The Face of the Franchise?

Jonathan Willis
December 17 2013 08:44AM

This summer, the clear consensus in Edmonton seemed to be that Taylor Hall was the most important part of the team’s long-term core. The year before, Jordan Eberle’s 34-goal, 76-point season likely would have won him that honour.

But if we held a poll today I’m guessing that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be the name on the lips of most.

My View

I wasn’t a fan of drafting Nugent-Hopkins first overall. In a year where the top-four seemed closely bunched, Nugent-Hopkins offence seemed too dependent on the power play. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the player, but defenceman Adam Larsson – projected as a two-way workhorse and a guy I’d seen play very well at the World Juniors – felt like a safer choice and a better fit for team need.

But while the Oilers certainly wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a defenceman like Larsson, and while blueliners tend to take longer to round into form than forwards, the results so far are one-sided and not in my favour.

Nugent-Hopkins has certainly been the power play witch his junior numbers suggested he was, but he’s been far more than that. He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20, and suddenly all those junior comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk don’t seem so off, because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?

Nugent-Hopkins plays a defensive game that far exceeds that of men much his senior. Less than 150 games into his professional career, he’s got things figured out that Sam Gagner still struggles with 300 games later. Maybe that isn’t a fair comparison to Gagner, but where would the Oilers be if they had two centres that played defence that way? Well we’re at it, where would the team be if Eberle and Hall had the same commitment to a 200-foot game that Nugent-Hopkins does?

(And, for the comments section: don’t come back at me with “minus-nine.” There’s a sweet spot of ignorance between really watching the games and really understanding the numbers, and “minus-nine” is right in the middle of it. By eye, there’s no question as to Nugent-Hopkins’ defensive commitment, and by number that goal differential is easily traceable back to Nugent-Hopkins 0.881 on-ice save percentage – and before you ask, no that’s not his fault.)

I’ve been tracking scoring chances all year and have 34 of the 35 games marked. With Nugent-Hopkins on the ice at even-strength the Oilers out-chance the opposition 164-145 (53.1% of all chances are Oilers chances). With Nugent-Hopkins off the ice, the Oilers are out-chanced 257-308 (45.5% of all chances are Oilers chances). That isn’t all him, naturally; Nugent-Hopkins has played with good players all season. On the other hand, so has Sam Gagner and in easier circumstances and he’s lagging back at just under 50 percent. (Note: I've corrected the scoring chance numbers above after making a simple subtraction error in the initial post.)

In other words, my view has come a long way from the summer of 2011. I don’t think there’s a player more vital to the Oilers than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

A Side Point

The progression in the first paragraph – from Eberle to Hall to Nugent-Hopkins – isn’t exactly random, is it? Eberle, drafted in 2008, had his breakthrough campaign at the age of 21. Hall, drafted in 2010, did the same. Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t turn 21 until April, while Nail Yakupov doesn’t hit that threshold until next October.

It takes a while for even the best junior-age players to find their stride in the NHL. And it’s a nice reminder for a guy like Yakupov, who is having a miserable year (though his five-on-five on-ice percentages – 6.49 shooting, 0.869 save – aren’t helping), that it can pay to be patient.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:15PM
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Kenta wrote:

Yeah - RNH is the second coming of Pavel Datsyuk. LOL

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

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#52 nunyour
December 17 2013, 12:19PM
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Space Dad wrote:

Knowing just how good Hall and Nugent-Hopkins are now, the utter failure of the organization to surround them with strong veteran players is even more glaring. Consider Monahan in Calgary, Smith in Boston, and Nichushkin in Dallas. They're learning the complete game from their coaches, lessons that have been reinforced by the play and intensity of their linemates. In Edmonton, Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, AND Gagner have had to learn on their own - it should come as no surprise that the rebuilding phase of this organization has lasted far longer and has been far more painful a process than should have been necessary. Blame Tambellini, blame Lowe, blame Katz if you want. Right now its up to MacTavish and Eakins to clean up this mess, and I would say that so far (despite the team's record) they've done a pretty good job.

