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, Sportsnet, 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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#151 pkam
January 23 2014, 03:16PM
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How much will Gagner get? Nobody really knows.

4 years ago, Garbagekov got us a 2nd rounder. An aged and slow overpaid Staios got us a 3rd rounder and Aaron Johnson. And Penner got us a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect.

2011, Cogliano got us a 2nd rounder.

Last season, we got Mike Brown for a 4th rounder.

Earlier this year, Mike Brown got us a 4th rounder.

At trade deadline last season, the Sharks got 2 2nd rounders for Doug Murray.

I don't how much the other teams are willing to pay, but I am not trading him away for just a 3rd rounder.

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#152 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 03:17PM
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@Woogie63

I don't know, that's a big cap slice for Chicago. Especially when we aren't taking a whole lot back off their plate, unless the Oil retain most of Schultz and Hemsky's salaries.

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#153 vinotintazo
January 23 2014, 03:18PM
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A bit off topic, but what do you guys think of ryan jones latetly? hes been good at least for a 4rth line guy, he can't score a lot but hes an energy guy that can kill penalties and is a good guy in the room.

Is he on hes way out this year? or would we resign him?

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#154 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 03:18PM
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@A-Mc

My thoughts exactly, unless the gut a large chunk of the roster they aren't going anywhere in the standings.

It most definitely is...*tears*

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#155 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 03:22PM
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@pkam

The real question you should ask is, can we get Penner for less than a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect?

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#156 pkam
January 23 2014, 03:25PM
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Gored 1970 wrote:

I thought that since defensemen take longer to develop (if you're doing development the right way and not rushing things) the rule of thumb was to draft forwards and trade for defence.

The problem is, if every team drafts forwards and trades for defense like you suggest, where is all the defense coming from?

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#157 pkam
January 23 2014, 03:33PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

The real question you should ask is, can we get Penner for less than a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect?

I don't know, what do you think now?

He had 39 pts in 62 games when he was traded. Now he has 26 pts in 40 games. So the stats are pretty much the same.

All I remember is in 2010, all hockey analysts invited by our radio show believed we would be lucky to get even a 1st rounder for Penner.

If Penner will cost more than a 1st, 2nd and a prospect now, Gagner still not worth a 3rd?

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#158 Dave
January 23 2014, 03:35PM
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Eakins was on the radio saying that they were trying to install an identity and a system for the long term.

What would that be, I am not sure.

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#159 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 03:38PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

The real question you should ask is, can we get Penner for less than a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect?

Yea another soft winger is exactly what the Oilers need...

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#160 vinotintazo
January 23 2014, 03:45PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

Yea another soft winger is exactly what the Oilers need...

better than johensuu

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#161 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 03:47PM
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@pkam

Sorry I guess I needed more sarcasm on that post. Although, for all his dogging it and slow on ice play, he was a big body and could out-muscle guys while putting up 40 points. Which does fit the bill on what the Oilers are looking for.

His biggest attribute that teams want is size and some performance, he brings that. He won't win fastest skater or silkiest mitts but he does provide something they don't have.

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#162 Mustangheart
January 23 2014, 03:47PM
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vinotintazo wrote:

A bit off topic, but what do you guys think of ryan jones latetly? hes been good at least for a 4rth line guy, he can't score a lot but hes an energy guy that can kill penalties and is a good guy in the room.

Is he on hes way out this year? or would we resign him?

I really like Jones and his efforts not to back down. It's normal that he was a bit slow coming out of the gate with his eye injury, but he's fine to "rock n roll".

Right now I would not touch the 4th line. They are doing just fine. Get what we can for Smyth, Gagner and Hemsky. Toss in a couple from the Barons and even our draft picks.

I am one who would not touch Hall, Eberle, RNH J Shultz or Perron. That should remain our core in which to build upon. If we need to get a top 4 defenseman, (which we are in dire need of) the 1st round pick of this year, providing we get a certified defenseman or duo in the trade.

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#163 Mustangheart
January 23 2014, 03:50PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

The real question you should ask is, can we get Penner for less than a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect?

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

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#164 Reggie
January 23 2014, 03:50PM
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Oilers are here whether we blame X or Y. Oilers are probably 3-4 years away from making the playoffs. I think it is time Oilers start building a TEAM. We don't need an All-Star team.

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#165 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 03:53PM
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@Mustangheart

You're forgetting the year he had 63 points, he led the Oilers in points...it was a rough year.

