The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Jason Strudwick
January 28 2014 11:46AM

In the summer after taking over as GM, MacT said he wanted to change up the look of his bottom six forwards. He wanted them to make a positive difference in the game rather than - at best - to have been a neural influence on the game. His changes have been slower to work than most had hoped but I think we are starting to get there.

The bottom six lined up like this last night.

  • Jones - Gordon - Hendricks
  • Gazdic - Smyth – Joensuu

That is four new players in this group from last year. Gordon, Hendricks, Gazdic and Joensuu are all big guys. They all play hard (I am giving Joensuu the benefit of the doubt here). Dallas Eakins needs to have players that are predictable, pillars. With Gordon, Hendricks and Gazdic he has that predictability. It is not that their games are not played without mistakes. He just knows they will go hard every night.

Both lines have played well but I really like the Gordon line. This line can all kill penalties, gets in on the forecheck and are responsible defensively. Often you see Eakins putting them out there against the top line of the opponent.

I especially like their ability to cycle the puck in the offensive zone. They work it in the corner, cycle around and have been getting scoring chances. The momentum they create with those types of shifts is huge. Something the Oilers have been lacking in recent years. It sets the table for the next line and puts an opponent on their heels.

The truth of the matter is that this type of line is the fourth line and not the third line of Stanley Cup contending teams. That is due to the depth of high caliber teams. The Oilers are not at that level yet but it give you an idea of what the Oilers require.

I think that next year there could be up to three new players in this group. Younger, faster and more consistent players will find their way in this group. Expect Tyler Pitlick to get a long chance to prove he can be one of those guys after the Olympic break.

Yakkity Yak

I have found it hard to praise Nail Yakupov this season. The defensive lapses and giveaways have been the reason. Lately he is starting to give me reason to change the way I see him.

He has been more responsible with the puck. He has not been holding on to it so long that he gets smothered and coughs it up. He is using he team mates more, something they will appreciate, and is getting the puck back in open areas.

When Yak is playing well he is emotionally connected to the game. His play improves when he is playing with passion. Passion lets his game flow, he is not thinking as much. He doesn't look frozen with indecision.

He is at his best when playing with an edge. He is chirping the other team and at times being dirty. Last night he hit Ryan Stanton from the Canucks from behind and it should have been a penalty. It draws a crowd and gets Van off their game. We saw it earlier this season against the Jets. Two of their leaders, including their captain Ladd, were distracted by him.

Yakupov needs to play this way. He is at his best and the other team gets off their game. When he is in this mode he also moves his feet when he has the puck. Too often we have seen him stand still with the puck, it doesn't work for him. He needs to attack with speed and take the puck to the net.

We saw this last night on Perron's second goal. He drove the net with the puck, shoots which creates a nice rebound for Perron. Sounds simple to do but skilled players like to slow the game down. I don't think Yakupov is at that place right now.

Back to Back

If I were a coach and management team I would want to see what a newly acquired player was made of. Ben Scrivens played Sunday night at home versus the Predators and Eakins went with Bryzgalov in Vancouver Monday.

I know that the stats for playing goalies back to back do not suggest it is a good idea. At this point of this rough season for the Oilers I would have gone against the stats and played Scivens.

Can he handle playing back to back games? Eakins might know because he coached him before but what about the management or his teammates? Don't you the fans want to know?

The situation may come up where the Oilers need to win a pair of back-to-back games. Maybe the he is your starter next year or the other goalie is hurt. Can the Oilers count on him to know how to handle that work load and preparation?

As a teammate I wanted to know the answer to that question? This weekend was the perfect time to find out.

5cf6b487166aced0cd781e41bfef915e
Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#51 Serious Gord
January 28 2014, 05:28PM
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Tikkanese wrote:

I don't even know if Tikkanen himself understood Tikkanese.

I recall back in the day that other Finnish players couldn't understand what the hell he was saying...

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#52 David S
January 28 2014, 05:34PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

Gagner is playing better! Hurray! More trade value!

