JIM NILL: WE NEED A VETERAN CENTRE

Jason Gregor
June 20 2013 03:43PM

Jim Nill played 524 regulars season games in the NHL as a checking forward, but he's made his mark in managment. He scouted for the Ottawa Senators for three years before the Red Wings hired in the summer of 1994. In the past 19 years he's served as their head of amateur scouting, general manager of their AHL affiliate and assistant GM of the Red Wings.

He's gained a lot of experience, and feels that Dallas is the perfect team for him to take over as GM.

I caught up with Nill on Tuesday and got his thoughts on hiring a coach, what type of team he wants to build in Dallas and how his experience with Detroit will help him as a rookie GM.

Gregor: There were a lot of rumblings that you were close to signing Alain Vigneault, but he ended up choosing New York. What is your strategy now? When would you like to have a coach in place?

Nill: In the perfect world, I guess you’d like to have a coach in place by the draft. I’m going through the process and there are still a lot of guys to interview. If it happens before the draft, great, but it’s not a must. So we’re just going to continue on in the pace we’re going and wait for the right person to be there for us.

Gregor: Is it more important to have your coach in place for the start of free agency than it is the draft?

Nill: Yes. The draft, it’s more for the future. It’d be nice to have a coach there just to meet the players and get to know your staff and go through the meetings, but as you mentioned, probably more important for free agency. I’d like to have him in place for either of those dates, but I have to make sure I do the right thing too. It’s been actually a great process. It takes a lot longer than people realize. It’s just not a thing where you put down five names and in five days, bring in five people and you’re done with it. It’s a lot longer process than that and it just takes time to do the right thing.

Gregor: Are you looking for a coach with previous NHL head coaching experience?

Nill: That’s probably what I’d like to do, but I don’t want to be close minded also. There are some really good coaches out there that, I don’t want to say younger, but guys with a little bit less experience. If you look over the history, someone along the line of a Mike Babcock and these type of coaches, had to get an opportunity somewhere. There is a pretty good list of some real good coaches who are doing great jobs in the minors or elsewhere. I want to be open minded to that also. I’d like to have an experienced guy, we always like to have experienced guys, but like I say, you don’t want to be close minded and forget that there are some good coaches out there playing secondary roles right now.

*** Stars' President Jim Lites, told the Star-Telegram an hour ago, "Unless something falls completely apart, we’re going to hire Lindy Ruff." Read more here.

DALLAS THE RIGHT FIT...

Gregor: You spent a lot of time in Detroit and you had a lot of success. I remember talking to you before and you said, ‘I’m loyal to that organization, to the Illitch family. They gave me an opportunity and I wasn’t ready to leave.” Why were you ready now? Why was the Dallas Stars position the right one for you?

Nill: It was kind of a combination of different factors. Dallas called me and they wanted to meet with me. I looked through their organization and there was a lot of different pieces of a foundation in place that really intrigued me. I met with ownership, Tom Gaglardi and his family, and they’re committed to winning. They’re very passionate about hockey, so that was very important.  

Next thing was I went through the organization. They have some great people in place. Les Jackson, the Assistant General Manager, and he’s still in that role with me. Les and I go back a long time. He does a great job in all aspects of drafting and developing players, so I’m very comfortable with the front office staff. I looked from the players side and they’ve got some good young players; Jamie Benn, Brendan Dillon, Loui Eriksson, and Kari Lehtonen in net. There are some great pieces there in place.  

Like any team, I know there are some older but everybody’s going to have that. So I’m excited about that. The slate is clean, there are no bad contracts. There’s lots of room to make decisions if you have to. You’re not handcuffed by some big contracts. Then I was impressed with their minor league operation. Their minor team is in Austin, it’s three hours down the road from Dallas. If you need to get a player up, it’s a car ride up.

They’ve got some real good young players coming up. They’ve got Oleksiak, Connauton, and Morrow on the back end. They’ve got Reilly Smith, who was a Hobey Baker finalist a year ago from college hockey. They’ve got Brett Richie coming up. So there are some real good pieces to the puzzle there. I remember when I was with Detroit; we went to Dallas, played against them in the Western Conference Finals. It was a great environment, they’ve got passionate fans here, and like anywhere else, if you start winning I know they’re going to come back. It was a combination of all those. You get a gut feeling; it’s just the time to do it.

