DEEP THOUGHTS XVII: OLD SAM I AM

Sam Gagner won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until Aug. 10, but he has three NHL seasons on his resume and was talking the other day about playing a role in helping welcome young players into the pro ranks with the Edmonton Oilers next season.

While it would be easy to get sidetracked and ask why Gagner has already played three seasons for an also-ran team and burnt valuable years off the time until he’s an unrestricted free agent, that’s not the point.

The maturity Gagner shows is.

So, whether we’re talking Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or Jordan Eberle, Old Man Sam will be doing his part as the welcome wagon when next season rolls around.

"Obviously, it’s the best league in the world," said Gagner, who put 41 points in the books through 68 games before a bum hip put him on the shelf. "If you can help those guys out any way you can, it’s only going to make it easier on them and it’s going to help the team. If those guys can come in and play the way we know they can, it’s really going to help our team going forward."

Gagner had company in making the jump from the London Knights to the Oilers in the form of running buddies Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson. And make no mistake, it’s a big enough jump without being the only teenager fetching the refreshments and paying the rookie dinner tab in a dressing room full of thirty-something veterans.

"I was comfortable in this room because the guys treated me really well," Gagner said. "I don’t think I would have had the same rookie year I had, had it not been for the guys and the way they treated us. "It’s just something where we want to get back to where we know we can play. Obviously, the guys we’ve signed and the guys we’re going to draft are going to be a big part of it going forward and we’ve got to make them feel as comfortable as possible."

JUST SAYING . . .

— I don’t know if Dustin Penner will even get an invitation to the World Championships with Team Canada — he deserves it based on merit — but I don’t see him accepting it.

Unless I’m misreading the situation, there’s still a residue of bad feelings and ill will between Penner and coach Craig MacTavish despite it being almost a year since the Oilers sacked MacT.

Team Canada will look stupid if Penner doesn’t get an invitation, but I can’t see Penner agreeing to fly to Germany to play for a coach who showed him up more than once over the course of two seasons.

— Still with the World Championships, Ryan Whitney deserves at crack at playing for the U.S., as does blue line partner Tom Gilbert, but I’m hearing that he’ll be having surgery on his right foot immediately after the season ends in Anaheim Sunday. Whitney will have a version of the osteotomy he had on his left foot to repair a genetic condition.

Whitney has abnormally high arches, so much so they cause him pain. With recovery time pegged at three months or so, the sooner Whitney has the surgery the sooner he can resume off-season training.

He’ll be ready for camp.

— Between the possibility of being bought out or traded, I’m thinking the chances of captain Ethan Moreau being back next for season are slim and none — I know, thanks for the news bulletin, Brownlee (didn’t I say he’d be gone by the deadline?)

If that’s the case, who gets the "C?" Whitney’s had some play based on what he’s shown since arriving from Anaheim, but there’s no chance the Oilers sew the letter on a guy who just got here. Penner and Gilbert deserve a look, but I don’t see it. Sheldon Souray? Uh, no.

If it was my call, Shawn Horcoff would be the guy.

GET ON THE PHONE

If the Oilers retain the first pick in the Entry Draft in the lottery next Tuesday, then GM Steve Tambellini has at least two reasons to get on the phone and have a chat with Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. As has been suggested here already, the first order of business is for Tambellini to ask Chiarelli what it’ll take to get his second pick (from Toronto). If Chiarelli starts with "Ales Hemsky," then Tambellini should say, "Keep talking."

Despite Hemsky paying lip service to liking it here in Edmonton in recent weeks, I’m not sold. I’ve chatted with Hemsky often enough that I’m not convinced he’ll re-sign here when his contract is done.

The second order of business for Tambellini, assuming that he can’t get anything done for that second pick, is to ask Chiarelli what it’s worth to him for the Oilers not to take Hall. The Bruins are set down the middle and it makes more sense for them to want Hall than Seguin. Tambellini has to see what it’s worth to the Bruins to have him pass on Hall and take Seguin — which could be the guy the Oilers want any way.

WHILE I’M AT IT . . .

— Please, folks, let’s get a grip and do away with the fantasy the Oilers could have as many as four NHL rookies in the line-up next season.

