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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#51 Jasmine
April 18 2013, 02:18PM
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@Spydyr

I'd worry he'd throw another Pronger. Pronger is the reason for the Oilers mess in the first place. The reason no one wants to sign in Edmonton.

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#52 Jasmine
April 18 2013, 02:20PM
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@Harlie

And Oilers fans will bash everything the Oilers do since Slats left because Slats is no longer the GM.

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#53 Jasmine
April 18 2013, 02:22PM
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@Hammers

Oilers fans doing what Oilers fans do best. Run players out of town and making sure players don't sign in Edmonton.

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#54 Jasmine
April 18 2013, 02:25PM
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@Phixieus666

And Oilers fans will bash the move because Slats isn't the GM.

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#55 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 02:25PM
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I too want to see the younger cats get more minutes and would add in more important roles. I would even go as far as suggesting some OKC Barons should get a call up for a game or two.

I think Lander has a great shot at making the fourth line next. He plays with a lot of pride and looks to be a very respectable center.

I also think Hartikainen is a lock for the roster next year. Third line? Maybe even fourth. He's shown chemistry with Lander.

I don't buy the whole "Smyth should retire" verbal. I think he is a good option for the 13th or 14th forward.

Jones? I agree salary is an issue. My thoughts, he doesn't return.

RNH and Eberle need a big tough, SOB, on left wing in order to produce without Hall. IMO. An Eager, but better. Is that Paajarvi? Not at this point.

I think Fistric should be resigned. Not a fan of Potter but his play has gotten better and he is a good 7 or 8 D-man. I lean towards 8th.

I don't like how Peckham has been treated. Not cool. I don't know all the details, however. But, from where I sit it don't look good.

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#56 CDean
April 18 2013, 02:29PM
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I want to see them switch up there defensive lines. The Shultzes shouldn't be together, SMid and J. Shultz I would like to see and I wouldnt mind someone doing an analysis of how the Shultzes do together and apart, I know it is a small sample size but it might have some insight on why they both have bad +/-.

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#57 smiliegirl15
April 18 2013, 02:31PM
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Is it RNH who isn't as effective without Eberle or Eberle cannot play without RNH? If it's the former, then is it because RNH has pretty much played his entire career, including their stint in the AHL, with Eberle? Hall and Eberle work together really well too and I do realize Hall isn't a centre. Maybe moving Hall to centre with Eberle and giving RNH a couple big bodies to play with might work too. Who knows? because they've pretty much always been together.

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#58 Phixieus666
April 18 2013, 02:39PM
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CDean wrote:

I want to see them switch up there defensive lines. The Shultzes shouldn't be together, SMid and J. Shultz I would like to see and I wouldnt mind someone doing an analysis of how the Shultzes do together and apart, I know it is a small sample size but it might have some insight on why they both have bad +/-.

Well I think N. Schultz in more of a #5 guy and have been playing over his head. Schultz Jr. was making up for that in the beginning but now he played way too much hockey in his first year to keep it up.

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#59 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 02:45PM
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CDean wrote:

I want to see them switch up there defensive lines. The Shultzes shouldn't be together, SMid and J. Shultz I would like to see and I wouldnt mind someone doing an analysis of how the Shultzes do together and apart, I know it is a small sample size but it might have some insight on why they both have bad +/-.

I'm in thought process that it simply comes down to a rookie defenceman. This is a tough league.

I'd like to see Peckham and N. Schultz together and Fistric and J. Schultz.

I don't know if Peckham will play another game as an Oiler. It don't look like he will.

Fistric and J. Schultz might be a eye sore when they're in their own end. But, if J. Schultz can get the puck up to the forwards and Fistric does what he does they may complement themselves.

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#60 Oilfred
April 18 2013, 02:48PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If the Oilers end up running 14 forwards and go with a fourth-line/bottom-five made up of some combination of a UFA/trade centre, Hartikainen, Smyth, Jones, and Brown, I'm fine with that.

