Conscience

Jonathan Willis
December 08 2013 12:21AM

 

It seems an odd thing to be harping on defensive conscience after a game where the Oilers held Calgary to a single goal through regulation. Yet, here I am, doing just that. 

The guy in the picture is Mark Arcobello. I remember, early into his AHL career, watching him play the wing and thinking he was stuck there because he didn't have the defensive ability to play at his more natural centre position. He was just an itty bitty forward with good but not spectacular offensive skills, and his tendency to cheat for offence was going to be the death of him as an NHL'er. 

Somewhere in the years since then, Arcobello hasn't just stopped going all in for points. He's decided to do all the little things right. Pound-for-pound, there isn't a more physical player on the team; every time it makes sense to finish a hit he does. The next physical battle he walks away from in the NHL will be the first one. He wins faceoffs.

And when the puck starts going the wrong way he's on his horse and chasing after it. 

If Only...

Sam Gagner's a popular whipping boy these days, and there is no mystery as to why, Two terrible plays with the puck tonight demonstrated a big part of the problem: his beautiful breakout pass on the power play to set-up a Flames short-handed chance in the first, a lazy pass into traffic in the second that might have been a goal against had the puck not been lucky enough to find Blair Jones. 

But it's more than that, and while Gagner's a favourite target there's a malaise that seems to afflict almost the entire lineup, including the stars. Jordan Eberle impressed as a rookie with his attention to detail; somewhere in the time since he's gotten negligent in his own end and prone to making bizarre choices with the puck in the defensive zone. Justin Schultz has been cheating for goals since day one and seems unable to break the habit. Even Taylor Hall, a guy who drives results, seems far more engaged from the offensive blue line in than he does elsewhere on the ice and has a nasty habit of flying the defensive zone well before the Oilers have a clear exit route for the puck.

It's hard to watch a guy like Arcobello on one shift - a guy who probably isn't going to be a pivotal part of the Oilers future - and then watch one of the young stars on the next and know that the former is playing a 200-foot game and the latter are looking to fly the zone at the first opportunity. 

Maybe it's the losing, maybe it's the fact that every coach the team has had has preached a different brand of hockey and the none of them lasted long enough to have a permanent effect, or maybe it's something else entirely.

But Dallas Eakins has to figure out a way to fix it. He's taken a hard line with the depth guys, and healthy-scratched second-tier people like Jeff Petry and Anton Belov and even the less-established Nail Yakupov. But the guys at the top end of the lineup keep getting fed primo ice-time, even when other options exist, and they're the ones that really need to get the message if the Oilers are ever going to contend in something other than the draft lottery.  

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 Redwolf
December 08 2013, 12:32PM
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Hockey Problems wrote:

Eberle, Gagner, and J Schultz gotta go. They are a bunch of muffin sissies that couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag. Can they even play defense? I don't think I have ever seen any of these three win a puck battle on the boards. Get rid of them ASAP as this team is going nowhere with this trio taking up ice time.

Trade all three for Shea Weber

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#52 Rama Lama
December 08 2013, 12:42PM
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I just figured this out.......talk about delayed intelligence? When Mr. Fitness is talking about accountability he means only the bottom two lines.

Now I understand Mr. Hair better. Hall, Ebs, JSchultz, RNH, Gagner, Ference can all make stupid mistakes and NOT be held accountable, the rest will see the pressbox so they can "reset"!

Now it's time for Mr. Bangs to "reset" the rest of the crew. Once we reset everyone we can start winning more than one game in a row.

Hey maybe we can reset the management team?

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#53 **
December 08 2013, 12:58PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Gagner get this contract because he out played Eberle last year at a harder position. If Eberle wasnt given the Horcoff contract because of his fairy tale World Juniors gagner wouldnt have got this.

Problem number one with eberele contract is the Gagner contract.

Number two is the term on this contract.

Number three is yes this contract will handcuff the oilers before we are competitive.

Due to miss management both have to go.

But for the love of God Arcobello is not the replacement.

I think the team needs a player like Arcobello at 2c but bigger, much bigger. Arcobello is smart and plays physical, but it will be hard for him to play night in and night out against the behemoths on our division, season after season. I think the best spot for him would be on the wing on the third line with Boyd Gordon and Ryan Smyth. That would be a massively effective shut down line that can win face offs and give solid secondary scoring. Not to mention all 3 of those guys can play center and you guarantee depth at the position. Arco would be readily available to step into the top six in case of injuries.

