HITCHCOCK: "WE'LL GET PAAJARVI TO PLAY THROUGH PEOPLE"

Jason Gregor
July 29 2013 11:55AM

Ken Hitchcock has been a head coach in the NHL for 15 seasons, and he's earned a reputation of being a very demanding coach. Last year, Hitchcock told me he's changed his coaching style a bit. He isn't as demanding on non-game days as he was when he coached the Stars and Flyers, but on game days players still need to play the way he wants or they likely won't play.

Hitchcock gave me some insight into David Perron, and he also shed some light on how he plans to alter Magnus Paajarvi's game.

Perron is, and will be, a better offensive player than Paajarvi, but what was it that Hitchcock and the Blues saw in Paajarvi that they liked?

I asked Hitchcock where Paajarvi would fit amongst the Blues' forwards.  

We saw the chemistry he had with [Patrik] Berglund in the World Championships because I coached in those Championships. So we see him and Berglund as a pair and then whether we use [Vladimir] Tarasenko or [T.J.] Oshie, we’ll see. We feel he’s a third line player, a real defined third line player that is going to be able to kill off penalties and we’re banking on the chemistry that he and Bergman had in the World Championships continue. They’re good friends, they get along well together and we see that as a real positive for us. We don’t see him as a top-six for us right now, we see him as this defined third line guys that’s going to fit in well. 

One of the things that the trade does is that it really does open up ice time for [Jaden] Schwartz and Tarasenko. Both of these guys played great last year, we need to create space and time for them.

We know that David is a good player; Perron is going to be a really good player for Edmonton. He’s more than a scorer too, he’s a really competitive guy, and we used him a lot to kill penalties. He can play in every situation and we know he’s going to be a really good player.

But with Magnus we feel that we got some definition on that third line which we didn’t have before and we think that he’s going to add a lot to our group. He’ll probably get 10 to 20 goals and as I said he and Bergie are going to be able to play against top players. 

After watching Paajarvi for the past few seasons I felt he would be a solid third line player, rather than a top-six forward, so it makes sense listening to Hitchcock's evaluation of him. It is interesting to note that he plans on using him against top players, although playing with Berglund will help. Paajarvi has world class speed, and the Blues desperately needed more speed in their lineup.  

The one criticism of Paajarvi has been his unwillingness to use his size to his advantage. He is still a young player, so he has time to work on that, and when Brownlee asked Hitchcock about Paajarvi's style of play, the Blues' coach very quickly outlined how he plans to enhance Paajarvi's game. 

I know what you’re saying Robin and the question is are we going to get him to play through people, and the answer is yes. We’re going to get him to play through people. I know what you’re saying; there is a difference between playing to people and playing through people. In St. Louis we had the same challenge with three or four other forwards; Jayden Schwartz was the same was, he used to just play to people. T.J. Oshie was the same way, we were able to make those guys and get them to adjust, Valdimir Sobotka, the same thing, we were able to show them the difference, explain to them how to do it and then put mechanisms in place and sometimes the bear in the woods had to come out. But we got ‘er done and they learned how to do it properly and we feel very confident that Magnus will be able to do that for us in very short order.

Hitchcock has a plan for Paajarvi, and he isn't afraid to be hard on young players to get their attention. He won't shy away from bringing out his "bear in the woods" persona to get their attention.

Listening to Hitchcock talk about getting players to play through people and to people was awesome. I've said for years the Oilers have been too soft. Sadly, many felt that comment means they have to fight more, and that isn't the case at all.

I love a good tilt now and again, but they Oilers don't need a heavyweight, they need to be more competitive and play harder. Hitch's definition of playing through people rather than to them makes perfect sense, and I'll be curious to see if Dallas Eakins tries to employ a similar mindset in Edmonton.

Jonathan Toews is a great example of a skilled player who plays through people, not just to them. How often in the past five years have you seen the Oilers coast towards the opposition. They haven't been dogged on the forecheck, and they don't create enough turnovers.

