Welcome back, Ben Eager

Jonathan Willis
September 21 2013 09:40AM

Based on what’s happened so far in training camp, it sounds like Ben Eager has a pretty decent shot at re-establishing himself as an NHL player with Edmonton this year.

The General Manager

Craig MacTavish was a guest on Oilers Now yesterday, and was asked by host Bob Stauffer whether the team might look to add some “meat” to the fourth line. Here’s how he replied:

Well, I’ll say that with the game Ben Eager played the other night in Vancouver it was certainly intriguing to me to see the extent and how quick he was closing gaps and how he was finishing checks and how determined he was. He’s opened the door for himself to try and get in there and find that spot. He was impressive, as was Mike Brown; I thought that line did what they needed to do – and Will Acton – and got their bangs in and it’s never going to be too too pretty with the puck but it doesn’t have to be. If those guys are going to give us that physical pop and put the pressure on the pucks and put a little bit of fear in the opposition’s defence they’ve got an opportunity. We’ll see what that looks like going forward if that continues.

The Player

Eager has made a splash since the first day of camp. It’s been widely reported that he’s down about 15 pounds from his playing weight last season, and he told the Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland that last year’s stint in the minors was a turning point:

Going to the minors last year turned out be a great thing for me. I haven’t had that much fun playing hockey in three or four years. It was a great experience. We had a great bunch of guys down there. We won games down there and we had a deep (playoff) run. I’m a playoff-type player and I think I showed a lot of people that during the run. I played well ... and I got my confidence back up.

The Opportunity

If Ben Eager is at his best, the Oilers can use him. Edmonton could use a fourth line player who can hit and skate and score a bit, and that’s what Eager has done in the past for some very good teams. There isn’t really another guy close to NHL duty in the system with Eager’s combination of ability and physical play, so a motivated Eager always had a very good chance at landing a job. Based on what he’s said and what the general manager has said, he’s working his way on to that opening night roster.

And that’s good news for the Oilers. Eager’s skill level and past results greatly exceed those of a guy like Mike Brown (who pushed him off the roster last year) and he’s a better fit on a fourth line that can play.

Recently around the Nation Network

First, a quick reminder: StreakCred is free for the pre-season - sign up to win not only real money but also something far more valuable: NationGear. 

Tyler Bozak is a lightning rod player in Toronto, but as Cam Charron points out, the problem with him is pretty simple

[O]pponents do much better with him on the ice, and teammates fare slightly better off when they're not on his side.

Click the link above to read more, or feel free to check out some of my recent stuff below:

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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 Brian
September 21 2013, 09:43AM
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JW...you have the roster for tonight?

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#3 Eastern Oil
September 21 2013, 09:53AM
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There has been many players that I tried to keep my eye on throughout the training camp this year (R. Hamilton, Nurse, Acton, Hall @ centre and now Belov) but my mind always trailed back to Eager.

I feel like I am stuck in between (as I am sure every fan is) wanting skill all the way down the lineup but always wanting that heavy play to add that important physical dimension. Looking at the Bruins/Blackhawks/Kings in the playoffs the last few years they have a great combination of skill/size/intensity.

If Eager can return to his old ways in a physical sense, even sans fighting b/c concussions, while popping a few goals on the 4th line I would be very happy.

I guess the question I asked myself was, even though it's great seeing JJ and Hamilton brought in for some decent size, are they better than Eager if he can return to form? I would suggest not.

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#4 The Soup Fascist
September 21 2013, 09:54AM
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Amen, JW. I would much rather have a focused, happy and healthy Eager around than some sluggo who can't make it over a blue line without falling. Still have no idea why BMac reported the Oilers were looking for a true heavyweight last week.

I know Eager is not a scrapper but he will still run a Sedin from behind if Bieksa gets stupid with one of the kids. And by all accounts a good guy in the room. Problem is Eakins loves Hamilton and Eager will have to be clearly better to win over the coach IMO.

I may be crazy but I am still rooting for the guy. Got blindsided by a no name in the JMC in his first training camp. Wonder if things turn out differently if that does not happen?