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#166 Jesse
January 23 2014, 04:04PM
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Eberle for Sean Couturier

David Perron for Adam Larsson.

These moves would make oilers a much better team in the future.

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#167 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 04:09PM
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Jesse wrote:

Eberle for Sean Couturier

David Perron for Adam Larsson.

These moves would make oilers a much better team in the future.

Yea because it would guarantee picking first overall for another 5 years.

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#168 Jesse
January 23 2014, 04:12PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

Yea because it would guarantee picking first overall for another 5 years.

No this is how you build a team. Obviously these trades won't happen. But will bet you within 2 years you could only wish to have these players.

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#169 Tikkanese
January 23 2014, 04:15PM
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Jesse wrote:

No this is how you build a team. Obviously these trades won't happen. But will bet you within 2 years you could only wish to have these players.

Oilers don't need more hope. They need players. Couturier sure, but Larsson isn't even producing in the AHL. Maybe someday he will, but we already have 8-10 defensemen that you can say the same thing about.

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#170 Gordie Wayne
January 23 2014, 04:20PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

I'll agree to disagree on Sammy Snowpants.

Regardless coming up with a catchy phrase for doing bad and McDavid....it's a tough one, if you can think of one I'd like to hear it.

Best I have is "lurid for McDavid", doesn't roll off the tongue though.

Be the lowest rated for Connor McDavid!

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#171 primeau
January 23 2014, 04:21PM
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Then should a complete rebuild start at drafting the blueline? Would'nt that be considered a plan. Does anyone know what the plan is or was exactly in edmonton? And I mean details, milestones and contingents. Did they think 20 year old kids were going to put this team on their backs and succeed with out proven top minute defense or a goalie. I find it hard to believe no one in the organization seen this coming

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#172 bsmart
January 23 2014, 04:25PM
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When drafting this summer, if I'm the oilers. I would take Reinhart over Ekblad. The centre is far more valuable especially with Sam not getting it done. I agree with Willis another developing D is not going to make us better. Ekblad reminds me of chris Phillips not shea Weber.

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#173 michael
January 23 2014, 04:26PM
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Hemsky and 1/2 salary to Chicago for Mark McNiel.Or to Philly fpr Scott Laughton

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#174 Lofty
January 23 2014, 04:31PM
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Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

Patrick O'Sullivan....

Drops mic

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#175 bazmagoo
January 23 2014, 04:31PM
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@Oilanderp wrote:

Check this out from Pittsburgh:

http://triblive.com/sports/dejankovacevic/dejancolumns/5448123-74/letang-trade-penguins#axzz2rFuY41KG

We have wingers, they need wingers. They have D, we need D. Get on it MacT.

Really would like MacT to try and get Simon Despres for Ales Hemsky. Big d prospect, had a bit of a slump this season but still has huge upside. And much quicker potential upside than a pick in this season's draft.

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#176 bazmagoo
January 23 2014, 04:33PM
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So much negativity on Oilers Nation today, don't think I've ever seen so many trashes of comments!

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#177 primeau
January 23 2014, 04:34PM
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Then should a complete rebuild start at drafting the blueline? Would'nt that be considered a plan. Does anyone know what the plan is or was exactly in edmonton? And I mean details, milestones and contingents. Did they think 20 year old kids were going to put this team on their backs and succeed with out proven top minute defense or a goalie. I find it hard to believe no one in the organization seen this coming

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#178 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 04:38PM
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@Lofty

Only Patrick O'Sullivan could miss a wide open net from a foot away...and Craig Smith.

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#179 Lofty
January 23 2014, 04:40PM
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pkam wrote:

How much will Gagner get? Nobody really knows.

4 years ago, Garbagekov got us a 2nd rounder. An aged and slow overpaid Staios got us a 3rd rounder and Aaron Johnson. And Penner got us a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect.

2011, Cogliano got us a 2nd rounder.

Last season, we got Mike Brown for a 4th rounder.

Earlier this year, Mike Brown got us a 4th rounder.

At trade deadline last season, the Sharks got 2 2nd rounders for Doug Murray.

I don't how much the other teams are willing to pay, but I am not trading him away for just a 3rd rounder.

Getting rid of Sam's contract is a win. Use that money somewhere else.

When you consider the Oil's games in hand they're tied for DFL. I have no idea who they can replace Gags with that will be available as a UFA but even if it's Arco, losing Sam without bringing back a sizable contract won't hurt much. His contract will really hurt in a couple years. Especially with a no trade.

