Oilers sign Miller, what MacTavish said, and questions needing answers

Jonathan Willis
April 18 2013 12:17PM

Lots of stuff after the jump, starting with the Oilers' most recent free agent signing and getting into some of the key questions to answer in the 2013 season's dying days.

Miller Time

Yesterday, the Oilers signed free agent forward Andrew Miller out of Yale. He’s small for pro hockey (the Oilers’ Twitter account originally listed him at 5’8”, then corrected itself and said his official height is 5’10”, which presumably means he’s 5’8”). He’s old, too, turning 25 in the off-season. He’s the same age and size as Mark Arcobello (and the two were teammates in 2009-10). Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman describes him (in part) this way:

The 24 year old center is a classic small, skilled college player. Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction. The concerns I would have with Miller are firstly his physical game. He’s a 5′9′’ forward and although he does work hard, I’m not convinced he has the necessary grit and physical qualities to be anything more than replacement level in that area in the pro game. With Miller you also wonder if he has enough offensive talent, meaning if he’s dynamic or merely good, to overcome his size. I see reasonable arguments for and against him on that issue depending on which night you saw him.

College UFA signings are basically the NHL equivalent of found money; expectations of the team for Miller should be modest (essentially, that he be a useful AHL’er) with the hope that he’s a pleasant surprise.

What MacTavish did, and did not, say at his press conference

There’s been a lot of ‘the Oilers are going to move one of their big names!’ talk from a lot of different places. The amount of chatter – and the quality of the people engaging in it – suggests to me that more is being said behind the scenes and off the record than was said publicly. However, I do feel compelled to point out that for all the talk of doing bold things and exposing the team to risk, Craig MacTavish made his view of at least the first overall picks very clear at the presser which introduced him as general manager:

If you’re referring to the young core that we paid such an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly.

My guess, and a guess is all it is, is that the five young players integral to the rebuild – the three first overall picks, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz – are all Oilers at this time next year. Sam Gagner, whose exceptional offensive season has been a mixed blessing given the one-year contract he was signed to a year ago, strikes me as the most plausible candidate for a “wow” move because he has youth and real value on his side (everyone in the ‘why don’t they trade Hemsky for a top-pairing defenceman’ camp, this is the reason) and because the role he’s playing (centre of a secondary scoring line) is (comparatively) easy to replace via trade or free agency.

The things left to find out

Stauffer’s comments above make sense, and with Hemsky and Petrell both known quantities losing them doesn’t hurt the evaluation process. The questions I’d like to see a little more data for are these:

  • Are Anton Lander and Jerred Smithson good candidates for roster spots next year?
  • How good is Teemu Hartikainen?
  • Can Ryan Smyth still play if he’s put back on left wing?
  • Does Ryan Jones belong on this team next year?
  • Can Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle generate offence without Hall?
  • Do Corey Potter, Mark Fistric, and/or Theo Peckham belong on this team next year?

Some of those questions, doubtless, have already been answered in the minds of management. Theo Peckham’s played four games this year, and it seems a good bet the organization is done with him; if he doesn’t play between now and the end of the season we’ll know for sure. Smithson and Jones getting scratched last game could be tells, too.

Putting Hall with Gagner and Yakupov, and sticking Paajarvi in Hall’s spot on the Nugent-Hopkins line in that last game seem like attempts to answer some of these questions. So does putting Anton Lander in a third line role, with Shawn Horcoff on the wing, and dressing Fistric and Potter as the third pairing. A fourth line of Smyth, Smithson and Jones would help answer questions about that trio – Smyth’s been bad at centre, and both Smithson and Jones are pending UFAs – and would likely be more effective than any combination based on putting Smyth at centre.

My current answers to those questions, by the way:

  • Lander's a good choice as first call-up, team can walk from Smithson 
  • Good enough to be on the 2013-14 opening night roster
  • Yes, in a reduced role
  • Depends on salary, but if it's reasonable he'd be a very good fourth-liner (who could play special teams and move up as necessary when injuries strike)
  • I really don't know, but if they could play effectively apart it would make it much more difficult for opposing coaches to match against the Oilers, particularly on the road
  • Potter and Fistric are both fine 6/7 options, depending on what else happens with the defence. 

But I'd like to see the last few games of the season to help answer all of those questions. 

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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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#1 Mike Krushelnyski
April 18 2013, 03:17PM
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@Jasmine

Congratulations on being the worst commenter on a site that features regular posts from DSF and newagesys. No easy feat.

