KIDS AREN’T GOING TO SOLVE EDMONTON’S DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS

Jonathan Willis
January 23 2014 10:39AM

Going back at least as far as the day the Edmonton Oilers drafted Sam Gagner, fans of the team have been taught to place their reliance in young up-and-comers. 

It is an easy mindset to fall into on defence, where the problems are many and top prospect Aaron Ekblad may join an already strong prospect group at this summer's draft. As tempting as it sounds, general manager Craig MacTavish cannot afford to make the mistake of falling into the trap of thinking the solution is youth.

The primary problem has to do with timelines. 

Edmonton's NHL team has been in rebuild for a long time. Whether one subscribes to the party-approved line that the rebuild started with the drafting of Taylor Hall in 2010 or instead places the date at Chris Pronger's departure for Anaheim, futility has been the order of the day for far too long. The fans are unruly, and the only way to turn it around is with winning.

Another factor is what Lowetide likes to call the heart of the order - players like Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the like - who are now established as NHL players. Hall's being paid to produce like a first-liner, as is right wing Jordan Eberle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will join them next season. These players are tremendously talented and entering the prime years of their careers but if they aren't supported - and soon - the Oilers run the risk of losing them. Edmonton has already lost the cheapest years for that trio, which poses its own problem (Chicago won the first Stanley Cup for the modern era Blackhawks while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were still on their entry-level deals).

So with the clock running on its young stars and the fanbase's mood already turned to ugly, the Oilers have to start making considerable progress right now. To do that, they need good defencemen. 

Time & Opportunity 

There may not be a steeper learning curve at any position in hockey than there is on defence and the examples of players really putting things together after two, three or even four seasons of NHL hockey abound. Additionally, an organization can only devote so much space to prospect defencemen if they want to win.

A good example is the Oklahoma City Barons. At the start of the year the team's defence was pegged as a great strength and why not - with some strong second-year pros (Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, Brad Hunt and Brandon Davidson), a guy the Oilers felt might be NHL-ready (Oscar Klefbom), an actual NHL'er (Philip Larsen) and some extremely talented rookies (Martin Gernat and David Musil) pushing for time the Barons should have been set; they could ice two top pairings, and force the kids to fight with older guys like Hunt and Davidson for ice time

It hasn't worked out that way. Call-ups and injuries and regression (particularly on the part of Davidson) mean that for much of the year the Barons have relied on three rookies - one for each pairing. That's not a problem for the Oilers - these guys need at-bats and the AHL is a developmental league - but it's a big part of the reason who the Barons are four points out of a playoff spot.

The NHL is even more punishing. Oilers fans have seen first hand how a defenceman coming off college and an incredibly dominant AHL run struggled to adapt to second-pair and now first-pair minutes. They saw Ladislav Smid find his way in the majors after being pushed there well before he was ready.

Edmonton doesn't have a top-pairing defenceman right now. Even if Schultz is penciled in for a top-pair role next season on the assumption that he can handle it, the Oilers need a top-pair guy to complement him. Andrew Ference isn't that guy, and it's crazy to think Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin or Aaron Ekblad will be either. The first three (and the fourth, if drafted) may evolve into the role but the Oilers need is immediate. 

As it is, phasing in prospects like those listed above (to say nothing of Gernat or Musil or Dillon Simpson) is going to result in growing pains, which means the Oilers will need to lean on experienced guys who can play hard minutes to off-set the talented youth. Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference might be those guys on the lower pairs, but there has to be somebody topside who can cast a long shadow for the other pairs while they figure things out. The Oilers don't have anybody like that, and may not for years.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 They're $hittie
January 23 2014, 10:41AM
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Ekblad, Nurse, J Schultz, Maranicn, Perty and Ference may not solve the D problems but the D is so bad right now that it is still likely an upgrade.

Ouch, we need some D.

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#2 Greg
January 23 2014, 10:45AM
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I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

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#3 Taylor Gang
January 23 2014, 10:49AM
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One word: trade

It's time to make that bold move. How does management think that this defensive core should suffice? Without defense, we will lose. And lose, and lose, and lose.

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#4 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 23 2014, 10:49AM
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Greg wrote:

I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

Yeah - I hate 2-time Stanley Cup winning, olympic gold medalist, 40-point scoring defencemen like Brent Seabrook.