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#180 Lofty
January 23 2014, 04:42PM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

Only Patrick O'Sullivan could miss a wide open net from a foot away...and Craig Smith.

I don't remember POS ever getting that close to the net but you're right.

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#183 loweblows
January 23 2014, 04:46PM
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I blame Eakins. If he hadn't taken away donuts maybe the team would be heavier. Bring back donuts.

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#184 DisappointedFan
January 23 2014, 04:48PM
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@Jonathan Willis

JW you need to lay off that sarcasm, I can taste it from here.

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#185 bazmagoo
January 23 2014, 04:50PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

I completely agree. I especially hated the lack of heart he showed in leading the Oilers' in scoring by 22 points in 2009-10 when Pat Quinn and Steve Tambellini ran the franchise into the dirt.

It takes a real lack of character to show up when the team's imploding like that. I think it's the same lack of character that had Penner playing important minutes for two Stanley cup winners.

That comment is so dripping with sarcasm, it's oozing out of my computer screen.

Well done Willis, really impressed with your writing these days.

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#186 tyler
January 23 2014, 04:51PM
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this seasons a gonner....lets draft conner!

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#188 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
January 23 2014, 04:52PM
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The Hockey world feels our pain

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/puck-daddy-presents-kiss-lowe-frustrated-oilers-fans-201608374--nhl.html

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#189 Cold Hard Truth
January 23 2014, 04:54PM
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Prediction:

Trade talks about Gagner and Hemsky will swirl from now until the deadline. Nothing will happen. The pundits will say it is better to trade them in the off season. Once the off season comes around, Hemsky will be resigned to a 5 year deal. MacTavish will say he is a cornerstone piece moving forward. The Edmonton sports pundits will applaud him. MacTavish will spool out some more hope, making everyone believe this is the year. The Oilers finish last again. MacTavish then fires Eakins, and admits he may have made a mistake. Messier is hired. This goes on for 4 more years. Fans begin to riot and Lowe starts receiving death threats. Lowe and MacTavish are forced to flee Edmonton by helicopter. Katz, running behind, grabs onto the landing arm of the helicopter as it's taking off and dangles from it in a dramatic fashion.

New management comes in and the Oilers start winning. The Edmonton sports pundits will then say that they knew all along that Lowe was no good.

The end.

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#190 tyler
January 23 2014, 04:58PM
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this seasons a gonner....lets draft conner!

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#191 mayorblaine
January 23 2014, 04:58PM
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i don't want to trade anyone anymore. keep everyone. i want them to just keep developing and drafting. i want to let this line of thinking run its course. see if they'll come around.

this would be fun. and funny.

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#192 toprightcorner
January 23 2014, 05:08PM
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No way any team can be competitive with more than 3 defencemen with less than 2 years NHL experience. No competitive team adds more than 1 rookie dman per year.

If Marincin, Fedun and Klefbaum are all ready to go next year, then they should hold one back for a callup, trade 1 in package for #1 dman and bring only 1 up to the NHL. I think Klefbaum is the only one that could be added to a package including Gagner that would bring a #1 dman.

adding rookies would potentially look like this

2014 - Marincin or Fedun(likely only one will be NHL regular) 2015 - Nurse 2016 - Gernat or Musil or Davidson (likely only 1 will be NHL regular) 2017 - not yet with team

This makes the assumption that this years 1st is traded which it should be done.

MacT needs to add a #1 and another top 4. bring in older veteran that competes hard like Sarich, Hannah, Tallinder or Murray for 1 year as a 6/7

So far going with youth hasn't worked well up front so cant make the same mistake on the backend

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#193 Walter Sobchak
January 23 2014, 05:19PM
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bored wrote:

The years of wanting multiple first round picks are over. We need players that are capable of playing in the NHL today and if we have to give up some future prospects to get them, than we do so. Drooling over junior hockey players is a step backwards.

We should try to trade the pick for proven talent, but if nothing fair or useful comes to fruition, than draft the best player who fulfill the biggest need.

Who said anything about drooling over a Jr?

Drafting for need is what got the Oilers terrible prospects for 15 to 20 years.

You draft BPA unless a centre is so damn close, then you draft the centre.

This trade Yakupov or trade Eberle has got to be the worst idea in a long list of ideas.

What makes more sense? Trading Perron who's under contract for only 3 more years & has value or Yakupov who we still have no idea what he may do & has little value.

