How will Dallas Eakins run his special teams?

Jonathan Willis
August 01 2013 07:49AM

A little over a week ago, with the Oilers seemingly done making significant changes, we looked at how the Oilers might run their even-strength lines. But what about special teams?

While we can’t know what Dallas Eakins has in mind for special teams, we can look at the personnel on the team and make some guesses.

The Power Play

One of the things I’ve tried to do is keep lines together; thus the presumed top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle forms the core of the first unit power play while David Perron, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov are all on the second unit.

I’m unfamiliar with how Dallas Eakins ran his power plays with the Toronto Marlies; initially I thought about sticking with the 1-3-1 setup the Oilers ran for much of last year but instead decided to model these units off San Jose’s fantastic group. From what I’ve seen of the Sharks (arguably the league’s best power play over the last few years) they typically have Logan Couture and Joe Thornton on each wing with Joe Pavelski in the slot and Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau on the points.

The first unit power play above features Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall on their off-wings, putting both in position to take a lot of shots and work the puck down low. Justin Schultz, unsurprisingly, takes one of the point positions while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins slides into the other. On the whole, that’s a quartet I really like – it would be nice if Nugent-Hopkins was more of a shooter, but this power play model is built more around puck movement and a variety of options rather than a big shot from the point, so it’s not a critical failing.

As strange as this sounds, I think the Oilers’ power play is going to miss Shawn Horcoff a little. Looking through potential candidates for power play work, it’s hard not to be struck by the lack of net-front players – ideally you want someone with size and strength and decent hands, and the Oilers don’t really have that guy. Horcoff had first-unit duty a year ago, and Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen also played the role at times. That’s where Ryan Smyth comes in: he’s built a career in that role, and given his presumably reduced responsibility at even-strength he can sub-in on the first unit power play in that net-front role.

The second unit has a very similar structure. Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov play either side up front here, while Sam Gagner mans one point and either Denis Grebeshkov or Anton Belov handles the other (Grebeshkov has had success on the Oilers’ power play in the past). All four are on their off-sides, encouraging shooting. David Perron isn’t really an ideal candidate for the slot role, but the trouble is that a) the Oilers don’t really have a lot of natural options for the job and b) Eberle, Hemsky and Perron are all ideally slotted along the left wall; one of them can’t be there. Besides, Perron’s no smaller than Joe Pavelski, and the Sharks have done just fine the last few years.

Naturally, this is just my read and I’m open to others. I was very tempted to put Hall in the slot and Yakupov on the right side on the first unit, bumping Smyth down to the slot position on the second and flanking him with Hemsky on the right and Perron on the left; it’s an arrangement I actually like a little better (because it loads up that top unit) but it breaks up the even-strength forward lines and introduces another element for the coach to juggle. I’m interested to see what the comments think; we have some bright readers and this is an interesting topic.

Also, I picture a line of Boyd Gordon, Ryan Jones and Jesse Joensuu for the first even-strength shift after the power play.

Penalty Kill

No major surprises here. As with the power play, I have endeavoured to keep even-strength combinations together.

Boyd Gordon centres the top penalty killing forward pair, along with either Ryan Jones or Ryan Smyth (depending on which player one sees winning the battle for the open third line wing job). Both players will be experienced veterans in the role.

The other of Smyth and Jones will join presumptive fourth-line centre Anton Lander on the second penalty killing unit; again, it’s a case of sticking the veteran defensive forwards in the primary penalty kill roles.

Generally two units will do the bulk of the work, but Sam Gagner and David Perron have both filled in on the penalty kill in the past and can either provide a third forward pairing or fill-ins for the first two pairings. I have Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins listed as a potential fourth pairing, with the thought that they can take over in the last 20-30 seconds of the penalty and provide some offensive push and a smooth transition back to even-strength play. I also see both players as strong fits talent-wise for the penalty kill; it wouldn’t bother me at all if Eakins chose to break them in as a regular third unit (though I prefer Gagner and Perron because they have an edge in age/experience and their responsibilities at even-strength and on the power play are less).

On defence, Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry reprise their role as the team’s top duo, while the other two logical candidates (Andrew Ference and Nick Schultz) take second pairing duty. The other defencemen on the team are somewhat problematic, but Denis Grebeshkov would be my choice for the number five role – he killed penalties for Craig MacTavish and is more of a known factor than either Anton Belov or Justin Schultz.

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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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#1 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 08:13AM
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What is this Trash it! button?

Is this the negative props we've been dreaming of?

