How will Dallas Eakins run his lines?

Jonathan Willis
July 24 2013 09:38AM

Now that Craig MacTavish has announced his happiness with the Oilers’ third and fourth lines, and his comfort level with the current centre depth chart, it appears that Edmonton is likely done overhauling their roster.

Now the question is what Dallas Eakins will do with it.

The Forwards

Given the Oilers’ depth on defence, it seems likely that the team will carry 13 forwards and eight defencemen; the depth chart above is my best guess as to what the team looks like out of the gate given its current makeup. There are alternatives – Ryan Smyth at third-line left wing, swapping Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to balance the forward lines a little bit, etc. – but this is my guess.

Whichever line Taylor Hall is on is getting the power-vs.-power assignment. This trio drove results a year ago in a difficult role and given their age there’s every reason to expect they’re only going to get better at it. The Oilers have some problems but the first line is ready to go head-to-head with the best in the league. In that role, they’re likely to get roughly equal amounts of time in the offensive and defensive zones.

The second line, as currently constructed, depends a great deal on Nail Yakupov. David Perron and Sam Gagner are fine players, but if Yakupov can take a Hall- or Eberle-like jump in year two of his NHL career then all of a sudden the potential of this team dramatically improves. This should be seen as a primarily offensive line; likely they’ll face either the opposition’s second or third line and start more shifts in the opposition end of the rink.

Ales Hemsky’s presence on line three is going to irritate the ‘checking lines should be made up entirely of 6’3” Canadians’ crowd, but he’s actually a reasonably good fit there because a) he has experience against good players and b) he’s a whiz at moving the puck out of the defensive end, which is going to be a big deal for this line. Boyd Gordon centres the line both literally and figuratively and given his skill-set this should be a primarily defensive line, one that starts in the Oilers’ end of the rink most often and generally faces the opposition’s second and third lines.

Line four is also a reasonable bet to outperform opposition fourth lines. Anton Lander’s primarily a defensive force, and given the Oilers’ makeup and general level of ability it isn’t a bad bet that this line sees mostly defensive minutes. Ryan Smyth doesn’t always get the credit he deserves these days as a two-way winger; on the fourth line I think he’s an extremely reasonable bet. Jesse Joensuu, like Nail Yakupov, is a wild card; if he’s mostly here because he’s big this line should be okay but if his point-per-game performance in Finland is something other than a mirage this is a group that theoretically should put the boots to most fourth lines in the league.

The Defence

Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry reprise their role of the last two half-seasons, and hope for results more in line with the latter half of 2011-12 than with the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. They’ll likely be the Oilers’ shutdown pair of choice, playing against the best opponents at either end of the rink.

Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz are penciled in as the second pairing here; Ference could swap spots with Smid or Schultz could drop to the third pairing in favour of virtually any of the defencemen below him. As currently constructed, the presence of Schultz makes this pairing a natural fit for the Gagner line – a duo that will mostly see top-nine forwards on the other team but that should get offensive minutes.

Denis Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz are my current third-pairing choice, predicated on Grebeshkov being a similar player to the one that we last saw in Oilers’ silks (something that may or may not turn out to be the case). In the best case scenario, this is a wicked all-round third pairing, with Schultz providing a safe defensive partner perfectly capable against the lower half of the opposition lineup and Grebeshkov offering a little chaos but also ability to generate offence and drive the puck in the right direction.

There’s lots of room for fluctuation on the blue line, as was hinted above, and much is going to depend on Anton Belov’s ability to immediately translate his game to the NHL level. A 6’4” puck-moving defenceman could dramatically alter the picture if he can play a capable two-way game. Corey Potter and Oscar Klefbom also both stand some chance of making the team, though I expect we’ll see young veteran Philip Larsen snag the final spot.

Final Assessment

I don’t mind the forward group. The second line in particular could use a little more heft, and I’m much less comfortable with the depth at centre than Craig MacTavish seems to be, but this is a group that should be able to compete with most NHL teams and for the first time in a while has some potential for a plus performance from its third and fourth lines.