As JW pointed out, a veteran 2C in the same mould as Nugent-Hopkins would go a long way in that regard (sorry Samwise).

Totally agree,i feel the young guys have been thrown out to the wolves with no veteran help in the top six.

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#53 Smokey
December 17 2013, 12:24PM
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Zarny wrote:

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

The two comparisons were Joe Sakic and Pavel Datsyk. Hitch was the one who stated the Datsyk comparison, he's a pretty smart guy.

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#54 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:25PM
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oilerjed wrote:

Careful Zarny. A team like that could very well turn into the CanSucks 2.0. Good to very good defense but not enough goals to put them over the edge. Imagine if Van didnt have Lou(or Scnieds), their GA would be up 10% and with their low goal totals you could probably take away 10-15 wins a year.

I hate to break it to you but the Canucks are light years better than anything the Oilers current roster will ever become.

Hall, Nuge, Eberle and Yakupov are not going to score 140 pts a season and win every game 7-6.

Scoring goals isn't the problem. A core of Hall, Nuge, Yak or Eberle and Perron can score all the goals you need from small, skilled forwards.

What the Oilers lack is a D who can play against skilled forwards.

They also lack a top 6 F that can score the types of goals Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Yak or Perron can't.

They also need a G as good as Luongo or Schneider.

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#55 Mo Playoffs Mo Problems
December 17 2013, 12:26PM
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This may be a bit off topic, but all the RNH=Datsuk talk got me on a bit of a tangent: the Oilers are the NHL equivalent of the Russian 2010 Olympic hockey team. Good on paper, loaded with skill, but poorly balanced and underachieving.

How could a team with Datsuk, Malkin, Ovechkin, Semin, Kovalchuck, Radulov, Gonchar, Markov get outscored by anyone? Because winning NHL/Olympic hockey teams aren't built like all-star teams and you can't score when the puck is in your own end. Canada took the Russians to school by using their 200 ft players and elite defenders to win battles in the defensive zone and create turnovers. Of course Canada wasn't lacking finishers either, but I believe it was 2-way forwards like Bergeron, Toews, M. Richards, Morrow and shutdown D like Boyle, Pronger, Seabrook, Weber that made the difference in that tournament.

The aforementioned Canadian Olympians are all elite players and are hyperbolic examples of the types of NHLers Edmonton needs, but until the Oilers get the right mix of complementary pieces in place, the young elite talent will never live up to their potential.

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#56 David S
December 17 2013, 12:27PM
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Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

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#57 tileguy
December 17 2013, 12:29PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Not sure if this was meant to be funny or not but it sure made me chuckle.

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#58 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:32PM
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Dan the Man wrote:

If the save percentage is lower or higher than normal while a player is on the ice then chances are it will at some point revert back to normal values over an extended period of time.

Not really.

Your assumption is that the G is seeing the same type of shots regardless of who is on the ice.

Completely false.

When defensively responsible players are on the ice the G sees easier shots to save.

That's why G have higher SV% when guys like Datsyuk, Toews, Richards, Staal, Kesler etc are on the ice.

And that's why it's a relevant stat.

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#59 OilDieHard
December 17 2013, 12:34PM
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.....

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#60 joe
December 17 2013, 12:36PM
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Sccooduuu Dubby is my franchise softy player....

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#61 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:42PM
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David S wrote:

Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

Not likely.

Because he'll have the same holes in his defensive game and RNH will likely get close to 80 pts.

So what does Gagner bring that RNH doesn't?

The answer is nothing. Gagner is the exact same type of player as RNH except he's not as good offensively and has more defensive liabilities. Both are garbage at FO.

One of the most successful lines in Oiler history is Smyth-Weight-Guerin. That line is better than 3 Smyths, 3 Weights or 3 Guerin's because they complimented each other. None of the top 6 F compliment each other.

