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.

Some of my recent stuff

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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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#52 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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#53 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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#54 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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#55 OilClog
August 01 2013, 02:38PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

Holmstrom wishes he was Smytty

While I'll defend Smytty pretty far, Holmstrom doesn't wake with nightmares of game 7's, his rings fill his dreams.

Perron, Nuge, Hall Ebs Schultz

Smyth Gags Yak Hemsky Belov

That's my PP Set

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#56 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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#57 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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#58 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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#59 Clyde Frog
August 01 2013, 02:48PM
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I would like to point out for the history buffs that Madjam's post on http://oilersnation.com/2013/7/31/how-has-the-edmonton-oilers-roster-changed-from-last-year#comments

was the very first post to receive a TRASH rating..

Please log this for all to remember henceforth.

Thank you.

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#60 tileguy
August 01 2013, 04:30PM
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Dangilitis wrote:

Absolutely agree with smytty in front. That's how he's made his living and his ability to get in the paint does not diminish with age. He's worked well with ebs in the past and his legs don't need to be there on the pp. holmstrom did this until he retired and he's always been a poor mans smytty

I'll tell you the one big difference between smythe and holmstrom. If you started raggin on holmstrom when he was in front you were likely to loose your teeth.

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#61 DieHard
August 01 2013, 08:48AM
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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?

Perhaps the goalie coach should just f(& play goal too.

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#63 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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#65 geoilersgist
August 01 2013, 10:53AM
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Another great article JW. But in all seriousness by the time I hit the comments I have been lost in the Props. PROPS FOR ALL

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#66 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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#67 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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#68 The Soup Fascist
August 01 2013, 11:08AM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

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".

I get the logic, but what type of ice time will PP1 / PK2 / EV3 or 4 add up to?

Too much for a worn down Smytty with no kicks left?

PP makes sense - not many guys have the stones to take the beating he does - but I would limit the PK time, personally. I think a Hall with his speed - and a little mentorship - could scare the bejesus out of some PP units. Smytty just can't get to the scene of the crime, anymore.

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#69 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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#70 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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#71 chris
August 01 2013, 01:38PM
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I hope your wrong on the pp, the second unit is to weak with Hemsky running it, and yak should be on the first unit because he has the best shot on the team also he has proven how effective he can be at right side of the net near the end of last season

pp1 shooting Hall on the left, Perron in front of the net yak on the right, Gagner on left point and Schultz on right point

pp2 overload left side Eberly down low on the left, Nuge on the left boards, Hemsky right side in a shooting only role, with Petry right point Grebeshkov on the left.

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#72 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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rickithebear wrote:

Oiler G:

Your post was more than 2 lines! one of those do as i say not..............

Rickithebear,

1st. My posts are usually in the 5-7-5 format.

2nd. I have AND will NEVER post an essay on here. NAS is infamous for 1000+ word posts.

A Haiku for you:

Fan, rickithebear

Cheers for the Oilers to win

and drinks Nation Beer*

*just a guess, but thats some tasty brew.

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#74 GVBlackhawk
August 01 2013, 07:40PM
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book¡e wrote:

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

This site has gotten one step closer to the TSN comments section...classy!!

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#75 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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#76 Rocket
August 01 2013, 01:36PM
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hatrock wrote:

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

Ha ha! Awesome! I wonder how many times we're gonna hear that phrase this upcoming season?

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#77 trentonl
August 01 2013, 03:12PM
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More than who he puts on the PP/PK units I am worried about the strategy he puts in place.

Under Eakins for 4 seasons the Marlies PP was terrible, usually bottom 5 with a best of 19th. Prior to Eakins it was 2nd.

His PK was tops for 2/4 seasons but 15th last season. Could be an aberration with the lockout but still worrisome.

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#78 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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#79 Citizen Alpha
August 01 2013, 04:29PM
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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 got 9 props so far. You can't lose.

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#80 mayorblaine
August 01 2013, 05:15PM
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pure insanity.i like.

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#81 Ron Burgundy
August 01 2013, 05:27PM
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Smythyyy wrote:

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.

I think that is for some of the more schizophrenic readers. By the way, I just trashed and propped your comment.

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#82 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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#83 DieHard
August 01 2013, 02:54PM
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RNH would be good on PK.

