No Cigar: Eight Years Out

Robin Brownlee
September 28 2013 01:09PM

When I picked the Edmonton Oilers to make the playoffs last season I was playing a hunch despite plenty of evidence I'd be wrong. I was, of course, as the Oilers made it seven straight years out of the post-season.

Picking the Oilers to miss the playoffs in 2013-14 is no such matter. It is, despite my sense there has been more optimism about Edmonton's chances from pundits around the NHL, not to mention long-suffering fans in the City of Champions, going with the odds instead of against them.

No matter which way you lean, of course, it's all crystal ball stuff. Taking hope and want – two emotions that are the very essence of fandom – out of the equation as "objective observers" should, doesn't mean you'll be right, as I proved last season, when I mistakenly thought the Oilers might excel in a 48-game sprint instead of an 82-game marathon.

Do I think the Oilers will push the playoff pace this season after fading down the stretch last season? Yes. Do I think the Oilers, with a new head coach in Dallas Eakins and a roster that's seen significant turnover – for the better – are improved? Yes.

Do I see a playoff spot? No, for two reasons – a tough schedule and injuries, and how they'll intersect at the beginning of this season. This is a team that's been dealt some tough cards on both fronts. Close, but no cigar.

THE INJURIES

Despite a 5-2-1 pre-season, one which wrapped up with a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars in Oklahoma City Friday, Edmonton's much discussed lack of depth at centre, a black hole made darker by the ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the loss of Sam Gagner to a broken jaw, can't be overstated.

With RNH and Gagner out, Taylor Hall, making the switch from left wing as a fill-in, is the team's top center. Behind him, Mark Arcobello, Boyd Gordon and, it appears, Will Acton. Anybody who thinks that group is good enough (assuming GM Craig MacTavish doesn't bolster it), is leaning far too heavily on hope and want and ignoring the obvious.

While I think the Oilers have wisely been taking a pessimistic approach to the return of RNH, pegging it at the end of October, I suspect he'll be back closer to Oct. 1 than Nov. 1. I've said it before and I'm saying it again. Let's split it right down the middle and say he'll be back Oct. 15.

Even if that's the case, that'll put RNH out for the first seven games of the season. I don't think it's a stretch or looking for an unduly negative angle to suggest it could take him the rest of October, a total of 14 games, to get back into game shape and get his timing back.

Compound that with Gagner, the team's No. 2 centre, being out until the end of November, which translates to 27 games (plus additional time to knock off the rust), and I don't see Edmonton's paper-thin collection of men in the middle being nearly good enough against real NHL line-ups – something they saw little of during the pre-season.

THE SCHEDULE

Even if the Oilers had a full line-up that wasn't punched full of holes down the middle by injuries, the schedule-maker, as Jason Gregor has already pointed out, didn’t do them any favors.

The Oilers play at Rexall Place just six times in their first 19 games, a stretch that sees them make a six-game swing to the east in October and a four-game trip in November.

That's 13 of 19 games where opposing coaches get the last line change and the upper hand in match-ups up front and in defensive pairings against Hall, David Perron, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov. Those are match-ups, it goes without saying, already made easier by the absence of RNH and Gagner.

Take a look at the schedule and tell me how many points you see the Oilers getting out of those first 19 games, even if Nugent-Hopkins gets back after, say, seven games. Do they get 10, 12, 15? More?

MAKE IT EIGHT

What I see is a team undermanned by injuries in concert with a very tough schedule having to play from back in a re-aligned Pacific Division pack from the end of November on. How far back? I don’t know, but the start the Oilers are facing takes away much of any margin for error they have.

I expect the line-up MacTavish has assembled to improve as the season wears on, even though there's questions about the bottom six forwards and the defense, which looks better and marginally deeper on paper, but has yet to prove it on the ice against real NHL line-ups.