It is clear Hitchcock is going to challenge Paajarvi to alter his game and play through people. I hope Eakins does the same with the Oilers.

THE TRADE...

When Craig MacTavish acquired Perron I thought it was a great trade for the Oilers, mainly because they got the better player. Some wondered why the Blues would part with a skilled, young player. Hitchcock explained why Perron was available. 

I think that everybody knows it was obvious. We all know the financial situation in order to fit everybody under the cap and being in the position of having to sign Stewart, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo we knew we were going to be in a squeeze. We’re going to be a cap team, like a lot of team, but we needed to make sure that we had everything in order. 

The biggest thing for me with David is that when he puts the work in ahead of the skill, he’s an impact player. He’s a defined top six guy, he’s going to have a huge impact on the game, but he’s no different than anyone else. The Oilers have had guys to learn that over time.

When you put the skill in over the work, you know what happens, you end up maybe scoring goals, but you end up a minus player. David really improved last year in putting the work in ahead of the skill, and if he does that I think that everybody in Edmonton will be thrilled by him. But he’s like a lot of other young guys, it’s hard to do that every night. Sometimes he fell off a little bit and he’s having to learn that. He’d be the first guy to tell you that he’s starting to recognize when he does and doesn’t do it. If he can reach that stage where he does it every night, he’s going to be a hard guy to play against. 

Again Hitchcock nailed it. You have to put the hard work ahead of the skill. Every hockey fan can see the Oilers have loads of skill in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Justin Schultz and Perron. However, if the Oilers are going to succeed this season, Eakins needs to improve the overall effort of the team.

I've debated for years that the Oilers don't work hard enough on a nightly basis to win in the NHL. last year they showed they were good enough to compete, however, they didn't learn how to find that competitive level every night. It is the main reason why they could win 6-2 one night and then get dominated in the next few games.

The good teams not only have elite level skill, they have incredibly high work ethic. Having experience is a major plus as well, because some nights when they feel sluggish they can rely on experience and smarts to make the right plays.

I don't want the Oilers to play the same style as the Blues, and frankly I don't think they could, but it would be great to adopt or employ the two traits that Hitchcock outlined; play through people and put work ahead of skill consistently.

I'm not suggesting the Oilers abandon their skill, far from it, but you can't win in the NHL on skill alone. The Oilers aren't the only team with elite skill.

Do the Oilers have more proven skill in their top six than the Ducks, Kings, Canucks or Sharks? I didn't think so.

If Eakins can convince the Oilers to increase their competitive drive on a nightly basis, then they will be competitive. If not, they are destined to extend their playoff drought to eight seasons.

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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#51 GVBlackhawk
July 29 2013, 05:43PM
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Rocket wrote:

I'm kinda torn on Paajarvi. I like the tools he has & I've always wanted him to do well. But now that he's on The Blues I'll be cheering against him. Also I just want The Oilers to win a trade for once.

If Paajarvi turns into that physical winger with speed & skill we all hoped for, I will be supremely pissed at Oilers management for seemingly mishandling him. It's not all on the coaches & management of course but I just don't want Paajarvi to turn into an Oiler-killer.

BTW, sweet pic of Hitch.

Would have been much more fitting if he was holding a doughnut or something.

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#52 I tried it at home
July 29 2013, 05:48PM
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Saytalk wrote:

^^^^^^^THIS to the article, let's put Paajarvi and Perron aside for a second and ask how the Oilers can get a coach like Ken Hitchcock. That is what the team needs.

If you want proof of how hard work trumps skill, just look at how the Ottawa Senators have played the past two years. Paul Maclean has a team full of scrubs making the playoffs and giving teams a hard time in the playoffs too.

Thats what Ive been saying last few years, while the Oilers were giving all the ex-Canucks and -Oilers buddies a try at the helm, why didnt we get a proven, Edmontonian coach who actually demands his players actually, you know, give a stiff. He was sitting at home most of the time "our" team was supposedly doing thier due diligence, guess he just wasnt buddy buddy material.