On defence, there’s potential but it’s a group that’s thin at the top end. Two of the 10 players seriously vying for a spot on the roster need to form a capable top pairing; if that happens, this is a team that could do some serious damage but if it doesn’t there are going to be some long nights this season.

Recently around the Nation Network

The Canucks had their "Summer Summit" on Tuesday, and there's lots of interesting stuff to come out of it. Seriously read the review - there is a ton of stuff. What struck me, because it's Oilers-related, was Mike Gillis denying he could have landed more than the ninth overall pick for Cory Schneider:

Well, according to those guys at TSN we were trying to get less (*scoffs*). Throughout this entire process we explored every opportunity we could explore. What was written, mostly outside of Vancouver, was about 95% untrue. Completely untrue. Our objective was to move into the Top 10 picks, and that was the best we could do given the circumstances. We were trying to design a trade to pick that player (Horvat) - whether it was earlier, or later - but we didn't think he would slide past the 9th pick. We were actually worried that he wouldn't slip past the 5th pick, so we were pleased to get him.

And if you buy all that, I've got a bridge to sell you. Email me at richsultanwithabridge@hotmail.com, or read some of my other pieces:

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
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 LOIL00
July 25 2013, 10:06AM
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....less than 23 years old. Let them all hit mid-20's (Nuge Shultz and Yak included) and the team will get hugely better by default. And it will happen quickly once it happens I think.

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#2 Grizztopia
July 24 2013, 09:44AM
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An improvement over last year, though my concern is that a lot hinges on "if (blank) performs well, if (blank) has a bounceback season, if (blank) can return to form."

That being said, I expect a big season from Yak, I think our 2nd line will be able to create offense, and I think there will be at least one pleasant surprise coming on the blueline.

MacT has been solid if unspectacular thus far, I like how he's improved the team without giving up much so far. I imagine when the stars align for him to pull off a blockbuster he'll do just that, though I'd wager we won't see that till next offseason.

No idea how I think this team will finish this year, especially with Hemsky's future being an unknown. I remain cautiously optimistic.

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#3 Ian
July 24 2013, 09:45AM
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Lets go oilers just hoping for some playoff hockey this season .. getting sick of losing!!! anyways i like the changes and am patiently waiting for the season to start. can only play so much golf and read the nation. cheers Go oilers

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#4 Czar
July 24 2013, 09:58AM
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No matter how Eakins manages the bench it will be an improvement over Krueger. Ralph didn't seem to ride the hot hand or match lines effectively. Ferrence for Whitney is an improvement before we even hit the ice and I don't think MacT signed Belov to be our 7th d-man. As most have speculated,Schultz the elder will be traded.

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#5 Spydyr
July 24 2013, 10:29AM
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The line-up does look better than last year but who does not like kool-aid on a hot summers day?

I'm hoping Eakins plays his top players the most. That means penalty killing and power play time for the kids.

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#6 YFC Prez
July 24 2013, 10:32AM
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@Czar

I have confidence in our D going into this season....haven't been able to say that in a long time. Center depth scares the bejesus out of me though, especially with the Nuge Injury factor.

Yak's gonna tear it up though...that much is certain.

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#7 YFC Prez
July 24 2013, 10:34AM
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hmmmmm not to sure why that comment was directed at the Czar.

oh well I guess that one was for you good sir

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#8 Mark-LW
July 24 2013, 10:35AM
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"he’s actually a reasonably good fit there because a) he has experience against good players and b) he’s a whiz at moving the puck out of the defensive end, which is going to be a big deal for this line"

These are my thoughts on the possibility of Hemsky on the third line also. The only thing I worry about is him taking even more heat from the public/MSM for a drop in production due to tough assignments and ~36% zone starts .

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#9 Rama Lama
July 24 2013, 10:36AM
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We have no legitimate physical deterrent on this team.....which means it's open season on our skill once again.

Mac T will be singing a different tune when someone big takes a run at our top two lines and no one is there to hold them to account.........oh I forgot, that's Sammy's role.

Hemsky playing on the third line with two defensive forwards should see him score at least 15 to 20 points for the season.........that should fetch a seventh round draft choice. Hemsky needs to be traded once and for all, playing him on a third line is like making Linus Omark a fighter.