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#5 MessyEH!
September 21 2013, 10:02AM
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With Eagers speed and size, they should be training him to kill penalties. Put him on the PK and PP occasionally to give goalies and denfensemen fits. He's already a better skater then smyth and Jones, if he learned to battle in front of the net consistently he would fill a role we need.

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#6 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
September 21 2013, 10:11AM
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I've been preaching about Eager for a couple years now. He's got more playoff experience than a lot of our other players combined. The Oilers need to have some patience with a guy that's got Eager's combination of size and speed. He'd be a great fit on the 4th line, plus he can skate and take a pass, so I'd say he could slide up to the 3rd every now and then if injuries hit.

I like the idea of Eager and Brown on the 4th. Brown can handle any fist work, Eager's got the legs to keep defensemen at least slightly on their toes, plus he can put them through the boards if he needs to.

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#9 Romulus' Apotheosis
September 21 2013, 10:16AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Can you fix the typo in that quote from Cam? It makes that sentence very confusing.

Thanks!

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#10 Romulus' Apotheosis
September 21 2013, 10:21AM
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I actually thought Brown outplayed Eager in the last game... but neither were particularly stellar.

It really wouldn't hurt to upgrade that 4th line. I'd start with the 4C spot though.

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#11 Hayek
September 21 2013, 10:22AM
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Well at least Eager can play hockey, which is more than can be said for Brown. An Oilers lineup with Eager instead of Brown will have less fights, but win more games.

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#12 Rama Lama
September 21 2013, 10:29AM
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Eager will surprise a lot of people this year........IMHO he was not coached properly and used carelessly by past coaches.

With structure and a system he understands I think he can be very effective. A defined role will also help him understand what he needs to concentrate on. There is a price to pay for having as many coaches as we have had.......no consistency makes role players like a Eager confused and usually causes them to do to much, which never works.

It's hard to find 225 lb players that skate like the wind........go Ben go!

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#13 nunyour
September 21 2013, 10:31AM
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Is he playing better than Jones? Nice to see some competition for 4 line minutes.I thought Jouansue? looked good too.

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#14 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
September 21 2013, 10:38AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

In Chicago, Eager played on a line with Colin Fraser and either Tomas Kopecky or Adam Burish. Burish and Kopecky got almost the same amount of time on that line - with Kopecky that line killed, with Burish it was notably less effective.

I'd guess that Eager's most effective when he's the hammer and the other winger can carry the play; sticking him with Brown makes Eager the "skill" winger on the line and it's not a role he's suited for.

Didn't think of it that way, but it makes sense. If Eager's your most skilled winger on the line, you could have some problems. It also depends on who centres that 4th line, which will be an issue with the Oiler's current depth down the middle.

Eager's a 4th liner with the potential to temporarily fill in on the 3rd, but I wouldn't mind seeing him get a shift or two with Hall and Yak, if only to see if he can roll with the speedsters and create some havoc in front of the net. Pretty sure that's just my September optimism bubbling over, though.

What do you think of a Joensuu/Eager combo?

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#15 JJ
September 21 2013, 10:44AM
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Jordan Nugent-Hallkins wrote:

Didn't think of it that way, but it makes sense. If Eager's your most skilled winger on the line, you could have some problems. It also depends on who centres that 4th line, which will be an issue with the Oiler's current depth down the middle.

Eager's a 4th liner with the potential to temporarily fill in on the 3rd, but I wouldn't mind seeing him get a shift or two with Hall and Yak, if only to see if he can roll with the speedsters and create some havoc in front of the net. Pretty sure that's just my September optimism bubbling over, though.

What do you think of a Joensuu/Eager combo?

I think that's another silly idea. You must be hungover from last night to come up with that kind of nonsense.

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#16 Wonger
September 21 2013, 10:54AM
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JJ wrote:

I think that's another silly idea. You must be hungover from last night to come up with that kind of nonsense.

