Ben Eager: a worthwhile reclamation project?

Jonathan Willis
June 22 2013 08:08AM

Ben Eager played his 400th regular season game in the NHL last season. He has been a successful depth player for good teams, getting minutes in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Jose. He played 18 games for the Blackhawks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and now has been an integral part of three long playoff runs.

Despite falling off the map last season, is there a player there for the Oilers to reclaim?

A Statistical Lens

What I'd like to do is look at items unrelated (except tangentially) to Eager's physical game. I'm going to look, year by year, at four statistical categories, which are as follow:

  • CorsiRel. "Corsi" is shorthand for shot attempts plus/minus - all the shots, missed shots, and blocked shots that a player was on the ice for 5-on-5 over an average one-hour period. The "Rel" part stands for relative - what we're doing there is adjusting for team strength.
  • 5-on-5 Points/60. Just like regular points, only adjusted for an average hour of ice-time.
  • ZoneStarts. Taking offensive zone and defensive zone faceoffs, and expressing them as a percentage. If a player was on the ice for 70 offensive zone faceoffs and 30 defensive zone faceoffs, he would have a 70% offensive zone start, and we'd expect him to do better than a player with 30 offensive zone and 70 defensive zone faceoffs (30% zone start).
  • Quality of Competition rank. The player's rank among active forwards on his team in Behind the Net's Quality of Competition (we're using the Corsi-based one, though the site also offers a goal-based one and the difference between the two is small). This gives us an idea of the kind of opponents Eager typically played against. Note: for years where he played for multiple teams, this is less helpful so I have excluded it.

What do we find?

Season Team CorsiRel 5v5 Points/60 ZoneStart QC Rank.
2007-08 CHI/PHI -11.3 0.66 51.8 N/A
2008-09 Chicago -5.4 1.43 64.0 12th
2009-10 Chicago -3.0 1.94 69.9 13th
2010-11 ATL/S.J. -12.6 1.36 50.4 N/A
2011-12 Edmonton -8.8 1.46 49.3 12th
2013 Edmonton -28.3 0.89 39.8 10th

What It Means

What we find in Eager is a player who consistently plays a poor possession game. But that shouldn't be a surprise: most fourth line players have poor numbers in this regard, in part because they aren't playing with very good teammates and occasionally see good opponents, in part because coaching strategies generally ask for the fourth line to crash and bang and get pucks deep but not worry too much about getting them to the net, and likely in part for reasons I'm overlooking. Regardless: fourth line players will have poor Corsi numbers, almost without exception: their lot in life is getting outshot. That's why they're on the fourth line.

Still: between 2008 and 2012, Eager did some things beyond crashing and banging that make him stand out. In Chicago, a very strong team had the option of putting their fourth line on the ice a lot in the offensive zone, and that certainly helped, but even so Eager's scoring numbers are pretty respectable for a fourth-line guy. A very good points/60 number in the NHL is 2.0, and Eager comes close to that once and on three other occasions also scores quite well (as a rule, a fourth-liner within sight of the 1.50 points/hour mark is scoring his share or even a little more than his share). Chicago's fourth line, blessed with those offensive zone starts, had only a slightly below even relative shot rate - and in real terms, because Chicago was a good team, they actuall  out-shot the opposition. In 2009-10, for example, over an average hour with Eager on the ice, the Blackhawks would out-shoot the opposition 33-to-23 - and for a fourth line, even one starting a lot in the offensive zone, even on a very good team, that's not bad at all.

The lockout-shortened 2013 campaign stands out in a negative way. Eager's on-ice shot numbers plunge: with him on the ice, the Oilers were brutalized by the opposition. His scoring numbers plunge, too. Some of that is likely related to usage - the 2013 Oilers were not a very good team, and did not have the luxury of employing eager in the offensive zone. His numbers were off-the-charts bad.

History, though, suggests that isn't who he is. He was never the difference-maker that fans dreamed he might be when the Oilers offered him a three-year deal; there was a narrative at the time that the Oilers needed some size and crazy in the bottom-six to complement the skill players, and while there may be truth in that Eager's never been the kind of guy who drives results anywhere and expecting him to be anything other than a crash-and-bang fourth liner was a mistake (the thoughts of sticking him on a line with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle to 'give them space' were also nutty, because he's not a guy who has any track record of playing a competent puck-possession game and offensive players tend to need the puck to score).