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#2 Spydyr
April 18 2013, 01:16PM
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Only took 10 posts for someone to mention the latest Oiler white whale Weber.

Maybe in three years when the team is ready to do some damage in the playoffs you go for the "Pronger " type piece.

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#3 Ducey
April 18 2013, 01:52PM
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Harlie wrote:

MacT's first order of business...something BOLD and AGGRESSIVE and to address the need for GRIT.

So he goes out and signs a career AHL'er who stands 5.8'.

FACEPALM

I suggest FACEFIST

The guy has put up nice point totals college, just won the MVP in the playoffs and is smart.

He can play on the AHL team. If you get an injury to someone like Eberle, maybe he can sub in for a while. Maybe he will turn into Cory Conacher (an undrafted college guy) who was traded for Ben Bishop recently and might win the Calder.

Maybe he will turn into nothing. Big deal. He costs you nothing.

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#4 TeeVee
April 18 2013, 03:50PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

Uhm hello?

Am I the only one here who didn't forget that we have the WORST centre depth in the NHL? Why on earth would we trade Gagner unless it was bringing a centre back? Here's my wow trade:

Gagner + Martin Marincin and a 3rd for Jamie Benn.

Fixes our grit problem in the top 6, gives us a good playmaking centre, takes a player from a team in need of a rebuild and gives them a good prospect and a draft pick Now, on to a defense deal. Forget Weber man, unless you trade Yakupov or Eberle, it ain't happening. My next trade would be this: Ales Hemsky + 2013 first round pick (assuming it's not in the top 10) for Keith Yandle. In this trade, our defense improves substantially with a solid puck moving, left shooting top 4 defenseman who is slightly physical. Thoughts?

That's a slight over-payment for Benn, don't ya think?

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#5 Bucknuck
April 18 2013, 05:51PM
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DSF wrote:

Benn is the face of the Stars franchise.

He's not going anywhere.

It's a pretty cheesy face with that Goatee... My goodness.

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#6 Oil4Life
April 18 2013, 10:43PM
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@DSF

Math Fail - Top 6 contracts on the wild

Suter - 7.538 Backstrom - 6.000 Parise - 7.358 Heatley - 7.500 Koivu - 6.750 Bouchard - 4.080

which totals - 39.408

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#8 Cody anderson
April 18 2013, 03:47PM
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I would also keep Jones. He is valuable in the fact that he can play left or right and can play anywhere in the lineup.

He obviously had an off year this year coming off of injury.

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#9 Rama Lama
April 18 2013, 05:14PM
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To the poster that goes by the name Jasmine........we all know that it's you Kevin Lowe!

I know that you have been defending yourself by bashing the fans. You my friend are a great big BASHER, bashing fans that are tired of your bashing.

Bash, Bash, and more Bash will not win you any fans, so please stop your incessant bashing!

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#10 Rocknrolla
April 18 2013, 12:21PM
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Lander should be the FIST call up for sure.

Play the hell out of the kids down the stretch!

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#11 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
April 18 2013, 12:30PM
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Such an interesting summer ahead. No sense even visualizing what the roster may look like. Hopefully as many as 7 or 8 new faces in the lineup next season if we include Klefbom and the Oils top 3 selction this summer. MacTavish has to be the odds on favorite to pull a Holmgren in New Jersey in a couple months.

Deadwood out, new blood in. Time to punch that accelerator.

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#12 OilClog
April 18 2013, 12:42PM
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Wouldn't playing Smyth on Landers wing, and Horcoff back at Center be a revelation

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#13 Dextermorgan
April 18 2013, 01:34PM
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I dont get the hate on for Jones lately. Hes coming off a rough injury that hampered the start of his season. Last season he had what, 16 goals playing 10-12 minutes a night? If were gonna get rid of him, who is out there to replace that?

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#14 oiler_head
April 18 2013, 01:52PM
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Dextermorgan wrote:

I dont get the hate on for Jones lately. Hes coming off a rough injury that hampered the start of his season. Last season he had what, 16 goals playing 10-12 minutes a night? If were gonna get rid of him, who is out there to replace that?

This!

If Smyth is really done, then I see Jones as the second coming. All Jones has ever done is work his way up from Junior B to a regular NHL spot (until this season). He has is the definition of utility player, being slotted in wherever and whenever needed. He brought instant energy when he returned to the lineup and though it wasn't sustained, his work ethic when in the lineup his consistently good.

