows' everything about winning and hires a green GM to replace his last inept GM. THAT GM had it right to hire a mentor coach for Kruger but kicked that to the curb to hire a coach with no nhl experience ( brought in no mentor for him) THEN the new 'green' coach wanted to reinvent coaching in the nhl.

It wouldn't have mattered if every oiler came out guns blazing at the start of the season. They were doomed for the 1st 20 games. The season was lost before it started.

Sad

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#15 **
November 26 2013, 08:00PM
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Dallas Eakins might turn out to be a great NHL coach, but he shouldn't have had first crack at it here in Edmonton. It was painful enough to put up with 3 seasons of rookie players and rookie head coaches to be slapped in the face with yet another rookie head coach, who was a hot commodity, but it wasn't like he had won back to back titles in the AHL or anything like that. It is as if the Oilers have secretly agreed to be the NHL developing grounds for players. Once they are good to succeed, they move out. If things look sad now, wait until the last leg of the season when most of the games are against divisional rivals. The Oilers have already played half of their eastern games and only 9 against the western conference and look at where they are. I'm an optimist, hope dies last kind of guy, but it is hard to look at the facts and feel any good about the rest of this season for the Oil. Oil country is in for a really, really rough ride.

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#16 paulie
November 26 2013, 11:29PM
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@voom04

LOL, who are you speaking for? You don't speak for the fanbase bucko so get off the pulpit and have a good man night with Lowe. Six rings could really use your support.

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#17 Terran
November 26 2013, 07:43PM
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Keep RNH, Hall, Perron, and Belov. Everything else is up for grabs, for the right return.

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#19 Dave
November 26 2013, 10:36PM
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I really don't think any Oiler player has earned the right to be regarded as an untouchable.

They need to look at all offers.

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#20 Sam
November 26 2013, 10:57PM
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I think the Oilers will trade Eberle because he wear number 14 and Mactavish wants to retire that number, Eberle cant switch to 41 because Wil Acton is a longer term Oiler because his dad is an associate coach and he can give him the ice time he deserves, maybe Ferrance should give him the C too. It sure seems like Pee Wee hockey.

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#21 He Who Knows
November 27 2013, 12:02AM
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Oh god, the watered down sportsnet is now the behemoth of the hockey powers in Canada? Help us all.

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#22 They're $hittie
November 26 2013, 09:55PM
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Retsinnab5 wrote:

"Im my opinion, he can go because if hes not scoring big goals"

Have you watched the world juniors?

For the love of God oilers fans, the NHL isnt the world Juniors. Can we get past this.

Yes it was an awesome two moments but dominating the WJC as a draft +1 and draft +2 year does not equate to being an elite two way player in the NHL.

He is not our best goal scorer, he is not our best playmaker, he is not our best defensive minded top 6 forward, yet he has the highest contract and is on the position with the most depth. Add it up. If we want change unfortunately he is the one that has to go.

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#24 vetinari
November 26 2013, 08:02PM
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"That isn't MacTavish's fault, but it most certainly is his problem."

Best summary that I've seen regarding MacT's current situation.

It's really been a long vicious cycle-- the team performs badly so player value is low in any potential trade. Thus, when we finally get a GM willing to make moves, he can't unless he moves a core piece. But if the team was doing well, we wouldn't need to trade. And UFA's typically don't want to go to underperforming teams unless they are getting overpaid to do so.

I strongly suspect that one of the kids will be gone by mid-summer next year. I just hope that it's for the right pieces which can get us some wins. The Perron trade does give me some hope that MacT can actually win a trade and improve the team, but I suspect that no meaningful change can come without playing two or three big chips at the same time (such as this year's likely top 3 pick or one or two of the kids in one or more trades).

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#25 nick
November 26 2013, 09:28PM
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Butters wrote:

Give the Oilers Chicago's D and see what happens. I would bet discussions about redundancies in small skilled forwards would not be happening.

Wouldn't make a difference, the Oiler forwards don't work hard enough and they have no idea how to play defence.

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#26 Serious Gord
November 26 2013, 09:49PM
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MacT is already part of the problem.

He didn't dispense with the two extra where in the top six - gagner and hemsky - for some of the parts that this team needs. A buyout of hemsky and a trade of rather than signing of gagner leaves no room for the size, fierceness and defense that the team needs. In large part the problems MacT now faces are of his own making.

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#27 michael
November 26 2013, 07:45PM
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MacT must be given time to change whats wrong with this team For example.

Eager was given ample opportunity to return to form. He failed.

Jones. Turning into a tweener. Soft on the puck.

Jesse Joensuu. From what I see.Soft and not willing to initiate.

The defence. Do they hit anyone?

MacT's greatest enemy is time. Can this fanbase be patient enough with MacT to let him do the thinngs he needs to do to change the lineup. Or will they continue to call for heads to roll without a clue as to the why this team is broken.

I have bee a fan since inception. Not going anywhere and really I see the same things that need to be changed as a lot of other fans do. Its not going to happen overnight.We have to grit and bear it.

