The Edmonton Oilers' new practice lines

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2013 01:16PM

The Edmonton Oilers shuffled their lines in practice today, including Eric Belanger - a player close to returning but not quite there yet.

By the look of things, Teemu Hartikainen will be on the outside looking in, which probably means he can expect a brief AHL stint when the Oilers eventually bring Belanger off the injured reserve list.

Lines are courtesy of the Oilers' official Twitter feed:

  • Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Jones
  • Ryan Smyth - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
  • Magnus Paajarvi - Sam Gagner - Nail Yakupov
  • Mike Brown - Eric Belanger - Lennart Petrell
  • Teemu Hartikainen

Ales Hemsky is absent from the skate.

In practice, this likely means that the very successful top unit of Hall, Horcoff and Hemsky remains intact, which I think is a good thing. The unit is doing a good job of playing a power-vs.-power role and it's really the best spot on the roster for Horcoff - he complements Hemsky and Hall well and talented wingers keeps his line from becoming the place where offence goes to die.

I like Smyth on the second line. We've heard a lot about Smyth's decline this year, and while his foot-speed isn't where it could be he's still a player. Michael Parkatti did some solid work with adjusted Corsi (plus/minus of shots, missed shots and blocked shots, weighted for quality of opposition and which zone a player starts in) a few days ago - looking at Smyth's numbers he's been solid and this isn't accounting for the fact that he's spent big chunks of the season playing centre where he's been far less effective than he is on the wing. Ideally, he's not on an NHL team's second line but given what the Oilers have to work with he's a pretty decent option and one I find hard to criticize.

That third line has killed it of late, and was actually the second line against Detroit, matching up primarily against Datsyuk in the Oilers' last game. Magnus Paajarvi and Nail Yakupov are both excellent young players but the Oilers have had trouble finding a fit for them - they're clicking now so keeping them together makes sense to me.

The last line is where things get interesting. Eric Belanger is probably the least popular player on the team with the fanbase, but having him at centre on that fourth line is an upgrade on Smyth. Does Hartikainen deserve to be in the lineup over Mike Brown or Lennart Petrell? Arguably, but he also doesn't need to clear waivers to go to the minors and he hasn't played so well that a trip to Oklahoma is out of the question. With the trade deadline coming up, it seems probable the Oilers will be moving some bodies out, in which case it would be a temporary 'get some playing time' situation. I would also suggest that if the fourth line gets used primarily as a defensive zone unit - which, given personnel, they should - the coaches will feel more comfortable with Brown, Petrell or Jones than they would with Hartikainen.

For now, though, it's a matter of waiting for Belanger to get up to 100%, and there's always the possibility that something else happens before he's ready to return to action. In the meantime, the best guess would seem to be that Smyth goes back to the fourth line and Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins get another look with Ryan Jones.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#1 Jasmine
March 16 2013, 02:55PM
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Can we have new fans that don't run players out of town and criticize whoever plays on the Oilers and love the players on the other 29 teams.

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#2 Eddie Shore
March 16 2013, 04:59PM
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DSF wrote:

Suter is -3 while playing tough competition and, as we know plus/minus is a team stat.

Does that mean you'll stop ragging on Yakupov for his +/-? As we know, its a team stat.

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#3 vetinari
March 16 2013, 02:44PM
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Can we also get a new practice GM to go along with our practice lines?

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#4 Dawn
March 16 2013, 05:14PM
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Wow. Some of you guys are so negative. You do realize a win tomorrow could jump us up to 10th in the conference. There's 6 points between 3rd & 14th. We're still sitting on the low side of PDO and have you seen our shooting percentage? In this wacky season, anything can happen. A little positive energy can go a long way. I for one would like to see some positivity coming from we fans lest we be the ones spewing poison into the locker room.

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#5 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
March 17 2013, 07:59AM
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DieHard wrote:

I don't understand you. What the Hell is your point?

i believe he was trying to say how impressed he was that Gagner is still outscoring Parise so far this year.