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#54 kale
December 08 2013, 01:01PM
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Zarny wrote:

Arcobello has been a nice surprise so far this year.

For many players, longevity in the NHL is contingent on knowing and accepting what type of NHL player they are.

I don't think it's a given Arco isn't in the Oiler's future plans.

Gagner only received a 3 yr deal because they aren't sold on him as a 2nd line C. His physical stature and style of play do not compliment Nuge well and the NMC doesn't kick in until next year.

Gagner is on probation and I think he knows it. If his play doesn't improve I expect MacT moves him.

That could open a spot for Arco. Or he could simply play his way into a trade.

I dont agree with this. When MacT gave Gagner his extension he said he would have gave Gagner a longer term if he wanted it. This is one of the reasons that, despite Perron and Gordon, MacT does not get a passing grade.

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#55 **
December 08 2013, 01:05PM
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non descript wrote:

there are those that suscribe to the theory that this disaster of a "team" is tambos mess and mact hasnt been on the job long enough to be faulted for where the club is in the standings and the generally brutal product we as oiler fans have the privelidge of calling our hometown team. i am not one of those people. mact made at least two critical mistakes this summer, one being not bringing mark fistric back to maintain some physicality on the blueline(grebeschkov?) and the other was not trading the rights to gagner. the only time his value would have been higher was if tambo would have picked up the phone imediately after the eight point night. i am not going to speculate as to what the return might have been, but even a center with far less offence who plays the position properly would have been fine. in my mind, the only question for mact should be this phantam no movement, exactly what promises were made and how he sees his credibility moving ahead. at some point they need to start building a hockey team. dont they?

there has been plenty of opportunity to send gagner away but someone in the Organization is going out of their way to keep him here. Why? that is mind boggling question.

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#56 BillHK
December 08 2013, 01:15PM
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Gagner should have taken another week off to let his injury recover fully, and then played a game or 2 in OKC to get back up to speed. Arco was playing well and should not have been a healthy scratch. It would probably have been a good time to move Gagner to the wing seeing that he is weak on the dot.

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#57 **
December 08 2013, 01:18PM
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srbuhr wrote:

I totally agree Gagner has been playing poorly since he came back from injury with no consequences. Had the flames not had a bad turnover right before the tieing goal, Gagner ridiculous spin o Rama backhand would have been noticed for its foolishness. Sometimes you get lucky.

That being said beyond Arco and Smyth, the entire oiler team played a lazy indifferent game. Hall turned the puck over every shift and was pretty much responsible for the first unit power play woes. Take off the rose glasses and watch this young guy turn the puck over and over. Someone has to apply some tough love and teach him how to manage the puck or his career will be all "coulda, shoulda if he woulda". As poorly as Eberle played last night, I would move Hall far sooner for a first line centre or top two D.

Finally the coaching is painful to watch. Yak gets benched again because he is playing with turnover machines but it's all his fault. We end period on power play where the second unit (without Hall/Gagner) hit two posts with forty seconds of zone time but we start the first unit next period and they can't even gain zone. To ensure neither unit works, Eakins replaces Yak with Hall on Nuges pp unit and thus kills it as well. The only reason we were even in this game is the flames are really really bad. Unfortunately we are worse.

Good grief!

I agree with most of what you said except that only Arco and Smyth were game. Perron is the best player on this team. He shows up almost every night at both ends of the rink.

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#58 oilers2k10
December 08 2013, 01:20PM
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I know Gagner drops the gloves once, maybe twice a season and takes on anyone..but does that make him a character player? Not when your floating up and down the ice the other 99 percent of the time..

He sucks on the draw, can't help kill penalties..slow and unlike most small players he isn't really quick..doesn't hit much..

He's got good skill with the puck, shoots ok, passes nice..but is pretty much a .5 ppg player..at least at this point in his career.

It's funny how Arcobello in his rookie season does all the little things we always hoped Gagner would do yet in his 7th season Gagner still hasn't figured it out but he's the one with the big contract.

Not saying Arcobello deserves a Gagner contract yet..he's gotta keep it up for at least another two years before he can get that kind of money but for now Gagner's been shown what this team expects of him if he wants to stay on it.