That said, even if the Oilers can stay relatively healthy after they get RNH and Gagner back and after living out of a suitcase for most of those first 19 games, has this team improved enough to charge from behind and earn a playoff spot after folding with the money on the table last spring?

I don't see it.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 pkam
September 28 2013, 04:45PM
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I don't understand the reason why it is so bad that we'll be on the road 13 of the 1st 19 games. Assume we are going to lose all the 19 games, would you rather lose 13 road games and 6 home games, or 13 home games and 6 road games. I'll take the 13 road game and 6 home games. I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us.

If RNH is going to miss a month and Gagner is going to miss 2 months, I'll rather it happens early than late. If we are going to miss the playoff by a few points, I'll rather we are out in March and fight our way back and miss, rather than we are in the playoff in March but hit the injury bugs then fail to protect the spot and miss by a few point.

Even We miss the playoff, it is more exciting and I feel better in the 1st case. And in case we make the playoff, would you rather having a healthir squad and winning into the playoff, or a depleted squad and surving to stay in the playoff?

And with the injury to our 2 top centres now instead of later, it is more likely that MacT will do something to help our centre depth than if we are healthy. It is also easier to get help via trade or waiver now than near the trade deadline.

It does not look good, but it can be worse.

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#52 David S
September 28 2013, 04:47PM
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Maverick007 wrote:

Grebeshkov was always a disaster in his own zone. Why not offer him a PTO since his numbers sucked in the K. Why not offer Jones a tryout also since he sucked last year and had the eye injury? But nope, he signed them without any due diligence. Why not offer Raymond a PTO or so some other options?

Because guys like Grebs wouldn't come on a PTO knowing full well they are something the team needs. And don't forget he was making pretty good coin in the KHL.

As far as Jones goes, all I can think of is the team didn't want to look bad in front of fans by giving Jones a PTO. You cannot underestimate how much public relations factors into what teams like the Oilers do sometimes.

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#53 David S
September 28 2013, 04:50PM
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Maverick007 wrote:

Grabovski was a free agent. He would of basically cost us the price of Jones and Grebeshkov. And we all know how good those signings were.

Given how busy MacT was this summer, who's to say he didn't pitch Grabovski and he declined? There's alot of good players that won't touch Edmonton because of things like the brutal travel schedule and living in a fishbowl.

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#54 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 04:52PM
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DSF wrote:

The Oilers are a Hall injury away from the abyss.

Silly me thinking the last seven years was the abyss.

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#55 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 04:53PM
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Mac-T if there ever was a time for a bold move it is now, grab a center.Sooner rather then later.This weekend would be great.

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#56 Quicksilver ballet
September 28 2013, 04:54PM
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@Bucknuck

It goes without saying, I really hope i'm wrong though too Bucky. There is a silver lining to that worst case scenario though. Lowe has us all hooked on crack/lotto picks these last five yrs. Nurse will more than cover being a top 10 selection. Problem is, we still need more kids who are capable of helping sooner rather than later. Gone seem the days of a GM/coach finding that kid (Grant Fuhr type,jr to the bigs) to help us now, despite his age. Like to have seen that Marco Roy kid playing with NHL'ers around him. Give kids like Nurse, Roy and maybe even one of those Russian kids (if they're not already obligated) a 9 games stint now and see what you've got. There's a really good chance the Oilers don't even know what they've got.

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#57 Robin Brownlee
September 28 2013, 04:54PM
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@pkam

"I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us."

I'll say it again: starting the season without RNH and Gagner does not provide the Oilers some kind of immunity to future injuries.

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#58 The Oilers Shot Clock
September 28 2013, 04:55PM
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@ David S

Kevin Lowe once called you a second tier fan. There is no public relations. Souray The Krueger firing.

This team isn't afraid to cut ties the hard way. Ryan Jones was a mistake plane and simple. There was no other motivation.

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#59 DSF
September 28 2013, 05:01PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Silly me thinking the last seven years was the abyss.

Going on 8.