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#6 Mike Modano's Dog
March 16 2013, 04:25PM
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I have to admit that for a guy who absolutely hated Belanger's play last year...I've been pleasantly surprised this year. Not Selke award-winning suprised, but respectable 4th-line center surprised. The fact he had a LONG WAY TO GO to get to that level, I never expected that and I have to hand it to him!

I panned him so bad that I have to give him props this year, as he looks a lot better.

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#7 DieHard
March 16 2013, 07:37PM
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@DSF

I don't understand you. What the Hell is your point?

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#8 Dangilitis
March 17 2013, 02:56AM
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And DSF - I know you are a clown but you should really stop making so many jokes. Suter is a very good defenseman. He also had a great March. He still has zero ES goals and only 2 total (one when his team was trailing by 3+ goals). He is -3 on his team which puts him behind Konopka and clearly in the bottom 1/2 of his team. Weber faces similar competition and is +4 (3rd for his team) and has double the number of goals (1 OT winner, 1 breaking a tie, and all with the game close) on an offensively challenged team. Suter has 7 1st assists and 14 2nd assists, while Weber has 6 1st assists, 5 2nd assists. To me that shows that Suter is more the beneficiary of better forward teammartes. Both are missing one another, but suggesting that Weber misses Suter more is laughable. The Predators miss Suter, that's for sure, but not at that price under the new CBA (not that Suter's is any more palatable).

And you never got back to me about Dubnyk, you kind of turtled when I proved to you his performance this season is in the top 1/3 of the league right now (his SPG is 10th in league and he is pushing 700 shots, tops amongst those goalies). I'll let you eat crow on both of these comments.

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#10 Mac962
March 16 2013, 02:30PM
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I say somethings brewing. A trade ? tik tik tik

Dont be nervous Belanger. i will drive you to the airport.

Smyth on the second line ? Bfaawww

Just freaking perfect. Get in the back seat Ryan, i will drive you as well.

Bring Lenny as well.

Just kidding .... no i'm not. Yes i am.

Trade happening in the next few days, watch and see.

Potter ! Hang on to the bumper, its slippery enough

you can get to the airport as well.

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#11 DigDeepNBleedBlue
March 16 2013, 03:04PM
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After a loss it's always a good idea to go into armchair coach mode. I was there last night!

I would like to see the kids back together. Here's how I'd give 'em a go for a game or two.

Hall-RNH-Eberle

At times this year they were hot and cold both during even strength and with a man advantage. This could be attributed to the fact that RNH and Eberle looked a step or two behind to start the season. Plus, they were being pulled off the ice after 30 seconds of PP time. I kept thinking these guys can't get into a flow when you keep doing that and then they were split up. I'm not sure the thinking behind that or there separation.

Balance the lines? Sure. I get it.

They all seem to be going right now. From my armchair I say put the thoroughbreds out together again. I think they're ripe for the moment. Besides, wasn't that the whole point of having them together in the A during the lockout?

Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov

It has worked. Yakupov provides some creativity with the puck and Gagner and Paajarvi understand that when you go to the net you have a greater chance of scoring. Who knew? Soft parade for these guys, though.

Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky

These guys can play together. History tells us that. Tough minutes line.

Brown-Belanger-Jones

If Jones can get back to where he's been then this could be a decent energy line with a stable center that can keep the defensive side of the game in check. One would hope.

I like what Hartikainen brings and he could fit into Yakupov's spot a time or two, but with the mess on D right now (8 D-men on the roster) he would be the logical choice to go down. Petrell is the extra skater and one could argue that he could go down, but waivers and all.

Gotta put that peddle down for the third. Play to win! Whatever the reason is for not doing that, strategy, line combos or players lack of want, it needs to be addressed. Now.

I have the faith they'll get it worked out.

Last thought. Never liked that Eberle got the permanent A on his jersey. No slight on him. I just always thought Hall should of got it. His try and personal accountability are top notch. As this season goes on it's more and more evident who should become the next captain. JMO.