Gregor: You come from an organization in Detroit that had the luxury or the patience of always keeping guys in the minors, always letting them develop, and often not bringing them over from Europe until they’re twenty-two or twenty-three. Do you expect to have that same mentality with your Dallas Stars organization, and let guys like Oleksiak have an extra year or half a season down in the minors?  

Nill: Yes. When I first talked to our staff, the amateur and pro, I emphasized that was the key. For us to have success, I know that’s what we have to do. The one word that is lost in this business is patience. It’s not easy because there is pressure to win all the time. You have to have patience; you need to build up your depth. That’s going to be our motto moving forward, is that we have to have patience and let these guys develop at their own pace. It’s just very important.  

Gregor: Is it fair to say you don’t plan on making any compliance buyouts?  

Nill: That’s correct. We have no contracts hanging over our head. We’ve got all young kids and the older guys are players that we like. I just made a trade to pick up Sergei Gonchar’s rights and got him signed. We need to add that veteran presence. That’s something we want to add to the roster. We have Ray Whitney, who had a great season last year. The veterans that are in place, we like and we actually need to add to those types of character players to our roster right now.

Gregor: Have the phone lines started to heat up? There are a lot of teams that are in a cap crunch who have to get a rid of a bigger contract, and in some cases that guy is still a good player. Is that something that interests you?  

Nill: We’re very open to that. I talked about having a clean slate. We do have a clean slate here. We have lots of cap space. So we’re very open to that and we’ve had a lot of conversations with teams. Everybody knows who those teams are; we’ve been in contact with them.  If it’s the right player, for the right price, and the right situation then we’d definitely look at that.

MORE ADDITIONS?

Gregor: You mentioned veterans. You add Sergei Gonchar on the back end. Do you need another veteran defenceman, or do you need more veteran forwards?  

Nill: Our blueline is okay now. Adding Sergei really helped. He gives us a power play presence now, to go along with Goligoski. That gives us two good guys for our power plays. I’d like to change the make up of our defence a little bit, add a bit of size and grit to it. Who wouldn’t? I know every team is trying to do that. The one area that we need to improve on is going to be at centre ice. We are short at centre ice. I know you’re not just going to grab a first line centre man out of nowhere, I know that. We just need to fill in that hole for a couple years until our good young players coming up develop. For now, we just need to fill it in with some real good, solid veterans down the middle to compliment our team.  

Gregor: Do you see your team as one that, with an addition of one or two solid veterans, could compete right away for the playoffs? Or are you looking at building a team that becomes a staple in the playoffs?  

Nill: Well that’s the key, what you just mentioned being a team that’s consistently in the playoffs. That’s where you have to build up your depth; you have to let the kids develop at their own pace. We think with a couple of additions here are there, we are very close to being a team making the playoffs. That’s what our game plan is, to get in the playoffs. Over the last three years, Dallas has been one of the teams over the last two, three weeks of the season has been a team right on the bubble of that sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth spot. It’s been two or three wins away from the playoffs. We just need to add the right pieces to the puzzle so that we’re one of those teams always in that five, six, seven, eight team hole.  

When I talked to the players, the organization, I said we need to get out of the mud. We kind of get ourselves a little bit in the mud, end of the year you’re really scrambling to get into that eighth seed. We just need to get ourselves out of the mud and back into the swimming pool.  

Gregor: In Detroit, you were a very successful organization. Ken Holland liked to deviate and allow guys to do things; there wasn’t just one guy who made all of the decisions. But ultimately when you’re the GM, you make the ultimate decision. You will be that guy now. How is it different? How do you know what’s the right move, when you become the final decision maker? Is that something you’ve prepared yourself for, or can you even prepare for it when you’re the Assistant GM?  