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#10 Spydyr
July 24 2013, 10:37AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

We have no legitimate physical deterrent on this team.....which means it's open season on our skill once again.

Mac T will be singing a different tune when someone big takes a run at our top two lines and no one is there to hold them to account.........oh I forgot, that's Sammy's role.

Hemsky playing on the third line with two defensive forwards should see him score at least 15 to 20 points for the season.........that should fetch a seventh round draft choice. Hemsky needs to be traded once and for all, playing him on a third line is like making Linus Omark a fighter.

The only deterrent they have is the power play. Sad but true.

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#11 Sanaa Montana
July 24 2013, 10:39AM
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I believe Yak and Hall will be a line, next year, and for many to come.

Hall and Yak neat on ice like cognac.

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#12 Death Metal Nightmare
July 24 2013, 10:45AM
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not interested in the paper-theory of this roster. i'm more interested in how this dude is going to get them to generate the semblance of execution. they have been too sloppy, indecisive, out of sync and inconsistent 5-on-5. the "things will work itself out because they have sexy talent" is immature thinking.

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#13 Grammar Nazi
July 24 2013, 10:46AM
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Two caveats:

1) Willis: I really enjoy your work. I think you are a very insightful hockey mind.

2) I know that this is a hockey blog, so I shouldn't get my proverbial panties in a knot about grammar.

However, having said that, I notice the same "then" vs. "than" grammar error in almost every Willis article I read. It almost always occurs in a sentence structured thus: "IF x happens, THEN/THAN y will follow (e.g. "... if Yakupov can take a Hall- or Eberle-like jump in year two of his NHL career than all of a sudden the potential of this team dramatically improves").

In this situation, the correct grammar is "then", not "than".

Please forgive my pickiness. Like I said, I like Willis' writing - I just think it's a shame that a simple grammar error takes away from the polish on the overall product.

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#14 David S
July 24 2013, 11:00AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

We have no legitimate physical deterrent on this team.....which means it's open season on our skill once again.

Mac T will be singing a different tune when someone big takes a run at our top two lines and no one is there to hold them to account.........oh I forgot, that's Sammy's role.

Hemsky playing on the third line with two defensive forwards should see him score at least 15 to 20 points for the season.........that should fetch a seventh round draft choice. Hemsky needs to be traded once and for all, playing him on a third line is like making Linus Omark a fighter.

The "deterrent" you speak of will come in the form of a Yak "top cheddah" one-timer off a Gagner seeing eye pass on the followup PP.

Teams will figure it out pretty fast.

We'll beat them on the scoreboard, where it matters the most.

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#15 Nomad787
July 24 2013, 11:06AM
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I think it may be a good fit for Hemsky. He has always played his own style of game, and with players who couldn't or didnt know how to play along. Now he will be playing with more simple players which will help the confusion. If Jones comes back strong as I think he will, I see Hemsky assisting on a lot of grimy Jones goals, where Hemsky skates around for 15 seconds, fires the puck at the net and it goes off Jones' eye, I mean visor and in.

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#16 madjam
July 24 2013, 11:18AM
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I think using Hemsky on a third line does him no good , or the team . He's far to fast and skilled to be playing anywhere but top 6 . You want to devalue him in a trade , etc. , put on the third line . He simply is not a third or fourth line player .

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#17 Spydyr
July 24 2013, 11:26AM
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opps

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#18 The Nuuuuuuuuuuuuge
July 24 2013, 11:27AM
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You underrate the potential of Anton Belov. I'm 99 sure he will surprise a lot. I definitly think he will maybe not be a top-pairing D-man but for sure he will be able to play very good second-pairing minutes.

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#19 gcw_rocks
July 24 2013, 11:32AM
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I don't think the fact that Hemsky is not Canadian worries people. These things do:

1) Hemsky bled shots like crazy last year. And now we are expecting him to come out ahead on a line that is likely to get tough assignments and tough zone starts?