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#60 pkam
September 28 2013, 05:03PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

"I think having more home games later when RNH and Gagner both in the lineup is in favor of us."

I'll say it again: starting the season without RNH and Gagner does not provide the Oilers some kind of immunity to future injuries.

I am aware of that.

Assume we are going to lose the majority of them, would you rather have 13 home games and 6 road games now so we will have more home games later?

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#61 Rama Lama
September 28 2013, 05:03PM
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I agree with your assessment on injuries impacting the organization negatively.......tough luck for the past three or four years on this front after years of mostly injury free seasons.

What can't be understated is our management of the situations. An example would be RNH and how his injury was managed. In stead of pulling the plug early on him, we kept him on last year with the hopes of making the playoffs. Fast forward and his injury will now impact this year. Management could have traded Hemsky last year when there was a deal on the table, but because management was so blinded by making the playoffs they chose to keep him. Now we all know what will happen with Hemsky.........give him 20 games and he will be injured again. Tough luck may have played a part here but how it was mismanaged is squarely on the shoulders of the GM and President.

I for one am so glad that Mr. Dithers is gone and Mac T is in place........no more moronic decisions that lead to nothing. Now if he can replace some of the pro-scouts and get some fresh blood into the organization we can be successful in landing some quality supporting cast players.

This year should tell the tale...........no more excuses for management.

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#62 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:06PM
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DSF wrote:

Going on 8.

Yes, when will the six headed snake lose its head after 10?

All kidding aside I have been saying for a couple years now the team is being built to win when Rexall2 opens.

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#63 15w40
September 28 2013, 05:12PM
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@Spydyr

IMHO if they don't start winning before then, some of their talent is going to walk. If they have another brutal year in the standings and J. Schultz has a good individual season, he may be the 1st to start to look around.

Didn't have an issue jumping the good ship Anaheim to get a chance to play. The fan base may be that invested but they are sure getting restless and another couple of losing seasons and this can officially be classified as an infinibuild.

People will begin to lose the will to care anymore.

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#64 Pouzar99
September 28 2013, 05:21PM
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I would dearly love to argue against Robin's assessment, but I can't. Losing your top two centers and kicking off the season with the schedule from Hell is almost guaranteed to put this fragile squad behind the eight-ball. I was enraged last year when Tambellini postponed RNH's surgery so long that it ended up effecting this season, reason number 1001 to fire him. Now, with the addition of Kassian's idiotic goonery and the cruelty of the schedule makers, we face an enormous challenge.

I think making MacT GM and Eakins head coach were very good moves, and there is no doubt that in my mind the Oilers are an improved team with a very promising future, but Eakins is really going to have to pull off a coaching and motivational miracle to keep them in the hunt until mid-November.

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#65 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:22PM
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15w40 wrote:

IMHO if they don't start winning before then, some of their talent is going to walk. If they have another brutal year in the standings and J. Schultz has a good individual season, he may be the 1st to start to look around.

Didn't have an issue jumping the good ship Anaheim to get a chance to play. The fan base may be that invested but they are sure getting restless and another couple of losing seasons and this can officially be classified as an infinibuild.

People will begin to lose the will to care anymore.

Actually I think this is the year lots of people start to stop caring .That is why for the first time in years all the games went on sale before the season started.Some of my tier one friends could not even give their seats away at the end of last season.

As for talent walking Ebs , Hall and the Nuge are all locked up.They will try to lock up Shultz if he has a good start then Yak next summer.

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#66 nunyour
September 28 2013, 05:24PM
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If u want grit in the top nine you will have to trade one of the kids for it.

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#67 Quicksilver ballet
September 28 2013, 05:24PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

MacIntyre and lack of grit throughout the top nine are two separate issues.

One player, no matter how tough, can't make up for a group of forwards that lacks a chip on its collective shoulder -- a willingness to battle for every puck, to be first into the corners etc etc. Teams can be gritty and tough with the gloves on. This one is not.