I wouldn't trade Arcobello, not with the way Gagner's been inconsistent over his career...Gagner's still recovering from his injury but is there really a higher upside with this player than what he's shown so far? Maybe make a trade, Gagner and Petry for solid top nine winger. Maybe keep him for another few months, either way don't get rid of Arcobello, his play is what this team needs more of.

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#59 **
December 08 2013, 01:24PM
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Bushed wrote:

JW:

Your post is dead on--could not agree more!

Now the tougher question. After "Glide" Gagner is gone, how to fix the bigger problems?

The popular opinion seems to be clean house and start over. Katz has the money to do whatever he wants with this mess, but is the will there?

Chicago went out and found the best and most experienced hockey mind they could identify, and gave Scotty Bowman a blank cheque and job description to fill out however he wanted. He got his son on board, added lots of zeros to the cheque, and the Hawks have not looked back.

There is no cap on GM, coaching, or scouting salaries, is there? So why not go out and "offer sheet" the best talents out there and get this show back on the road?

Too simple? Katz doesn't understand competitive advantage in business (doubtful)? Thoughts?

Katz is definitively not a stupid man. I don't think you can turn a small chain of pharmacies into a billion dollar business empire without having smarts and ability to recognize talent and opportunity.

I think right now Katz has his hands full on the business side of the Oilers, with the rogers tv negotiations and the Arena (city council is having another sitdown with the Katz group in January to see where they are in terms of the budget for the place, and if it is more than 610 million, I think, it goes back to voting, so it is not quite a done deal yet). I hope that once the Arena is 100% ready to go, then he will have some time to evaluate the on ice product and make some decisions.

This is my hope anyways.

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#60 mlcselli
December 08 2013, 01:35PM
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Gagner sucks at centre and it pisses me off to see him in that position, when there is another player better suited for that spot. I absolutely believe the reason we see him at centre, is because that is what his contract (one of the worst) stipulates. Being arrogant, Gagner won't think Arco is better on the dot and he should be on the wing. God knows, MacT and Eakins know, Gagner is the wrong guy for the job.

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#61 CMG30
December 08 2013, 01:46PM
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You can't bench a whole team at once but I get the feeling that Eakins is working up to it.

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#62 **
December 08 2013, 01:46PM
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2004Z06 wrote:

3 turnovers by Hall in two shifts last night. Toe drag that Brodie broke up, two passes on the tape to Giardano on the PP no less. He scores the game tying goal.....and it is all overlooked as a result!

I have harped on Gagners game for years and took the heat from Gagner lovers here. Seems a few more fans are starting to see the light!

For all of Pat Quinn's faults during his time here, he was bang on on Gagner's deficiencies.

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#63 Oilers Coffey
December 08 2013, 01:52PM
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When is the Perron deal expiring? He's been the best player by far and most consistent. He's out played the big $$$ of Gagner and Eberle. I'm afraid to lose Perron for nothing cuz this organization has already paid the big bucks.

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#64 Rod from Viking
December 08 2013, 01:54PM
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Saytalk wrote:

Can the Oilers use a compliance buyout on Gagner's contract? I didn't think you could use one on a contract signed after the current collective agreement came into effect, only before. I mean sure, management should try to trade him first, but I wouldn't expect much (if anything) in return.

They would either have to trade him for another bad contract player that would have either size or a decent d-man, or trade him and keep part of his contract on the Oiler books.

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#65 **
December 08 2013, 02:05PM
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Oilers Coffey wrote:

When is the Perron deal expiring? He's been the best player by far and most consistent. He's out played the big $$$ of Gagner and Eberle. I'm afraid to lose Perron for nothing cuz this organization has already paid the big bucks.

$3,812,500 for 3 seasons including this one. He is a steal of a deal and a great bargain for the next 2 seasons. If he keeps playing like that, he is going to want (and deserve) at least as much as the six million dollar men. The good thing is that Hemsky and Gagner's contract will be done by then (assuming Gagner doesn't get a 10 year 10 million/year contract after the fact) and the salary cap will be going up. By then the Oilers will hopefully at least one legit top 2 d man with a similar salary and Yakupov will probably be somewhere else (not that I want that, it's just my feeling given how this organization has handled him.)

If MacTavish keeps giving out big contracts like candy, come crunch time he won't have any money to pay the players who have really earned it and the Oilers will go into another cycle of sucking until 2020.

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#66 **
December 08 2013, 02:24PM
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except for Ference, all the d men's contracts are up at the end of this season, so are all toe goalies. This will be the perfect opportunity to build a strong back end. This will be the most important time for MacTavish and the Oilers if they want to make a comptetitive team.