2) After MacT's press statements saying it was time for Hemsky to move on, there is a real chance that he is going to be a media distraction all year on a team that doesn't need more problems

3) In the past when MacT (as coach) tried to place Hemsky in more defensive roles, Hemsky didn't like it. (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/144269-craig-mactavish-conspiracy, found 2 other references as well)

4) There likely is not enough/any power play time available for him with Perron joining the club, which is further increasing the chances of him being unhappy.

5) Finally, Hemsky is tying up dollars that would be better spent on a top pairing defender or another centre

Love Hemsky all you want, he is not a good fit for this hockey team right now.

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#20 G Money
July 24 2013, 11:37AM
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JW, this is disturbingly optimistic of you!

Honestly, I don't see our third and fourth lines as much improved over last year - if at all.

And those lines generally got eaten alive in shots, chances, and goals.

Some of the pain could have been RK's systems, and Eakins' defensively solid approach gives some hope that this will improve.

Some of the pain could have been the one-legged wonder on defense, causing everyone else to constantly be in a chase position, and (effectively) swapping FerenceWhitney automatically makes things better.

So yeah, I have *some hope* that these two lines won't be as bad as last year. The outer marker for my optimism is that they'll be able to hold their own.

But a "reasonable bet to outperform" the other teams comparable lines? Hmmm.

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#21 Mikey
July 24 2013, 11:51AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

We have no legitimate physical deterrent on this team.....which means it's open season on our skill once again.

Mac T will be singing a different tune when someone big takes a run at our top two lines and no one is there to hold them to account.........oh I forgot, that's Sammy's role.

Hemsky playing on the third line with two defensive forwards should see him score at least 15 to 20 points for the season.........that should fetch a seventh round draft choice. Hemsky needs to be traded once and for all, playing him on a third line is like making Linus Omark a fighter.

So who is the physical deterrent for VAN? DET? CHI? Should I go on? Each team has one maybe two guys who fill that role. So does Edmonton.

Oiler fans should watch a little movie based on real life (probably not based on a real life event) called Rocky. He wasn't the biggest but he had heart and determination.

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#22 tileguy
July 24 2013, 12:00PM
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So J.W., you've written off Ben Eager? What would he have to provide to crack this lineup?

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#23 LinkfromHyrule
July 24 2013, 12:02PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

We have no legitimate physical deterrent on this team.....which means it's open season on our skill once again.

Mac T will be singing a different tune when someone big takes a run at our top two lines and no one is there to hold them to account.........oh I forgot, that's Sammy's role.

Hemsky playing on the third line with two defensive forwards should see him score at least 15 to 20 points for the season.........that should fetch a seventh round draft choice. Hemsky needs to be traded once and for all, playing him on a third line is like making Linus Omark a fighter.

We will in a year or so when nurse matures. Until then, taking a run generally results in a penalty. Our PP is gonna be scary good, it won't take long for other teams to figure out that putting us on the powerplay is a very bad idea

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#24 Yakman
July 24 2013, 12:15PM
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Mikey wrote:

So who is the physical deterrent for VAN? DET? CHI? Should I go on? Each team has one maybe two guys who fill that role. So does Edmonton.

Oiler fans should watch a little movie based on real life (probably not based on a real life event) called Rocky. He wasn't the biggest but he had heart and determination.

Rocky? Seriously? You are using a fictional character to back up a real world argument? At least go with Rudy, at least that movie is based on a real guy!

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#25 Yakman
July 24 2013, 12:18PM
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tileguy wrote:

So J.W., you've written off Ben Eager? What would he have to provide to crack this lineup?

I agree. He provides the camp competition MacT is talking about if nothing else.

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#26 Czar
July 24 2013, 12:39PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

I have confidence in our D going into this season....haven't been able to say that in a long time. Center depth scares the bejesus out of me though, especially with the Nuge Injury factor.

Yak's gonna tear it up though...that much is certain.

I have to agree, though we lack a true #1 our defence by committee will be a vast improvement over last year. Just getting Hall and Yak on the ice more will be another step in the right direction as well. Look forward to seeing the new #10 light it up! Cheers dude!