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#84 Dangilitis
August 01 2013, 04:17PM
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Absolutely agree with smytty in front. That's how he's made his living and his ability to get in the paint does not diminish with age. He's worked well with ebs in the past and his legs don't need to be there on the pp. holmstrom did this until he retired and he's always been a poor mans smytty

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#85 TOM//MTL
August 01 2013, 04:30PM
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Tyler wrote:

This years goat. Is this guy for trolling so hard.

Hook, line and sinker

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#86 YFC Prez
August 01 2013, 05:44PM
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@Oilers G-that un-retired Haiku writing MotherF^%$er

Where is NAS anyway?

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#87 Citizen Alpha
August 01 2013, 06:09PM
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Ron Burgundy wrote:

I found a real bug (or maybe not) - when you post, you can then go back and re-trash everything. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. This will explain the 3 or 4 props DSF gets on each post (other than that 1 in 40 or so that I agree with).

With voting now open to everyone, we have to do best guesses to keep people from going nuts.

After you post and click the trash button a second time, does the number change?

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#88 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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#89 Tyler
August 01 2013, 01:54PM
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@TOM//MTL

This years goat. Is this guy for trolling so hard.

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#90 TigerUnderGlass
August 01 2013, 01:56PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

I get the logic, but what type of ice time will PP1 / PK2 / EV3 or 4 add up to?

Too much for a worn down Smytty with no kicks left?

PP makes sense - not many guys have the stones to take the beating he does - but I would limit the PK time, personally. I think a Hall with his speed - and a little mentorship - could scare the bejesus out of some PP units. Smytty just can't get to the scene of the crime, anymore.

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)

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#91 rickithebear
August 01 2013, 04:34PM
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Last year pk forwards: the league average is 6.00 GA

Gagner 3.13 gA 1.60 MIn #4fwd in league Smyth 3.58 GA 2.50min #10 fwd in league

top 10 Pk based on teams for 13-14. 1. A. Hall- Read PHI 2.67 GAA 2. Gagner - Smyth 3.36 GAA 3. Bergeron - Kelly 3.51 GAA 4. Giroux - Talbot 3.52 5. hansen- higgins 3.89 6. Bozak - Mclemment 3.91 7. zajac - elias 4.15 8. Alfredson - kondra 4.30 9. Horcoff- peverley 4.40 10. Erickson - Campbell 4.62

Gordon- Jones 5.24 GA

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#92 Ron Burgundy
August 01 2013, 05:43PM
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Ron Burgundy wrote:

I think that is for some of the more schizophrenic readers. By the way, I just trashed and propped your comment.

I found a real bug (or maybe not) - when you post, you can then go back and re-trash everything. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. This will explain the 3 or 4 props DSF gets on each post (other than that 1 in 40 or so that I agree with).

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#93 David S
August 01 2013, 06:22PM
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YFC Prez wrote:

Where is NAS anyway?

He was "asked to move on". You can find NewAgeSys over at Copper n Blue now, where he is regaling readers there with his brand of scintillating prose.

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#94 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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#95 Larry
August 01 2013, 04:05PM
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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.

Remember Louie Barnsteader?

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#96 OilClog
August 01 2013, 04:48PM
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tileguy wrote:

I'll tell you the one big difference between smythe and holmstrom. If you started raggin on holmstrom when he was in front you were likely to loose your teeth.

who's a smythe?!?!

and if we're talking dirty elbows, pissing people off with butt ends, Ryan Smyth.. He's class President, Holmstrom is in congress.

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

Good grief!

Book It.

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#98 Old School G
August 01 2013, 07:41PM
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Smytty will excel in a 4EV 1PP role, I would not be surprised if the old war horse puts up a 20G 20A season and turn into the Oilers X factor this season.

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#99 The Soup Fascist
August 01 2013, 08:37PM
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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)

And that seems reasonable to me for a 38 year old with hard miles on him. That is why I would keep him off PK. 12 mins for Smytty. The PK time would be better off given to a young'n.

That and the fact Smytty has the footspeed of an hibiscus.

I love Smytty but the scenario you described is enough TOI. I hope Eakins weans him off the penalty killing.

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Trash comment #91 and Prop comment #98...lets see if we can get DSF into the triple digits

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