EAGER is an excellent skater and tough as he!! I would love to see EAGER, JOENSUU, Ryan HAMILTON,ACTON, and BROWN Scattered throughout this lineup on lines 2,3, and4!!! Personally, I could pass on Jones, Lander and Omark, especially the latter two!!! GO BENJAMIN!!!

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#17 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
September 21 2013, 10:57AM
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@JJ

I don't really have a good rebuttal, it's definitely a silly idea. But it's the pre-season, now's the time to mix it up a bit and experiment.

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#18 tileguy
September 21 2013, 10:59AM
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I had 2 dark horses I was cheering for to make the team, Linus and Ben. Looks like I'll have to settle for one, where to go Ben, make the coaches proud and lift fans off there seat. Sorry Linus, you had the ability to do that but wrong circumstances here in Edmonton, I am sure you'll get picked up on waivers.

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#20 tileguy
September 21 2013, 11:10AM
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Would you say the writing is on the wall considering Omark is sitting again tonight?

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#21 MessyEH!
September 21 2013, 11:24AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

He may have the tools, but not the toolbox.

He turns 30 this year, and there's a reason a guy with his skillset is stuck on the fourth line: he can't put it together. It's like the fantasy about him being a second-line winger - he just isn't good enough for the job.

I think the only sane approach is to accept that Eager is what he is, and use him in the role he's perfect for.

Eager could surprise alot of people this year. He is a bonafide NHLer who came to camp in great shape. No one ever called him lazy. Confused? yes. Eakins will define his role. Now can Eager step up and fill it? I would say history is against him. But, he may.

Now if the Oilers can pick up a man sized Center who can play a physical game on the 4th line I would be relieved.

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#22 David S
September 21 2013, 12:00PM
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Wonger wrote:

EAGER is an excellent skater and tough as he!! I would love to see EAGER, JOENSUU, Ryan HAMILTON,ACTON, and BROWN Scattered throughout this lineup on lines 2,3, and4!!! Personally, I could pass on Jones, Lander and Omark, especially the latter two!!! GO BENJAMIN!!!

At least you'll have people talking about "the toughest team that never made the playoffs...AGAIN!"

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#23 David S
September 21 2013, 12:11PM
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http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/9/21/4753990/fights-dont-score-goals-oilers-canucks-86-playoffs

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#25 @Oilanderp
September 21 2013, 12:32PM
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Maybe it's just me but I didn't really see anything better about Eager's game so far. I also didn't hear anyone in the blogosphere talking about his 'improved game' until one oilers employee mentioned it. Immediately afterward everyone is gushing about Eager.

I'm obviously less qualified than all oilers employees to judge talent but... I don't get it. It seems more to me like a bunch of yes-men agreeables jumping on the bandwagon once they see who the boss likes.

Don't get me wrong. I'm cheering like hell for the guy.

As far as I see, Mike Brown is faring better than Eager this pre-season.

Not because I like pugilists, but simply because that's what I see.

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#26 madjam
September 21 2013, 12:34PM
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Temporarily looks like we are more adapt at handling the physical part of the game , at least during exhibition season . Nurse and Ference seem to be an upgrade in that department from last year . Would be nice if Martindale and/or Pitluck could turn the corner . Eager can be effective , but can he be consistent ? Brown looks like the extra forward . Joensuu can handle rough going and is an upgrade in that department . Final squad may still be lacking physically , and an addition or two might still be appropriate outside current team . Like to see more out of Smyth and Gagner from what I have seen to date , as well as returning defenceman beyond J.Schultz .

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#27 David S
September 21 2013, 12:49PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It'll be just like that team that put J-F Jacques on line one, Ryan Stone on line two, and... oh, you say the 2009-10 Oilers are arguably the worst edition of the team in history? Okay, nevermind.

BURRRRRRRN!

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#28 Oiler Al
September 21 2013, 01:11PM
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Eager is on many of fans wish list, similar to Omark. Eager at his age , you get what you see.

I know Eakin has ambitions to take a pc. of coal and make it into a diamond... not happening here.His hockey IQ is somewhere between one and minus five.Yes he has size and speed, but that's where his game ends unfortunately.