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#28 Gadzic
November 26 2013, 08:22PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Not referring to your article in specifically, just a general frustration with some commentators. I have also heard you and Gregor on 1260 mention changing the make-up of the top six. While this might be necessary down the road, our top six will never matter if we do not have a defence that can get the puck up to our forwards. Getting "grit" is not the issue, the issue is we do not have enough proven NHL players and continue to trade NHL players for potential (i.e smid). But I agree, until this is addressed we are just arranging the seats on the titanic, which at this point is already resting at the bottom of the ocean.

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#29 John
November 26 2013, 11:23PM
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The only thing worse than watching the oilers play is listening to the absolute garbage broadcast by the sportsnet crew, and now they got a 12 year extension. 6 rings should show he cares about the fans n help hire some decent announcers

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#30 Nimrod
November 27 2013, 03:06AM
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Intuitively, Eberle is the guy that has to go. He embodies the small one-way type player that Oilers have too many of, has a big contract and has put up good enough numbers to have a high trade value.

Hall and RNH are not going to be traded and Yakupov has the shot and a little bit of sandpaper to make him less redundant than Eberle.

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#31 Toro
November 27 2013, 04:11AM
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Playoffs outta the question this year... ya sure....but also next year!? That's unacceptable I can't take it anymore past this year!!

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#32 sikandar
November 27 2013, 02:10PM
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Brownlee, as you've mentioned, nothing you've said here is new (and with no disrespect, nor is it really worth repeating for the tenth time).

I'm wondering, with your years of experience, what do you think the delay has been from MacT's side? A lack of trading partners due to positioning? A recognition by other GMs that we're dealing from a position of weakness? And if you were running the team, who do you think is the piece that moves to get us that rounded winning team (or do you think it's multiple moves?).

An article with the above insight would be a welcome contribution rather than a rehash of a problem we've known about for what's been a very long time.

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#33 Team Hall
November 27 2013, 02:44PM
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I think that if we have to move one of the superkids, I would trade Gags first.

He is small, he gets pushed off the puck, he is not as offensively gifted as the others, and he has a replacement in waiting (Arco).

Gags for Errhoff?

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#34 Davr
November 26 2013, 08:01PM
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Not sure what kind of horse Sam Gagner is but I would suggest that he is a long shot. Please put Smitty out to pasture.

Dallas Eakins is not a "horse wisperer" either.

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#35 David S
November 26 2013, 08:25PM
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Richard wrote:

Imagine if Dave Tippett was the coach for this team for the last 5 years the player development would be much higher.

This has been a poorly coached team, the problem could be the coach could be the GM or Kevin Lowe.

People wonder why players like Hall are not on the Olympic team. No one has taught these players how to play a 200ft game. Lowe's philosophy has been run and gun.

If I were a top 1st rd player i would hope Oilers don't draft me.

Tippett would have walked away from this train wreck. The situation we're in is the result of (purposefully) trading away actual NHL'ers and replacing them with guys no other team would consider if they were serious about winning.

This is the back end of going into the tank to acquire high end draft picks. I have no doubt Katz (who authorized the tank job), Lowe and MacT fully anticipated what we're seeing right now.

As much as I hate to say it, it's part of "the process". This year is about identifying the core, stripping the rest and adding key players through trades and deadline acquisitions. I have no doubt we'll be quantifiably better next year. I also have no doubt one of our shining lights will be part of that transformation, being traded for that elusive D-man or forward.

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#36 Butters
November 26 2013, 08:58PM
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Jeetz wrote:

I think the answer is as easy as it is sad. At every level in management the oilers think they are smarter than everyone else. Listen to Kevin Low talk, he 'knows' everything about winning and hires a green GM to replace his last inept GM. THAT GM had it right to hire a mentor coach for Kruger but kicked that to the curb to hire a coach with no nhl experience ( brought in no mentor for him) THEN the new 'green' coach wanted to reinvent coaching in the nhl.

It wouldn't have mattered if every oiler came out guns blazing at the start of the season. They were doomed for the 1st 20 games. The season was lost before it started.

Sad

I agree, I think the coach is too green and it shows. And I hate to think they traded Smid because he didn't fit into the system that a rookie coach was trying to implement.

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#37 PaperDesigner
November 27 2013, 12:03AM
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The problem isn't too many of the same TYPE of player, the problem is too many impact players at the same position, forward.

Basically, this team is better, but still undermined by the fact that they don't have a number one defenceman. Petry might be the sort of player who's good enough to play on the top pairing if he's with a legitimate #1 defender, or at least a veteran top-pairing player, but he's not a #1 on his own.

Basically, ever single defenceman is playing higher in the batting order than they are capable of. Every. Single. One.

So yes, it might make sense to deal one of the key forwards for a defenceman. But if they do, it better be for a player of similar quality. If you are dealing Taylor Hall, you better be getting back the equivalent defenceman (like Subban or Ekman-Larsson, though I'm not suggesting those deals are likely). Under no circumstances can the Oilers afford to trade for an inferior table, even if he brings a "different element" to the table. A less effective player who plays physically is still a less effective player. This team can't afford to get worse

I do think this might be an eventuality, but the guy they should deal is Eberle. I don't see him as the elite offensive talent that Hall or Yakupov is, and we can't exactly afford to give away Nugent-Hopkins. He is probably established enough to get some strong value on the market.