The need to employ a designated tough guy like MacIntyre is a sign you haven't built your roster the right way. It's a Plan B.

All good points by you.

That being said, the direction that's been chosen, is our only play putting methamphetamines in the Oiler Gatorade bottles?

Since there's no order or definite direction? In my youth when I was a street pharmacist, there really is a pill for every problem imaginable.

I kid, probably because we are so potentially screwed.

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#68 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:31PM
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nunyour wrote:

If u want grit in the top nine you will have to trade one of the kids for it.

Would Gagner do when he gets back?

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#69 Maverick007
September 28 2013, 05:33PM
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David S wrote:

Given how busy MacT was this summer, who's to say he didn't pitch Grabovski and he declined? There's alot of good players that won't touch Edmonton because of things like the brutal travel schedule and living in a fishbowl.

Until we know for sure that MacT pitched Grabs then we have to assume he didnt. I didnt hear no rumor that they did either.

And i dont think a public relations had anything to do with the Jones signing. The GM is running the show not the media or fans, and if he thinks that way then thats a bad, bad mentality.

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#70 DSF
September 28 2013, 05:35PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Yes, when will the six headed snake lose its head after 10?

All kidding aside I have been saying for a couple years now the team is being built to win when Rexall2 opens.

Yeah.

I'd say 10 should do it.

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#71 DSF
September 28 2013, 05:38PM
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pkam wrote:

I am aware of that.

Assume we are going to lose the majority of them, would you rather have 13 home games and 6 road games now so we will have more home games later?

It doesn't really matter when you lose games.

if you lose them, you lose them.

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#72 Calgary Oilers
September 28 2013, 05:41PM
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DSF wrote:

The Oilers are a Hall injury away from the abyss.

The Nucks are a pair of Ben Eager and Mike Brown high sticks to the faces of the Sedins from the abyss.

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#73 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:43PM
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Calgary Oilers wrote:

The Nucks are a pair of Ben Eager and Mike Brown high sticks to the faces of the Sedins from the abyss.

Sweet irony would be a couple Torts blocked shots away.

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#74 Maverick007
September 28 2013, 05:44PM
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DSF wrote:

It doesn't really matter when you lose games.

if you lose them, you lose them.

Its better to lose them in the beginning so you have time to make them up. If you can. At least theres a chance this way then the other way.

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#75 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:49PM
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Maverick007 wrote:

Its better to lose them in the beginning so you have time to make them up. If you can. At least theres a chance this way then the other way.

If you miss the payoffs by two points it does not matter if you lost the two points in October or March.Every game matters the same.Two points is two points.

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#76 nunyour
September 28 2013, 05:51PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Would Gagner do when he gets back?

Yes,or ebs,or yak,it would be a tough pill to swallow,but I think it will have to be done sooner or later.But the return would be good also.

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#77 pkam
September 28 2013, 05:52PM
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DSF wrote:

It doesn't really matter when you lose games.

if you lose them, you lose them.

According to your argument, home ice advantage is just BS? And LT is wasting his time talking about the impact of tough schedule and injuries?

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#78 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:57PM
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pkam wrote:

According to your argument, home ice advantage is just BS? And LT is wasting his time talking about the impact of tough schedule and injuries?

No the argument is every game is worth two points.Home, away ,injured team or tough opponent.The are all worth two points

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#79 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 05:59PM
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nunyour wrote:

Yes,or ebs,or yak,it would be a tough pill to swallow,but I think it will have to be done sooner or later.But the return would be good also.

It is wayyyyyy to early to talk about trading Ebs or Yak.Perhaps when the team is closer to being a contender it might be time to trade for a missing piece. Now is not that time.

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#80 DSF
September 28 2013, 06:01PM
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Calgary Oilers wrote:

The Nucks are a pair of Ben Eager and Mike Brown high sticks to the faces of the Sedins from the abyss.

Nonsense.

