Free Agent Possibilities: Fourth Line Centre

Jonathan Willis
July 13 2013 12:18PM

It’s been nearly a week now since unrestricted free agency opened, and the best players on the market have already signed contracts with their new teams. For a team in need of depth NHL’ers, however, there remain options.

The Oilers are arguably such a team, and the good news is that there are still players available to fill the fourth line or spare centre slot.

We had profiled some of these players before free agency began; now we’ll have a look at what’s left.

The Remnant

Photo: Leech44/Wikimedia

Steve Begin, previously earned $525,000 in Calgary. Older, smallish forward who nevertheless plays an honest game – hitting, fighting, killing penalties – and had an effective season for the Flames in 2013.

Eric Belanger… Just kidding.

Tim Brent, previously earned $800,000 in Carolina. Tim Brent’s offensive production disappeared in 2013 – he went from 20 and 24 points in two preceding seasons to three. Some of that probably had to do with injury, and the rest with an unbelievably bad 3.45 on-ice shooting percentage. The depth centre has built a career on doing little things relatively well – he can kill penalties, is a decent faceoff man, hits a bit and blocks shots.

Scott Gomez, previously earned $700,000 in San Jose. The 33-year old Gomez found a role in San Jose as a depth centre at even-strength and a second power play option. Despite his ugly plus/minus, he didn’t actually have a terrible season by the shot clock – the Sharks were a team that out-shot the opposition and they were a hair better at with Gomez on the ice than with him off it. Unfortunately for San Jose, their depth lines were snakebit all season percentage-wise (six regulars has an on-ice shooting percentage below 6.0 at 5-on-5) and so that out-shooting didn’t pay off offensively. Gomez managed a very respectable eight points on the power play, and wins faceoffs – coming away with a 55.9% win rate in 2013.

Jeff Halpern, previously earned $700,000 in Montreal. Played tough minutes, starting three of four non-neutral zone shifts in his own end of the rink, which goes some way toward explaining why he only had three points last year. A 37-year old with almost 1,000 NHL games under his belt, Halpern was a pretty decent scorer not all that long ago, and still adds faceoff ability, penalty killing and a bit of toughness to the lineup.

Manny Malhotra, previously earned $2,500,000 in Vancouver. Malhotra’s a special case, in that he was one of the NHL’s best third-line centres before an eye injury threatened his career. Vancouver shelved the two-way stalwart – one of the league’s best faceoff men and penalty killers – and clearly believes his career should end; Malhotra reportedly disagrees and wants a chance to show he can still play, being unready to give up at the age of 33.

Marty Reasoner, previously earned $1,400,000 in Long Island. The 36-year old ex-Oiler had some decent seasons out East as a third-line forward, but slowed down after joining the Islanders, with one goal in 92 games and a cumulative minus-28 rating. He had something of a bounce-back 2013 campaign in that he went from minus-25 to minus-3 (a renaissance mirrored in the shot numbers, which went up dramatically) and he did it despite playing brutal defensive zone minutes. Also, according to no less a source than Matt Greene, he’s an offensive juggernaut.

Jerred Smithson, previously earned $800,000 in Edmonton. I’ve previously described him as a reserve centre, and I think that still holds true. He’s essentially a generic bottom-six centre who can be plugged into a penalty kill or a fourth line and expected to make safe plays while adding size, faceoffs and some physicality.

David Steckel, previously earned $1,100,000 in Anaheim. I’m just going to quote what I’ve said about Steckel previously, because it all still applies: “The 31-year old stands 6’6”, kills penalties, wins faceoffs (he’s one of the best in the league in that role) and has an above average physical game. He’s also a guy who does a consistently good job of limiting shots and chances against in a highly defensive role – over the last four years he’s generally been on the ice for three defensive zone draws for every two in the attacking zone. He doesn’t add a lot offensively – he’s in the 15-20 point range most years – but given role and minutes played that’s not bad.” The only real question with Steckel is contract terms, since he’s coming off a multi-year, seven-figure deal.