No chance, none, that there’s room up front for Hall or Seguin, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson or Chris Vandevelde, plus blue line prospect Jeff Petry on the back end. I don’t see a need to hurry any of these kids along on a team that won’t contend next season. That includes Seguin, who wouldn’t be hurt by another year with Plymouth, and Eberle, who could develop for a full season in Oklahoma City.

What’s the rush?

— He hasn’t given me the drop on his plans yet, but my best guess is Rod Phillips will hang ’em up after this season, meaning the game call from Anaheim Sunday would be The Skipper’s last.

Phillips, 67, has earned the right to make the call on when he goes, and I’m thinking retirement is starting to look pretty good to him after these past four seasons out of the playoffs.

If Phillips calls it a career, the Oilers should take a long look at moving Bob Stauffer into the play-by-play slot and adding Kevin Karius as the colourman. Stauffer and Dick were exceptional as a tandem this season in the games Phillips took off.

AND . . .

— If Tambellini can move Souray, and that’s a big if, he should use some of that money to shore up the blue line by making a play for either Dan Hamhuis or Anton Volchenkov in the UFA market.

Either one of them could play a shutdown role behind Whitney and Gilbert and add needed experience to a thin group that includes Ladislav Smid, Aaron Johnson, if they offer him a deal, and Theo Peckham.

Two other defencemen worth looking at are behemoth John Scott, who is young, cheap and tough (ask Dean Arsene) and Johnny Boychuk, now with the Boston Bruins. Boychuk, 26, is an Edmonton kid who’d slot in nicely in a second pairing.

— Marc Pouliot deserves another contract.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • vishcosity

    id rather see Whitney with the C. who gives a crap how long he was here. dudes got more balls and consistency than Horcoff. not to mention Horcoff is a couple years from being done. work out all you want, your game isnt consistent enough to be a stable exemplary on the ice.

    and if the Oilers actually try to improve the team quick enough, where Hemsky is having fun and playing with some legit players – instead of Creatures With no Opposable Thumbs – im sure he'd stay if its competitive. if you lose Hemsky, youre STILL losing image wise as a franchise at that point. WTF have you gained since Katz's ownership? some draft picks and some pluggers to watch your best player in a while walk? thats epic suckage on the Oilers part. especially since he's been low balled the entire time in the cash department, the protection department and the skill department.

    the Oilers can seriously look in the mirror and F themselves if it comes to that

  • The thing about Sam that I've never seen mentioned anywhere is that the oilers will actually have him for 8 seasons before he turns 25 because of his august birthday.

    with that in mind if he would have spent another year in junior we would have only had him for 7 seasons in the bigs because the minimum requirements are 25 on July 1st and 7 accrued seasons.

    So having him spend his rookie year in the bigs didn't effect the end result. He would have had to spend 2 more years in junior for the oilers to get anything out of keeping him there and based on his performance at the NHL level I don't thinking keeping him in Junior for 2 more years would have helped his development anymore than NHL experience.

    • Chris.

      It's been mentioned. You haven't uncovered something new here.

      Had Gagner played two seasons in the OHL when he was drafted, sending him back for two more could be construed as a negative.
      Gagner played only one, so sending him back for two more, in hindsight, would have been the way to go. Lots of top prospects — like Taylor Hall — have three seasons of major junior on their resumes.

    • Chris.

      The problem with the handling of Gagner is two fold:

      a) Entitlement. He's a great kid, seems humble, doesn't bark loud, but he carries with him, like a warm security blanket, the knowledge that he has been this organizations Golden Boy since 2007. Sam Gagner is only 21, and knows he can go 25 games or more, without scoring, and not risk a trip to the farm; his spot in the league is 100% secure… He's entitled to it. Gagner is the son of an NHLer. He grew up in NHL dressing rooms, mixing with the greats. Spending some AHL bus time with the Arsene's of the world, may have given him an even deeper appreciation of his situation.

      b) Development. Gagner missed out on a lot of key experiences in his pro development. Lot's of top young prospects get the chance to wear the C their last season in Jr and then in the AHL. These "blue chip prospects", patiently managed, will be absolutely counted on to score on a nightly basis, kill penalties, lead the PP, and generally play in all situations. These experiences are invaluable. Sam's NHL development has been a lot more sheltered. NHL coaches are in the business of winning hockey games and not developing teenage players. It was only injury that gave Gagner opportunity to expand his responsibilities in the NHL… the very same injuries that would have given him NHL playing time on a callup basis anyway. Of course, the callup Sam Gagner, would have brought with him a more varied set of pro experience!