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#5 Mitch
January 23 2014, 10:50AM
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OT:

I'm watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman's rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

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#6 Will
January 23 2014, 10:51AM
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Do everything to sign Callahan and Matt Moulson if they go to free agency. With that you have trade options on the right wing.

I like having the depth of defensive prospects, but I wouldn't be sad to see one of them traded out to net even more help on D.

I get the feeling after the draft, having Nurse and Ekblad as our top 2 defensive prospects will give us depth at that position for a lot of years.

With Moulson and Callahan, you balance out the top 6 a little bit more, push everyone on the defensive depth chart down one peg, add some much needed veteran leadership, and allow say Klefbomb and one of Yak or Ebs to be traded for either a top 2 D man, or a legit 2nd line centre with size and skill.

Although, I'd be fine with our second line being Arcobello, Perron, Callahan.

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#7 gm_armchair
January 23 2014, 10:51AM
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I heard Jason Strudwick mention on his show last night that Dan Girardi might become expendable by the Rangers now that they traded for Klein who plays a similar role. Girardi while not a true top pairing guy, would still fit in very nicely and bring some much needed veteran leadership in the Oilers top four. I wonder what it would take to trade for that guy..

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#8 He Who Knows
January 23 2014, 10:51AM
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Greg wrote:

I don't understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

Every team needs a Chris Phillip/Brent Seabrook type blueliner to accommodate a guy like Nurse.

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#9 vinotintazo
January 23 2014, 10:53AM
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@Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

Yeah what's so bad about top pairing Bent Seabrook?

I don't Agree with rushing Nurse or Klefbom, even Ekblad (if we get him), but we might need to use one or two of these next year if we dont make a trade that brings a good top 2 D our way.

we need a big nasty D man, not 6 feet - 190 pounds guys.

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#10 Danger Pay
January 23 2014, 10:54AM
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Why can't the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It's not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don't rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

B/C news flash everyone... The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

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#11 Greg
January 23 2014, 10:54AM
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@Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

I didn't say he won't be good. My point is that people have him as a #1 D-man in NHL without playing a game.

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#12 Jackson
January 23 2014, 10:59AM
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Oilers ruin young players does not matter who they draft.

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#13 Mack Strong
January 23 2014, 11:05AM
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Mitch wrote:

OT:

I'm watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman's rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

What the H E double hockey sticks are you talking about???

How is that racist!!??

Nevermind i don't want to hear anything else come out of your mouth….

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#14 pkam
January 23 2014, 11:09AM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

Yeah - I hate 2-time Stanley Cup winning, olympic gold medalist, 40-point scoring defencemen like Brent Seabrook.

I'll take Seabrook, but I would rather have Keith, and Keith only cost the team a 2nd rounder.

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#15 Spydyr
January 23 2014, 11:11AM
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pkam wrote:

I'll take Seabrook, but I would rather have Keith, and Keith only cost the team a 2nd rounder.

The Oilers cannot draft any worthwhile players outside of round one. That is why they trade away all their second and third round draft picks for quick fixes.

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#16 pkam
January 23 2014, 11:12AM
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@Willis

I know Ekblad and Nurse won't be our immediate help. But it doesn't look like we are going to get a top pairing D from trade or UFA. So what is our option?

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#17 Mitch
January 23 2014, 11:13AM
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Mack Strong wrote:

What the H E double hockey sticks are you talking about???

How is that racist!!??

Nevermind i don't want to hear anything else come out of your mouth….

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

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#18 Yaz
January 23 2014, 11:13AM
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I have said it before, do not let these coaches near any more prospects or call ups or trades for that matter. The team has clearly quit trying other than the odd burst of individual effort. That is a result of the coaches being unable to develop a system that suits the current roster, might not be perfect but the coaches aren't smart enough to adapt..Get rid of them quickly, 50 points for this season is a dream and they will achieve the same next year.

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#19 etownman
January 23 2014, 11:15AM
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Two solid veteran defensive d-men is what the Oil need right now! They have excellent young defencemen who will develop into those #1 or #2 d-men! We all know we're a couple years away from making noise so don't waste the young offensive talent up front for a quick fix! Two solid, veteran defensive would fit quite nice at this point & of course the #1 item in my books would be a startning #1 goaltender!