My View

Photo: Michael Miller/Wikimedia

With each player, I ask myself two questions. First, is he likely to be a better fit than Anton Lander as the Oilers’ fourth-line centre in 2013-14? Second, if not, is he likely to be a good fit as the team’s 13th forward, a player who comes cheaply enough and offers enough over a Mark Arcobello or Ryan Hamilton or Will Acton to be worth signing?

Of the list above, Steckel is the name I would submit with no qualifications as a better fit than Lander. He fills the same roles (fourth line even-strength minutes, regular penalty kill work), has similar offensive ability and brings more size, faceoff ability and much more toughness to the role than Lander does. More than that, he’s still young enough that on a one-year deal there’s no reason to expect a drop-off in performance.

Aside from Steckel, two other names stand out to me. One is that of Scott Gomez, provided that the coaching staff is comfortable employing Nugent-Hopkins or Gagner (or both) on the penalty kill; if they aren’t, Gomez hasn’t regularly killed penalties since 2009-10 and would be a risky addition.

The other name is Manny Malhotra: he is, without question, a gamble, but on the right contract he could be a brilliant one for the Oilers. Provided they were able to get him without overpaying, one of three things might happen. He might rebound, in which case he’s a brilliant value signing. He might come back part of the way, in which case he’s a strong fourth-liner. Or, he might genuinely be done, in which case the Oilers have a ready substitute in Lander and haven’t spent a lot of money on Malhotra.

Aside from those three, Tim Brent or Jerred Smithson might be worth a look at a near league-minimum deal as press-box forwards to start; the team saw last year the hazards of going into the season without a spare centre and with Lander currently slated to start on the NHL team there isn’t a lot of depth in the minors – just Will Acton, who has yet to record his first 20-point AHL season, and players like Mark Arcobello and Andrew Miller who aren’t good fits for a defence-oriented line.

If it were me, I’d try and get Steckel signed for one year at a reasonable dollar figure; if that were impossible I’d then try and do the same with Manny Malhotra. Failing that, a depth centre like Brent or Smithson seems better than the status quo.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Leafs Nation, Steve Dangle interviews Toronto beat writer James Mirtle, who offers his take on all sorts of issues, and the following advice to up-and-comers:

It can take a long time to break into exactly what you want to do, but then again, that's the case in lots of industries right now. In the beginning, be willing to work any job and any hours and impress the people you're working for. Become well versed in new and social media and don't be afraid to be different. Don't get discouraged if it takes years to get where you want to go - that's usually the case for everyone. Know what you're covering inside and out, try to always get things right and, in the end, if you do good work, you'll get noticed and rewarded.

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

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 justDOit
July 13 2013, 06:48PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

David Steckel it is. Not much for options on that list. i'd give him a 2 yr test drive.

Only 11 more sleeps till the big day. The day that shocked the hockey world. Yeah, I went there.

I'm sure that MacT is waiting until that anniv to announce his big, BOLD trade:

Hall, Belanger, and Musil

for

Kadri, Liles, Orr, 2 1st rounders, and 0.015% of the Ontario Teacher's Retirement fund.

Edit: How often do you sleep?

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#52 Rocket
July 13 2013, 07:01PM
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@Quicksilver ballet

I remember that day. I was crazy crushed. Maybe I'll go watch that 30 for 30 now.

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#53 Numenius
July 13 2013, 07:13PM
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Cutterov wrote:

Not to sure what the love affair is with Smithson. He was beyond brutal as an oiler... Zero speed, zero puck skills, not overly physical, mental mistakes in his defensive zone coverage, bad trade for tambo... I still can't get over that oil change episode where tambo is asking his scouts if he should make the deal... Umm no Steve you are the gm, the scouts provide you a report and u make that deal... If we are getting a depth centre Steckel at 750 000 would fit perfectly.