      So, it is true that the Oilers may get more NHL seasons out Gagner before he hits free agency… but did they get more seasons with an actual NHL player? Efforts could have been made to fill that roster spot with someone else while Sam played out his time in JR, and was used as a callup from the AHL.

      • Hemmertime

        Chris of course you knew I would respond 🙂

        I'll keep it short though. Even though you feel Gagner thinks he has entitlement he still works his ass off and is quickly becoming a leader on this team at a very young age. He certainly is not dogging it and like you said he is humble.

        His development has not been hurt one iota by being in the NHL. To date he is the 2nd most productive player in his draft year. Don't underestimate how invaluable it is to learn actually while playing NHL hockey as long as you are getting minutes which he has.

        I'm not sure what being an actual NHL player means but I do know that his 1st 3 seasons in the NHL either mirror or are better than many of todays top NHLers when they were his age. Efforts can always be made to fill roster spots with someone else. But if this was actually done in the NHL you'd never see any young players in the NHL but the fact is you seen tons of them throughout the league.

        Gagner is just fine.

        • Chris.

          Good day my friend. Re the Eberle winning a job out of camp… I've watched too many kids over the years have great camps (Thoresen anyone?); and steal a roster spot on sheer adrenalin; only to have their level of play tail off ten to twenty games into the regular NHL grind. (Just like Eberle's game tailed off a bit this season in Springfield).

          IMO, it's harder on young players to be sent back to the AHL after losing their confidence in the NHL than to use them on a callup basis. Eberle has to be clearly, absolutely, indisputably, waaay better than the other top six options to stick with the big club out of camp, or it would be a mistake to displace a player with more NHL experience. That's my two cents.

          • Thoresen was never touted as high as Eberle. Ever. And Thoresen wasnt bad when we let him go, and based on his KHL work he probably should get a tryout on an NHL club. Just not this one. We need cheap bottom 6 guys. I dont think that's where Thoresen will want to get his opportunity.

          • Chris.

            Edit. I'm having trouble pasting the full link: It simply runs off the comment page.

            Matheson wrote an interesting column in last Sunday's Journal entitled: "Rebuilding A Balancing Act" (April 4th)

            This column pretty much sums up my own feelings on the matter of breaking in too many young players at once:

            http://www.edmontonjournal.com/sports/Rebuilding+balancing/2761861/story.html

            (Just add .html after the word story.)

            Sorry Arch… I didn't really intend to include your comment. This also goes to the ongoing debate I've been having with Crash.

  • Chris.

    Given that Horcoff is already under the tremendous pressure of having to live up to his large contract in this town… I think Horcoff needs the added pressure of wearing a C like he needs a hole in the head. Unfortunately, Brownlee is right: there is nobody else.

  • Chris.

    Interesting article Robin . I gather you forsee quite a few more elder Oilers being gone from this years roster still to come before next season ? I then see you want to hold back youngsters from entering club on a full time basis – to a big extent ? I have to ask you what is left for the club to even ice a team other than AHL'ers masking as NHL'ers ? My second question is how next years squad could possibly be better than this years club with what you have put forth ?

  • Chris.

    FOOD FOR THOUGHT . Creating a scenario to explain what might /could have made this such a disasterous season for the fans . Management , coaching , etc. jobs all are deemed safe at end of season despite the club being a deadlast squad . I'm going to up the stakes and role play being owner after losing out on Heatley ! Conveniently , i as owner will inform all i have given you all exclusive power to do as you please so i will not be implicated in any negative way . I see we are unable to land big names to our club and the fact we are crippled with cap and contract issues , and that we are unable to cure the mounting problems we already face . My solution as owner is to go the draft route and do not fill the voids so as we can best fill our future needs that way , while we start cleaning up our fiscal and contract messes . Now team , can we still sell hope is the only question ? Now if just such a scenario did happen , it's not something you would dare go public with . However , it would explain a lot that has gone on this season and why management , coaching , etc . all have the blessing of owner and job security . Even under such a scenario one could question the injury time ,etc.. Now ,could this scenario be repeated again next season if we threw the fans more hope, if's , and the occasional bone . Is this type of scenario or the type of plan they may have had all along ? I don't know , but it makes me question the entire organization .