Jones should be a glue guy that that is in the bottom six.

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#15 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 03:38PM
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Flynn wrote:

If a single 1 of the ufa's is resigned then it's a giant fail for MacT!

I'd re-sign Fistric.

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#16 GVBlackhawk
April 18 2013, 03:57PM
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Harlie wrote:

MacT's first order of business...something BOLD and AGGRESSIVE and to address the need for GRIT.

So he goes out and signs a career AHL'er who stands 5.8'.

FACEPALM

In MacT's defense, the trade deadline has passed and free agency isn't until summer. Not many options left.

This is an AHL'er anyway. No big deal.

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#17 Taylor Gang
April 18 2013, 04:11PM
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TeeVee wrote:

That's a slight over-payment for Benn, don't ya think?

The problem is that Jamie Benn holds some serious value due to the fact that he is big.

As good as Gagner has been playing, he doesn't hold a candle to Benn.

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#18 Bucknuck
April 18 2013, 05:47PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

The problem is that Jamie Benn holds some serious value due to the fact that he is big.

As good as Gagner has been playing, he doesn't hold a candle to Benn.

Offensive production is about the same, but Benn plays a bit meaner. Only problem I have with him is that he isn't very good at faceoffs (46%) and he has a really cheesy goatee in his picture.

I would take him straight up for Gagner, and with the size differential and the fact that we need it more than they do, I can understand the overpay.

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#19 DSF
April 18 2013, 05:49PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

Offensive production is about the same, but Benn plays a bit meaner. Only problem I have with him is that he isn't very good at faceoffs (46%) and he has a really cheesy goatee in his picture.

I would take him straight up for Gagner, and with the size differential and the fact that we need it more than they do, I can understand the overpay.

Benn is the face of the Stars franchise.

He's not going anywhere.

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#20 DSF
April 18 2013, 05:52PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

It's a pretty cheesy face with that Goatee... My goodness.

Is that you in your avatar photo?

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#21 Bucknuck
April 18 2013, 05:53PM
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DSF wrote:

Is that you in your avatar photo?

yep, it's me. Pretty cheesy too, but I get by.

EDIT - and by the way I agree with your assessment on Benn. I wouldn't trade a guy like that unless it was a massive overpay. bad goatee or not.

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#22 GVBlackhawk
April 18 2013, 08:21PM
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Rickymac wrote:

I am a Flames fan since 1980 but I also follow the Oilers closely and (believe it or not) I want the Oilers to do well other than when they go head to head with the Flames. Both the Oilers Nation and Flames Nation sites are really interesting in the comments section due to the varied opinions of so many people. It is a great forum to state opinions and many people are very blunt and eloquent in their reasons for dissecting the Management failures of both teams Ownership, Presidencies and Management. Keep it up everyone!

Except Jasmine and NAS. They are truly awful posters.

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#23 madjam
April 18 2013, 09:04PM
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DSF wrote:

The Oilers cannot afford Lucic, Weber or Vanek considering the contracts they've already doled out to Hall and Eberle and what they face in re-signing Hopkins, Schultz and Yakupov.

That they didn't address their needs on D and at C while drafting in the top team for years in a row is unfortunate.

Now they're in a position where they will have no choice but to trade at least one of the kids to fill holes.

Even a second tier player like Callaghan will be difficult to fit under the cap unless they move out a high ticket item.

Minnesota and Pitts. are two examples that did add major parts - I believe we could as well. Hall and Eberle are bargains compared to other lofty contracts signed by others on other teams. If they can , we can .

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#24 ed
April 19 2013, 02:49AM
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DSF wrote:

Benn is the face of the Stars franchise.

He's not going anywhere.

Seems to me they said the same thing about Gretzky about 25 yrs ago. Everybody can be traded in theory.

Dumb comment.

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#25 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 19 2013, 06:49AM
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DSF wrote:

Parise; $7.5M

Koivu: $6.7M

Coyle: $975K

Pominville: $4.5M

Cullen: $3.5M

Setoguchi: $3M

Total: $27M

Try again.

If you want to include Suter among their top 6 players, go ahead.

Thing is, the Oilers don't have even ONE top pairing defenseman.

Suter isn't one of their "top 6 players"?

curious.