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#53 Silverback
July 29 2013, 05:50PM
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Just more Jason Negative. "Every coach, every manager, every player, every organization, is better than any oiler".

I had stopped reading and listening to Mr Negative but, thought I would like to hear Hitch. Hitch was good as always. Jason? Negative as usual.

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#54 DSF
July 29 2013, 06:02PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

If that was the case, the Maple Leafs would have the best odds to win.

Vegas odds makers are actually very accurate in determining favorites.

You're assuming Leafs fans would be willing to plunk down their dollars that the Leafs would win the cup.

They're not that delusional.

Vegas odds makers set the line to make themselves the most money....they don't care who wins and likely know f all about hockey.

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#55 DSF
July 29 2013, 06:03PM
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Silverback wrote:

Just more Jason Negative. "Every coach, every manager, every player, every organization, is better than any oiler".

I had stopped reading and listening to Mr Negative but, thought I would like to hear Hitch. Hitch was good as always. Jason? Negative as usual.

30th-30th-29th-23rd pretty much says it all.

Do you disagree?

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#58 Citizen David
July 29 2013, 06:36PM
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Pajaarvi is a 3rd liner on a Stanley Cup contender? DSF must be losing his mind.

Hall Nuge and Ebs already can play with the big boys and generate more offence than they give up. The second line hasn't yet. But don't be surprised if this is the year.

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#59 DSF
July 29 2013, 06:42PM
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Citizen David wrote:

Pajaarvi is a 3rd liner on a Stanley Cup contender? DSF must be losing his mind.

Hall Nuge and Ebs already can play with the big boys and generate more offence than they give up. The second line hasn't yet. But don't be surprised if this is the year.

Paajarvi MIGHT BE a third liner if Hitch can teach him to be a complete player.

I've always thought if Paajarvi grows a pair he might be the next Jannik Hansen who is also a 3rd liner on a cup contender.

We'll see.

Problem is, Paajarvi was taken 10th overall (when Kulikov was still available) and Hansen was drafted in the 9th round.

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#60 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
July 29 2013, 07:35PM
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That's one thing we never hear in Edmonton, in regards to bringing in a new kid/project. I've never heard the words, i'm excited to see what our guys (coaching/support staff) can do with this kid upon arrival here. Heard it right from the getgo from Hitch and the Blues.

Edmonton must be one of the worst orgs when it comes to developing talent in house, maybe 30th,30th,29th and 24th confirms that.

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#61 nuge2nail
July 29 2013, 07:49PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Imagine the players we could acquire if we decided to trade:

Hall, Eberle, Hopkins, Yakupov, Perron and Gagner...

That's how we know our top six is unbelievable, the value of these players are ridiculous... We have 6 solid assets in our top six, while most teams only have 2-3...

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#62 J
July 29 2013, 08:02PM
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madjam wrote:

We are just another drop in the bucket when it comes to gambling . Has little to do with the odds when it comes to our home team . Lotto 649 and Lotto max almost always goes to Ontario and Quebec , B.Columbia and only occasionally here in Alberta . Don't believe me check it out for yourself for umpteen years . We spend /capita much more than we proportionately receive . We gamble but very few high rollers and conglomerates compared to other major cities . You make bold statements that bear little fruit in actuality . Where did you learn these myths ?

Sorry madjam, I didn't know I needed to cite references on the comments page. But if you insist; here we go...

According to a 2011 Stats Canada report Albertans spent an average of $785/year on gambling. madjam, do you know where that ranks Albertans on money spent towards gambling? Number 1!

Our friends to the east, Saskatchewan were #2 at $735 per capita each year (there are a few Oilers fans there).

Any guesses on how much the average person from BC, Ontario or Quebec spent on gambling?

BC - $450/year Ontario - $490/year Quebec - $375/year

But you’re probably right, people that set lines would’t care about the fact that Oilers fans spend almost twice on much on gambling in any given year than fans of most other Canadian teams.

madjam, If you decide to call me out on you might want to make sure your facts are accurate.