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#29 Numenius
July 24 2013, 01:28PM
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Sanaa Montana wrote:

I believe Yak and Hall will be a line, next year, and for many to come.

Hall and Yak neat on ice like cognac.

Absolutely agree.

I just watched a nice Hall compilation video, and in the plays with him and Yak they looked like they had telepathy.

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#30 Czar
July 24 2013, 01:54PM
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tileguy wrote:

So J.W., you've written off Ben Eager? What would he have to provide to crack this lineup?

A scrap in every preseason game would be a good start.

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#31 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
July 24 2013, 02:14PM
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David S wrote:

The "deterrent" you speak of will come in the form of a Yak "top cheddah" one-timer off a Gagner seeing eye pass on the followup PP.

Teams will figure it out pretty fast.

We'll beat them on the scoreboard, where it matters the most.

Excellent....and when the opposition pounds RNH into the boards breaks his collarbone and he's lost for the season, we'll get a 5 minute power play and maybe we can score two goals......YYYAAYYY !

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#32 Hair bag
July 24 2013, 02:16PM
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@Sanaa Montana

I think they could be very dangerous. Yak was starting to get it and assert himself by the end of the year last year.

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#33 Rocket
July 24 2013, 02:21PM
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@Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

Totally. I was going to respond something similar but you already nailed it.

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#34 Rama Lama
July 24 2013, 02:39PM
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Mikey wrote:

So who is the physical deterrent for VAN? DET? CHI? Should I go on? Each team has one maybe two guys who fill that role. So does Edmonton.

Oiler fans should watch a little movie based on real life (probably not based on a real life event) called Rocky. He wasn't the biggest but he had heart and determination.

Really that's your solution, because a few teams do not have size with physicality we should'nt either?

Using your logic, how about Boston, San Jose, Ducks, LA, ........should I go on? When you have a small second line centre ( Gagner) defending all his teammates, and no one else to answer the call, you will ultimately pay the price.

We need a enforcer to protect the youth of our team....... .this gives them the peace of mind to do their job properly.

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#35 tileguy
July 24 2013, 02:47PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Excellent....and when the opposition pounds RNH into the boards breaks his collarbone and he's lost for the season, we'll get a 5 minute power play and maybe we can score two goals......YYYAAYYY !

exactly! hemsky, hall, rnh, ebbs your next. I think we almost need to waste a roster spot on a nuclear deterrent.I wish Eager could be that guy because he skates so well.

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#36 RJ
July 24 2013, 03:24PM
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Willis, how do you see the top 9 shaking out if RNH is unable to start the season?

Given his importance to the team moving forward, it does make sense to take every single precaution to ensure he waits before he comes back.

So how do you change the lines, knowing RNH probably shouldn't be back before mid-October?

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#37 toprightcorner
July 24 2013, 03:59PM
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I still feel that MAcT will look at adding a centre before the season starts, especially if Nuge isn't ready to play. Someone like Steckel or a PTO to Malholtra, Halpren or Reasoner.

I judt don't think it would be in the best interest of the Oilers to start Lander on the fourth line playing 10 minutes a night when he can play second line in the AHL playing 18 minutes a night in a more important role.

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#38 toprightcorner
July 24 2013, 04:03PM
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Wow, that link to the Canucks "Summer Summit" is hilarious. Gillis must be delusional thinking his fans buy into what he is selling. Afraid Horvat would not slide past the 5th pick.....priceless! When a team has an opportunity to get a player like Zack Kassian you have to make that move.......hilarious!!!

Never seen a GM so unwilling to take responsibility for his actions in my life. I see him with a future in selling used cars or snake oil!!

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#39 Wax Man Riley
July 24 2013, 04:10PM
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Yakman wrote:

Rocky? Seriously? You are using a fictional character to back up a real world argument? At least go with Rudy, at least that movie is based on a real guy!

REDDOX! REDDOX! REDDOX REDDOX!

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#40 Oiler Al
July 24 2013, 05:02PM
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Read somewhere, when, Eakin was first hired that in terms of forward lines, he would rather run pairs and move the third guy around as seen fit, which would make 3 man Line-up's elementry.