You also leave out the fact that if Gagner ended up in Mtl next year another player comes back to Edm in return and in all likelyhood that player would fill a role Gagner could never hope to fill.

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#62 Dan the Man
December 17 2013, 12:59PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not really.

Your assumption is that the G is seeing the same type of shots regardless of who is on the ice.

Completely false.

When defensively responsible players are on the ice the G sees easier shots to save.

That's why G have higher SV% when guys like Datsyuk, Toews, Richards, Staal, Kesler etc are on the ice.

And that's why it's a relevant stat.

I agree it is a relevant stat, that is my point. The assumption is that Yakupov's on ice save percentage of .869 will improve regardless of his individual play because .869 is a historically low number. My assumption has nothing to do with shot quality it has to do with statistically poor goaltending that is not likely to stay that poor.

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#63 MAC962
December 17 2013, 12:59PM
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You can build a franchise around Hall or Nuge, Eberle god love him, you cannot - Same with Yak - doesnt make them lesser players - They are just do not have the intangibles that Hall and Nuge have.

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#64 **
December 17 2013, 01:00PM
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Nuge is rarely out of position on defence, he rarely makes stupid mistakes like getting out of the way of a shot or leaving a man uncovered or giving up the puck on a tape to tape pass to an opposing player. Plus/minus to me is a very flawed stat because all it counts is if the player was on the ice or not during a goal, and it doesn't even count power play time.

Gagner on the other hand is not going to improve much more than he already has. I have always thought he would be a much better winger than he is a center

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#65 Tikkanese
December 17 2013, 01:04PM
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The face has been since he was drafted and still is, Taylor Hall.

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#66 Dan the Man
December 17 2013, 01:07PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not really.

Your assumption is that the G is seeing the same type of shots regardless of who is on the ice.

Completely false.

When defensively responsible players are on the ice the G sees easier shots to save.

That's why G have higher SV% when guys like Datsyuk, Toews, Richards, Staal, Kesler etc are on the ice.

And that's why it's a relevant stat.

Toews on ice save percentage is .893 and Andrew Shaw's is .935. I guess that means that Toews is worse defensively than Shaw.

Datsyuk's on ice save percentage is .909 and Justin Abdelkader's is .933. I guess that means that Datsyuk is worse defensively than Abdelkader.

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#69 Lochenzo
December 17 2013, 01:19PM
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One thing I do have to say about Sam Gagner. Whenever he's been in a slump in the past, he'd get into a fight and then put together a good string of games. That option is off the table for him this year.

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#70 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 01:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That sound you hear is an airplane.

Yeah.

I am going to suggest 'freezing the picture and counting stuff' is more suited for you than 'witty repartee'..

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#71 **
December 17 2013, 01:27PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually, that link above shows that players have very minimal ability to control their on-ice save percentage over the long term, at least at the NHL level.

I think there's actually a little more ability than we see in the study done there, but it's lost in a bunch of other factors - such as quality of competition.

A big problem with the on ice sv% is that there isn't continuity on net to correctly make predictions. A player will not have the same goalie on net across his career, let alone in one season. The Oilers alone have had 4 goalies on net in just 35 games. It is impossible to use the sv% as an accurate predictor of defensive ability because the conditions change every time the goalie changes. To me it is just as flawed as the plus minus.

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#72 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:30PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Who is your choice for face of the franchise?

Props for Hall

Trash for Nuge

It's the Gretzky Messier question....... albeit on a lesser talent scale.

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#73 MessyEH!
December 17 2013, 01:36PM
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I am leaning towards Perron as the face of the Franchise. If the Fab 5 played with as much sand as Perron we'd be a tough team to play against. Perron is what we wanted MPS to turn into.

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#74 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:43PM
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David S wrote:

Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

Montreal has already been there done that....his name was Scott Gomez....they won't make that mistake again any time soon.