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#81 Oilcruzer
September 28 2013, 06:04PM
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Enough of the negativity.

Who else is going to the opener?

(time to begin hype)

I need to make some kind of bet with DSF. Our bet last year was screwed by the lockout.

Oil will still be the next Canadian team to win the cup.

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#82 DSF
September 28 2013, 06:09PM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Enough of the negativity.

Who else is going to the opener?

(time to begin hype)

I need to make some kind of bet with DSF. Our bet last year was screwed by the lockout.

Oil will still be the next Canadian team to win the cup.

Ottawa.

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#83 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:11PM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Enough of the negativity.

Who else is going to the opener?

(time to begin hype)

I need to make some kind of bet with DSF. Our bet last year was screwed by the lockout.

Oil will still be the next Canadian team to win the cup.

Oilers in 4 years.You said enough of the negativity.

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#84 DSF
September 28 2013, 06:13PM
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pkam wrote:

According to your argument, home ice advantage is just BS? And LT is wasting his time talking about the impact of tough schedule and injuries?

The Oilers were 9-11-4 at home last season....28th in the league.

Has something changed?

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#85 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:13PM
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Spydyr wrote:

No the argument is every game is worth two points.Home, away ,injured team or tough opponent.The are all worth two points

So all the coaches are BS when they say the goal is to make .500 on the road and .700 at home?

So home ice advantage is also BS since a win on the road game and at home are the same 2 points?

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#86 nunyour
September 28 2013, 06:14PM
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Spydyr wrote:

It is wayyyyyy to early to talk about trading Ebs or Yak.Perhaps when the team is closer to being a contender it might be time to trade for a missing piece. Now is not that time.

I don't think Gagner gets you what you want,but ebs or yak will.

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#87 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:16PM
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pkam wrote:

So all the coaches are BS when they say the goal is to make .500 on the road and .700 at home?

So home ice advantage is also BS since a win on the road game and at home are the same 2 points?

There is a home ice advantage.The last change putting your stick down last on draws and your fans. That does not change the fact every game is worth two point home or away.

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#88 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:18PM
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nunyour wrote:

I don't think Gagner gets you what you want,but ebs or yak will.

Not Gagner alone but that old three for one deal would.It would have to be a center coming back if you traded Gagner though.

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#89 Dawn
September 28 2013, 06:21PM
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Wow.

On the basis of one nothing game, no points or roster spots up for grabs, played while on a 3 day staff retreat in the sun, the oiler faithful turn into chicken little. "The sky is falling!"

I'm in no position to make predictions, being both biased and hopeful. But by the end of the season, if we make as much progress this year as last, I will be satisfied. 19th two years removed from 29th is not too bad.

That said, won't complain if Dallas can pull off a miracle.

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#90 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:21PM
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DSF wrote:

The Oilers were 9-11-4 at home last season....28th in the league.

Has something changed?

I think the past does not dictate the future, does it? And if we are discussing whether the Oilers will make the playoff, is it more reasonable to assume this has to be changed, or the Oilers is going to make 800 on the road?

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#91 The Oilers Shot Clock
September 28 2013, 06:27PM
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Has something changed?

Half the roster.

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#92 madjam
September 28 2013, 06:28PM
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The problem or the cure ? The onus is on the incumbent players to carry this team to another level , more so than the newbies are . Are they up to it and vast improvement , or are they all overrated and thus holding us back ? Big improvement needed from incumbent core including particularly , our first round picks , Eberle and J.Schultz .

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#93 pkam
September 28 2013, 06:31PM
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Spydyr wrote:

There is a home ice advantage.The last change putting your stick down last on draws and your fans. That does not change the fact every game is worth two point home or away.

Did I ever question that a win is 2 points? My argument is 2 points in some cases are easier than the other 2 points. And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points. Does it make some difference losing 2 points to a cup contender like the Hawks and Bruins, than a bottom feeder like the Flames or Sabres?