Nill: I look back over my career, I had opportunities to go to other teams. When I look back over those situations, there were a lot of times I wouldn’t have been ready. I’ve learned from those situations. I now think it is the right time. It’s been almost twenty years of being in Detroit. I’ve lived and breathed different situations that took place. Ten years ago, would I have been ready? Probably not. I would have been learning on the job too much. I’m pretty comfortable now.  

I’ve seen a lot of things happen, I’ve learned from some great hockey minds. You’re talking Jim Devellano, you’re talking Scotty Bowman, Ken Holland. I’ve learned from some of the best in the business. So like I said, I’m ready for it now. I’m confident about that. I think the other important thing is you need to have a strong support staff. I know we’ve put that in place with our team in Dallas. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.  

Gregor: Can you go a little bit more in depth on what you think you would have needed to learn on the job ten years ago, where now you know it and it’s not something you’re concerned with?  

Nill: There are situations that arise and I guess it’s just being in the moment. I get back to maybe having patience at the right time. When you come to make that decision, you need to be able to pull all your resources together of situations you’ve seen over the years. Like I said, ten years ago I hadn’t built up my resume enough. I hadn’t seen enough of those situations where you analyze and say, “well I remember this situation, this worked this didn’t.” The more information you can grab to make it come together, will help you so you make a final decision.  

That comes from just years of experience. You see it in the draft all the time. A lot of our business is projection, how a player is going to fit into a situation. The more examples you can grab from prior experiences to say, “okay, I think this players is going to fit into this situation,” the better off you are. If you haven’t lived that, or you haven’t had that experience, it’s hard to do.

WINNING CULTURE...

Gregor: Building a winning atmosphere. How do you feel the general manager can pass that down throughout the organization?  

Nill: Well that’s where I’ve got to do a good job at managing. When you’re a manager, it’s about bringing people together to succeed in the right positions. That’s where I have to do a good job of hiring the right people and letting them do their job.  When I was the head scout, it was easy to say, “I’m making this call. I’m going to make this decision on this player.” That was my job; it’s all I had to do.  

When you’re the GM, you have to hire the right scout, the right head scout to make the right decision. Hire the right coach who is going to make the right decision on the ice. You need to hire the correct training staff, who are looking after the players. You need to manage all those different positions in the organization. If you do that, hire good people, manage them, let them grow and do their best, I think you’re going to be successful.  

That was a big part of Detroit’s winning. If you looked at all the people over the years that have been in Detroit’s organization have gone on to other teams: Paul MacLean the coach of the year, Todd McLellan in San Jose, Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay, and it goes on and on. It’s about hiring the right people and managing them. If you do a good job at that, they’re going to make you look awfully good.  

Gregor: Going back to hiring your head coach. Are you looking for an offensive guy, or a defensive first type coach? What type of requirements do you need in your new head coach?  

Nill: It’s been a great process, interviewing these coaches. I’ve been very impressed. It’s amazing the number of great coaches that are out there. I can’t say there is one coach that I’ve interviewed, that’s not a good coach. A lot of it is the situation they’re put in. A lot of it is the support staff you’re going to give them. Is the GM going to be there for him and support him every day?  

To say, do you want an offensive guy, a defensive guy, I think they’ve all got those traits. You have to play good defensive hockey to win in this league. We all know that. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. You have to play good defence to be a winner. They’ve all got those skills. It’s just finding the right mix for the players that we have in place right now.  

We’ve been out of the playoffs for five years. I’ve talked about it; we need to change a bit of the lifestyle in the dressing room. I need a guy that’s going to come in there, he’s going to crack the whip but he’s also going to be respected by the players and do a good job of developing the young kids. I’m pretty confident I’m going to find the right person to do that.

WRAP UP

I really was intrigued by Nill admitting he needed more experience before becoming a GM. I doubt he gets caught off guard very often in his new role. That doesn't mean he won't make mistakes, but I don't see him making any James Neal for Alex Goligoski trades.