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#26 Sal-Sational
April 18 2013, 12:34PM
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Line up for next year Forwards: 4-93-64, ??-??-14, 91-57-56, ??-??-37 Defence:2-5, 19-??, 15-?? Goalies:??-40 Gone/Trade:89,83,94,10,35,28,55, Lots of Holes for MacT to fill. Need bigger/stronger bodies

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#27 Eddie Edmonton
April 18 2013, 12:42PM
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I believe Miller was signed as AHL insurance, nothing more.

Where is this Oilers are going to move one of their big names chatter taking place? In the Oilers offices? Has anyone from the Oilers said anything publically? Or is this just gossip that was started about a week ago carrying on through the internet and the same old tired @$$ programming on TSN and Sportsnet?

Smithson is not coming back, Lander maybe(if not traded).

Teemu is alright, he stills needs work and more consistant ice-time and line-mates.

I am hoping that neither Smyth or Jones are back next year.

If RNH and Eberle can not generate offence without Hall, maybe one of them should be traded.

I'd keep Fistric as 7th, Potter I'm not sure about but Theo can definetely stick to paintballing.

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#28 Racki
April 18 2013, 12:43PM
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I don't have any problem with either player, but the Oilers are already in trouble if their support cast for next year is led by Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen.

Maybe one day, but the Oilers need some solid experience in their depth guys... and guys with a track record of getting the job done. Both Hartikainen and Lander are still unknowns, to me. In fact, I'd go so far to say as they're a bit of a known.. as in it's known that they won't be able to get the job done for us yet. Maybe one day down the road, but right now we need a 3rd line that has more of a purpose than to stave off an attack.

I do think Hartikainen SEEMS to drive the puck the other way (I don't know what the stats actually say re: that though), but it doesn't result in a goal anwhere near often enough. They need to find guys like, oh, I dunno.. Glencross and Brodziak.

The Oilers do need to start by turfing the guys that definitely did not get the job done, from Vande Velde, on up to Smyth. So Smyth, Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk, Vande Velde, Petrell, and likely Jones now since everyone is on the hate-wagon. Replace these all with a new set of guys with potential to turn things around. But you need them all to reliable. One chink in the chain, and it could all fall apart.

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#29 morgie99
April 18 2013, 12:44PM
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Another small forward, why?

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#30 Oiler Al
April 18 2013, 12:44PM
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Jon., are you suggesting that it is easier to replace a second line center , than a right winger. [ Gagner vs. Hemsky ], via the trade or UFA route, or that GAgner would garner more than Hemsky in return.

Because there isn't much in the way of Center or D men on the UFA list, unless you have topped off your annual supply of Geratol.

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#31 michael
April 18 2013, 12:47PM
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Jones got to go. Potter to the AHL. Fistric your 6-7 guy. Lander off to see the wizard for a body that does not break every time someone hits him. Lander has heart and brains but lacks an NHL body. Petrell.Time to move on. Mike Brown has earned a 4th line spot. Ryan Smyth? Huge question. Hemsky. Move on.

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#32 Toro
April 18 2013, 01:00PM
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I wonder if we could see a play for Shea Weber , maybe a combo of Gagner, Hemsky and 2014 1st ? 1 player could make a huge difference, just like when Pronger came here.

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#33 Yep
April 18 2013, 01:01PM
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I guess when McT said "Lucic type of players" he wasn't* joking.

*was

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#35 DSF
April 18 2013, 01:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I don't think there's any doubt that Gagner is worth significantly more on the trade market than Ales Hemsky.

The problem with moving Hemsky is his trade value given injury history and his last two seasons.

And the $5M remaining on his contract when all teams will be cutting payrolls.

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#36 Ducey
April 18 2013, 01:33PM
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I would be disappointed to see Lander in EDM to start the season. He needs more farm time.

I would also hope they put Klefbom on the farm to start the season. The difference between Potter and a rookie defenseman is likely to Potter's benefit. By midseason you can trade someone and bring up Klefbom.

Willis, are you thinking they keep Brown?

If the bottom six includes Smyth, Hartikanen, Brown, Horcoff and Jones, that means little change. I'd only keep Horcoff, Hartikanen and Brown with Smyth as the 13th forward. Petrell and Jones don't bring enough truculance and each is pretty one dimensional.

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#37 Vaclav
April 18 2013, 01:35PM
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@DSF

The Oilers could make Hemsky more appealing in a trade by paying some of his $$$. Only for the 1 season and likely won't be a big factor even with a $64M UCL.