Smithson was not beyond brutal as an Oiler. For a defence of resigning him, see:

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2013/06/02/the-case-for-jerred-smithson/

"Still, Oilers probably could do worse for 4th/5th line forward depth; bear in mind that at season’s end Smithson was the biggest active forward on the team, while his seasonal totals in faceoff percentage, hits, and blocked shots were all #1 on the squad. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to have a Barry Trotz-trained veteran as a bottom-of-the-roster grinder on a young team that is still learning the ropes defensively. From this distance such a player might make an ideal 13th forward."

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#54 alledmonton
July 13 2013, 07:20PM
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The Oilers would be further ahead by developing Lander. He's good enough for the 4th line now, and has the potential to develop into something more.

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#55 madjam
July 13 2013, 07:27PM
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Craig1981 wrote:

He complents them well. Not elite, but very talented. It think he actually fits well with eberle and hall and leaves RNH to give more depth to yakapov and perron.

I agree he does compliment in some respects , mainly in offensive zone . But , did MacT. not want our centers to be more of a protection for the duo's , did he not want our centers to be above average defensively and also above average in faceoffs and physical department ? Maybe i'm wrong in that assumption .You could throw in size I suppose ,but many are offended by that suggestion . I think we all like Gagner but not to recognize areas /ignor other facets of his game is erroneous .

Maybe I am to cautious after seeing Pisani and Horcoff have banner years and end up with big contracts that neither seem to live up to .

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#56 99thOilerfan
July 13 2013, 07:29PM
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I can not think of a time the Oil have the C in such a flux!

Gagner you in or are you out? Let us know, thanks!

( MacT better line up an exit plan, what are would we get back C or the D1 everyone wants? )

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#57 Rocket
July 13 2013, 07:30PM
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@DSF

Totally. The lack of centre depth on The Oilers is astounding. I like that MacT got Gordon but much work still needs to be done.

Steckel would probably be an overpay (like everyone else it seems), but at least The Oilers would be making small steps to get some centre depth.

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#58 DSF
July 13 2013, 07:33PM
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Rocket wrote:

Totally. The lack of centre depth on The Oilers is astounding. I like that MacT got Gordon but much work still needs to be done.

Steckel would probably be an overpay (like everyone else it seems), but at least The Oilers would be making small steps to get some centre depth.

Agree that Steckel would be a good signing and that the Oilers C depth is deplorable.

I've been beating the "draft centres" drum for years but the Oilers apparently don't realize you can't win without depth down the middle.

STL currently has SEVEN NHL quality centres on their roster.

VCR has drafted FIVE centres in the last two drafts.

And on it goes.

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#59 99thOilerfan
July 13 2013, 07:45PM
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So we wait.....

Hold off signing left over UFA that works on 1 yr flyer, and the Oil will wait it out for a cap stricken team looking for a trade? I would go the trade route, better age group to pick from..

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#60 DSF
July 13 2013, 07:50PM
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99thOilerfan wrote:

So we wait.....

Hold off signing left over UFA that works on 1 yr flyer, and the Oil will wait it out for a cap stricken team looking for a trade? I would go the trade route, better age group to pick from..

There are only 3-4 cap strapped teams.

The only team you might get a centre from is PHA and, if you want Couturier or Laughton, be prepared to pay through the nose.

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#61 99thOilerfan
July 13 2013, 07:53PM
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@DSF

....Right,then...

How about just in general cash strapped team? Would the Coyotes be watching the actual $'s?

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#62 Oilergasm
July 13 2013, 07:53PM
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Woogie63 wrote:

Lots of trouble in RiverCity. The bottom 6 going is to be easy to play against. The other top lines are going to circle the games they play the Oilers. This team is going to be very one dimensional, speed is our ONLY game.

Will we be a strong team on the cycle - no Will be able forecheck with one forward - yes Will we be able forecheck with two forwards - not with that defense Will we play a left/right wing lock - no MacT has called that Are we going to play a puck possession game - no will not win enough face offs. We will be effective if we can play 1980's Oilers game consistently

Quality teams with great coaching and advanced pro scouting are going to figure out the Oilers. I predict a long second half and just missing the play-offs again.

Who the eff is Will? I think we should sign him.