Wanye/Citizen Alpha, well played.

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#3 DieHard
August 01 2013, 08:26PM
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DSF wrote:

Good grief!

Book It.

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#4 book¡e
August 01 2013, 02:58PM
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I used to try to be witty to get Props, but really negative attention is just as good and seems way easier to get.

RNH's upside really pales in comparison to Kyle Wellwood who has way more potential.

Chris Pronger's wife really was correct about Edmonton.

Ales Hemsky is a great player with a good attitude

The Oilers blew it with Eakins, they should have hired a former Oiler like Messier to coach.

Has anyone ever pointed out how great DSF is?

The Oilers will probably finish last this year and Craig MacTavish will be promoted.

I sure am glad the Oilers kept their assistant coaches - it was the nice thing to do.

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#5 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
August 01 2013, 08:03AM
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Senhora wrote:

Maybe Eakins will run special teams how Billy Moores tells him to. And if Moores is the guru of coaching why is he not the head coach?

just spitballin' here, but maybe it is because he is 65 years old and couldnt/wouldnt want to handle to grind of an 82 game NHL season?

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#6 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 09:07AM
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How close are we to having a lifetime Props/Trash it! leaderboard up now?

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#7 book¡e
August 01 2013, 02:46PM
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Does Dallas Eakins look a lot like the guy from Army of Darkness or is it just me?

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#9 John Chambers
August 01 2013, 09:38AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How close are we to having a lifetime Props/Trash it! leaderboard up now?

I think we all know a certain someone whose trashes would've exceeded the maximum count by now.

Kind of like MacDonalds' over 1 Billion asinine comments served.

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#10 The Soup Fascist
August 01 2013, 10:46AM
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Tom wrote:

Who the $?!# is Billy Moores?

He is the "Yoda" equivalent within the organization, presumably to advise Edmonton Oilers Coaches ..... Minus the light sabre, of course.

But the hairline is similar.

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#12 DieHard
August 01 2013, 02:54PM
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RNH would be good on PK.

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#13 Reg Dunlop
August 01 2013, 09:27PM
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TOM//MTL wrote:

DSF is a tall, dark & handsome gentleman. He probably has a full head of hair, six pack abs and drives a killer whip. Also, his wife is smokin' hot.

Partly correct. DSF is looking for a tall, dark and handsome man with a full head of hair, he gets puking drunk on a 6 pack, doesn't drive anymore since he mowed down his neighbor's smoking hot wife.

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#14 Archaeologuy
August 01 2013, 08:11AM
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I wouldnt be surprised or upset to see Gagner and Hemsky switched in your list. I know Gagner has played the point before, but I think Hemsky is more comfortable with the puck up near the blueline than 89. With his puck carrying and passing skills he would have a lot of options from the point that might not be there on the wall.

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#15 Grizztopia
August 01 2013, 11:19AM
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I really like the idea of putting Smyth in front of the net on the first line PP. I think that's an element of his game that isn't gone by any stretch.

And in response to you, The Soup Fascist, I'd say if the PP minutes add up to enough to wear Smytty down, we're probably owning the other team at the possession game, and taking the game right to them. Seems like a good problem to have.

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#16 David S
August 01 2013, 11:25AM
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You gotta love the little garbage truck that comes up when you scroll over the Trash It! button. That's all-world selling out.

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Thank you ON! The trash button is awesome. It's like bubble wrap. I just trashed every comment including this one. So much fun.

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#18 Tikkanese
August 01 2013, 10:23AM
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I wouldn't mind seeing Hall on the PK some. He seems to never give up on any play or shift and that is a good PK type of mentality. Not to mention his speed.

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#19 TigerUnderGlass
August 01 2013, 10:57AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That was exactly the example I had in mind - fourth line EV, first line PP.

Yeah, this is probably the most effective possible way to use him.

Plus the coaching staff can point to Holmstrom as an example to Smyth and say, "see, this is no slap in the face, it's a dignified way to stay productive and help the team win".

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#20 oliveoilers
August 01 2013, 10:47AM
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Tikkanese wrote:

I wouldn't mind seeing Hall on the PK some. He seems to never give up on any play or shift and that is a good PK type of mentality. Not to mention his speed.

I seem to remember him and Ebs being out there for the last few seconds of a PK last season. The d-man tried to keep the puck in, hit hall with it. Him and Ebs were 2-0 and scored. Scary. The pressure on the D-Man pinching in, knowing that even a slight error and he has no chance of catching them. I think he should get some PK time, even if it's just gloating rights over the canucks fans. "Look, our superstars aren't too precious to PK."