Nill is looking for a veteran centre to fill a void for a few years and admits they aren't afraid to add salary. Would he take Shawn Horcoff? He might, but he'd need to shed some salary. I've heard rumblings the Stars might move Trevor Daley. If the Oilers ate $1 million of Horcoff's cap hit the next two years, is that trade possible? Nill likes veterans and Horcoff spent a lot of time around Detroit players the past few summers, so there is a connection. Maybe this specific deal doesn't happen, but Horcoff is the type of veteran centre the Stars are looking for.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 Walter Sobchak
June 20 2013, 10:19PM
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wally99 wrote:

ummm ... i thought this was a oilers blog who gives crap what the stars or jim nill does

Try to follow along.

Sports, hockey, Oilers, centres', Dallas, New GM looking for centre's .

Difficult yes, impossible no.

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#2 The Soup Fascist
June 20 2013, 11:27PM
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DSF wrote:

You really should do some research.

Anaheim:

Getzlaf

Koivu (likely to return)

Winnik

Bonino

Steckel

Holland

Laganiere

They won't be spending big bucks, if any, on a centre.

Detroit:

Datsyuk

Brunner

Andersson

Nyqvist

Emmerton

Tatar

Sheahan

Ferraro

Detroit needs a centre like it needs Filpulla...in other words...not at all.

Florida:

Huberdeau

Shore

Matthias

Mueller

Bjugstad

Howden

Tallon is apparently still speaking to Weiss on a new contract but he had lots of options if that doesn't work.

Nashville:

Legwand

Gaustad

Fischer

Wilson

Smith

Forsberg

Latta

Sissons

Rask

The Last thing the Preds need is more centres. They need scoring wingers.

As for the rest, Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix, Winnipeg, Toronto and Washington could all use a #1C but suggesting they will see Ribiero or Weiss as that solution is a bit of a stretch.

You lost me at Nashville. Legwand, Gaustad, Fisher and Wilson? That is the depth chart? My beer league team has better centres. Nashville needs offence down the middle and on the wings.

Your top three centres are all over 30 years old, including your #2, Gaustad, who racked up a sizzling 5 points last year. When you google "NHL teams requiring help at center", the Preds logo covers the screen.

Honestly, Carrie Underwood could get 5 points in the league and would have at least knocked the headlights out of Lucic's souped up 4 x 4 after he ran her goalie.

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#3 Eddie Shore
June 20 2013, 06:32PM
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Everyone is responding to DSF? Am I missing something?

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#4 T__Bone88
June 20 2013, 06:13PM
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@DSF

Sure Horcoff has a high cap of 5.5 million but he only has a salary of only 4 million this coming season and 3 million next season which is bearable to lower spending teams. So for a team like Dallas that does not spend to the cap his higher cap would not be a huge issue. 6 of those guys you listed will easily have salaries (not cap) of 4 million or more. We get it you don't like the Oilers.

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#5 Howdy Hoe
June 20 2013, 07:38PM
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He that shall not be named will never contribute intelligent additions to the commentary. Thank you Jason for keeping the ban on him. By not having his comments here makes for a better day.

Horcoff will have value to a team where he is not expected to be the leader. Your captain has to be one of your most talented players on the team. I won't shed a tear for the departure of Horcoff, just like I didn't shed a tear for "the captain" Ethan Moreau.

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#6 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 20 2013, 04:05PM
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I think Horcoff could be the next Chris Draper/Dan Cleary type of player for the Detroit Redwings........or the Dallas Stars...

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#7 Jerod
June 20 2013, 04:15PM
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Sounds like Lindy Ruff will be the coach of Dallas

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#8 Felt
June 20 2013, 04:39PM
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i'd rather have Jared Spurgeon than Trevor Daley.

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#9 westcoastoil
June 20 2013, 04:41PM
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Horcoff is likely one of the better 3rd line centres in the league - albeit at an inflated cap hit. He's a fitness fanatic with probably 5+ years of excellent defensive play in him. We're getting rid of him why?

Is it just the cap hit, or were their leadership/dressing room issues that are unrepairable?

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#10 John Chambers
June 20 2013, 05:41PM
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@DSF

Ribeiro, Weiss, and Elias won't have cap hits that exceed $5.5M?