Also see , where speed of this team for the first time in a long time will be a factor, banking on the defense being able to get the puck out of their zone quickly and effectively [Whitney ]to speeding fowards up front, who should be testing the opposing defense with speed maintaing puck possession through out. Little of the dump and chase I would guess.Makes sense based on the size of the forwards.

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#41 Romulus' Apotheosis
July 24 2013, 05:03PM
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@Jonathan Willis

There's a real disparity between the title and purported topic of this article and its actual content.

Basically you've just offered your own depth chart, which is certainly interesting.

It follows after Bruce and LT's. Of interest here is that all 3 of you underrate Belov IMO and of the 3 you are the only one to place Smyth below Jones.

However, you haven't really offered any insight into how Eakins might run his lines. You haven't parsed his public statements or in-game decision making. Based on this article, I have no idea how he might run his lines. It isn't even addressed.

It's too bad, because such an article would be very interesting to read, especially considering Eakins' remarks about having several set plays not unlike in football.

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#42 Cody anderson
July 24 2013, 05:04PM
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@RJ

I think the top 9 will remain unchanged if RNH is unable to go except that Acrobello will step into Nuge's spot until he comes back.

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#43 **
July 24 2013, 07:06PM
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Gillis is into full damage control mode after getting swindled at the draft.

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#44 kale
July 24 2013, 09:38PM
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It is my understanding the first line will be

Yakupov, Yakimov, Zharkov(Slepyshev having an outside chance for obvious reasons), Belov, and Grebeshkov

an I mistaken?

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#45 15w40
July 24 2013, 10:32PM
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I definitely would like to see RNH between Hall and Yakupov.

RNH loading the bullets for the big shots. A 3:1 ratio assist to goals for RNH on that line would be just fine. 50 assists and another 16 to 20 goals would be great.

I would also try and get Hemsky some plum power play time to get those stats up. Hopefully playing with Gordon, he can keep the +/- close to even and then at the deadline he will be worth something - even if its a couple of decent picks.

Although if the Oilers are in the thick of things will they hang onto him and watch him walk for nothing like Whitney??

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#46 David S
July 24 2013, 10:46PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Excellent....and when the opposition pounds RNH into the boards breaks his collarbone and he's lost for the season, we'll get a 5 minute power play and maybe we can score two goals......YYYAAYYY !

C'mon man. No goon/coke machine is going to stop that happening.

The days of the "enforcer" are over. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll step into 2013.

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#47 Romulus' Apotheosis
July 24 2013, 11:02PM
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David S wrote:

C'mon man. No goon/coke machine is going to stop that happening.

The days of the "enforcer" are over. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you'll step into 2013.

Never forget this is the same fan base that ran Coffey out of town.

Oiler fans are poorly suited to the historic brand of hockey on offer in Edmonton.

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#48 GVBlackhawk
July 24 2013, 11:53PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Excellent....and when the opposition pounds RNH into the boards breaks his collarbone and he's lost for the season, we'll get a 5 minute power play and maybe we can score two goals......YYYAAYYY !

An 'enforcer' does nothing to prevent opposition players from hitting your star players. It is up to the player to protect himself. For example, when the opponent takes a run at RNH, Nuge should cross-check that player in the mouth or neck as hard as he can. Hopefully knock out a few teeth, break a jaw or nose, and put the opponent down. It might be worth a few games suspension, but that is a small price to pay to get some space (and respect).

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#49 Geoff
July 24 2013, 11:58PM
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Time to load up the "first overall" line of hall/nuge/yak!

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#50 seanjohn
July 25 2013, 07:20AM
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Arcobello, Acton and Miller (another Arcobello) as C depth? yikes.

but, Jonothan, you've given me some confidence in the 3rd line with your comment on Hemsky. he, being a puck transporting individualist, might actually work out fine there with Gordon. Still wish they had a better option than Jones, tho.

they might better than then some of us think, but that lineup would get swept in 4 regulation time games in the playoffs. an improvement from last year, but that lineup needs 2 or 3 BIG changes if it ever wants to play in the SC final.

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