  • Tha Legion

    I absolutely agree with Brownlee on Pouliot, and Eberle. Pouliot is showing signs of kickassitude, OKC wouldn't hurt Eberle plus it's a strong foundation for years to come. I'd be happy seeing Eberle and MPS in OKC next year.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    First off, I agree that Marc Pouliot deserves another contract, provided it is based completely on the way he has played and not his draft projection. He has the jam now that is needed on this team, and I feel he will make a very good depth center with upside. The fact that he is a right-handed center with nice size has to be factored in.

    I would definitely give Horcoff the 'C'… for now. I don't feel that the captain has to be your best player. Lee Fogolin is an absolutely prime example of this. Until the young gang in Edmonton matured he was the absolute best captain we could have had. I feel like Horcoff has the traits a captain needs to show the up and coming players learning the ropes UNTIL they are ready to take on that role.

    I don't know if Boston has the cap room, but if they do, what about Hemsky and Souray, plus maybe Cogliano for Boston's #2? We could take a contract back if need be. I think that Souray would be very good for a win-now team like Boston. Especially if they don't think they will be getting the winger in the draft – What do you think? Any chance that Boston would like it enough to go for it?

  • Gerald R. Ford

    Definitely not a fan of Stauffer's play-by-play, either. Not a personal slam against Bob. As an occasional replacement for Rod, he was adequate. But, that's about it. I really hope they look elsewhere.

    • What I liked was the way Bob and Karius worked off each other on broadcasts. A lot of what makes a broadcast tandem for me is complementing styles. Bob and Karius are a good fit together.

      There are play-by-play guys I like and analysts I like, but they can't always work together for whatever reason. In the games I listened to, this was a very good fit.

      • Gerald R. Ford

        Robin, chemistry is definitely important, in any sort of team environment. I wouldn't be really upset if that was the direction they went (hardly at the top of the list of things to worry about with the Oil). Stauff and KK are both good guys who have done a lot to be in prime consideration for that gig. No doubt. It's just that, Rod calls/called every game with the urgency of that guy doing the play-by-play of the Hindenburg disaster. He hasn't just been the voice of the franchise, I'd argue that he's a fairly significant reason why so many of us have loved, and continue to love, this team. When he does walk away, I hope he's replaced with something more noteworthy than adequate ability and complementary styles.

        But, as I said, nothing to wring one's hands over. Just killin' time 'til the Draft Lottery.

        • Hemmertime

          Agreed, Rod didnt make it feel like you were watching the game on TV… he almost made it feel you were in the building and every game was a clutch, playoff implications game. So when stuck in the car for a game, it was never too bad.

          Though if watching some games on TV and listening to him at same time – a lot of the plays he gets excited on are really nothing to jump out of your chair at, but you never knew that if just listening in =) .

        • Hemmertime

          That's too funny. Just recently my bro and I were chuckling at that Hindenburgh guy (at his "play by play" of the disaster, not the situation)….I could easily hear Rod's voice doing the "oh the humanity!!".

  • I have my own scenario.

    DeepOil decides that aluminum foil hats alone will not protect him anymore. Off he heads to his lab (garage) to develop the perfect potion out his magical chemicals (cleaners). Once he comes up with the right balance he immediately drinks this potion assuming it will scamble the waves of the spying satelites. Of course the only thing it scambles (more than already so) is what was once protected (?) by the aluminum. Now the DeepOil we knew no longer exists. In his place stands…..madjam!

    • Congratulations Bingofuel!

      The comments in that article are hilarious. I especially liked the comment about the stock British man photo.

      BTW, I don't think we have to "xx" in the links anymore. I have posted a couple with no issue.

      • Hemmertime

        Actually you'd be surprised with how many around here find that concept is difficult to comprehend. It seems many want Eberle to go directly to the AHL whether he makes the team or not.

      • Hemmertime

        No, not a difficult concept. What does not make sense to me is all the discussion about slowly developing a player in the AHL that may be NHL ready now.

        If the Oilers believe 1st line AHL minutes are better for Eberle's development than 4th line NHL minutes, I can probably get my head around that. But simply keeping him down in the AHL based on the Patrik Stefans and Alexandre Daigles of the world is, in my opinion, nonsensical.

  • Reagan

    Yeah Bob's voice is less desirable for play by play. Just personal opinion.

    Pouliot gets a contract when the Oilers clean house first.