If you are going to attempt to turn coal to diamonds, better to try it with Joensuu or even Pitlick.

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#29 Fresh Mess
September 21 2013, 01:27PM
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@MessyEH!

Now if the Oilers can pick up a man sized Center who can play a physical game on the 4th line I would be relieved.-------------------------------------------

Brown could possibly be that guy, but the Oilers won't even try it out. Hopefully eventually Hemsky can be dealt for such a player.

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#30 Racki
September 21 2013, 01:42PM
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Great Taylor Hall quote on Joanne Ireland's Twitter...

"I'm enjoying centre a lot more than I probably thought I would."

I like hearing that... anyone else been blown away by how well he's fit at center so far? Would you want to see him there all year? It's just pre-season, so he hasn't really been tested yet, but so far he looks like he can do it well. I'd keep him there. That might mean Gagner moves to the wing.. or it just means that Gordon becomes the 4th line center. Either would be fine by me, although I'm not sure who would be best to fill the top line LW.

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#31 Reinman
September 21 2013, 02:06PM
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@Jonathan Willis

If Omark is not playing with skilled players, better to leave him in the minors. I would like to see the oilers go for a top 9 approach(with Omark in that mix), instead of over-loading the top 2 lines. Give Omark a few games playing with Hall, RNH, Yakapov, Eberle. I think the extra room he would get out there playing with these other skilled players, might allow him to perform much better, then allowing the opposition key on him as being the "talented" player on the line. Omark-RNH-Hemsky, Hall-Gagner-Eberle, Perron-Gordon-Yakapov, Eager-Lander-Jones or something to that effect. Like I say, if they are not going to put him in a position to produce some points, they might as well leave him in the minors and bring him up when one of the top 6 get injured.

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#32 Reinman
September 21 2013, 02:13PM
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Racki wrote:

Great Taylor Hall quote on Joanne Ireland's Twitter...

"I'm enjoying centre a lot more than I probably thought I would."

I like hearing that... anyone else been blown away by how well he's fit at center so far? Would you want to see him there all year? It's just pre-season, so he hasn't really been tested yet, but so far he looks like he can do it well. I'd keep him there. That might mean Gagner moves to the wing.. or it just means that Gordon becomes the 4th line center. Either would be fine by me, although I'm not sure who would be best to fill the top line LW.

That is great news. That would solve a lot of our problems. Hall/Eberle, RNH/Yakapov would make some nice center winger combos. Left wing you could throw whoever you wanted out there. Jones, Perron, Omark, Eager, Smyth. And it still leaves you Gagner/Hemsky for the 3rd line. In fact, makes me see Gagner and Hemsky even more as spare parts. Trade em both to get a quality 2 way left winger.

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#33 Racki
September 21 2013, 02:35PM
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Reinman wrote:

That is great news. That would solve a lot of our problems. Hall/Eberle, RNH/Yakapov would make some nice center winger combos. Left wing you could throw whoever you wanted out there. Jones, Perron, Omark, Eager, Smyth. And it still leaves you Gagner/Hemsky for the 3rd line. In fact, makes me see Gagner and Hemsky even more as spare parts. Trade em both to get a quality 2 way left winger.

I dont see Gagner and Hemsky as spare parts, but agree with most of the rest.

Also, while it's still just pre-season games, I like that he's looked like the same old Hall playing center. I expected that I'd stop seeing him streaking into the zone and such.. or he'd not be putting on a shooting gallery, but he seems to be flying out there still.

I've also been pretty critical of Hemsky in the past couple years, but I think Hall and Hemsky are great together. They might be even better now with Hall at C. They click. I wish Smyth was a half dozen years younger.. that line would be a real beaute, if you ask me.

More on Hall at C and also Eakins talking about Nurse "screwing up their plans" (to send him to junior) in Joanne's article here: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2013/09/21/taylor-hall-warming-to-the-idea-of-playing-centre-for-the-edmonton-oilers/?cid=dlvr.it-twitter-ej_oilers

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#34 madjam
September 21 2013, 02:38PM
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Racki wrote:

Great Taylor Hall quote on Joanne Ireland's Twitter...