Let's be honest, Gagner is brutal, I'd trade him for a guy who puts up less points but tries harder, wins faceoffs and hits. I don't know about you guys but the whole point of hockey is to win, so to suggest losing on purpose is ridiculous. Play to the end, it's never over until it's over.

http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2014/01/28/sam-gagner-finally-played-the-hockey-wed-hope-to-see-under-dallas-eakins/

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#53 Spydyr
January 28 2014, 05:40PM
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Rick Stroppel wrote:

THIS WILL NOT BE AS BAD AS PEOPLE THINK

IMHO, two things will benefit the Oilers down the stretch:

1. Many of the top teams are sending 8 or 10 players to the Olympics. Jet lag, pressure-packed games, more jet lag, and possibly emotional let-down. For all of the Oilers (except three?) this is an excellent opportunity to regroup and recharge. Speaking of which, what are the limitations on practices and other team activities during the break?

2. I am not sure how the new playoff system works, I think the division leaders and the other top two teams may be locked into home advantage. Those very good teams may have nothing to gain or lose down the stretch, they may be playing back-up goalies and resting players.

PS: I am old-fashioned and I do not think that any professional team should EVER lose deliberately. That is not the Oiler way.

HIS WILL NOT BE AS BAD AS PEOPLE THINK

That is not saying much.

So they will win two of the last ten instead of one?

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#54 Burnward
January 28 2014, 05:46PM
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loweblows wrote:

If Calgary picked 2nd who would they pick- A dman or offense? Input..

If Burke gets a shot at Ekblad, I have a feeling that's the guy. I'm sure he sees a lot of Pronger in the kid.

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#55 Randaman
January 28 2014, 06:11PM
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Burnward wrote:

If Burke gets a shot at Ekblad, I have a feeling that's the guy. I'm sure he sees a lot of Pronger in the kid.

I disagree. Calgary has lots of size and grit. I see them targeting Reinhart if he is available. They need skill more than size.

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#56 **
January 28 2014, 06:14PM
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" At this point of this rough season for the Oilers I would have gone against the stats and played Scivens."

Good thing Strudwick is not a coach.

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#57 Mikey
January 28 2014, 06:51PM
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Who cares about bottom six. Callahan is available. Eberle and gagner + for Callahan and Krieder +. What say you!

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#58 oilersd
January 28 2014, 07:34PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

My concern over Scriven's isn't whether he's a starter or back up, it's if he decides to bolt a UFA season.

That would suck, especially if he does become a starter.

For those that think Mac-T got a back up, so what? We need one of those too.

As for Hendricks, hated the trade at the start ( I mean hated it) I still don't like the trade can't get by term and $ for a player you can find this summer for half that, also don't like that he said no to the Oilers last summer.

I have to say he's fitting in nicely.

As for Gagner, it's nice he's playing better, I hope he continues that good play so his stock can rise a bit more, I don't care about Gagner's past just what he brings the rest of the way to trade deadline.

Yakupov, still love this kid, there is a real player here, would be a shame if the Oilers trade the wrong player.

I agree with you on Scrivens for sure although I think if the team can sustain the recent progress in their on ice play and Scrivens can find a fit in the locker room the chances of resigning him go up significantly.

With Hendricks I like that he was friends with Jones and Gordon. This helps him fit in and provides an invaluable performance incentive that costs you nothing. And he, like Perron, is already making these guys stand a little taller.

Gags is trade bait. I like his skills but if the oil don't beef up down the middle they are gonna continue to lose their lunch money to the bigger teams in the league (of which their are many) no matter how well they play.

Yak looks to be finding is identity out there, but he or any one of the top six may end up getting moved if the organization truly covets a stud number one Dman.

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#59 Burnward
January 28 2014, 07:56PM
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Randaman wrote:

I disagree. Calgary has lots of size and grit. I see them targeting Reinhart if he is available. They need skill more than size.

Sounds like a homer call!

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#60 oilersd
January 28 2014, 07:58PM
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Still not sold on Joensuu. Same for Jonesy - once he gets a new contract, it'll be the same old Jonesy like before. Hopefully a Pitlick or a Moroz can step up.

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#61 oilersd
January 28 2014, 08:15PM
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@Mikey

Like both players but it leaves the oil short at Centre and adds another left winger to an already crowded position.