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#67 **
December 08 2013, 02:42PM
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sorry, double post

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#68 Oilers Coffey
December 08 2013, 02:52PM
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@**

I'm sad to say this too, but I'm sure Yakupov is going to move along to a place where he has an opportunity. Eakins still refuses to use him effectively.

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#69 D-Unit
December 08 2013, 03:13PM
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Oilers Coffey wrote:

I'm sad to say this too, but I'm sure Yakupov is going to move along to a place where he has an opportunity. Eakins still refuses to use him effectively.

The problem with Yak, and the Olilers is they don't have anywhere to put him that would protect him, but NONE of the wonder kid "talent" were given protection as rookies or second year players. Yak is -17, worst in the NHL, and most games has not shown much desire to play defensively. But that is the same as the rest of the "talent". IMO Yak is getting the treatment Hall, Crazy Eyes, and RNH should have been given in their first couple seasons. If they were, they might have an idea what they should be doing when the puck is on their side of the red line. Seems unfair for Yak, when he can say, no one else has to be responsible, why should I? If Yak can hang in and learn the defensive end, he will be better than the other "talent" by miles.

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#70 Westcoastoil
December 08 2013, 03:23PM
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Oilers Coffey wrote:

I'm sad to say this too, but I'm sure Yakupov is going to move along to a place where he has an opportunity. Eakins still refuses to use him effectively.

And Yakupov still refuses so much as run into anybody. Their refusal to throw a hit last night was painful to watch. Arco is proof anyone can play the body - you don't need to run a guy through the glass, just finish your bloody check.

Hall scrum with Giordano summed it up. They don't have to fight but the other teams know that everyone, except Perron, in the Oilers top 6 will always back down first. Perron (I think) to a late whack at a loose puck in the 2nd - 4 Flames surrounded him & not one Oiler tried to intervene. It's not a size issue, it's an attitude that's missing.

Since Hall is the alpha dog amongst the skill young guys until he starts to do it the team will not. 3 years of soft play by the forwards says so.

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#71 Dog Train
December 08 2013, 06:33PM
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I completely agree Willis. The Oilers will never be competitive until their top players play a more complete game. The best teams' best players play well at both ends of the ice. The Oilers are constantly cheating for offense and some nights it works, most nights it does not.

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#72 Slyers
December 08 2013, 06:38PM
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** wrote:

there has been plenty of opportunity to send gagner away but someone in the Organization is going out of their way to keep him here. Why? that is mind boggling question.

So true he must have pics of someone. He has been getting away with terrible play for years, his line mates get benched and even traded yet he is still here. Thanks Jonathan for this Article now if someone would have the balls in the press to say this talk of accountability is a bunch of sh"'t

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#73 Chainsawz
December 08 2013, 09:20PM
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Westcoastoil wrote:

And Yakupov still refuses so much as run into anybody. Their refusal to throw a hit last night was painful to watch. Arco is proof anyone can play the body - you don't need to run a guy through the glass, just finish your bloody check.

Hall scrum with Giordano summed it up. They don't have to fight but the other teams know that everyone, except Perron, in the Oilers top 6 will always back down first. Perron (I think) to a late whack at a loose puck in the 2nd - 4 Flames surrounded him & not one Oiler tried to intervene. It's not a size issue, it's an attitude that's missing.

Since Hall is the alpha dog amongst the skill young guys until he starts to do it the team will not. 3 years of soft play by the forwards says so.

The assertion that Yakupov refuses to throw a hit is a false one. He crushed Landeskog the other night. He finishes checks when he's engaged in the game.

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#74 Al Low
December 08 2013, 09:52PM
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What a great piece to read. This is completely on point. As much as we've focused on coaching and management being a disaster (which it is), the Oil should not be this bad. It's great that the light is being shined on the so-called big guns and their flawed defensive games.

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#75 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 09 2013, 10:06AM
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hmm management does not have to be accountable.

Top Players don't have to be accountable.

Heard somewhere once that attitude reflects leadership.

Well Lowe is probably the best Hockey man in the game and MacT is the best new GM in the world (just cause no other NHL team wanted him means nothing) so Leadership is good.

Must be that the league is conspiring to keep the Oilers down. Ya thats the ticket, a big ole plot to keep the Oil down.

JW why arent you writing about that.

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