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#12 dv.asteroid
March 16 2013, 03:51PM
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Magic will follow... if Hall-Nuge-Yak line is played.

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#13 DigDeepNBleedBlue
March 16 2013, 03:59PM
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dv.asteroid wrote:

Magic will follow... if Hall-Nuge-Yak line is played.

I'd like to see that line too. And, I think that will eventually be the "money" line for the Oil.

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#14 DigDeepNBleedBlue
March 16 2013, 04:01PM
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DSF wrote:

Deck chairs...big boat...iceberg.

lol Witty sh*t. I'll give you that.

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#15 STFU
March 16 2013, 04:14PM
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DSF wrote:

Deck chairs...big boat...iceberg.

Are things that bad in Minny. Yes, Suter has proven that Weber can make any partner look like the 100 million dollar man. And Parise is Minnies Scott Gomez. But things could always turn around. I mean, they have Gilbert and Heatley to meet expectations.

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#16 oilcan
March 16 2013, 05:06PM
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random thoughts after watching last nights game.... -hall clearly oilers biggest star after all the experts extolling eberle as oilers number one star... -eberle struggling..lack of compete in his game -brown is a great addition -gagner playing where he is effective ...against 3rd line competition -kruger got schooled last night -oilers 4 on 4 play is brutal...l saw one completed pass in almost three minutes of overtime...thats coaching

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#17 Poolanov
March 16 2013, 09:28PM
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Now boys... We all know Oilers are playing better hockey, we got soaked last night, but it is getting more clear as this season goes on, all facets of our game seem to be improving. We've been getting bad breaks. A little help from the hockey gods and we're right as rain (or snow).

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#18 outdoorzguy
March 16 2013, 10:46PM
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Poolanov wrote:

Now boys... We all know Oilers are playing better hockey, we got soaked last night, but it is getting more clear as this season goes on, all facets of our game seem to be improving. We've been getting bad breaks. A little help from the hockey gods and we're right as rain (or snow).

There is no such thing as god. It's a mythical being relied upon by weak people, or a management/coaching team that has no clue or hope.

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#19 @Oilanderp
March 17 2013, 08:13AM
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Jesus. H. Lipton Christ. I never thought I would say this but after watching DSF sitting there AGAIN picking and eating all the cherries on the tree, I AM GLAD YOU ARE HERE NEWAGESYSTEM! Your posts are so long that by the end of them I have almost forgotten all the negativity of the troll.

May Kyle Wellwood help us all.

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#20 Ryan2
March 17 2013, 10:01AM
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Dangilitis wrote:

And DSF - I know you are a clown but you should really stop making so many jokes. Suter is a very good defenseman. He also had a great March. He still has zero ES goals and only 2 total (one when his team was trailing by 3+ goals). He is -3 on his team which puts him behind Konopka and clearly in the bottom 1/2 of his team. Weber faces similar competition and is +4 (3rd for his team) and has double the number of goals (1 OT winner, 1 breaking a tie, and all with the game close) on an offensively challenged team. Suter has 7 1st assists and 14 2nd assists, while Weber has 6 1st assists, 5 2nd assists. To me that shows that Suter is more the beneficiary of better forward teammartes. Both are missing one another, but suggesting that Weber misses Suter more is laughable. The Predators miss Suter, that's for sure, but not at that price under the new CBA (not that Suter's is any more palatable).

And you never got back to me about Dubnyk, you kind of turtled when I proved to you his performance this season is in the top 1/3 of the league right now (his SPG is 10th in league and he is pushing 700 shots, tops amongst those goalies). I'll let you eat crow on both of these comments.

Great post and you saved me the time re: Suter. That contract is going to be the worst in the league in a couple of seasons. If you polled NHL GMs, the vast majority (if not all) would take Weber over Suter. Suter is a nice #2 d-man, but Weber is a top #1. This is why Philly decided to chase Weber to replace the Rake instead of Suter. Suter would have been easier to sign, but why pay top end #1 money for a #2?

