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.  

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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 **
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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#52 ubermiguel
December 08 2013, 11:17AM
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hallsyoilerforever5 wrote:

I remember when the blues struggled, until Hitchcock got brought in. Because of it, they managed to turn their season around. Hitchcock stressed defence over offence. Even if he's a coach with experience, the fact that the blues players listened and bought in right away speaks volume. I'm sure Eakins stresses the same, but the fact that the oiler young guns stubbornly refuse to makes me wonder. What is it going to take for this team, especially the young guns to play two way hockey and proper defence without the puck? It's excruciating to watch when Arco is such a smart player willing to backcheck and hit when he's the smallest guy on the team. Why doesn't anybody else follow?

Perron talked about Hitch's influence post-game. Is it any coincidence all the guys on the team with half a clue on how to play a 200 ft game and hustle a bit recently came from outside the organization? (Perron, Arco, Ferrence, Gordon). Can't blame Eakins though; It takes years to develop these lousy habits.

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#53 nunyour
December 08 2013, 11:21AM
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Hockeycrazed,you are bang on.6 mill a year puts hall and ebs in the top end of the league which they have not eaned.gags and hemsky at 5 mil,no wonder you cant trade them,an unproven goalie starting goalie money,it all leads to failure.

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#54 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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#55 hall the time
December 08 2013, 09:41AM
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Classic dubnyk, the posts didnt save him today, his corrners are still the placefor the opposition to score gaols, you would think if he's that tall it wouldnt be a problem, but it is.

His rebounds are a free for all, its like he closes his eyes and dreams he just made the coolest save ever, next thing you know the rebound is in the back of the net.

We need him to bail us out sometime and that doent happen.

Also the Oilers need to ues the goalies that they have, in the right way, we should be fine if theres healthy competion between them.

I thought Dubnyk mite have steped up to be our number one this year but he's far from being any teams NHL numder one goalie.

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#56 Rod from Viking
December 08 2013, 09:59AM
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Johnathan I agree with you 100%, do you know the Oiler's record against road teams that played the night before? I bet it is below .300 or sure seems that way. Gagner never was a top 10 pick even though his development was handled poorly. He played with Patrick Kane in Juniors and has the pedigree in his last name and those were the reasons he was drafted there, he is slow, poor on face-offs and a defensive liability, the broken jaw was brutal but he has played like this for years but now without the grit, Sam along with Smid have been a part of this ridiculous non play off run and have the loser mentality and need to go, if Mac T can find a trade for Gagner he need to do it. I hate to say it but P.J. Stock was right, Calgary have better veterans than the Oilers to show the way.

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#57 **
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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#58 They're $hittie
December 08 2013, 06:33AM
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@Harry

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.

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#59 Ben
December 08 2013, 11:54AM
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Eberle & our first rounder this year for a number one stud defensemen. Hemsky & gagner for a big strong 2 way second liner- lucic type player. Push J Schultz down the depth chart until he starts to get it. The reason he and everyone of our D are having issues is because they're all too high on the depth chart. Bringing in that number one guy would make the whole D core better and the whole team better i can't preach this enough. I love eberle just as much as the next guy but he has great trade value and we need a #1 defence men yesterday. I have no issue bumping arco to second line centre, I love his game. Gagner has had 7 years and still doesn't get it so its time to part ways, him and hemsky will do better with a change of scenery so lets give it to them. Sincerely, Another die hard oilers fan who can't stand the losing

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#60 Woogie63
December 08 2013, 11:55AM
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The team is making progress, but it is soooo slow. Forget they have been bad for basically a decade (save one good play-off). THIS SEASON is NOT looking like the trajectory of the team is building to be a consistent play-off team.

if you can only vote one way;

A) Yes, Eakins can coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.

or

B) No, Eakins can't coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.

I vote NO .... history is the best predictor of the future.

Another year of learning to accept losing, cementing more bad habits, listening to a coach but not hearing a coach should not be an option.

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#61 **
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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#62 **
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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#63 Oiler Al
December 08 2013, 09:58AM
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@srbuhr

Ring ring ring.... Hey Dallas, you might recognize the muffled voice, but its me Kevin, I am hiding out in Binladens hold cave, while the heat is on,,, but I want to make one thing clear.... you better play those $6 million babies at top minutes, and don't bench them if they cant play an ounce of defence... you don't want to make I and MacT, look like the idiots that we are.Also take good care of my boys, Glider and [ # 83 % 89]Offisder.

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#64 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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#65 **
December 08 2013, 12:29PM
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Woogie63 wrote:

The team is making progress, but it is soooo slow. Forget they have been bad for basically a decade (save one good play-off). THIS SEASON is NOT looking like the trajectory of the team is building to be a consistent play-off team.

if you can only vote one way;

A) Yes, Eakins can coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.

or

B) No, Eakins can't coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.

I vote NO .... history is the best predictor of the future.

Another year of learning to accept losing, cementing more bad habits, listening to a coach but not hearing a coach should not be an option.

the team is not making progress. right now they are set to finish lower in the standings than they did last season.

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#66 hockeycrazed
December 08 2013, 10:57AM
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First off, I am not defending anybody..... But, I could see why Eakins hands are tied, concerning playing his top five talents, now that they are here to stay, he has to let them have as much ice time as he could, and hope that they would develop into the players they were drafted for. The hand were dealt to him by decisions made before his time!!! obviously, ( hind sight tells us) none of the three 1st overall ( hall, Hopkins and Yakupov) were ready for the 'Show' ! But, they stayed after the initial 9 games... the rest is history, and to award huge contracts before two of them even remotely showed any signs of deserving it, is preposterous to say the least!!! How could anyone point fingers at the kids? They thought they were good enough, they have the big contracts to prove it!!! A negative reinforcement so to speak!! They are telling themselves " I must be doing something right for them to pay me so much money, and if so, I'm not going to change a Darn thing with how I play..." and I don't blame them!!!

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#67 Saytalk
December 08 2013, 12:31PM
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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.

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#68 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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#69 hall the time
December 08 2013, 10:04AM
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Jonathan could you compare last season to this season when we reach the same total games, I think we had 45 games last year i'm not sure.

But by the stats i think its the coach our best players last year have looked like crap all this year.

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#70 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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#71 **
December 08 2013, 02:42PM
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sorry, double post

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#72 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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#73 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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#74 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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#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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