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#75 rob
December 17 2013, 01:47PM
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Hall is the franchise!the teams goes with him

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#77 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:53PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

I'm confused......is Taylor Hall the dishwasher or the shower head.....assuming of course that Sam Gagner is the toilet.

This just in ......the data has been analyzed ..... The numbers have been crunched....The results establish...the Oilers are the poop.....and they are spinning clockwise.....somebody call the plumber!

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#78 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:07PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Seriously though......it's not a bad analogy.......what the stats guys need to do is either better explain the limitations of the individual stat...or at least reference the correlation of things like....who designed the plumbing layout....and was it properly designed....are we using the right hardware for the particular application.....what about the quality of the sealants and glue....is the pressure system the right size....if one or more of the faucets is damaged what affect does that have on the other fixtures or the system as a whole....if there's a guy hammering away at one of the faucets is there anybody around to step in and stop him.....why is it that occasionally I get hot water and sometimes just cold water.....but most of the time it's just stinky luke warm water.....if my plumbing isn't working after 8 years of messing around....should I just keep swapping out the hardware...or should I look at the design and maybe rip the whole thing out and start from scratch.

Edit: Damn....I should have bought a Weber....uh...I mean Kohler.....hmmmm I wonder if anyone would trade me a Kohler faucet for three Delta faucets.

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#79 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:10PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Plumbing fixtures, furniture, and stereo speakers are like hockey players in one way.....the heavier they are the better the quality.....big and skilled beats small and skilled.

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#80 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, if the guy who loudly proclaims 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS AND THAT MAKES IT STUPID' over and over again doesn't like the comment that's awfully damning, isn't it?

I like your compete level....your retorts are always well thought out and proportional. Cool under pressure.

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#81 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:17PM
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rob wrote:

Hall is the franchise!the teams goes with him

So what you're saying is.....to Hall with this franchise!

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#82 LOIL99
December 17 2013, 02:24PM
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All of you panicked people please read the following again...

"He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20........because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?"

Our core is average age of 21. Most kids drafted aren't even in the NHL yet at 21. These guys are going to be unreal in 3-5 years. NHL prime doesn't kick in until around 24-26.

BE PATIENT WITH THEM.

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#83 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 17 2013, 02:26PM
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this is like winning the prettiest of the ugly face contest in a way. Would you want to be the face of a loser?

I say Hall and due to the fact that he finished 3rd (but kinda 2nd) in all-star balloting most people would look at him as the face. add to it he is the first number one taken in the infinibuild. Outside of the fan base no one cares who the face of a cellar dwellar is anyway.

Sorry JW but you missed it again. Good article tho

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#84 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 17 2013, 02:28PM
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Zarny wrote:

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

I agree if you change comparable to "Potentionable" meaning to have similar skill set but has not developed there yet

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#85 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:41PM
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LOIL99 wrote:

All of you panicked people please read the following again...

"He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20........because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?"

Our core is average age of 21. Most kids drafted aren't even in the NHL yet at 21. These guys are going to be unreal in 3-5 years. NHL prime doesn't kick in until around 24-26.

BE PATIENT WITH THEM.

Good plan.......so hears what we'll do......you buy the seasons tickets until 2017 then I'll take take them over from you then....deal?

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#86 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 02:55PM
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It's great that Hall and RNH are viewed as the faces of the franchise, but how about we grab a couple guys that can get into other franchises faces?

Perron and Ference aside of course.

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#87 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 03:02PM
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nunyour wrote:

Totally agree,i feel the young guys have been thrown out to the wolves with no veteran help in the top six.

So two years ago everybody bitched that the veterans still lead the team and the youth was not being given their opportunities to take the reins under Renney. We shed all the veterans and now the bitching because the youth has been thrown to the wolves with no veteran help?

Huh?

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#88 Oiler Al
December 17 2013, 03:05PM
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Puck JammeR! wrote:

So what's the alternative? Bashing your head against the wall over and over again with the same group of players? Or are you one of those "Petry, Omark & Marincin for elite NHL talent" guys?