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#21 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 16 2013, 01:40PM
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Predators have to be licking their chops at the thought of that free space on their bingo card tommorow night. Nothing like a date with our Oilers to set things right again.

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#22 skeptik
March 16 2013, 01:40PM
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I miss FISTric. Really do.

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#23 justDOit
March 16 2013, 01:58PM
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Stupid Carolina, picking through someone else's garbage for a 4th line center.

*//sarcasm off//*

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#24 David S
March 16 2013, 02:19PM
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In the meantime, the best guess would seem to be that Smyth goes back to the fourth line and Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins get another look with Ryan Jones.

Why is Krueger punishing Eberle and RNH? Last time this was tried Jones effectively nullified the whole line. He's been catastrophically ineffective this year.

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#26 Light, Sweet, Crude
March 16 2013, 02:34PM
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I would like the look of the second line with Penner in place of Smyth, but let's hope Klefbom survives his teens and becomes a player.

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#27 Alex Mathis
March 16 2013, 03:01PM
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Can't understand what everybody has against Belanger and Potter. If used properly, they both have a good and useful skillset for the team.

BTW, Adam Hall was picked up on waivers by Carolina. A pitty the Oilers didn't claim him / traded for him a month ago.

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#28 OilersBrass
March 16 2013, 03:04PM
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Light, Sweet, Crude wrote:

I would like the look of the second line with Penner in place of Smyth, but let's hope Klefbom survives his teens and becomes a player.

I'm excited to watch Klefbom play next year. He's the Oilers best D prospect (besides J Shultz). Everyone on this site would like to see him be traded for some strange reason, but they don't know how good he really is. This kid is gonna be a future top 2 defenceman for the team.

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#29 Oiler Al
March 16 2013, 03:40PM
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I miss a good coach!

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#30 DSF
March 16 2013, 03:52PM
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Deck chairs...big boat...iceberg.

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#31 Rama Lama
March 16 2013, 03:57PM
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I like that Krueger is trying to mix up the lines a little..........but having Horcoff centre the first line over Sam Gagner is ridiculous. Horcoff at best will not impede a offensive rush but rarely will he create on on his own. He is best suited in a shut down role on the third line. He will absolutely butcher any offence on the first line.

Having Belenger back is like having your mother-in-law visit unannounced on a Friday night........down right scary.

JW you are only half right in suggesting he is not well received by the fan base.........I suspect if a poll were taken you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would vote for him, including his mother.

Too bad for Harti he deserves better .............but our motivational coach will eventually get him going.

It would be nice to get rid of dead weight at the trade deadline so we can start giving guys like Yaks, Harti, and MPS some real playing time. Time for Mr. Dithers to finally do his part, stop bringing in mediocre talent........bring in someone who can actually play top six minutes, someone with size and attitude.

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#32 Time Travelling Sean
March 16 2013, 04:33PM
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STFU wrote:

Are things that bad in Minny. Yes, Suter has proven that Weber can make any partner look like the 100 million dollar man. And Parise is Minnies Scott Gomez. But things could always turn around. I mean, they have Gilbert and Heatley to meet expectations.

Suter has a bad +/- but he still has 23 points in 27 games. I think right now he and Parise both are worth 7ishM but in 3-4 years they won't be, let alone the 10 after that.

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#33 DSF
March 16 2013, 04:37PM
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STFU wrote:

Are things that bad in Minny. Yes, Suter has proven that Weber can make any partner look like the 100 million dollar man. And Parise is Minnies Scott Gomez. But things could always turn around. I mean, they have Gilbert and Heatley to meet expectations.

LOL.

You really need to pay closer attention.

Minnesota just beat Colorado 6-4 this afternoon.

That moves Minny into a tie with Vancouver for the lead in the NW after the Wild have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games.