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#63 DSF
July 13 2013, 08:27PM
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Craig1981 wrote:

This from a guy that said Boston would resign everyone including Horton and not needing to trade anyone

1) You've obviously confused me with someone who commented on the Bruins offseason moves.

2) You've obviously confused me with someone who cares what you think.

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#64 DSF
July 13 2013, 08:30PM
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99thOilerfan wrote:

....Right,then...

How about just in general cash strapped team? Would the Coyotes be watching the actual $'s?

The Coyotes, who let Gordon go the free agent route just signed Kyle Chipchura to be their 4th line centre.

1) Ribiero

2) Vermette

3) Hanzal

4) Chipchura

They're just fine and $7.5M under the cap.

(Henrik Samuelsson in the pipeline)

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#65 DSF
July 13 2013, 08:54PM
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TV6 wrote:

The Oilers drafted 4 Centers this past Draft alone & have drafted more Centers than the Knucks have over the past 4 Drafts as well.

I'm sure MacT looks to you 1st when he makes his decisions. Just as mailmen look to the Unibomber for their career advice.

I've never seen someone use hindsight & cherry pick comments to the amount you do,(ad~nauseam)& 96% of the time, the information is STILL incorrect or flawed.

x6

Drafting centres at 56, 83, 96, and 188 is not the same as drafting centres at 9, 24, 26,57 and 85.

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#66 DSF
July 13 2013, 10:13PM
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TV6 wrote:

Tell Ken Holland, Hakan Andersson & the Red Wings that.

But if that is the way that you say you were/are wrong, then so be it...

I'll also forget about your rants about building from the Net & D'core out 1st as well then...

Like I said... Cherry Picking

x6

#desperate

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#67 Hayes
July 13 2013, 10:16PM
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I am questioning why Marc Pouliot isn't on this list. Isn't he the next Guy Carbonneau?

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#68 MKE
July 13 2013, 10:50PM
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@DSF

This coming from the guy who says Florida has three centers better then Sam Gagner....

Get over yourself.

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#69 TeeVee
July 14 2013, 01:22AM
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@Bruno

Truly inspiring!

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#70 magisterrex
July 14 2013, 06:29AM
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How did Bruno get past the spam filters? And can his spellcaster drop a magic truth serum on DSF?

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#71 They're $hittie
July 14 2013, 06:53AM
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@MKE

HAHA,

don't forget DSF said Mueller was better than yak. I would assume he said this because yak had never played in the nhl. Now he says this.

#hypocrite #cherrypicker #troll

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#72 Oiler Al
July 14 2013, 08:08AM
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Bruno wrote:

Hi My name is 'Bruno Rico' just want to share my experience with the world on how i got my love back and saved my marriage... I was married for 7years with 2kids and we lived happily until things started getting ugly and we had fights and arguments almost every time... it got worse at a point that she filed for divorce... I tried my best to make her change her mind & stay with me cause i loved her with all my heart and didn't want to loose her but everything just didn't work out... she moved out of the house and still went ahead to file for divorce... I pleaded and tried everything but still nothing worked. The breakthrough came when someone introduced me to this wonderful, great spell caster who eventually helped me out... I have never been a fan of things like this but just decided to try reluctantly cause I was desperate and left with no choice... He did special prayers and used roots and herbs... Within 7 days she called me and was sorry for all the emotional trauma she had cost me, moved back to the house and we continue to live happily, the kids are happy too and we are expecting our third child. I have introduced him to a lot of couples with problems across the world and they have had good news... Just thought I should share my experience cause I strongly believe someone out there need's it... You can email him via akhidenorlovespell@gmail.com Don't give up just yet, the different between 'Ordinary' & 'Extra-Ordinary' is the 'Extra' so make extra effort to save your marriage/relationship if it's truly worth it.

Hey Bruno,I can see why she left you.. Paste the "L" on your forehead and keep truckin.

Amazing what a little wild weed can do for your relationship..... Take another hit buddy.

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#73 Gaz
July 14 2013, 08:24AM
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@DSF

What are you basing your statement on? Is there empirical evidence that you've sifted through, or is this an opinion?