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#62 Time Travelling Sean
January 28 2014, 08:35PM
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Randaman wrote:

I disagree. Calgary has lots of size and grit. I see them targeting Reinhart if he is available. They need skill more than size.

Calgary has lots of size and grit right now. Who knows what they'd have in 6-7 years.

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#63 Burnward
January 28 2014, 08:38PM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

Calgary has lots of size and grit right now. Who knows what they'd have in 6-7 years.

Also, if Ekblad is as legit as I believe...guys like that are damn near impossible to find.

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#64 Randaman
January 28 2014, 08:57PM
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Burnward wrote:

Sounds like a homer call!

A homer call? Please explain. I am not in favor of Ekblad as you must be obviously thinking. I would draft Dal Cole personally. He is big with sick skill and an edge to his game. He is tearing it up in the OHL this season and is ranked fourth I think. That could change but we need size up front. A Gagner, Hemsky + trade could fill the need for a solid #2 defenceman. Win now!!

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#65 Randaman
January 28 2014, 09:00PM
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oilersd wrote:

Like both players but it leaves the oil short at Centre and adds another left winger to an already crowded position.

Left wing is crowded? Hall and Perron, then what? Smyth? I like Smyth but his time has come in my view

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#66 Cccsberg
January 28 2014, 09:05PM
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Randaman wrote:

I disagree. Calgary has lots of size and grit. I see them targeting Reinhart if he is available. They need skill more than size.

Not even close. If Calgary picks first it's Ekblad. Big, tough, great shot... A franchise defenceman. If he's taken they may trade down to get another pick or player and then take someone like Dal Colle. Flames already have a thinking, scoring Center in Monohan.

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#67 Burnward
January 28 2014, 09:07PM
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@Randaman

Fair enough. Seems like a lot of Ekblad love here. Apologies.

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#68 Burnward
January 28 2014, 09:12PM
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@Cccsberg

Got some help on the way up front too in Poirier, Klimchuk, Gaudreau. Also, Backlund has been a totally different player over the last month and a half.

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#69 Dangilitis
January 28 2014, 09:32PM
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Randaman wrote:

I disagree. Calgary has lots of size and grit. I see them targeting Reinhart if he is available. They need skill more than size.

Burke has a fever, and the only prescription, is more truculence...

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#70 Gored 1970
January 29 2014, 07:40AM
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Sounds like Calgary has and will be drafting in terms of team requirements instead of just taking the best player available. What a novel idea - why don't the Oilers try that.

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#71 The Last Big Bear
January 29 2014, 12:04PM
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Gored 1970 wrote:

Sounds like Calgary has and will be drafting in terms of team requirements instead of just taking the best player available. What a novel idea - why don't the Oilers try that.

Except that right now, Calgary's biggest organizational need is to just get the best player available. The Flames need help everywhere.

With regards to Strudwick and Edmonton's bottom-6, well I hope you like what you see... the Oiler's bottom-6 is one of the most expensive in the NHL.

Boston has a 3rd line who's combined cap hit is around $5m. LA is a little over $5m. Pittsburgh and St Louis pay their 3rd lines about $4m.

The most common 3rd line for the Oilers this season has been Smyth - Gordon - Hemsky, for a cap hit of $10.2m.

The cheapest realistic 3rd line option is Jones - Gordon - Hendricks, with a cap hit of $6.35m.

Now, I suppose this isn't really being fair to the 3rd liners. Because with RNH's new contract, the Oilers first line will be more expensive than LA, St Louis, Boston, or Pittsburgh's first lines too.

The 3rd line is just a microcosm for the team. They are trending towards being adequate for their role on an average or below-average team, but are being paid as if they are proven champions at their positions. And MacT is not reversing this trend, he is deepening it.

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#72 nuge2nail
January 29 2014, 08:29PM
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Oilers Domination To Follow

@the last big bear

Oilers have 34+ million in cap space next year, so you concern is useless.

They have hall-hopkins-eberle, perron-gagner-yakupov, gordan-hendricks all signed up front.

When Gagner gets traded that opens up another 5 mil in cap space.

What to spend it on... Any oilersnation armchair GMs have suggestions.

I personally would target guys like Callahan, Ott, Bfyliguen, etc.

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