Parise has 11G and 11A for 22P.

Scott Gomez has 2G and 5A.

Ryan Suter leads the Wild with 23P in 27GP and is second in league scoring among all defensemen.

Meanwhile, Weber has only 15 points.

It appears he is missing Suter.

As for Gilbert...he's scored 9 points while the guy he got traded for, Nick Shultz has 3 points and is -12.

Yikes.

Don't you look silly now.

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#34 DSF
March 16 2013, 04:39PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Suter has a bad +/- but he still has 23 points in 27 games. I think right now he and Parise both are worth 7ishM but in 3-4 years they won't be, let alone the 10 after that.

Suter is -3 while playing tough competition and, as we know plus/minus is a team stat.

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#35 Taylor Gang
March 16 2013, 04:44PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

After a loss it's always a good idea to go into armchair coach mode. I was there last night!

I would like to see the kids back together. Here's how I'd give 'em a go for a game or two.

Hall-RNH-Eberle

At times this year they were hot and cold both during even strength and with a man advantage. This could be attributed to the fact that RNH and Eberle looked a step or two behind to start the season. Plus, they were being pulled off the ice after 30 seconds of PP time. I kept thinking these guys can't get into a flow when you keep doing that and then they were split up. I'm not sure the thinking behind that or there separation.

Balance the lines? Sure. I get it.

They all seem to be going right now. From my armchair I say put the thoroughbreds out together again. I think they're ripe for the moment. Besides, wasn't that the whole point of having them together in the A during the lockout?

Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov

It has worked. Yakupov provides some creativity with the puck and Gagner and Paajarvi understand that when you go to the net you have a greater chance of scoring. Who knew? Soft parade for these guys, though.

Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky

These guys can play together. History tells us that. Tough minutes line.

Brown-Belanger-Jones

If Jones can get back to where he's been then this could be a decent energy line with a stable center that can keep the defensive side of the game in check. One would hope.

I like what Hartikainen brings and he could fit into Yakupov's spot a time or two, but with the mess on D right now (8 D-men on the roster) he would be the logical choice to go down. Petrell is the extra skater and one could argue that he could go down, but waivers and all.

Gotta put that peddle down for the third. Play to win! Whatever the reason is for not doing that, strategy, line combos or players lack of want, it needs to be addressed. Now.

I have the faith they'll get it worked out.

Last thought. Never liked that Eberle got the permanent A on his jersey. No slight on him. I just always thought Hall should of got it. His try and personal accountability are top notch. As this season goes on it's more and more evident who should become the next captain. JMO.

Hall for Captain* is my new name

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#36 Jimmer
March 16 2013, 05:13PM
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Oh what a great idea. Let's put two guys that are struggling on the top two lines...Smyth and Jones.

Mix and blend the lines all you want Kruger.

Until Smyth and Jones start playing physical, hard along the boards, and crash the net...we will always have an opportunity to lose.

Question: how long until Mike Brown realizes that playing hard and standing up for your teammates get's you a nice fat 4th line role...meanwhile if you just ignore what the coaches tell you and coast you will earn a nice upgrade to the top 2 forward lines.

Pathetic.

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#37 DigDeepNBleedBlue
March 16 2013, 05:22PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

Hall for Captain* is my new name

Hell, Hall can be president too. But, yup, lets give him the keys to the car. Maybe after next season. I hope he's at least a permanent A next year, though.

Regardless, there is no question this is his team.

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#38 Serious Gord
March 16 2013, 05:37PM
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Dawn wrote:

Wow. Some of you guys are so negative. You do realize a win tomorrow could jump us up to 10th in the conference. There's 6 points between 3rd & 14th. We're still sitting on the low side of PDO and have you seen our shooting percentage? In this wacky season, anything can happen. A little positive energy can go a long way. I for one would like to see some positivity coming from we fans lest we be the ones spewing poison into the locker room.