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#20 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 23 2014, 11:15AM
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Mitch wrote:

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

To be fair, I rarely ever describe professional athletes as being articulate. It's not a very common trait, regardless of race.

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#21 bluetada
January 23 2014, 11:16AM
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Mitch wrote:

OT:

I'm watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman's rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

Racist ? Really ? I don't recall anyone calling VP Joe Biden or U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid racists when they used exactly that word to describe Barack Obama. Or maybe you subscribe to the theory that Liberals can do no wrong.

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#22 Mitch
January 23 2014, 11:17AM
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@Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

I agree

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#23 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:17AM
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Danger Pay wrote:

Why can't the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It's not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don't rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

B/C news flash everyone... The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

The problem with the statement is, who is going to teach these young players that we are developing? Coaching is fine, but the real learning comes on the ice with an experienced mentor. Which means trade or free agency.

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#24 etownman
January 23 2014, 11:18AM
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Danger Pay wrote:

Why can't the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It's not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don't rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

B/C news flash everyone... The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

Exactly, except lets hope that we'll at least be contending for that final playoff spot next year if we make some decent trades & maybe a FA signing or two! Stay the course with the young guys though!

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#25 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:22AM
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Mitch wrote:

It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

Why exactly would you not describe a white athelte in those terms? Seems to me that the meaning is exactly the opposite of what you are implying. If you are implying that the qualifcation of "in sports" is the problem then the prejudice may belong to you.

edit: fixed spelling

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#26 pkam
January 23 2014, 11:27AM
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Spydyr wrote:

The Oilers cannot draft any worthwhile players outside of round one. That is why they trade away all their second and third round draft picks for quick fixes.

I wonder why the Hawks drafted Anton Babchuk ahead of Duncan Keith? And why so many teams passed on him and let him go 54th overall?

Don't forget the team that drafted Seabrook and Keith also drafted Barker 3rd overall.

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#29 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:30AM
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@ JW

There was an article about bringing Harti back the other day. I was wondering if Teemu has had anything to say about this year?

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#30 GlennH
January 23 2014, 11:34AM
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Any team that has guys like Potter and Belov playing regularly, REALLY needs an upgrade. I thought things were bad back in the early 90's when we had guys like Gord Mark and Ian Herbers.... Yikes...

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#31 Armchair GMing
January 23 2014, 11:35AM
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@JW

I've read some comments on ON that Lander's offensive failings at the NHL level are due to his boat-anchor linemates on the 4th line he's only ever given. What do you think of the possibility of calling him up and putting him on the second line with, say, Perron and Ebs to see how much truth there is to such a theory. If he can generate decent numbers with genuinely offensive guys, then perhaps we have a (admittedly imperfect) 2nd line center who is very responsible defensively. Plug him in with some of our offensive dynamos, and perhaps he could do the job, at least until a better option arrives. If it fails, nothing lost (the season's a goner anyway), and if it succeeds, we may avoid cutting ties with a possibly useful NHLer in the offseason.

Thoughts?

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#32 camdog
January 23 2014, 11:36AM
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oilerjed wrote:

The problem with the statement is, who is going to teach these young players that we are developing? Coaching is fine, but the real learning comes on the ice with an experienced mentor. Which means trade or free agency.

That's pretty much what Steve Staois said when the organization said they were going to get rid of all the veterans. I remember when people would get mad at guys like Moreau when they gave their exit interviews, seems like many of these players were right about management was doing and the vision of the organization was faulty.

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#35 camdog
January 23 2014, 11:40AM
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@Armchair GMing

Those are just excuses used by the pro Lander group. Those in the know say that Lander's foot speed is what has been holding him back.

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#36 CaptainLander
January 23 2014, 11:42AM
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I think the problem comes to acquisition. I do not see any team in the league that has too many #1 d-men that they can lose one with it leaving a huge a gap in their own lineups. Even in Chicago, if Keith or Seabrook go down to injury they have some depth but if they move a guy like Seabrook and Keith goes down can Hjarlmasson play 30 minutes a nigh and carry that load? Can his d partner? Not likely. That leaves potential free agents. Suter etc. Not a lot of them available and not many will to join a struggling team and franchise. That leaves the only option to me and that is develop your own. Yes by the time the Oiler d has a top parring of Klefbom and Nurse(as an example) the Oiler forward lineup may look completely different. The fact is if they do choose to move any of the fab 4 forwards 2-3 years from now it will be for a pretty good return add the should be the finishing touches to make a cup run. Waiting sucks but options are limited.