Okay

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#11 Quicksilver ballet
June 20 2013, 05:52PM
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If Nill's looking for someone to put up 25-30 pts a season, and be on the ice for a hundred goals (pp,pk and 5v5) against, then Horc's their guy.

Good luck on your next rebuild program Shawn.

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#12 John Chambers
June 20 2013, 06:03PM
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@DSF

My guess is that someone gives Ribeiro $18M / 3, while Weiss will make up to 28 or 30 M over 5.

Lots of teams need centers: Anh, Dal, Det, Fla, Cgy, Edm, Nas, Phx, Wpg, Tor, Was.

Dallas could easily give big dollars to Weiss, and you know Jay Feaster is going to have an appetite to overpay someone ... and eat lots of cheeseburgers.

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#13 MKE
June 20 2013, 06:04PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

If Nill's looking for someone to put up 25-30 pts a season, and be on the ice for a hundred goals (pp,pk and 5v5) against, then Horc's their guy.

Good luck on your next rebuild program Shawn.

He was plus 8 last year

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#14 MKE
June 20 2013, 06:07PM
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John Chambers wrote:

My guess is that someone gives Ribeiro $18M / 3, while Weiss will make up to 28 or 30 M over 5.

Lots of teams need centers: Anh, Dal, Det, Fla, Cgy, Edm, Nas, Phx, Wpg, Tor, Was.

Dallas could easily give big dollars to Weiss, and you know Jay Feaster is going to have an appetite to overpay someone ... and eat lots of cheeseburgers.

Totally agree

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#15 Darrell
June 20 2013, 06:45PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

Everyone is responding to DSF? Am I missing something?

Yeah - he is all growed up and talks inteligent hockey instead of Oiler hating. I actually enjoy his posts now as they are none biased again the Oilers on Oilernation and very informative. This message will self destruct if the old DSF rears his head ....

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#16 Eddie Shore
June 20 2013, 06:49PM
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@Darrell

Daley for Horc (retain some $$) would be a trade I'd make all day long. Of course, that's assuming MacT has got some sort of plan of action to address the weakness down the middle.

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#17 DSF
June 20 2013, 07:47PM
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John Chambers wrote:

My guess is that someone gives Ribeiro $18M / 3, while Weiss will make up to 28 or 30 M over 5.

Lots of teams need centers: Anh, Dal, Det, Fla, Cgy, Edm, Nas, Phx, Wpg, Tor, Was.

Dallas could easily give big dollars to Weiss, and you know Jay Feaster is going to have an appetite to overpay someone ... and eat lots of cheeseburgers.

You really should do some research.

Anaheim:

Getzlaf

Koivu (likely to return)

Winnik

Bonino

Steckel

Holland

Laganiere

They won't be spending big bucks, if any, on a centre.

Detroit:

Datsyuk

Brunner

Andersson

Nyqvist

Emmerton

Tatar

Sheahan

Ferraro

Detroit needs a centre like it needs Filpulla...in other words...not at all.

Florida:

Huberdeau

Shore

Matthias

Mueller

Bjugstad

Howden

Tallon is apparently still speaking to Weiss on a new contract but he had lots of options if that doesn't work.

Nashville:

Legwand

Gaustad

Fischer

Wilson

Smith

Forsberg

Latta

Sissons

Rask

The Last thing the Preds need is more centres. They need scoring wingers.

As for the rest, Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix, Winnipeg, Toronto and Washington could all use a #1C but suggesting they will see Ribiero or Weiss as that solution is a bit of a stretch.

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#18 TeddyTurnbuckle
June 20 2013, 08:09PM
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We need to get rid of Horcoff, he will be 36 next year and his point totals are down to a 30 point average over 82 games. He is pretty good in the dot but that's about it. He doesn't bring a physical presence or much offence. Most of his offence has come from Playing on the powerplay with the kids. Bottom line is that the oilers can't have a guy playing big minutes who doesn't bring much offence. Plus he gets hurt constantly and is not reliable. Horcoff may be a fit for a team next year but there is a chance his 36 year old body may limit him to a 4 th line role.