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#63 Old School G
July 29 2013, 08:33PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Eakin preaches and teaches tough hard on the puck hockey,relentless skating.. and Oh ya you better be in shape. Boys eat your wheaties.

He had a bunch of rag tags in the Marlies and made them better players... even a guy like Gardnair, had to hang his ego and press clippings at the door. At the end, he was a much better player.

I think of the top six, Hall, Yak, Gagner and maybe even RNh will adopt his style. Perron as well. Guys like Eberle, Justin Schultz and Hemsky not so much.

Other than Canucks, this is a tough division to play in.....time to get down and gritty, in your face hockey.

Eberle is a heart and soul assassin out there, he's a leader and works his tail off. JSchultz is a smooth skating offensive weapon, he's going to be a great Dman for us for a long time. Hemsky plays a silky smooth, some would confuse as lazy, game and though he frusturates me like no other Oiler ever has some nights, he played a good chunk of last season on a broken foot. Respect.

We don't have a lazy hockey team we have a team that has needed the right kind of coach to get them to going in the right direction. I'm incredibly excited to see the compete level there every game this season, if we compete in every game we'll make the playoffs we certainly have the skill to take the next step.

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#64 DSF
July 29 2013, 09:01PM
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nuge2nail wrote:

Oiler Domination To Follow

Imagine the players we could acquire if we decided to trade:

Hall, Eberle, Hopkins, Yakupov, Perron and Gagner...

That's how we know our top six is unbelievable, the value of these players are ridiculous... We have 6 solid assets in our top six, while most teams only have 2-3...

Imagine the players Vancouver could get if they traded the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Hamhuis, Edler and Bieksa.

It's a silly game.

All that matter is how many points each team accumulates next season.

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#65 madjam
July 29 2013, 09:07PM
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J wrote:

Sorry madjam, I didn't know I needed to cite references on the comments page. But if you insist; here we go...

According to a 2011 Stats Canada report Albertans spent an average of $785/year on gambling. madjam, do you know where that ranks Albertans on money spent towards gambling? Number 1!

Our friends to the east, Saskatchewan were #2 at $735 per capita each year (there are a few Oilers fans there).

Any guesses on how much the average person from BC, Ontario or Quebec spent on gambling?

BC - $450/year Ontario - $490/year Quebec - $375/year

But you’re probably right, people that set lines would’t care about the fact that Oilers fans spend almost twice on much on gambling in any given year than fans of most other Canadian teams.

madjam, If you decide to call me out on you might want to make sure your facts are accurate.

You neglected to take into account each provinces population , changing those dollars actually spent by each province dramatically .

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#66 Oilcruzer
July 29 2013, 09:07PM
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J wrote:

There is an explanation, sports books don’t just make up numbers and betting odds based on team perception.

They understand the market for each team and the tendencies of their fan base to bet on their team. Edmonton and Nashville might have the same chances of winning the cup (Just and example, don’t start ranting about how much better the Oilers top 6 are), but sports books know there is much more interest in the Edmonton market and therefore will give Edmonton worse payout odds (20-1 vs. 30-1) to protect themselves because they may have 50% more people bet on Edmonton than Nashville.

The other factor that separates Edmonton from other hockey crazy markets is the disposable income and wealth in Edmonton compared to many other markets. It’s no coincidence there are so many 6/49 and Lotto Max winners from in and around Edmonton. We love to gamble and have the money to do it. Sports books and Odds makers know it.

Some valid points there.

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#67 GVBlackhawk
July 29 2013, 09:12PM
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DSF wrote:

Paajarvi MIGHT BE a third liner if Hitch can teach him to be a complete player.

I've always thought if Paajarvi grows a pair he might be the next Jannik Hansen who is also a 3rd liner on a cup contender.

We'll see.

Problem is, Paajarvi was taken 10th overall (when Kulikov was still available) and Hansen was drafted in the 9th round.