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#37 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 11:44AM
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@camdog

Name some Oiler call ups who have been successful on the Oilers 4th line and stayed on board?

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#38 camdog
January 23 2014, 11:45AM
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@Jonathan Willis

What I remember is him commenting on him supposed to be carrying the load in respect to physical play when he was surrounded by very small hockey players that were unable to compete physically. It's the same quote that applies today.

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#39 Show me da Money
January 23 2014, 11:45AM
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Trading a seasoned defenceman will accomplish two things in one swipe.

Firstly, you need to trade value for value. No one in their right mind will hand one over for less.

The only value we have is one of our core rookies. We have what? Five or six of the same?

Eberle might have the most value of the tradeable players. Yak has a bad reputation already so he's already less valued although I think he has a huge upside down the road.

Trade Eberle. You get a decent player on defence and almost as important is that it sends a message to the youngsters that NOBODY is more valuable than the team. You don't think that won't get players attention?

These guys get their five or six million dollars a year whether they coast or go balls to the wall.

Trade Eberle.

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#40 michael
January 23 2014, 11:46AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

The team needs to find a stop-gap, a guy like Ehrhoff or Campbell or Byfuglien who won't fill the job permanently but can stop the bleeding for a while and buy time for the guys who eventually replace him.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul what it amounts to what your suggesting. any one of those players is going to cost you considerable assets to obtain.

If one of those assets is Bennet,Eckblad or Rheinhart is it not taking 2 steps back to go 2 steps forward?

I can't but help wondering if we spite our nose to save our face if it helps in the long term anyways?

The rebuild is in MacT's hands. My opinion is such that we have 3 years more before we can even think we have a shot at winning more than a round in the playoffs.

Hall,RNH and Yak and Ebs will all be in their prime at that point.I just can't see wasting assets on defenceman who may not be here when we start winning.

I believe that MacT wll find at least 2 NHL defencemen this summer. We certainly need more seasoned NHL defencemen.That is a given. Heck we need more seasoned forwards. Halland EBs are certainly rounding into form. Given time RNH and Yak will be up there too.

Suck it up and let MacT do his thing.Good cripes you'd think he was only on the job for less than a year. Have some patience. Tambo wasted 3 years doing nothing. MacT at least does something.

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#41 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 11:47AM
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gm_armchair wrote:

I heard Jason Strudwick mention on his show last night that Dan Girardi might become expendable by the Rangers now that they traded for Klein who plays a similar role. Girardi while not a true top pairing guy, would still fit in very nicely and bring some much needed veteran leadership in the Oilers top four. I wonder what it would take to trade for that guy..

So Girardi who either leads the league or is in the top 5 in TOI nearly every year is not a top pairing defenseman?

He's also a UFA at the end of the year. Unless he comes very cheap, or in one of those sign and trade deals, there is no use trading for him in this wasted season.

That all said, I hope we do get him here and signed.

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#42 Jerry
January 23 2014, 11:50AM
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JW,

I watch the Oilers are none of them know how to play hockey in the NHL. Only players that know how to play come from other teams. This is a disaster oilers ruin hockey players. I really can't see it getting any better.

If I was a young player getting ready to be drafted, I would pray Oilers don't pick me.

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#43 camdog
January 23 2014, 11:52AM
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@DisappointedFan

I can't recall any forwards being called up and having success on any line in this organization since before Lowe arrived. Horcoff and Pisiani maybe...

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#44 GlennH
January 23 2014, 11:54AM
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Everyone who thinks Shea Weber is not going anywhere, needs to remember that Gretzky was thought to be untouchable. I'm not saying the Oilers have even the slightest chance of grabbing Weber - my point is that everyone is available, for the right price... A top NHL defender's starting price is at least a player like Eberle...