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#21 hatrock
August 01 2013, 12:23PM
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Absolutely agree with Smyth in front of the net on the PP. It's his staple. He's the king of garbage goals. He knows what it takes. He doesn't have to skate much when there. If this happens, and he deflects or plops a few in, then it would be a boon to the team morally.

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#22 Rocket
August 01 2013, 11:59AM
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The special teams were actually quite effective last season so I hope not too much is different this upcoming season.

I will be interested to see how the PK does with Gordon instead of Horcoff. With the possibility of a few new defencemen, I hope the PK doesn't suffer . The Oilers need to get more calls in their favour as well to create PP opportunities.

Wasn't there a 2 game stretch last season where The Oilers didn't even get a PP? I could be wrong but I thought something like that happened.

BTW this new trash button is hilarious! Everybody is so trash happy; it's like crack. The high is short before the devastating low so you need more quickly. Kind of like cheering for The Oilers.

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#23 hatrock
August 01 2013, 12:51PM
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@Rocket

The Oilers weren't drawing penalities because individually they weren't playing "through" the other team's players, just "at" them.

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#24 Klima's Mullet
August 01 2013, 07:55AM
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JW, in your PP scenarios, who takes the faceoffs?

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#25 They're $hittie
August 01 2013, 08:42AM
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Considering last years p/60 I hope Eakins doesnt put the so called first pp out first all the time. It was the second unit that got it done all last year and that was because Kruger put Hall Eberle and Nuge out even if they were tired.

Who ever is the freshest should go out.

Also someone start getting a running (corsi) total on DSF trash props +-

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#26 Tim in Kelowna
August 01 2013, 09:47AM
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Good piece, JW. We certainly have the fire power to have a potent powerplay, but without a reliable faceoff man (aside from Gordon) I see the Oilers losing a ton of O-zone faceoffs and in turn losing 20-30 seconds off of the man advantage.

Your PP lines look right to me, but I'm more interested to see how Eakins has the PP unit entering the zone. That has been one of the more frustrating aspects of the Oilers game in the past few seasons.

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#27 JeffG
August 01 2013, 10:30AM
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The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33 wrote:

Thank you ON! The trash button is awesome. It's like bubble wrap. I just trashed every comment including this one. So much fun.

Good job wasting the value of the Trash button.

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#28 Bushed
August 01 2013, 10:38AM
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Hemsky actually plays D in his summer league (roller hockey maybe? can't recall exactly). It's not NHL level, obviously, but that bit of "experience" plus his speed makes for a little less panic factor (for me) than having Sam back there.

Smyth has been one of the best net-front guys we've ever had. He could be effective in that role if his other minutes are reduced, and maybe he can teach Joensuu (or someone else) as the season rolls along. A little off-topic, but I'd like to see Smytty slide into a coaching role; he'd be worth his weight in gold if he could pass along the net-front skills and greasy board play to some younger players.

PS Lots of pressure with this new trash/props system--any goat awards in the works for worst trash scores? Awards/free Nation beer for high props scores? per article?

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#29 Oilcan
August 01 2013, 01:20PM
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This "trash it" button is like a nation Christmas miracle...can DSF ease comment soon I want to see triple digits in the trash column.

My first thought was BUTTONS!!!! and my enthusiasm has remained everytime I log on.

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#30 DSF
August 01 2013, 06:51PM
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Good grief!

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#31 dawgbone
August 01 2013, 08:28AM
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I wouldn't worry too much about splitting lines 1 and 2 and mashing them together on the PP. Once the PP is over you can put out your 3rd line and then get your lines back together the way you want.

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#32 tileguy
August 01 2013, 09:42AM
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That’s where Ryan Smyth comes in: he’s built a career in that role, and given his presumably reduced responsibility at even-strength he can sub-in on the first unit power play in that net-front role. Smacks forehead, rolls eyes. Let's get this farewell tour over with and free up some cap room. The PP would have to wait 15 seconds for Smytty to skate in place, hell lets try Ben Eager there, at least he can skate fast.

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#33 Rama Lama
August 01 2013, 10:23AM
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I thought Ralph Krueger was suppose to be the "systems" man............turns out he did'nt much of any system, except playing his favourites.

Dallas Eakins is suppose to have multiple systems for all three zones with a focus on transitioning .........not sure what that means but I get the sense that he expects a greater focus on players covering their man.