The good news, though, is that history also suggests 2013 is an aberration. Over his career, Eager has been a 6'2", 236 pound wrecking ball - and there is value in that - who adds a little bit of scoring and can play a regular shift on the fourth line. If he can get back to that level, I see him as a guy who can add some value to the Oilers' lineup. The fact is that he's under contract for another year, so there's likely little harm in giving the 29 year-old a chance to show that 2013 was an exception rather than the new normal.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Flames Nation, Kent wilson implores the Calgary Flames to Be Less Wrong and takes some time to point out that the Edmonton Oilers have also had the habit in recent years of doing foolish things:

Consider, for example, the Oilers ill-fated quests for Danny Heatley, Marian Hossa and Tomas Vanek a few years ago as they were bottoming out. During the same time frame, they allowed Curtis Glencross and Kyle Brodziak to walk while retaining Zack Stortini. They were too centered on making a big splash than simply not being dumb.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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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 Romulus' Apotheosis
June 22 2013, 10:51AM
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Steele wrote:

Ben Eager has been using a stick that is too flimsy and flexible. I think when players want to score more, they go with a stick that has more "whip / flex" thinking they will shoot the puck better / faster. This impeeds thier ability to send and recieve a pass. If you watch Ben's stick, it is so flexible it's like he's skating around with a noodle in his hands. No wonder he can't make a play. Ben, get a stiffer stick with a fuller blade. You aren't supposed to be a goal scorer, and you never will be skating around holding your noodle.

hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

The only thing funnier than a long-winded DSF battle here at ON is the people with random stick advice.

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#2 Oilfan69
June 22 2013, 08:16AM
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Let me be the Fist to say no. Unfortunately it seems like his concussion problems have made him a mere shadow of his former self. In the same position I can't say I blame him one bit though as there needs to be life after hockey.

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#3 Big Cap
June 22 2013, 08:22AM
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His final year of the contract, and with the embarrassment of being sent down and no one claiming him, he could come into next season with great vengeance.

He has size, above average skating for someone in his role and has potential to bang and crash.

Worst case: Drop him and send him down to the AHL. I see limited risk. Perhaps Eakins can turn him around.

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#4 Yakman
June 22 2013, 09:05AM
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I see no danger in bringing him to training camp. He either earns a spot in the line up or he doesn't. T. Nelson in OKC said he was a good teammate down there so it's not like he'd be a problem in the dressing room?

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#5 nuge2nail
June 22 2013, 10:34AM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Please no more reclamation projects. Keep him in the minors for depth in case a fourth liner goes down.

He lost his job the day Gagner had to step in and fight to stick up for a linemate instead of him.

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#6 @Oilanderp
June 22 2013, 11:05AM
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I'd rather see Teddy Peckman rolled in here via wheel barrow and made to play the wing before I see Bashful Ben back in the lineup. Theo with a stick and a burger tied on a string duct-taped to the front of his helmet would be much better than Eager the Uneager. At least Peckham knows his role.

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#7 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 22 2013, 11:43AM
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Eager should have been up for the playoff push last season. Coaching decisions were atrocious in many aspects last season. This is one of them.

He had a good run in the AHL playoffs (two different leagues, I know) but he did what he is suppose to do and he did it well. I fully expect him to get his chance under Eakins.

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#8 106 and 106
June 22 2013, 08:27AM
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JW,

Thanks for putting up the statistical explanations - thought I knew it, but had a couple things off. Great for future reference.

Wasn't Ben Eager was facing the third and fourth line in the AHL during the playoffs, and not chipping in as much - doesn't that suggest that his injury history has hurt his ability to be effective in the NHL?

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#9 Czar
June 22 2013, 08:38AM
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Jw,how did he play for Nelson in OKC? Did he take a regular shift in the playoffs and contribute down the stretch drive? IF Eaves can get Eager back to playing like he did before the concussion then he's a good 4th line option,under contract and not at a ridiculous price.

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#10 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
June 22 2013, 08:52AM
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6'2, 235 and skates like the wind. Why not give him another shot. Feel the trick with Eager is to have him playing with better players, not toiling on the crash and bang/energy line. See if he has a one timer and start moving him around. Ben is a nomad, a guy who you just try and get a strong 7-10 gms out of and then move him into another situation/line. Give him an opportunity to have that confidence again.