These guys are very young, and need good coaching to make them complete players.Its not impossible. [recall when Wings had Federof switched to play defense so he would up his defensive game].

Guys like Petry, Omark and Marincin, will bring you even less than the Fab five, I think you and I both know this.

My point is player development.Its not like you are taking some 4 th liner and tyring to make him an elite line one player.

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#89 nunyour
December 17 2013, 03:32PM
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2004Z06 wrote:

So two years ago everybody bitched that the veterans still lead the team and the youth was not being given their opportunities to take the reins under Renney. We shed all the veterans and now the bitching because the youth has been thrown to the wolves with no veteran help?

Huh?

Which veterans did they get rid of that were capable of playing in the top two lines?

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#90 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 03:38PM
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nunyour wrote:

Which veterans did they get rid of that were capable of playing in the top two lines?

Linus Omark*.

*sarcasm

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#91 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 03:40PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Linus Omark*.

*sarcasm

Don't forget Shawn Horcoff....

also sarcasm

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#92 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 03:45PM
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I used to look at teams like the Islanders and the Atlanta Thrashers and think....they're just brutal teams....I never realized just how complicated being a perpetual cellar dweller actually is.

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#93 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 03:47PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Linus Omark*.

*sarcasm

No one said anything about capability.

Sorry....that was for Nunyour

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#94 nunyour
December 17 2013, 03:57PM
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2004Z06 wrote:

No one said anything about capability.

Sorry....that was for Nunyour

You don't look to good.lol

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#95 David S
December 17 2013, 03:59PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not likely.

Because he'll have the same holes in his defensive game and RNH will likely get close to 80 pts.

So what does Gagner bring that RNH doesn't?

The answer is nothing. Gagner is the exact same type of player as RNH except he's not as good offensively and has more defensive liabilities. Both are garbage at FO.

One of the most successful lines in Oiler history is Smyth-Weight-Guerin. That line is better than 3 Smyths, 3 Weights or 3 Guerin's because they complimented each other. None of the top 6 F compliment each other.

You also leave out the fact that if Gagner ended up in Mtl next year another player comes back to Edm in return and in all likelyhood that player would fill a role Gagner could never hope to fill.

Just curious. How can a guy who's "garbage at FO" go over 80% in the dot against a heavy, FO proficient team like Anaheim?

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#96 Zarny
December 17 2013, 05:03PM
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LOIL99 wrote:

All of you panicked people please read the following again...

"He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20........because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?"

Our core is average age of 21. Most kids drafted aren't even in the NHL yet at 21. These guys are going to be unreal in 3-5 years. NHL prime doesn't kick in until around 24-26.

BE PATIENT WITH THEM.

True story.

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#97 Zarny
December 17 2013, 05:07PM
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David S wrote:

Just curious. How can a guy who's "garbage at FO" go over 80% in the dot against a heavy, FO proficient team like Anaheim?

LMAO...even the sun shines on a dogs a** some days.

Gagner's FO% has never been over 50% over the course of any season. His career average is 44.7%.

Sorry, but that is garbage.

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#98 builtinswagger
December 17 2013, 06:08PM
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Over the Summer I had Hall, Hopkins, Schultz, Yak and Nurse all as untouchable... after the start the Oil have had it's down to just Hopkins and Nurse so long as the return is the physical two-way winger or the number one defenceman we so desperately need!

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#99 K_Mart
December 17 2013, 07:10PM
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Nuge HAS TO FIGURE OUT FACE OFFS ASAP.

I'm happy if he puts up 60pts, kills penalties, out chances the opposition, but all those numbers will still suffer if by the end of the year he's had to chase for possession after 61% of every face off.

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#100 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 08:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, if the guy who loudly proclaims 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS AND THAT MAKES IT STUPID' over and over again doesn't like the comment that's awfully damning, isn't it?

Actually I think I demonstrated that I DO understand it.

And I still think it's stupid.

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