A few days ago I went through the numbers exercise on this site. To even squeak into the playoffs the oil would have to pay at least as well as Vancouver has FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

Looking at this teams lineup - or rather the gaping holes in the current lineup's skill set and that looks to be an impossibility.

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#39 Serious Gord
March 16 2013, 05:37PM
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Dawn wrote:

Wow. Some of you guys are so negative. You do realize a win tomorrow could jump us up to 10th in the conference. There's 6 points between 3rd & 14th. We're still sitting on the low side of PDO and have you seen our shooting percentage? In this wacky season, anything can happen. A little positive energy can go a long way. I for one would like to see some positivity coming from we fans lest we be the ones spewing poison into the locker room.

A few days ago I went through the numbers exercise on this site. To even squeak into the playoffs the oil would have to pay at least as well as Vancouver has FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

Looking at this teams lineup - or rather the gaping holes in the current lineup's skill set and that looks to be an impossibility.

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#40 DSF
March 16 2013, 05:40PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

Does that mean you'll stop ragging on Yakupov for his +/-? As we know, its a team stat.

No.

Yakupov is playing very soft competition and getting murdered.

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#41 DSF
March 16 2013, 05:42PM
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Serious Gord wrote:

A few days ago I went through the numbers exercise on this site. To even squeak into the playoffs the oil would have to pay at least as well as Vancouver has FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

Looking at this teams lineup - or rather the gaping holes in the current lineup's skill set and that looks to be an impossibility.

If the playoff cutoff is 55 points, the Oilers need to go 14-5-2 to get there.

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#42 justDOit
March 16 2013, 06:59PM
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DSF wrote:

If the playoff cutoff is 55 points, the Oilers need to go 14-5-2 to get there.

I thought it was 14-5-1 after last night's Bettpoint?

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#43 DSF
March 16 2013, 07:06PM
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justDOit wrote:

I thought it was 14-5-1 after last night's Bettpoint?

To ensure they get in, they need 1 more point than 55 since they currently lose all the tie breakers.

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#44 outdoorzguy
March 16 2013, 07:07PM
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This team is so bad and utterly mismanaged that if it were an American team, hockey fans in Edmonton and the rest of Canada would be clamouring for it to be moved to Quebec City. Or maybe it would just become a victim of contraction based on it's last decade of performance. Absent owner. Absent management. Absent coaching. Absent direction. Management with this team has done nothing significant other than go up and make the first pick overall year after year after year. It's pretty easy to be a GM and do that.

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#45 justDOit
March 16 2013, 07:18PM
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@DSF

Doh!

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#46 DSF
March 16 2013, 07:53PM
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DieHard wrote:

I don't understand you. What the Hell is your point?

Not sure what you're having so much trouble understanding.

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#47 Serious Gord
March 16 2013, 10:00PM
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DSF wrote:

To ensure they get in, they need 1 more point than 55 since they currently lose all the tie breakers.

That's a record close to what Boston has so far.

Time for oil fans to write off another season and start with the post mortem.

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#48 Manfly
March 16 2013, 11:45PM
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so if there was a trade tomorrow, does this mean that Harti is the odd man out and the most likely to be traded? hmmm...interesting. maybe he's played himself off the team?

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#49 Curcro
March 17 2013, 01:45AM
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http://www.sportsclubstats.com/NHL/Western/Northwest/Edmonton.html

The minimum points to make the playoffs is 45 Points... it is a very marginal % chance not even 0.1. (8-10-3)

To get to 0.1 it is 48 Points. (10-9-2)

60 Points all but guarantees it. (16-3-2)

A win against Nashville will bump the Oil to a 15.2% chance to make it.

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#50 Dangilitis
March 17 2013, 02:22AM
Trash it!
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Cheers
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Please, oh, please get rid of Petrell. Hartikainen does not need to be sent down on the basis of a couple of bad ES games, whereas Petrell has never had a good ES game in his entire career. Call Kurri up and apologize in advance and then send him to Oklahoma.

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