The Oilers have had plenty of these types of guys over the years. What has become obvious, is they really don't know much about how to use guys like him. The Oilers wanted all bang and crash from him, let him be. It'll come out, let him cycle around in your top 9 and see what falls into place. Let him ride shotgun with Hopkins and Yakupov. A pure passer, with a shooter, and a Bickell type hanging around the crease. With his shot, Ben could be better than expected in that 20ft outside the blue paint in the offensive zone. With Edmonton still having holes inside their top 6, why not give it a try.

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#11 michael
June 22 2013, 08:53AM
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I recently read an article in Readers Digest on Dereck Boogarde. Sad ending to a life. The point is that perhaps Eager needs to re- evaluate his life in terms of playing hockey. The life after hockey is much more important. You get knocked like he has over his career and in the past year perhaps their is a message he is missing. It would be a shame if he continued playing hockey only to damage himself permanently. Time to look after number 1 and a return to life after hockey.

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#12 Norm
June 22 2013, 08:54AM
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I think there are too many concerns to tie up a roster spot with Eager. He seems to have lost his determination to compete and likely for good reason. I just don't see the point at this time.

How bad do you have to play to get your butt kicked to the minors when you are signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Pretty bad I would have to say.

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#13 Rob...
June 22 2013, 08:55AM
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I want Eager to be a success story. I just want to win more. If Eager is the best option during the summer, despite his concussion problems, retain him. If there is anyone that is better then we must move on.

I hate it when we ditch a player whose chronic injuries come while playing with my team. It's not nice. However I can keep in mind that the extraordinary salaries these players get is compensation for the risk.

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#14 Romulus' Apotheosis
June 22 2013, 09:07AM
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Eager was one of the reasonable bets that ST took (the player, not the $$S or the term) that never panned out. The two biggest reasons for that are:

1. Tulupov and the Joey Moss. Kassian. This guy has a way of starting the season off with a concussion. 4th liners who need to attack with aggression and size can't play concussed, because they become tentative and don't have the skill to mask their lack of physical play.

2. Unreasonable expectations. I think part of this falls on ST and part on the fans. ST had a history of overvaluing facepunchers. Eager -- when he's on -- is worlds better than other facepunchers... but he's still a 4th line, occasional HS facepuncher.

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#15 @Oilanderp
June 22 2013, 09:17AM
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Just don't send him to the Central Hockey League, where Kirill Tulupov was playing last year.

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Eager, Tulupov!

Damn!

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#16 Racki
June 22 2013, 09:18AM
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I think it would be a good idea to give Eager another chance (I never really had him as a buyout target... what's the point?). But, I don't have much faith that he'll find his game again.

I feel bad for him because clearly getting hammered in the JMC really messed him up. I think if you paired Eager and Brown with a very defensively reliable forward (Brodziak type) it could be interesting. I don't think they'd generate really any offense, but they wouldn't allow much either (or so I'd hope). I have higher hopes for a 4th line though, but if MacT can't get enough done this off-season, maybe that's what it would look like. This team probably needs another 7 or 8 new bodies in here, so he'll be busy.

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#17 russ99
June 22 2013, 09:25AM
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Keep him in th AHL to start the year as an injury replacement.

We don't have many (if any) physical players in the immediate prospect pool, so I'd rather see Eager get an injury call-up than wasting more picks on another Mike Brown.

IMO, we'll know if MacT will fare better than Tambellini's if he sets up the roster and reserves so we won't have a repeat performance in the case of injury.

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#18 madjam
June 22 2013, 09:53AM
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Of more concern , and hopefully Eakins can rectify it somehow , is the Oilers lack of getting players to play well here . Almost without exception they play poorer here -somethings wrong , it's not just all the players! Positive reinforcement should maybe be applied more frequently . We have some very good NHL talent we appear to be discarding in a negative way . Reflects poorly in my estimation ,

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#19 nunyour
June 22 2013, 09:58AM
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We have enough guys that won't fight,bring in some help for Brown.

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#20 mojo
June 22 2013, 10:06AM
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Hes finished with the oilers. He already left the city and sold his place ala bob stauffer

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#21 WhattaMike
June 22 2013, 10:33AM
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From what I regularly read of OKC in the playoffs this season, Eager played terrific soldier type hockey for Nelson...unfortunately though, that's what he was supposed to do up with the Oilers and but never did/or never did good enough consistently.