I'd prefer a spare centre over Jones, but if Jones is willing to sign a cheap deal then I think you hang on to him. It would be easier to keep Jones if Smyth retired, but I think you need to save one buyout for 2014 and this year's should be used on Belanger. With Lander as the first call-up, you've got some insurance for if a centre goes down anyway and Smyth can fill in for a game (but no more than that!) if necessary, IMO.

What are the conditions on the compliance buy-outs? I was under the understanding that each team had two that could be used at any time during the length of the current CBA.

If that's the case I would hold onto them and use just use a regular buyout on Belanger.

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#61 Aitch
April 18 2013, 02:51PM
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Its too bad that they're against trying Hall at C, especially during mid season. Him and Gagner could switch positions seeing as he can't handle the defensive side of C. I'd be curious to see: 91-4-14 & 89-93-64

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#62 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 02:56PM
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I agree with those that think Hemsky and Gagner are trade bait this summer. What I wonder is what other teams value these players at.

I'd love to know if there were offers for these players at the TDL and what teams might have been willing to part with.

I think three teams would have a need for Hemsky. NJ Devils, Nash Preds & Phnx Coyotes.

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#63 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 02:59PM
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Oilfred wrote:

What are the conditions on the compliance buy-outs? I was under the understanding that each team had two that could be used at any time during the length of the current CBA.

If that's the case I would hold onto them and use just use a regular buyout on Belanger.

2 players this summer and next is what I understand for CBOs.

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#64 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 03:02PM
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2 players in total this or next summer. To clarify.

What I'd like to know is can you trade for someone and compliance buy them out?

Not sure on this either, but it's been suggested that you can't compliance buyout a player then re-sign them.

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#65 Taylor Gang
April 18 2013, 03:07PM
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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?

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#66 shifty203
April 18 2013, 03:08PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

2 players in total this or next summer. To clarify.

What I'd like to know is can you trade for someone and compliance buy them out?

Not sure on this either, but it's been suggested that you can't compliance buyout a player then re-sign them.

You can't re-sign a buyout, or buyout a player, and reaquire him from a trade. It's one full year until they are eligble to rejoin the team that bought them out.

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#67 etownman
April 18 2013, 03:11PM
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Fistric can easily fit in as 5/6 defenceman! Just the kind of truculence this team needs & his skills aren't nearly as bad as people think! Look who he plays with the majority of the time & he's a plus player!

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#68 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 03:28PM
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shifty203 wrote:

You can't re-sign a buyout, or buyout a player, and reaquire him from a trade. It's one full year until they are eligble to rejoin the team that bought them out.

Yeah, that's what I've heard. Cool, though.

What I'm really interested in is can you trade for someone and then do a CBO? Do you know?

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#69 Flynn
April 18 2013, 03:31PM
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If a single 1 of the ufa's is resigned then it's a giant fail for MacT!

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#70 Cody anderson
April 18 2013, 03:46PM
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I am all for trying Hall at centre but that leaves us with a gaping hole at lw. We better hope they are looking at a trade or free agen to fill it.

I don't think Smyth would come back as a 13th forward, he is too competitive for that. I hope management talks him into retiring.

I would resign Fistric and hope that with other moves you are able to keep him as a 6-7 Dman

I think Hemsky is trade bait, and for the first time in his tenure here hope they are shopping Gagner as well. Obviously you can only part ways with Gagner if Hall moves to center or if a Bigger center is coming back the other way.

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#71 GVBlackhawk
April 18 2013, 03:54PM
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Cody anderson wrote:

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.

Totally disagree. He is a trainwreck out there most nights. He tends to run around in his own zone and doesn't provide much in the way of offense.

He is getting healthy scratched on one of the worst teams in the league. That's not someone worth keeping, imo.

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#72 Sven
April 18 2013, 03:55PM
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I still think this may be the best time to get a player like Adam Larsson.