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#19 WhattaMike
June 20 2013, 08:12PM
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Income wise Horcoff is with a decent paycheque the next two yrs, but...evryone knows and hates that its the cap hit...

Horcoff is still a good enough 3rd line veteran centre when healthy and not over-used....I think that because of these reasons plus his decent faceoff percentage/okay type Pk ability...some team will want him...be it Dallas or another.

I just wish its not a buyout but a fair trade that comes along with a player of value enough coming back the other way to the Oil...

I just think that teams wont trade for him if knowing already that MacT is gonna buy out Horcoff

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#20 MKE
June 20 2013, 08:33PM
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WhattaMike wrote:

Income wise Horcoff is with a decent paycheque the next two yrs, but...evryone knows and hates that its the cap hit...

Horcoff is still a good enough 3rd line veteran centre when healthy and not over-used....I think that because of these reasons plus his decent faceoff percentage/okay type Pk ability...some team will want him...be it Dallas or another.

I just wish its not a buyout but a fair trade that comes along with a player of value enough coming back the other way to the Oil...

I just think that teams wont trade for him if knowing already that MacT is gonna buy out Horcoff

Its about supply and demand. Horcoff can be a good faceoff guy and shut down guy. There is a demand for that. Horcoff does have value and will be traded. Just wait and see :)

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#21 MKE
June 20 2013, 08:35PM
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Sometimes guys just need a change too.

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#22 wally99
June 20 2013, 10:02PM
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ummm ... i thought this was a oilers blog who gives crap what the stars or jim nill does

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#23 Walter Sobchak
June 20 2013, 10:17PM
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MKE wrote:

Sometimes guys just need a change too.

I think that's the ticket right there, losing sucks, rips your soul right out of you.

If your any kind of an athlete you are competitive by nature, to know your not going to win, that giving your best will never be enough is flat out soul sucking.

Change is good for both.

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#24 MKE
June 20 2013, 11:04PM
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@Walter Sobchak

Well said. My guess is he will be playing for the wings

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#25 Walter Sobchak
June 21 2013, 12:48AM
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MKE wrote:

Well said. My guess is he will be playing for the wings

I got a feeling it's Detroit as well.

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#26 Quicksilver ballet
June 21 2013, 09:01AM
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MKE wrote:

He was plus 8 last year

Was thinking of a full season, like the one before last.

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#27 S4H1
June 21 2013, 09:55AM
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@The Soup Fascist

Love the Carrie Underwood comment! I wonder if we could get Fisher back from Nashville if we sent Horcoff that way. He would be a solid 3rd center. He does have a NMC so he'd have to be ok coming to Edmonton.

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#28 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
June 21 2013, 05:12PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

If Nill's looking for someone to put up 25-30 pts a season, and be on the ice for a hundred goals (pp,pk and 5v5) against, then Horc's their guy.

Good luck on your next rebuild program Shawn.

He was playing on one of the worst teams in the NHL for the last 4 years....

I think that one of the factors that gets the least amount of consideration in the conversations on this site is the idea that how good a player looks or how good his stats are is heavily dependent on the TEAM they are playing for....

Gregor and Strudwig both made the point on Gregors show today pointing to examples like Colin Frazer who looked and played like crap as an Oilers fourth liner and yet won Stanley Cups with Chicago and LA....

They also both agreed that there is little evidence that a guy like Cory Schnieder would be a tier 1 goalie on team like the Oilers and conversely If Dubnyk were backing up Luongo and was offered up in a trade, would almost certainly bring a first round pick..... I know a guy could cherry pick all day ...Mike Smith from Tampa to Pheonix....Bryzgalov from Pheonix to Philly...Heatley from San Jose to Minny...Komisarek from Montrel to Toronto...Lupul from Edmonton to Toronto..... My only real point here is be careful what you ask for....just because Stalberg or Bickel looks good along side Toews,Kane, Sharp, Kieth, on a deep team, is no Garauntee that he!'ll look that good if you parachute him into the Oilers lineup with all these rookies and weak defence.......Heck....even Shea Webers stats would take a hit if he played here.......

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