Between concussions and off ice troubles (last summer) I wouldn't want him back....but...his last year of this contract/size/speed and having a new attitude would be helpful on 4th line duty.

I think coming to training camp to earn his job once more and being under the eyes of Eakins could be worth a spot.

Putting him with Ryan Smyth and a good 3rd to 4th line centre (New player) and would be good.

If it looks like he won't work out then trade him by end of training camp for another player or a 2014 pick (4th rounder IMO)

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#22 Steele
June 22 2013, 10:39AM
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Ben Eager has been using a stick that is too flimsy and flexible. I think when players want to score more, they go with a stick that has more "whip / flex" thinking they will shoot the puck better / faster. This impeeds thier ability to send and recieve a pass. If you watch Ben's stick, it is so flexible it's like he's skating around with a noodle in his hands. No wonder he can't make a play. Ben, get a stiffer stick with a fuller blade. You aren't supposed to be a goal scorer, and you never will be skating around holding your noodle.

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#23 Reg Dunlop
June 22 2013, 10:50AM
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4th line energy players have to bring, well, energy. Gentle Ben doesn't anymore. Open these spots up for young, hungry fellows. Out-hustling the opposition night after night makes up for a lack of highlight reel goals. The 4th line is where we have to begin to get more difficult to play against. I have faint hope that Moroz/Ewanyk will morph into this player type some day.

No to Eager, he should stick to knuckling bar patrons at the Dover.

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#24 Steele
June 22 2013, 11:05AM
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"DSF" Battle? Dork Saying Foolish things = Romulus Apotheosis?

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#25 BArmstrong
June 22 2013, 11:11AM
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madjam wrote:

Of more concern , and hopefully Eakins can rectify it somehow , is the Oilers lack of getting players to play well here . Almost without exception they play poorer here -somethings wrong , it's not just all the players! Positive reinforcement should maybe be applied more frequently . We have some very good NHL talent we appear to be discarding in a negative way . Reflects poorly in my estimation ,

Amen.

When Tambi signed Eager, Belanger, and Barker, I was stoked - especially for the Eager deal. Big tough, fast, a bit crazy - just what this team needed. Then dudsville. I chalk it up to culture and especially ST. When the Souray debacle was going down, ST just seemed very distant from the players - it was like he talked to them three times a year - training camp, Xmas party, exit interviews. I believe that ST was the "somethings wrong" you speak of.

When MacT took over, the very next day there was footage of he and RNH in the hallways at Rexall... TALKING.

I think MacT is gonna bring a shift in culture and communication - Eatkins will help, and players will respond.

Here's to seeing that "very good NHL talent" responding.

Damn, somebody win the cup already - let's get going!

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#26 Oiler Al
June 22 2013, 11:12AM
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Would say "no". Great skater, with little hockey IQ and terrible around the net scoring wise.

I think since he's had concussion issues, he has stepped back from being the guy to take care of business.... he did a lot of talking but reluctant to drop the gloves.. Time to move on

There has to be hundreds of guys in AHL and ECL, who could fill the bill.

I think a good model would be somone like Clifford in LA, puts up some points, aggressive and has the size and is young with energy.

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#27 BArmstrong
June 22 2013, 11:16AM
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@@Oilanderp

Haha - burger on a string - that's funny cause it's true:)

Why not both? Teddy as a 7-8, Eager as a 12-14.

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#28 kgo
June 22 2013, 11:30AM
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Keep him, give him shot in the top 6...20 games in, re-evaluate.

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#29 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 22 2013, 11:45AM
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kgo wrote:

Keep him, give him shot in the top 6...20 games in, re-evaluate.

I agree with the article that his role is that of an effective 4th liner. He is what he is.

But, yes, he needs a shot under a coach who will understand how to use this player type. Period.

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#30 Bucknuck
June 22 2013, 11:51AM
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Anyone who had to play a lot with Belanger is going to see a significant drop off in stats. Same can be said for Smithson and for Ryan Smyth playing centre (note - I said playing centre, not on wing).

Jari Kurri couldn't break double digits playing with that guy.

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#31 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 22 2013, 12:00PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

Anyone who had to play a lot with Belanger is going to see a significant drop off in stats. Same can be said for Smithson and for Ryan Smyth playing centre (note - I said playing centre, not on wing).

Jari Kurri couldn't break double digits playing with that guy.

I agree. Line combos were a cluster puck. Keeping players in the lineup night after night who didn't warrant it was equally pucked.