Honestly curious.

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#74 K_Mart
July 14 2013, 08:29AM
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Wow Bruno, nice spell casting add. Maybe the magic can convince DSF to love the Oilers again,management and all.

I can see it now.

TELEPHONE RINGS.. RING ... RING... RING..

MACT: Smackdown central, how can I help you?

DSF: I was wrong, I love you, I'm dying without you... What can I do?

MacT: Continue dying. (click)

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#75 Quicksilver ballet
July 14 2013, 08:44AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Hey Bruno,I can see why she left you.. Paste the "L" on your forehead and keep truckin.

Amazing what a little wild weed can do for your relationship..... Take another hit buddy.

Hey man, you can't talk to "Uncle Rico" like that. He's a legend in his own mind.

His breast enhancer program might not have worked out in his favour, but if coach had given him a shot in College. Darn tootin they would've won State!

Don't knock livin in a van, down by the river, till you've tried it.

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#76 TeddyTurnbuckle
July 14 2013, 08:48AM
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Oilers could use one of these guys as a press box center. I vote for steckle

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#77 K_Mart
July 14 2013, 08:52AM
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Bruno " The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the 'extra'..

One of those words that just doesnt match its definition. You'd think extra-ordinary would involve an increased amount of ordinary.

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#78 magisterrex
July 14 2013, 09:28AM
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Plot twist: Bruno is one of DSF's many accounts.

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#79 Oilcruzer
July 14 2013, 09:44AM
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I am really surprised that no one is thinking about seeing if Pitlick has what it takes to play well in the show. He should get a hard look.

I saw him play in the O. I thought he was being misplayed. He looked strong.

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#80 rob
July 14 2013, 10:20AM
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is there a big trade coming today with the oil?anybody heard anything?

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#81 K_Mart
July 14 2013, 11:07AM
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@Oilcruzer

I think you mean in the A or the W. He never played in the O.

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#82 madjam
July 14 2013, 11:44AM
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Meanwhile , back on the hockey front , curious fans might want to know what's further planned for our defence . If the new ones excel , how that could effect the cap as early as next year . Are Belov and Klefbom top 2 material ? Maybe we might still be weak, and better off rushing Nurse into service this season to improve on ice product ? Is our defence so weak that Nurse is the better option ?

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#83 Oiler Al
July 14 2013, 12:18PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

I like that, even throw in half his salary, as well as Pitlick.

While MacT is at it, throw in Plante and Thubert. and Hamilton.. [ get rid of some of these bad contracts]

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#84 Oilcruzer
July 14 2013, 04:36PM
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K_Mart wrote:

I think you mean in the A or the W. He never played in the O.

Ya, for O K C. Thanks.

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#85 prince irabor oboh
July 16 2013, 05:07PM
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i am prince irabor oboh from west Africa i was born my a great juju priest,i specialized in helping people getting their love ones back no matter the difficulties in there relationship.so if you are desperately in need of getting your ex lover back then contact me now via email princeirabortemple@gmail.com for quick response.to your problem.

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#86 kelly kelly
July 16 2013, 05:08PM
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must make this testimony know to all. I’ve been to other spell casters and psychic readers before, but in my opinion you are the best. I just wished I came to you earlier, but hey I got the best for last and that is Dr Stanley. My ex was gone for a year and I went everywhere and other spell casters for help but no result until my friend introduce me to prince irabor oboh. After that Love Spell and Break Up Spell was done I finally gotten calls from him out of no where within one week. Him and the other lady broke up and we are going on a vacation together just the 2 of us in a week… Thanks and I love you for helping me. To everyone who is looking for a real spell caster contact: princeirabortemple@gmail.com he will help you……….prince irabor oboh

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#87 prince irabor oboh
July 16 2013, 05:09PM
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i am prince irabor oboh from west Africa i was born my a great juju priest,i specialized in helping people getting their love ones back no matter the difficulties in there relationship.so if you are desperately in need of getting your ex lover back then contact me now via email princeirabortemple@gmail.com for quick response.to your problem.

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