Hansen was a steal in the 9th round. In a re-draft, you know that he goes in the first round.

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#68 Oilcruzer
July 29 2013, 09:13PM
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DSF wrote:

You're assuming Leafs fans would be willing to plunk down their dollars that the Leafs would win the cup.

They're not that delusional.

Vegas odds makers set the line to make themselves the most money....they don't care who wins and likely know f all about hockey.

Disagree. People are people. If anything, it explains how the leafs are a fave over the Sens. Still, it's an opening line. Be more interesting as pre-season starts.

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#69 Oilcruzer
July 29 2013, 09:14PM
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DSF wrote:

Paajarvi MIGHT BE a third liner if Hitch can teach him to be a complete player.

I've always thought if Paajarvi grows a pair he might be the next Jannik Hansen who is also a 3rd liner on a cup contender.

We'll see.

Problem is, Paajarvi was taken 10th overall (when Kulikov was still available) and Hansen was drafted in the 9th round.

Er, what was a cup contender...

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#70 GVBlackhawk
July 29 2013, 09:18PM
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DSF wrote:

You're assuming Leafs fans would be willing to plunk down their dollars that the Leafs would win the cup.

They're not that delusional.

Vegas odds makers set the line to make themselves the most money....they don't care who wins and likely know f all about hockey.

That was in reference to your statement that "bettors" will bet with their hearts. People do it all the time...and usually lose a lot of money.

Vegas odds makers definitely set the line to make themselves the most money. They don't know much about hockey strategy and tactics, per se, but they do have complex algorithms that they use to come up with their odds. And they are very accurate.

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#71 steelymac
July 29 2013, 09:19PM
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DSF I live on the wet coast aswell.If I buy you lunch would you leave oilernation once and for all.In all honesty bud it getting real old and its time for you to move on to bigger and better.

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#72 nuge2nail
July 29 2013, 09:58PM
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DSF wrote:

Imagine the players Vancouver could get if they traded the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Hamhuis, Edler and Bieksa.

It's a silly game.

All that matter is how many points each team accumulates next season.

Oiler Domination To Follow

Your comparing our roster and top six to the peronial western conference champions. You put up 4 forwards, the defenseman were not needed. I'm sure J Shultz, Petry, Smid, Nurse and Klefbom have value.

My point is our top six is the most valuable in the league, other than the Pens and Blackhawks.

We have assembled an enormous amount of tradeable assets through the draft, allowing us all most unlimited flexibility moving forward.

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#73 Oiler Al
July 29 2013, 10:04PM
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Old School G wrote:

Eberle is a heart and soul assassin out there, he's a leader and works his tail off. JSchultz is a smooth skating offensive weapon, he's going to be a great Dman for us for a long time. Hemsky plays a silky smooth, some would confuse as lazy, game and though he frusturates me like no other Oiler ever has some nights, he played a good chunk of last season on a broken foot. Respect.

We don't have a lazy hockey team we have a team that has needed the right kind of coach to get them to going in the right direction. I'm incredibly excited to see the compete level there every game this season, if we compete in every game we'll make the playoffs we certainly have the skill to take the next step.

Nothing against Eberle, great talent, hockey IQ etc etc, but the point was guys willing to go through someone to get there... not Ebs style. He has no grit or toughness to his game... Like Hemsky, I have seen him do a lot of fly bys in his play.

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#74 J
July 29 2013, 10:04PM
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madjam wrote:

You neglected to take into account each provinces population , changing those dollars actually spent by each province dramatically .

I don't dispute that madjam. The point I'm making, and you decided to argue against is, betting odds are impacted by a teams fan base and their capacity and willingness to bet for their team. It's much more than as you put it, "a drop in the bucket".

The Oilers have a large & loyal fan base with strong disposable income. It effects the line and makes it a poor bet for the value. Bodog has the Oilers with 9th best odds of winning the cup, I would strongly argue against them being the 9th best team in the league.

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#75 Bushed
July 29 2013, 10:47PM
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"...we were able to show them the difference, explain to them how to do it.."