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#45 oilerjed
January 23 2014, 11:57AM
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michael wrote:

Robbing Peter to pay Paul what it amounts to what your suggesting. any one of those players is going to cost you considerable assets to obtain.

If one of those assets is Bennet,Eckblad or Rheinhart is it not taking 2 steps back to go 2 steps forward?

I can't but help wondering if we spite our nose to save our face if it helps in the long term anyways?

The rebuild is in MacT's hands. My opinion is such that we have 3 years more before we can even think we have a shot at winning more than a round in the playoffs.

Hall,RNH and Yak and Ebs will all be in their prime at that point.I just can't see wasting assets on defenceman who may not be here when we start winning.

I believe that MacT wll find at least 2 NHL defencemen this summer. We certainly need more seasoned NHL defencemen.That is a given. Heck we need more seasoned forwards. Halland EBs are certainly rounding into form. Given time RNH and Yak will be up there too.

Suck it up and let MacT do his thing.Good cripes you'd think he was only on the job for less than a year. Have some patience. Tambo wasted 3 years doing nothing. MacT at least does something.

What good does it do our current players to undercut their development by not having a good group around them in which to develope. The first round pick this year is nothing more then a pipe dream to a better future. At some point you need to make the move to bring in experience, and by this I mean quality experience. Using your logic we are only going to be 2-3 years down the road but no better off. Encouraging prospects that fail to develope into what they are hyped to be.

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#46 Dog Train
January 23 2014, 11:58AM
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Playing in the top pairing is not the place for a young Dman to learn the ropes in the NHL. I think Mactavish is smart enough to realize this. After all, if Tambellini was allowed to put together this year's team, one of Klefbom or Nurse would have likely been rushed to the NHL. Now guys like Belov, Larsen and Grebeshkov haven't exactly worked out but at least we didn't risk stunting the development of some of our top D prospects. Ideally, I would like to see us add two left side D and move Ference to play with Fedun on the third pairing. Maybe give Nurse his 9 games, let Marincin and Klefbom battle for their callups and if Ekblad is drafted, send him back to junior.

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#47 Brad
January 23 2014, 12:00PM
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Jerry wrote:

JW,

I watch the Oilers are none of them know how to play hockey in the NHL. Only players that know how to play come from other teams. This is a disaster oilers ruin hockey players. I really can't see it getting any better.

If I was a young player getting ready to be drafted, I would pray Oilers don't pick me.

Dave Lumley was on Oilers Now yesterday and was a pretty solid interview. Basically put Stauffer in his place. He said everything that we fans have been thinking all season.

Why are Hall and Eberle continuing to make the same mistakes?

Gagner, Hemsky, etc have zero trade value.

You can talk about bringing in big, two way dmen or big top 6 centres, or big top 6 winger, but no one wants to trade those right now.

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#48 pkam
January 23 2014, 12:01PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

The team needs to find a stop-gap, a guy like Ehrhoff or Campbell or Byfuglien who won't fill the job permanently but can stop the bleeding for a while and buy time for the guys who eventually replace him.

So this temporary band-aid player probably will help us get out of the basement and become a playoff bubble team, like the Jets?

So if we have to develop our own top pairing D, does it mean we won't be able to become a cup contender until Nurse, J. Schultz, Klefbom, Marincin, Ekblad if we draft him mature into our top 4, which is at least 4-5 years away, right?

In other word, it won't change the timetable, just reduce the pain in the next 4-5 years?

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#49 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 12:01PM
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@michael

You have guys right now in the farm or in junior who the Oilers are banking on becoming NHL level defensemen. What he is suggesting is taking a step to stop the constant last place finish by putting a quality player in now to train and teach the new up and comers while at the same time preventing a few more pucks from ending up in our net.

Sure we give up a player like Eberle right now, but we need to replace our vast plethora of small skilled forwards with someone bigger upfront anyways.

Since they aren't going to win games getting outmuscled by most teams in this league.

Avatar
#50 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 12:03PM
Trash it!
2
trashes
Cheers
2
cheers

@camdog

So Kevin Lowe is the one who has a series of strings on each player on the ice making them play poorly?

I will admit he does a terrible job managing the team and putting the right players on it, but I find it hard to believe he's the one MAKING them under-perform when they do well in the AHL.

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