I think what you do is you offer Eberle and the 1st for Ekman-Larsson, offer to take some unwanted salary back if necessary, and pray they're willing to do something that radical.

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#38 Rob...
November 27 2013, 08:43AM
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I can just imagine Katz sending MacT a text: "So, Dustin Penner has 18 points in 20 games. Interesting, isn't it?"

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#39 seanjohn
November 27 2013, 03:39AM
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voom04 wrote:

If ya all wanna get off the bus then get the #@!! off, more room for us.

the one eating their words will be you and Mact when he announces his trading of one of the players he, at this moment, believes he never will. eventually, he will come to the conclusion that he can't improve this team without trading one of the young thorobreds. the only question is will he waste next season living in this current state of delusion.

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#40 Ryan2
November 27 2013, 08:58AM
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Rod from Viking wrote:

What is concerning me is the lack of compete which was lip serviced would not happen, I am getting so tired of the 2 hour drive home after watching a game like the Chicago game and the many others like that the last 6 years. I am a Taylor Hall fan but he is playing like someone that knows this team is going no where fast and is tired of this losing culture. I think Mac T made a big mistake saying we are going to keep this core of small skilled players and add to it, the most unfortunate thing is when the do decide they need to trade one of these players they will be eating some of the contract to get it done.

They compete less this year than they did last year under Kruger - that much is evident. This was MacT's first big mistake. From what I can see, the team is worse away from the puck and is not willing to play as hard as they did last year.

If MacT were smart, he would have said Kruger has another year while he assesses the staff instead of throwing his perceived boy wonder coach into the fire. Sure, a GM wants to bring in his guy, but if it was clear to most of us that the Oilers were not a playoff team then it should have been to the team's "braintrust" as well. At that point, keeping Kruger on for another season was the safest bet - if the team did better than expected you looked like a genius GM, and if it floundered as expected you could pin it on the coach.

Now MacT has backed himself into the corner where his team does not appear to buy into what the coach is selling AND is not competing as hard as they did for the old one.

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#41 voom04
November 26 2013, 11:19PM
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Yee of little faith, i see where this is heading, and i for one still believe, maybe not this year, but throwing every one under the bus gets us know where ie: maybe we should bring back quinn or keenan( sarcasm). I really like what mact is and has done,i thought he was wrong about goin after schneider(not so much),he went after clarkson,he got belov, I took my potshots at lowe and i was wrong, its all good, and your all gonna eat your words.

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#42 Chainsawz
November 27 2013, 06:54AM
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voom04 wrote:

If ya all wanna get off the bus then get the #@!! off, more room for us.

If you're on the bus of blind faith in Lowe and co, you may be surprised it's driving right off a cliff.

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#43 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
November 27 2013, 07:03AM
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seanjohn wrote:

the one eating their words will be you and Mact when he announces his trading of one of the players he, at this moment, believes he never will. eventually, he will come to the conclusion that he can't improve this team without trading one of the young thorobreds. the only question is will he waste next season living in this current state of delusion.

i would be willing to wager MacT already knows they need to move one of the kids....

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#44 **
November 26 2013, 08:13PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

"Suggesting that the oilers top six could not win games if we had a capable defence backing them is crazy!"

Where in the item does it say the Oilers could not win with this group of forwards AND a capable defense?

Teams are playing defense all through the lineup these days (the best teams anyway).

Even if Mac T. brought Shea Webber and Ryan Sutter the Oil would still be out of the playoffs imo.

There's only so much ice the d men can cover. One of the biggest holes up front for me is the lack of a soild, physical two way center. Nuge has shown he has soild defensive fundamentals and he has enough size to fill up a bit in years to come as well as time to work on his faceoffs, but neither Arcobello nor Gagner fit the bill.

By the way, is it me or have the Oilers changed the shawarma defense and are going now more for a man to man?.

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#45 Butters
November 26 2013, 08:51PM
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Give the Oilers Chicago's D and see what happens. I would bet discussions about redundancies in small skilled forwards would not be happening.

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#46 voom04
November 26 2013, 11:23PM
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If ya all wanna get off the bus then get the #@!! off, more room for us.

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#49 SMOKEY
November 26 2013, 09:17PM
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hadenough wrote:

Of the top 3, Eberle can be dealt. Not a horrible contract and he has the ability to change games. Im my opinion, he can go because if hes not scoring big goals, hes absent. He'll never make a body check, block a shot, back check, or skate hard. He floats and has terrific hands. We need a buyer.

Troll much?

Sitting just outside top 30 in scoring and our leading scorer. Yep he sucks.

Avatar
#50 Wäx Män Riley
November 26 2013, 09:49PM
Trash it!
1
trashes
+1
9
props
Butters wrote:

You could write a thesis paper on why the Oilers suck, but it boils down to them being too small I guess. Better trade skill for a coke machine, that will solve all the problems. Me, I would try to get a better goalie and better defense, and I might not have hired a rookie NHL caoch. But then again I have never built a last place NHL team before

I haven't either, but I bet I could!

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