Call up a kid. Give youthful exuberance a shot. They're full of piss and vinegar. That combined with excitement should lead to some crashing and banging. At the very least.

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#32 DonDon
June 22 2013, 12:26PM
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Speaking of Eager, Eakins has enough on his plate to keep him very busy and doesn't need a reclamation project that will tie up a valuable slot. Same with Brown. Neither are effective 4th liners and neither would be playing for a contending NHL club, in fact for any other NHL club.

It is time for MacT to clean house and set the team on a new pattern.

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#33 Sanaa Montana
June 22 2013, 03:01PM
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B.Eager was not used properly by Krueger. I believe B.Eager is MacT's kind of player, and will be given a fair chance to earn a job with Squeeeakins.

K.I.S.S approach must be taken with B.Eager. He doesn't have many tricks in his bag, but the ones that he does have-when used correctly can be very usefull to his team.

I believe the Oilganizaton didn't allow him to play his game in fear of retaliation to their young pups.

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#34 NewAgeSys
June 22 2013, 03:50PM
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Define a role for him if you require a specific focus, then let competition decide the rest.

As soon as I heard he was concussed training and saw that the guy who did it "disappeared" sooner than later, instead of being promoted for giving us a bloody heads up I knew this story would have a bad bad ending.

The concussion issue is a serious yet contentious one.

It is to serious an issue to screw with, I dont want to see Ben hurt permanently to make a buck any more than I want to see Sidney in that spot if he takes another one.

Once you take the first one it is downhill from there, if a skill player gets one he might be able to make it a few years before he gets caught again and still be effective enough to keep a job in the NHL. But a grinder or a fighter or an energy guy is finished if he cant finish. I didnt see ben recover fully, and see no reason that it will happen now, if he cant willingly throw them in consecutive games we cannot afford to keep him in his role.

Ryan Jones because of his eye injury and failure to return to form yet is facing the same issue with willingness and ability to engage and carry the team through deep waters, all of our bottom 6 are in the same boat, the cat is out of the bag now. We need guys who want to and are able to step up and carry this team in those bottom 6 roles. Nothing else will do. Alberta has become the "Show Me" Province.

No harm no foul but we need men who are physiclly able and willing to do the job, doctors will let us know if the physical component is fullfilled, Ben will likely get one more chance to show his willingness before the Dance is over here.

The Doctors may clear him to play but he will need to clear himself to make the roster.

We all know the secret password into the locker-room is "compete", so be it.

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#35 Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate
June 22 2013, 04:13PM
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One Word post here....NO

Ben Eager has a career

In the minor leagues

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#36 The Soup Fascist
June 23 2013, 07:27AM
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@Oilanderp wrote:

I'd rather see Teddy Peckman rolled in here via wheel barrow and made to play the wing before I see Bashful Ben back in the lineup. Theo with a stick and a burger tied on a string duct-taped to the front of his helmet would be much better than Eager the Uneager. At least Peckham knows his role.

Usually don't do this, but I have to point out a slight spelling mistake. It should read, "Peckham knows his ROLLS" .......... and butter. Lots and lots of butter!

You are welcome.

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#37 Spydyr
June 23 2013, 09:36AM
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How about we all wait and see what Eager gets done in training camp. Just keep him away from Pubs this summer.

I even heard some of the better NHL teams actually pick their team in camp. Not six months before hand based on draft position. See Klefbom for example.

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#38 STAZE
June 23 2013, 05:24PM
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A summer to re-coup. I hope that Eager comes back with a vengeance. No longer a fighter, it would be wise to avoid another concussion causing bout. Eager can still be a physical threat and a pest, who can skate, on the 4th line. A fair shot at training camp, under a new coach and a new direction. Couldn't hurt. Nothing to lose, so much to gain.

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#39 Tikkanese
June 24 2013, 09:31AM
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To all those saying give him a shot in the top 6... Do you even watch Oilers games? He's had plenty of those chances here already under both Renney and Krueger, and he always failed, miserably. What makes you think barely being a regular in the AHL is going to change that? He was a healthy scratch down there too.

He can't fight anymore(concussions), lost his "crazy"(concussions) and won't be much of a crash 'n banger anymore(concussions). I don't think you can buy him out after he fails to impress at camp, there is a short window for buyouts, no? His wasted salary in the minors will be just another reason for more expensive tickets here. Time to move on.

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