Hitch is talking about specific directions to specific players to address specific deficiencies in their games. And using "mechanics" (ice time? practice time?) to ensure the message is learned.

This sounds different than "motivating" players as per Kreuger, or protecting players and line matching as per Renney.

I don't want to start a war about which players on the Oil could most benefit from Hitch's approach, but it's clear the team will benefit if Eakins is far more specific than previous coaches seem to have been about addressing specific player deficiencies by actually showing them exactly what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and what part of the bench or press box they will sit on if it doesn't happen.

And the same standards have to be applied equally to everyone on the team, regardless of seniority, salary, nationality, or anything else.

Enough with the accountability speeches at the start of every year that go out the window before pre-season is even finished.

C'mon Eakins, make me a believer...

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#76 Pouzar99
July 29 2013, 10:55PM
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Yes, DSF, the oddsmakers massage the odds to make the most money, but they cannot do that effectively unless they know a great deal about who is likely to win, can they? Otherwise the smart betters would place a lot of money on the good teams they underrate and the oddsmakers would lose money, which they very rarely do. Instead they make their money by offering slightly shorter than fair odds on the teams with the most passionate fans because they know these people tend to bet on their own team even when the odds are poor, and do the same with the popular favourites because as any gambler knows people over-bet on favourites. The oddsmakers' living depends on their knowing an F of a lot about the sports they offer odds on. It is you who knows F all about the oddsmakers.

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#77 Crispy
July 30 2013, 12:15AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

If you want to debate have accurate stats. Jeff Carter averages more than .65 PPG, but don't let the facts get in a way of a rant. I didn't bother looking up more players, but Carter was the first one I checked.

Jim Carey won a Calder, not lose it, did it guarantee his success?

The Oilers top six was all here last year, what did it get them? 24th. I guess that means they are great.

Until they learn to play in every zone, they aren't as proven as the Kings, Canucks and Ducks best players.

The Sharks and Canucks are aging, I never said they weren't, but the Oilers aren't as proven as them. If they learn to play in every zone they should be very good, but they haven't thus far.

Love the Oilers all you want, but all they have proven is they have elite skill some nights, but haven't been able to do is consistently as a group.

You can't blame the 24th place finish on the top 6 forwards. Don't you think it might have a bit more to do with our awful defence last year, or having 3-4 line players who were "at best a non-factor"? (Quoting Mac T)

I think your definition of proven skill is a bit ambiguous. I think we have one of the most skilled top 6 in the league right now, not just potentially skilled.

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#78 Bassguy
July 30 2013, 01:56AM
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Ah yes, the savvy sports guy in Jason Gregor Have you ever noticed how he talks about passion within the competitive spirit? Within all sports .but also in the fan base? This is a great article, not only in conjuring Hitch, who I hope most people know, is an Edmonton product( ok Sherwood park) but also pointing to the,( to me) the obvious point the oilers have done dick lately. I am not sure some bloggers get his point? There is a lot to prove..ask any one of the top 6 or more on the oilers and see what they would say. We all hope that they will "prove" to be a great team!...a great team and win many games and playoffs. But I love how he gets everyone going!...good on you Gregor

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#79 Harry
July 30 2013, 04:36PM
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Ducey wrote:

Do the Oilers have more proven skill in their top six than the Ducks, Kings, Canucks or Sharks? I didn't think so.

Vancouver?? You have to be kidding me. They have the twins, a broken down Kesler, and then Burrows, Higgins and Hansen. Not even close JG.

SanJose has Wingels, Burns (a guy just converted from D), an aging Marleau, and Raffi "headshot" Torres as their top wingers. I'll take the Oiler's wingers.

ANA has Penner, Cogliano, and Palmeiri in their top 6.

I think you vastly underestimate the strength of the Oilers top 6. Its the 3rd line and defense that has been the problem.

You are 100% correct. Gregor. Did you honestly believe that as you were typing it? I hope you dont get paid for writing these articles.

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