I don't know what it would take, but this guy has a huge upside.

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#73 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 04:02PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

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.

Yup, I agree.

I also add and I'm going to go out on a limb here to suggest he has leadership qualities, is intelligent, has some try and wants to be part of the org. Can't complain about that.

What I do think it does is end some AHLer's on a two way contracts. House? Vande Velde? Cornet?

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#74 Cody anderson
April 18 2013, 04:13PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

Totally disagree. He is a trainwreck out there most nights. He tends to run around in his own zone and doesn't provide much in the way of offense.

He is getting healthy scratched on one of the worst teams in the league. That's not someone worth keeping, imo.

GVB, Did you feel this way about Jones the last few years, because I felt like we stole him when we picked him up for nothing.

That being said, this year he simply has not been good enough.

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#75 Harlie
April 18 2013, 04:47PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

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.

My point exactly...no BIG deal.

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#76 TonyT
April 18 2013, 04:57PM
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Peckham not on the trip.

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#77 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 05:03PM
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Just from a UFA perspective, players that could replace Jones:

Clarke MacArthur, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Eric Fehr, Raffi Torres, Maxim Lapierre & Steve Begin.

Some of these guys will cost more, some less, but all should be able to accomplish what Jones' role provides. Energy, some grit, and a handful of goals.

Can Jones get back to where he was last year? Are there better options out there? Can he repeat the 15 plus goals? personally, I'm not convinced he can, which is why I walk.

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#78 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 05:05PM
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TonyT wrote:

Peckham not on the trip.

Has he been on any?

This cat must of pissed somebody important off real good. lol

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#79 eastcoastoil
April 18 2013, 05:09PM
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What side did gags play with Cogliano

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#80 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 05:20PM
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eastcoastoil wrote:

What side did gags play with Cogliano

Can't remember, but Gagner shoots right and Nilsson shoots left.

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#81 DSF
April 18 2013, 06:00PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

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.

Yeah, have to remember he is just 23 and already has 3 20+ goals seasons to his credit.

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#82 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 18 2013, 06:16PM
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Jamie Benn IS the type of guy this team really needs aside from a big, solid, prick of a D-man.

Dallas, I'd bet, is building around him.

I think Clarkson is the guy to go after. UFA. Throw the freakin' kitchen sink at him! Give him ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!!

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#83 Quicksilver ballet
April 18 2013, 06:20PM
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Jasmine wrote:

And Oilers fans will bash everything the Oilers do since Slats left because Slats is no longer the GM.

Holy Ship!

Sather left......when/where'd he go?

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#84 Rama Lama
April 18 2013, 06:26PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Holy Ship!

Sather left......when/where'd he go?

He is the General Manager of the New York Bashers!

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#85 Quicksilver ballet
April 18 2013, 06:31PM
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Mike Krushelnyski wrote:

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

Hey man, I worked very hard to make that list too sir.

......walks away, hands in pocket, head down, kicking at a few stones in the laneway.

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#86 Quicksilver ballet
April 18 2013, 06:39PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

He is the General Manager of the New York Bashers!

That's where it ALL began. We could take a few bashing lessons from those New Yawkers.

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#87 DSF
April 18 2013, 06:54PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Hey man, I worked very hard to make that list too sir.

......walks away, hands in pocket, head down, kicking at a few stones in the laneway.

Step up your compete level Sparky.

When you go into the corner you have to come out with the real goods, not set up a store.

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#88 Bucknuck
April 18 2013, 07:04PM
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If San Jose fails to hoist the cup again, you have to wonder whether they would be ready to go in a different direction. Perhaps trade Joe Thornton, though I wonder if he's a guy that would be a good role model for the youngsters, since San Jose can't seem to win anything with him as their #1 Centre. He only has one year left on his contract, though.

It would expose them to some risk, particularly if his play falls off.