"I'm enjoying centre a lot more than I probably thought I would."

I like hearing that... anyone else been blown away by how well he's fit at center so far? Would you want to see him there all year? It's just pre-season, so he hasn't really been tested yet, but so far he looks like he can do it well. I'd keep him there. That might mean Gagner moves to the wing.. or it just means that Gordon becomes the 4th line center. Either would be fine by me, although I'm not sure who would be best to fill the top line LW.

If it's a success , that means danger for Snowpants . Ship him out before the NTC kicks in , as the RW spots are filled with Hemmer , Nail and Eberle . He has never played LW either , and you can't have him as a 4.8 mil 3rd line center . My thoughts .

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#35 Racki
September 21 2013, 02:58PM
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madjam wrote:

If it's a success , that means danger for Snowpants . Ship him out before the NTC kicks in , as the RW spots are filled with Hemmer , Nail and Eberle . He has never played LW either , and you can't have him as a 4.8 mil 3rd line center . My thoughts .

I'd say as long as the cap space is there, you could, if you believe in the possibility of having 3 scoring lines.. which I do. He might not be the best guy to have as 3rd line C, or we might be better off trading him for a scoring LW, if we can... but if that can't happen, I don't think it would be too terrible to keep him here.

This also might be the extremely unpopular opinion, but I wonder if a 3rd line centered by Nuge, with Yak on it that eats up the soft parade could be feasible at least for just a year or so while Nuge and Yak continue to get their feet wet. That would mean a 2nd line of Perron - Gagner - Eberle, which is a line we'll see vs. Vancouver tonight.

I think there's some good possibilities for lines with the players here. I could see a use for another scoring LWer at the cost of Gagner or Hemsky though, so I don't think your suggestion is off at all.

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#36 Walter Sobchak
September 21 2013, 04:19PM
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It's not Eager desire that's the issue, it's the hit to the head that's the problem.

One more bad hit and Eager is done, literally, I can't see him ever returning to the NHL again if he gets another concussion.

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#37 Fresh Mess
September 21 2013, 04:35PM
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Racki wrote:

Great Taylor Hall quote on Joanne Ireland's Twitter...

"I'm enjoying centre a lot more than I probably thought I would."

I like hearing that... anyone else been blown away by how well he's fit at center so far? Would you want to see him there all year? It's just pre-season, so he hasn't really been tested yet, but so far he looks like he can do it well. I'd keep him there. That might mean Gagner moves to the wing.. or it just means that Gordon becomes the 4th line center. Either would be fine by me, although I'm not sure who would be best to fill the top line LW.

Some of us predicted as much all along.

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#38 Spydyr
September 21 2013, 04:58PM
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A fourth line with both Brown and Eager banging the other teams defense through the boards works for me.Tell them to hit then hit some more.

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#39 madjam
September 21 2013, 05:15PM
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madjam wrote:

If it's a success , that means danger for Snowpants . Ship him out before the NTC kicks in , as the RW spots are filled with Hemmer , Nail and Eberle . He has never played LW either , and you can't have him as a 4.8 mil 3rd line center . My thoughts .

Not such a bad comment pseudo madjam . Now why don't you get brave and use your own handle .

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#40 Racki
September 21 2013, 05:55PM
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madjam wrote:

Not such a bad comment pseudo madjam . Now why don't you get brave and use your own handle .

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, no? ... or maybe just really creepy.

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#41 Wonger
September 21 2013, 11:41PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It'll be just like that team that put J-F Jacques on line one, Ryan Stone on line two, and... oh, you say the 2009-10 Oilers are arguably the worst edition of the team in history? Okay, nevermind.

Vancouvers TUFF guys took a lot of liberties with our skill tonight!!! I wish Brian MCGRATTAN was an OILER. WEISE and. SESTITO-DORITO would have got their heads kicked in!!! NOBODY SCREWS AROUND WITH THE FLAMES SKILL PLAYERS!!! NOBODY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#42 Wonger
September 22 2013, 12:25AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

In Chicago, Eager played on a line with Colin Fraser and either Tomas Kopecky or Adam Burish. Burish and Kopecky got almost the same amount of time on that line - with Kopecky that line killed, with Burish it was notably less effective.