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#38 blueorangekoolaid
April 18 2013, 01:36PM
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I read something interesting that might make Hemsky more attractive as a trade commodity. Couldn't we retain half his salary and still trade him? One year of Hemsky at 2.5 million looks a lot better than 5 doesn't it? Now he's a top 6 forward on a bargain deal and if he can't stay healthy then you let him walk or sign him to a reduced price. He's probably still not as valuable as Gagner but perhaps a package of those two (with the reduced salary) gets us closer to that top D or 2C.

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#39 blueorangekoolaid
April 18 2013, 01:37PM
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@Vaclav

Beat me to the punch!

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#40 Ducey
April 18 2013, 01:39PM
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Oh, and everyone's other white whale, Lucic, looks like he will be a healthy scratch tonight after playing on the 4th line yesterday.

$18 million is lot to pay over the next 3 yrs for a guy who can't stay in the top 6.

Sure hope the Oilers don't overpay for him. I think he is going to be one of those guys that just lose the fire.

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#41 Spydyr
April 18 2013, 01:40PM
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What the team needs is a third and fourth line full of hitters.Guys that make the other team pay.Wear down the defense for the two skill lines. Especially in a 7 game series. Chip in a few goals along the way.

If there has ever been a team in the NHL as the Oilers of the past few years that does not throw hits and make the other team pay. I cannot remember it.Only one that may come close is Detroit but they still always had a few guys banging.

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#42 Harlie
April 18 2013, 01:44PM
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MacT's first order of business...something BOLD and AGGRESSIVE and to address the need for GRIT.

So he goes out and signs a career AHL'er who stands 5.8'.

FACEPALM

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#43 Ducey
April 18 2013, 01:45PM
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Dextermorgan wrote:

I dont get the hate on for Jones lately. Hes coming off a rough injury that hampered the start of his season. Last season he had what, 16 goals playing 10-12 minutes a night? If were gonna get rid of him, who is out there to replace that?

His goals are fine but have you noticed a lot of those come on breakaways and one man efforts? Its because he cheats for offense. He gives up more than he gets.

If anyone should be cheating for goals its our smaller skilled guys. We need a guy who can score 10, crack a few heads, be hard to play against and can play against decent opposition. That isn't Jones.

Tim Jackman from 2 yrs ago would be nice.

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#44 Fresh Mess
April 18 2013, 01:52PM
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DSF wrote:

And the $5M remaining on his contract when all teams will be cutting payrolls.

5 million cap hit.

5.5 million in actual dollars is what I read.

But in Oilersnation the fanboys insist it was a good contract.

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#45 Hammers
April 18 2013, 01:55PM
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DSF wrote:

And the $5M remaining on his contract when all teams will be cutting payrolls.

It will make more sense to trade Hemsky at the next trade deadline . Gags & say N. Schultz could easily be two up for a trade come draft or into July . Gags , Schultz & 1st round pick in 14/15 for Webber ( I wish ) or another 1 of the above for a "D" along with an OKL player.Hemsky is the type of guy picked up as a deadine add to a top team .

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#48 madjam
April 18 2013, 01:58PM
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Most of ON nation humming and hawing over retreading the same names from this season as being the only ones to choose from . Au contraire , liable to see many new ones there not on team or in current system . It's the supporting core that is major priority . It could be all new for all we know going into next season , as I expect it will be close to all new with very few if any AHL fill ins . Major defence addition and forward of note also quite possible to coincide with the former . Next years club should not look like this years , or we are going to be in much same problems we are today with roster including AHL prospects . Klefbom over hyped ? Probably , but may still be an upgrade from present roster .

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#49 Shaner
April 18 2013, 02:12PM
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Passing and hitting are two aspects of the game I enjoy, if we keep Hemsky that's good because he's a good passer. If we keep Fistric that's also good because he is a good hitter. Win/Win as I see it!

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#50 Phixieus666
April 18 2013, 02:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It was better than the alternative - keep in mind that when the contract was signed the Oilers were expecting to land the a defenceman in the draft, not the first overall pick and Yakupov.

An anemic attack would have been worse sans Hemsky, and worse still when you imagine that you couldn't know about Yakupov at the time.

I would have to think that both Hemsky and Gagner will be moved. And it wouldn't suprise me if packages were put together for a Center(physical and gritty) and a defenseman. Or if Striet signs with Edm then they go looking for a highly ranked goalie prospect to push dubbie. That's what I wouldn't mind seeing.

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