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#89 Rickymac
April 18 2013, 07:05PM
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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!

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#90 DSF
April 18 2013, 07:53PM
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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!

Just remember...whatever the question...the answer is...It's all Slats fault.

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#91 madjam
April 18 2013, 08:09PM
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Most clubs going into playoffs made major acquisitions in star players to start season and/or trade deadline . We did not , and that should change with MacT. as GM .

Just as only an example Oilers were to add a Lucic (in the doghouse right now) , Vanek with Weber . Lesser might be Callahan , Stafford , etc.. How many of current roster would we still require beyond some of our outstanding youth ?

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#92 Spydyr
April 18 2013, 08:18PM
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@DigDeepNBleedBlue

Lowe overheard him saying "winning cup rings 20 years ago has little bearing on running a NHL team today".

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#93 DSF
April 18 2013, 08:21PM
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madjam wrote:

Most clubs going into playoffs made major acquisitions in star players to start season and/or trade deadline . We did not , and that should change with MacT. as GM .

Just as only an example Oilers were to add a Lucic (in the doghouse right now) , Vanek with Weber . Lesser might be Callahan , Stafford , etc.. How many of current roster would we still require beyond some of our outstanding youth ?

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.

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#94 GVBlackhawk
April 18 2013, 08:27PM
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DigDeepNBleedBlue wrote:

Yup, I agree.

I also add and I'm going to go out on a limb here to suggest he has leadership qualities, is intelligent, has some try and wants to be part of the org. Can't complain about that.

What I do think it does is end some AHLer's on a two way contracts. House? Vande Velde? Cornet?

House, CVV, and Cornet are all likely to move on. Same goes with Plante and possibly Teubert.

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#95 GVBlackhawk
April 18 2013, 08:37PM
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Cody anderson wrote:

GVB, Did you feel this way about Jones the last few years, because I felt like we stole him when we picked him up for nothing.

That being said, this year he simply has not been good enough.

You cannot argue the fact that he was excellent value in the previous two seasons. 35 goals, no assets given up to get him. That is fantastic value (even though he was like a chicken with its head cut off in the Dzone...that hasn't changed).

However, his performance has fallen off a cliff this year. He should have been parlayed into a draft pick at the trade deadline. That's a mistake by Dithers. And I would like to see a better player taking Jones' roster spot next season.

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#96 Heep
April 18 2013, 08:44PM
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McTavish has his work cut out for him as we have no prospects in the pipeline. We have our prospects in the show and nothing else coming up. Lowe and Tambi have wasted our picks on permanent AHLer's.

The guys they bring up have no emotion or compete level.

So frustrated as an oiler fan.

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#97 TigerUnderGlass
April 18 2013, 08:55PM
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@Heep

The guys they bring up have no emotion or compete level.

Tambo?

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#98 The Oilers Shot Clock
April 18 2013, 09:00PM
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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.

And depending on the value returning that's not such a bad thing. It's gotta be more effective trading for needs than drafting for them. Real assets will have to be moved but Edmonton can in effect put together a package rivaled by few if they wanted too. Eberle and a first would solve a few problems.

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#99 TigerUnderGlass
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.

I disagree. Last season I looked at the salary structures of the best teams, and most of the top teams in the league had 32-38M in salary going to their top 6 players. Tat means you can have as many as 6 guys getting 6M a year and still fill out your roster properly if, and here's the caveat, you are competent.

You beloved Wild have over 39 going to their top 6 contracts next season and almost 36 if they buy out Heatley.

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#100 DSF
April 18 2013, 09:43PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

I disagree. Last season I looked at the salary structures of the best teams, and most of the top teams in the league had 32-38M in salary going to their top 6 players. Tat means you can have as many as 6 guys getting 6M a year and still fill out your roster properly if, and here's the caveat, you are competent.

You beloved Wild have over 39 going to their top 6 contracts next season and almost 36 if they buy out Heatley.

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.

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