I'd guess that Eager's most effective when he's the hammer and the other winger can carry the play; sticking him with Brown makes Eager the "skill" winger on the line and it's not a role he's suited for.

How about Big JohnnScott or Steve MacIntyre to center this line!!!!! Who cares about the fuc$&ing score in the preseason! Let's send some messages to a$$holes like Weise and Sestito-useless TIT- DORITO!!! and BiekSH!!!T.

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#43 Wäx Män Riley
September 22 2013, 03:34AM
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@Wonger

Vancouvers TUFF guys took a lot of liberties with our skill tonight!!! I wish Brian MCGRATTAN was an OILER. WEISE and. SESTITO-DORITO would have got their heads kicked in!!! NOBODY SCREWS AROUND WITH THE FLAMES SKILL PLAYERS!!! NOBODY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm starting to WONDER if this GUY is for REAL!!!!!!!!!!!!

REALLY!!!!!!!

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#44 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
September 22 2013, 08:35AM
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@Wonger

Calgary has skill players?

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#45 The Last Big Bear
September 22 2013, 11:19AM
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I've never really bought the notion that goons are the best way to establish physicality or protect players. I think having big skill players who are willing to throw down is the way to do that.

HOWEVER, I think there are two main areas where a goon can contribute.

1) To provide a specific service on a team. For example, a few years ago Flames fans had to watch Andre Roy get embarrassed by better players, and then get destroyed by better fighters, game after game. He had all of the terrible Corsi effects that the stats guys predicted. But what he contributed was the fact that Iginla no longer had to fight every meat head who wanted to 'make a statement'. This won't show up in any analysis of score-close corsi following a fight, or whatever other numerical study you want to do. Nor did it establish Calgary as a team that was 'difficult to play against'. But it was still inarguably a very material contribution to the team. It kept Iginla out of the box, and off the IR.

2) The other contribution comes from having an elite top-tier fighter. Guys like Laraque, MacGrattan, Boogaard, et al. If you start something with them around, you WILL get beaten down. Sure, some other heavies will try their hand at the top dog, but I think the mid-level scumbags tend to keep their gloves on. Again, this isn;t something that's going to show up by counting shots, but nonetheless has a real effect on the game. Fewer stupid fights by the ****-disturbers. People complain that Laraque never fought anyone but the heavies, because everyone else knew they were just going to lose, and lose badly. That's not a bug, that's a feature. That's exactly the kind of deterrence I'm talking about.

This is not to say that having a goon makes the team 'tougher to play against'. But that having the right goon, playing the right role, can have a positive contribution.

Oh, wait, sorry, scratch that. Forgot that this is the Nations Network. What I meant was that if it doesn't has a measurable in-game effect on the shot differential rate before and after the event, then it doesn't exist. QED.

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#46 Wonger
September 22 2013, 11:20AM
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Jordan Nugent-Hallkins wrote:

Calgary has skill players?

Jerks like Sestito, Weise and Alberts don't cheap shot Flame players- head shots in pre-season games-Sestito pushing Eberkes face into the ice, etc! Because Bob Hartley gives MCGRATTAN the green light to take care of business!!! David Perron should not have to be involved with Sestito nor should any other Oiler skill player!!! MIKE BROWN WAS AWESOME last night!!! Get him some help!!!Trade some of our excess skill for a couple of BAD A$$ES!!! I am sick of watching bozos take excess liberties with our star player!!!Watch a a Calgary- Vancouver game or watch a Leafs or Canadians or Senators game- even Winnipeg has a Super Heavy Weight Enforcer- Anthony Peluso!!! Why is Erick Lizon on an AHL contract in OKC??? Why is he not at Oiler camp playing exhibition games??? I don't give a flying f&@k if he can't skate!!!

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