If there is one thing that will become patently clear about DE's systems play its, moving the puck out of danger and into the nuetral and offensive zones..........sort of like what Detroit does, regardless of their personnel.

If he coaches like Mac T .........I will be worried! Under his system pucks were always brought behind the net before launching an offensive attack. This always led to opposition teams pressuring us to cough up the puck, and then one of our defenseman shooting it down the ice.

I hope we can finally get and keep a coach that has a plan.

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#34 David S
August 01 2013, 11:23AM
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The biggest improvement on specialty teams will come when Eakins cleans out Ralph's book shelf and burns the book "Mastering the diamond penalty kill in three easy steps.".

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#35 Smokey
August 01 2013, 01:28PM
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I've got nothing of substance to add. I just came here to get TRASHED.

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Posts I WILL trash on a regular basis:

1. Anything by DSF, and

2. Any post by New Age System that is MORE than 2 lines long...keep it brief my man, brevity is your friend, and

3. Any post that just doesn't make sense, and finally....

4 failed Fist posts...if you think you are clever, but wind up 2nd, then use the EDIT button (and be quicker on the draw next time)

That is all.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled commenting.

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#37 Smythyyy
August 01 2013, 04:52PM
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@sizzler

I think I just found a bug with the buttons. Once I give props, it removes the props button so that I can't send multiple props --- that's great, that's how it's supposed to be; however, it keeps the trash button enabled so I can both give props and trash a comment.

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#39 TigerUnderGlass
August 01 2013, 10:46AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

This is ludicrous.

How much skating do you think is really involved in being the net-front guy? Really?

As for Eager, I assume you're being sarcastic, but wake me up when he scores 20 points in the AHL. Physical abilities are all well and good, but Smyth's far, far smarter on the ice and at some point converting that skill-set to results matters.

Smyth can complete the transformation to becoming the Oiler's Holmstrom.

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#40 Dulock
August 01 2013, 11:07AM
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I'm betting Jones and Joensuu will be the net front guys at some point during the season. Possibly due to injuries.

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#41 nuge2nail
August 01 2013, 11:00PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Yaks wearing the Pavel Bure #10 has got to be on the first pp unit.

He's got the best shot on the team.

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#42 Taylor Gang
August 01 2013, 09:44AM
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Woah when did the trash button get here? Me gusta... :)

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#43 Action Jackson
August 01 2013, 02:49PM
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This is the year to let the horses run. Toews, Kopitar, and other top players on good teams play heavy PK minutes. Put Hall on PK and our turnover machine will lead the league in SHGs.

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#44 sizzler
August 01 2013, 10:31AM
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Trash button is going to come handy when the season starts

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#45 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
August 01 2013, 10:38AM
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JeffG wrote:

Good job wasting the value of the Trash button.

i think the value will still show itself, even with the odd rogue trash it vote.

im more wondering the over/under on number of days before DSF breaks the 100 mark for trashes on a single post.

3? 4?

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#46 tileguy
August 01 2013, 12:44PM
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Lets just mark this one down about Smitty playing the PP and compare notes come Nov. See who is blowing smoke and where its going. Although the notion of 84 turning into Holmstrom is storybook, I really don't see that happening.

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#47 Tikkanese
August 01 2013, 02:11PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

Just look to Holmstrom's latest TOI and you have an idea.

I think we're talking 11-12 minutes a game in total. (8-9EV, 3PP)

Holmstrom wishes he was Smytty

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#48 GVBlackhawk
August 01 2013, 03:14PM
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book¡e wrote:

I used to try to be witty to get Props, but really negative attention is just as good and seems way easier to get.

RNH's upside really pales in comparison to Kyle Wellwood who has way more potential.

Chris Pronger's wife really was correct about Edmonton.

Ales Hemsky is a great player with a good attitude

The Oilers blew it with Eakins, they should have hired a former Oiler like Messier to coach.

Has anyone ever pointed out how great DSF is?

The Oilers will probably finish last this year and Craig MacTavish will be promoted.

I sure am glad the Oilers kept their assistant coaches - it was the nice thing to do.

You forgot to mention Shawn Horcoff's value contract.

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#49 StHenriOilBomb
August 01 2013, 04:02PM
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book¡e wrote:

WHAT the hell is going on - A trash button - AWESOME!!!

I just trashed you AND gave you props. Things are getting crazy!

I would be amazed if we could start to look at a Nation member's post history in his profile. Maybe last 5 posts, or even a search function. That could liven up discussion a little and weed out some of the BS.

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