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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#1 Walter Sobchak
September 28 2013, 01:33PM
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Not even close to a playoff spot, one injury away from being a lottery team.

MacTavish should have acted earlier.

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#2 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
September 28 2013, 03:44PM
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Oilers didn't play poorly last evening. They just decided to save all their goals and assists for the regular season.

Sobering article Brownlee. If you weren't the lead writer here on Oilersnation, you would probably be branded a troll like some regular folk posters are here on a daily basis. It's always refreshing to hear a realists opinion of what will/may unfold this coming season.

After seeing the holes throughout the lineup after MacTavishs bold summer, we can easily see a carbon copy of last season on the horizon. It could even get worse than 25th if injuries continue to mount. The cap has forced MacTavish to use AHL caliber players throughout his bottom 6 group of forwards. Death by papercut instore for this 2013-2014 season. A little unsettling to say the least for a non playoff team.

C'mon now there kids, hit your toy trash botton like you've never hit it before.

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#3 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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#4 WONGER
September 28 2013, 03:15PM
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PICK UP LUKE GAZDIC off of WAIVERS !!!!!!! The Wonger gave MACT a big HINT a few days before MAC and PL3 were available!!! GAZDIC (great 24 year old enforcer who can play a little bit) will be available on waivers soon!!! So will Honest JAY ROSEHILL!!!!!! Take 'em both if BROWN and MAC are both out!!!What the hell, take them both anyway!!! You heard it here first courtesy of the WONGER - TOUGHNESS and ENFORCER EXPERT!!! PHD in Gooning it up!!!!!!

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#5 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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#6 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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#7 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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#8 madjam
September 28 2013, 01:57PM
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Final exhibition game Eakins believes is a wake up call to team , expects much better in season . Hall reaps praise on Dallas team for stymying Oilers . How many other teams are going to stymie us throughout season ? Right now we might be weaker going into season than last with even worse results . New GM , coaches and system could stall positive results for far to long . Exhibition showed some promise , but last nights performance with almost full squad was probably indicative of how season might unfurl . An undermanned Dallas squad beat us in every part of the game , and it was not from lack of trying on our part . Room for concern !

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#9 Harlie
September 28 2013, 02:08PM
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That heater would make Lewinsky's knees weak.

And if MacT's version of bold is watching a thinly assembled team hobbling its way through the start of a season we are Lewinskied.

I never understand why the first 15 games in a season appear to mean squat only to have the last 15 games be do or die. Why not treat every fricken game the same? And if you have that philosophy you expect MacT to make a move. C'mon Mac!

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#10 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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#11 Jerconjake
September 28 2013, 01:35PM
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All of this could have been easier with a few choice additions. I'm sure a guy like Grabovski is looking much better now that there's nothing up the middle in Edmonton.

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#12 DSF
September 28 2013, 04:41PM
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The Oilers are a Hall injury away from the abyss.

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#13 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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#14 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
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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#15 DSF
September 28 2013, 04:40PM
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Willis appears on the Bleacher Report and also picks the Oilers to miss the playoffs.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1789592-2013-14-nhl-power-rankings-inaugural-edition/page/31

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#16 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
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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#17 Tokenhill
September 28 2013, 11:59PM
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Did anyone see Cogliano's sweet goal tonight?

Hey, you know what? We do need a center/winger...who can play....who has decent hands...who has speed...oh wait....yea about that...

well done tambo! Getting rid of useful players. Lets just hope that Cog does not come back and haunt us.

the hockey god always favours the team that gets rid of useful players for cute little magic beans in various flavours right? RIGHT???

I mean surely....the past 7....

*triple facepalm*

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#18 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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#19 Aitch
September 28 2013, 01:53PM
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I might be ignoring the injuries, but I've been on the record elsewhere as saying they'll win the division. I'm not nearly as worried about playing in the Pacific as everyone else is, simply because with the new schedule format, the games against their own division represent a smaller portion of the games than it did in the past. And even bad Oiler teams did well against the East Too bad most of the Eastern games will be in the first month.

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#20 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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#21 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
September 28 2013, 03:50PM
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Is it true Jehovah Witnesses don't celebrate Halloween because they don't appreciate total strangers coming to their door?