Does it make sense the Oilers trade Eberle for a centre when we can draft a centre or trade that pick for one?

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#194 justthestatsman
January 23 2014, 05:19PM
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Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

I know Penner was frustrating to watch but my recollection is that in 2009-10 anyway he was one of the only Oilers that would stand in front of the net. There were lots of times he didn't get any points, but he was directly responsible for goals by "blocking out the sun" as LT would say. On the rare occasions he did get riled up he could ragdoll just about anyone. Unfortunately he often didn't seem interested.

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#195 justthestatsman
January 23 2014, 05:28PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That's the same Brian Campbell who helped bridge a gap in Chicago, right?

The same Dustin Byfuglien who stands 6'5", weighs 265 pounds and plays tough minutes every night?

The same Christian Ehrhoff who played big minutes on five multi-series playoff runs?

Maybe you're right, and the Oilers blue line would only be improved if they can somehow add a 6'3", 230 pound guy (or bigger) who can play 25 minutes a night. That's not the Oilers' blue I've seen, and I haven't seen the player you want popping up in trade rumours.

Improvement is needed. Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I agree. I'm not sure it's possible for the Oilers to hit the home run the stud #1 LD/RD in a trade. We may need to trade our way up with singles and doubles. There's no quantity of 5/6/7 Defense we have that can be turned into a #1 without selling the farm with the kids.

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#196 Todd
January 23 2014, 05:32PM
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Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

The Penner haters are unbelievable.....

Exhibit A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_3ZVo7tNCs Exhibit B: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoWdvZdxgiE Exhibit C: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q87_VKEWwE Exhibit D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGj4WNXncoI

Ya, no heart. When was the last time you saw anyone do Exhibit B on this Oilers team?!?

Its half a season through and nobody has touched Kassian. Penner b lined straight for Exelby when he hit Hemsky and laid a beating on him. Doughty destroys Hall and Penner insta fights him. Each clip is him instantly responding with his fists to a team mate getting hit.

I'd take Penner back in a heartbeat. This team could use a 240lb skill player willing to throw his weight, with 2 stanley cups and who has led the NHL most of the season in +/-. Is he perfect, obviously not or a guy of his size and skill would be making $8 mil.

But its clowns like you who boo at games and run our players out of town making sure we just get kids who have no choice to come here and washed up overpaid UFAs.

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#197 Dave
January 23 2014, 05:55PM
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Mustangheart wrote:

Penner was the most useless Oilers in the franchise history especially when you have a guy with his size and weight. Can't skate, doesn't hit, doesn't stand in front of the goalie to screen. Absolutely useless.

No not at all. There were plenty worse Oilers than him. He was just more inconsistent then most.

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#198 Oliveoiler
January 23 2014, 05:57PM
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Man, I am SO tired of all this losing and negativity. We all seem to think we know better than anyone else. We have started slamming each other, and everyone in the Oilers' organization including the players. This has to stop, it's bullying and is not acceptable - if our kids were slammed or bullied like this we would be up in arms. Until we are paid the big $$$, until we are NHL caliber players, until we have spent years honing our hockey skills and until we REALLY know what we are talking about, why don't we throw some positivity on all of this and support our team regardless, after all, that's what being a true fan is all about. Trash me all you like - I've had enough of this b*****it.

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#199 Dave
January 23 2014, 06:00PM
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pkam wrote:

How much will Gagner get? Nobody really knows.

4 years ago, Garbagekov got us a 2nd rounder. An aged and slow overpaid Staios got us a 3rd rounder and Aaron Johnson. And Penner got us a 1st, a 2nd and a prospect.

2011, Cogliano got us a 2nd rounder.

Last season, we got Mike Brown for a 4th rounder.

Earlier this year, Mike Brown got us a 4th rounder.

At trade deadline last season, the Sharks got 2 2nd rounders for Doug Murray.

I don't how much the other teams are willing to pay, but I am not trading him away for just a 3rd rounder.

What if the Oilers wanted to create more room to sign a UFA this summer ?

I nominated Gagner as my goat this year but I would not be surprised to see him perform at a higher level when his new coaches demand more of him.

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#200 TayLordBalls
January 23 2014, 06:15PM
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"KIDS AREN’T GOING TO SOLVE EDMONTON’S DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS"

Yes they are!

It may take a few more years, but it will get done and when this team has matured - its going to be spectacular!

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