    The Oilers would be silly not to sign Johnson.

    The Oilers should also keep Souray for one more year.

    Depending on how the rookies work out, keep the top 3.

  • Mr. Brownlee,

    Is Souray not under consideration for captain because there is no chance he will be back next year or for other reasons? To an outsider, he seems to have good leadership qualities – standing up for teammates, playing tough minutes – plus being articulate and probably pretty intimidating to someone not carrying his load.

    Horcoff's evident professionalism seems to make him a good choice. Would he be a good mentor for a lot of kid soon to arrive?

    I don't think I'd trade Hemsky for Boston's #1. If Hall/Seguin are likely to turn into a generational talent like Crosby or Messier then sure, but the risk is that we trade away Hemsky in two prime years (maybe more?) for four years developing a guy to eventually contribute like…Hemsky. Hemsky gives fans a reason to watch a bad team next October. Something great might happen each shift. Only my insane affection for this team has made them watchable since Handzus clipped him.

    • You've picked up on, and obviously bought, this goofy talk about "generational talent." There's a lot of ground to cover between what Hemsky has produced and Crosby.

      Is Steven Stamkos a "generational talent?" Or is he a player who might "just" score 40-50 goals and 90-100 points for the next 10 years? I'd trade five years of Hemsky, let alone two, for that because No. 83 will never reach that level.

      Souray isn't a consideration because he would rather be someplace else.

  • Pajamah

    Robin,

    If Tambellini can move Souray, and that's a big if, he should use some of that money to shore up the blue line by making a play for either Dan Hamhuis or Anton Volchenkov in the UFA market.

    You compared Hamhuis to Greg Hawgood in November on Just A Game after I suggested the Oilers go for Hamhuis.

    Why the change of heart?

    • Full quote in context, please, or don't run what you "remember" hearing as something I said in terms of comparing the two players.

      For starters, I've known Hawgood since he was a junior in Kamloops and there's few comparisons with Hamhuis, outside both being defencemen of smaller stature.

      Mitch: I'm not moving Hemsky, regardless of how questionable it is he'll re-sign here, for anything lower than the second pick. There is a clear separation between the top two players available and the rest of the top 10.

      • Robin,

        I do hope that Tambs makes a pitch for the pick from Boston if they are the holders of the other top 2 pick.
        Do you think that they would look more at a package with Penner in it seeing that they have plenty of set up guys on the roster already and Penner adds some scoring from the wing? Do you think perhaps starting with a Penner and Cogs and then adding in to make the deal. Do you see the Oilers offering to take back Ryder as incentive. Ryder does seem to play best after a change!
        I do agree that it would seem that Hemsky will be tired of the rebuild process and look to sign somewhere else are 2 more.
        I will miss Rod Phillips but I do like to combo of Bob and Kevin.
        Horcoff for captain, see who is left! Possibilities will be Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Whitney, Gilbert.

      • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

        hfboards are yapping about someone on a fox broadcast mentioning the HHOF voice of the oilers is only calling 10 games next year.

        fact/fiction???

  • Mitch

    Robin another good read, having guys like Gagner welcome are younger players into the fold would be a great idea, I just hope that Gagner and Cogs don't ask for crazy money. Since the two players mentioned rookie seasons they have taken steps backwards, although Cogs has been really playing well since the TDL. Which also shows us there's no reason to rush guys in no matter what there petigree is. I'am not sold on Hemsky loving Edmonton, I would contact any team in the top 5 and have a look see at the possibilities, mark my words Hemsky will not resign in 2 years time. Any Dman you mentioned would compliment this group, way to much emhasis was put on puck moving dmen.

    We may need to suffer for 1 to 2 more years, even the greatest team in the history of the leauge was built through the entry draft. Stong drafting in 79, 80, and 81 is what made the Oilers great.

    And yes I also hope Moreau is gone when the new season starts, moving comfortable players out won't hurt a thing, with nothing on the line, and being totally embarassed at his season, he finally puts up a good 10 game stretch, and NO it will not carry over to next season, any fans get that thought outta your head.

  • Chris.

    Speaking of Thoresen… who would be thrilled if the Oilers only roster change next season was to bring back Patrick Thoresen?

    *crickets*

    Last time I checked, the mighty Thor was destroying Omark in the KHL scoring race. Just sayin.