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#22 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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#23 6 ring circus
September 28 2013, 10:33PM
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Why didn't Mac T trade for Colborne ? A young 6 foot 5 center would have been a good pickup for a 4th rounder.

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#24 TM8Trent
September 28 2013, 01:47PM
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Good assessment RB. The only thing missing is the likelihood other teams will too taste the injury bug. I know it's hopeful but I think we can assume most teams will lose some of their key players over a season to injury and hopefully balance the scales a little bit. It's rare a team stays healthy all year. Losing your top 2 C is very tough, but Hall's move to C compensates for some of that.

With a 40% turnover in players, a new coach & systems, and the young talent a year older I think it is almost impossible to predict how the Oilers will perform. I am more optimistic, though.

I like the defense immeasurably more. Belov in a handful of pre-season games improved dramatically throughout and I am convinced he will be one of the best defenders the Oilers have. J. Schultz a year older. Adding Ference. This year N. Schultz could drop right out of the line-up, where he played top 4 minutes last year. This defense is very solid now. Petry has (aside from a few glitches) has looked excellent. Smid is Smid.

Eakins preaches compete and brought guys in who he knows will do that consistently. Acton & Hamilton will, if nothing else, be aggressive on the puck.

I say they perform reasonably well without RNH & Gags and with a full line-up should be among the best in the west.

The biggest question, as always, is Dubnyk. The strengthened defense should by itself lower the goals against. He consistently has had a pretty solid sv% so he's a capable goalie. This leads me to believe his numbers will improve, and more wins should be the result. Will it be enough? I think so.

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#25 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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#26 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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#27 Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate
September 28 2013, 01:14PM
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I think they will miss

Too much hurts to overcome

Close but no cigar*

* I see them giving us fans a hell of a run in April, only to finish 9th and miss by 2 points.

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#28 The Oilers Shot Clock
September 28 2013, 01:47PM
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That home game on the 24th looks silly. Might as well be on the road.

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#29 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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#30 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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#31 bigslick
September 28 2013, 08:51PM
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pkam wrote:

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.

And all the East match ups. Only 2 tough West teams; Van and LA.

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#32 Crackenbury
September 28 2013, 11:11PM
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There better be another deal for a center in the works, because Colburne is exactly what the Oilers could have used on the fourth line. I would have easily given up an unconditional 3rd round pick for him and beat the Flames offer.

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#33 yawto
September 28 2013, 01:15PM
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How many days to the first. Need hockey. Good read RB.

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#34 Harry
September 28 2013, 02:36PM
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I understand trying to spread out the scoring a bit but can someone please tell me why Yakupov in on the third line?!

He would look amazing next to Hall and either Perron or Joeansu.

Arguably our best goal scorer on the third line with Gordon just makes zero sence to me

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#36 The Oilers Shot Clock
September 28 2013, 02:40PM
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@Will

Bettman points make it near impossible to gain ground. If we fall too far out of it early its over.

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#37 #ThereGoesTheOilers
September 28 2013, 03:00PM
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@coco crisp

A Tambelini grind would be to watch us struggle the first 19 games and then make a lack-luster acquisition to try and bolster the status quo. I don't see MacT doing that.

Let's see how the kids swim first before we declare it a death by drowning.

*edit* Unfortunately, I agree with Brownlee. We miss post season by a hair.

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#38 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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#39 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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#40 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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#41 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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#42 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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#43 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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#44 The Ghost of Jari Kurri
September 28 2013, 01:21PM
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Dream crusher...

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#45 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
September 28 2013, 04:28PM
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@Robin Brownlee

The grit issue. What do you think about just sending MacIntyre over the boards whenever anything happens? Let him pull a couple Clarksons during the coming season.

0:00 icetime, but he's always there for that nucleur deterrent when needed. His foot speed/capabilities as a player won't ever be an issue. So he gets suspended when his services are required. 40 games in the press box, or 40 games suspended, message received league wide in the later i'd have to think. The team should step up and cover his loss of income in this case.

Many are desperate to have something to look forward to again with the Oilers. Beg, borrow or steal anything to get a competitive advantage over the opponent. Our Oilers have been dead for far too long. With todays anti violence rules, every avenue should be explored to let the league know even the Oilers can puck you up if you mess with them.

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#46 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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#47 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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#48 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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#49 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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#50 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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