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#94 otter2233
September 28 2013, 06:38PM
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Hey Kool-Aid drinkers, it is called REALISM NOT NEGATIVITY!!! The Oilers were a long-shot for the playoffs with RNH and Gagner, how on earth can they make it to the playoffs with those two key guys either in the press box or on the ice but knocking the rust off for at least the 1st 25% of the year? How many teams that are actually deep at center, nevermind as thin as the Oil, could survive without their top 2 players at that position? Virtually none.

Believe me, I crave a playoff game as much as the rest of you but this year just isn't the year... not quite yet anyway.

And @ Oilcruzer I will also be there opening night! >

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#95 Spydyr
September 28 2013, 06:44PM
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pkam wrote:

Did I ever question that a win is 2 points? My argument is 2 points in some cases are easier than the other 2 points. And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points. Does it make some difference losing 2 points to a cup contender like the Hawks and Bruins, than a bottom feeder like the Flames or Sabres?

"And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points."

Are you talking divisional games so called four point games?This year with the cross over it would be conference games being four point games also.

If you miss the playoffs by two points does it matter what two points it was?

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#96 Robin Brownlee
September 28 2013, 06:55PM
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@Dawn

If you've been paying attention, which seems unlikely given your Chicken Little comment, you know there have been misgivings about this line-up for some time.

Do you actually think what's been written here by myself and others is based on one game or are you just funning us while shooting selfies in your room wearing a Jamie Benn jersey?

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#97 YFC Prez
September 28 2013, 07:01PM
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All I ever drink is Kool- Aid.

Hall looks way better than I expected at C. If he excels there this team could have the best 1-2 punch down the middle they have seen in a very long time once RNH returns. Move gags to the wing and they have a reliable "just in case" skilled C .

I doubt this season is as bad as the last 5 ,but I get the pessimism . Oilers are not looking at overwhelmingly stellar odds to see playoffs.

That being said. When the talk shifts to trading away Eberle or Yakupov for a top nine gritty forward, that is a major knee jerk reaction to a problem we don't know the full severity of yet. I would be more interested in watching the waiver wire the next couple of days now that teams are finalizing their rosters.

If the day ever comes when Eberle, Yakupov or any of the young stars are traded the oilers better be getting a stellar return.

For now I just really want to see what the oilers have. Pre-season doesn't always make for the most accurate predictions. I'm just not ready to write off the post season yet.

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#98 beloch
September 28 2013, 07:01PM
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Boyd Gordon is a decent shut-down player who can drive possession against tough competition. He performed well while playing some of the toughest minutes on the team last season in Phoenix. He will be a big help if he stays healthy. Acton and Arcobello, on the other hand, are career AHL'ers and will likely be eaten alive. They're of an age where you can't really expect them to take any significant steps forward either. It could happen, but it's improbable.

This Monday all manner of players are going to be hitting waivers as teams desperately try to get cap-compliant. The Oilers have $2M in cap-space. That's not very much, and arguably spending it all robs them of flexibility down the road. However, picking up just one more NHL replacement-level center could really help the team. Ideally, it should be somebody who can play on a quality fourth-line and move up when needed, as he will be at the start of the season. That should be doable for under $1M.

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#99 pkam
September 28 2013, 07:02PM
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Spydyr wrote:

"And 2 points in some cases are more important than the other 2 points."

Are you talking divisional games so called four point games?This year with the cross over it would be conference games being four point games also.

If you miss the playoffs by two points does it matter what two points it was?

No, I am talking about losing to weaker teams like the Flames and Buffalo this year. Those are the points you can't afford to lose. It hurts more when we lose points in those games than in games against top teams like the Hawks, the Pens and the Bruins.

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#100 nunyour
September 28 2013, 07:09PM
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Spydyr wrote:

Not Gagner alone but that old three for one deal would.It would have to be a center coming back if you traded Gagner though.

There's not to many 3 for 1 anymore.would you do a yak for lucic ?

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