TOM GILBERT: HOW’S IT WORKING FOR YOU?

Speaking of bogus Rolex watches and phoney Gucci luggage before the Edmonton Oilers took an 8-2 spanking from the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden today, that’s exactly what Tom Gilbert was on this last road trip. Luggage, that is.

With one win, a 2-1 decision over the Chicago Blackhawks last Sunday, on a five-game swing, a lot of players on Tom Renney’s roster had lousy trips. None more so that Gilbert, who has seldom turned in as lame a stretch of hockey as an NHL player.

Sunday’s dismal performance by Gilbert, one in which he stood around a lot, coughed up the puck just about as much and went minus-4, put an exclamation mark on a trip that saw him score 0-0-0 and go minus-10.

Not very stellar stuff from Gilbert, who is the Oilers highest-paid defenceman at $5.5 million this season (his cap hit is $4 million). The way I see it, he hasn’t looked anything like a lot of people expected he would on a blue line that isn’t nearly good enough as he approaches 300 NHL games on the learning curve.

Gucci luggage or the fake stuff?

TOUGH STRETCH

I’m sure there’s a set of numbers that suggests Gilbert hasn’t been as bad as he’s looked — I expect those who called his contract a bargain when he signed it are calculating them now. Then again, finding numbers worse than he’s appeared to the naked eye might be difficult.

And let’s get a couple of things out of the way right now. First, Gilbert wasn’t the only guy who had a brutal trip. Andrew Cogliano rolled zeros for the boxcars and was a minus-8. Likewise Gilbert Brule, with the exact same numbers across the board. Play-of-the-game highlight reel Nikolai Khabibulin allowed 19 goals in four starts.

Second, anybody with two eyes in their head can see the Oilers blue line isn’t close to being good enough. Gilbert isn’t alone. Still, he’s not a raw kid like Theo Peckham. He’s not a past-his-prime veteran hanging onto a roster spot like Jason Strudwick. He’s not adjusting to all-new teammates and playing in the aftermath of a tragic summer like Kurtis Foster.

Aren’t we, without jumping to conclusions, supposed to be entering prime time with Gilbert, who is 27 years old, had people talking with 45 points in 2008-09 and is in his fifth NHL season?

AS GOOD AS IT GETS?

Through 16 games, Gilbert has scored 2-1-3 with 16 penalty minutes and is minus-8 after starting the trip on the right side of even. It’s the second year in a row Gilbert has struggled mightily out of the gates. He got very little done before getting rolling late last season, especially after Ryan Whitney arrived.

Having been wrong, wrong, wrong, and embarrassingly so on several players in my years as a writer, you tend to shake your head when a player you thought was the real deal falls well short of expectations.

I’m curious to know what those people who were sure Gilbert was going to be worth every penny of that new contract and a lock as a first-pairing defenceman after that 45-point year are thinking now. What is Gilbert’s top end? Is this, even allowing for the holes with this defensive corps, as good as it gets?

We know Gilbert isn’t a punishing physical presence. The argument has been that being a big hitter isn’t necessary, and there are certainly lots of examples of that. Besides, if Gilbert is moving the puck and putting up 50 points a season, what’s not to like? Fair argument.

I stated here more than once 45 points was a one-off, that Gilbert wouldn’t better that total the rest of his career (then contradicted myself like a dough head by picking him to get 46 points in the Lucky 13 pool). Will we see that player again, or is Gilbert destined to settle into being a no-hit guy who gets 30-35 points and blocks some shots?

I ask again: Gucci luggage, or the fake stuff?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Remember that year when we had no puck moving defencemen, and we cried and cried that we had no puck moving defencemen? Brought in Pitkanen, but we ran him out of town. Too soft. Gilbert, too soft, run him out of town. So why don’t we stack 6 Theo Peckhams back there Brownlee? We’ll be tough as dirt, and wont get the puck out of our end unless we Jason Smith it around the boards. Will that make you happy again? No offensive skill on D? We are never happy in this bloody town. Bring back Poti.

    • C-DOG

      Washington’s biggest problem is their defense, until they figure that out, they won’t take it to the next level.

      Tom Poti needs to be upgraded or moved down the depth chart for them to win the cup, just because he better than what the Oilers have (except Whitney) it doesn’t mean he’s the Answer and if he is, I don’t want to know the question.

    • Bar Qu

      Other commenters.

      I agree with you that Gilbert has been bad and his cap hit looks worse, but imo he is not the problem right now. The fact that the coach needs to roll out Strudwick alot and pair him with Gilbert is the problem.

      Sorry for the misrepresentation.

  • Ducey

    Pretty unfair to judge Gilbert on the NYR game. He went -4, but his defence partner – Strudwick went -5. Almost everyone else was a minus, too.

    Even the most ardent Gilbert haters have to acknowledge that playing with Studwick is drawing the short straw.

      • Ducey

        Well, he hasn’t been as good as he has in the past.

        This tells us two things. One, he is likely to improve. Two, we should look at why he has regressed. I suggest its his defence partner.

        In fact, if Gilbert was paired with Whitney for a ten game stint, I expect that he would improve substantially.

        The fact Gilbert may need a reliable partner doesn’t seem unusual.

        • Ducey, the first two lines in your reasoning could have been said about:

          A) Joni Pitkanen

          B) Denis Grebeshkov

          C) Marc Andre Bergeron

          D) All of the above

          Although I agree with your reasoning this thinking has bitten us in the past.

      • If you could be coach or GM what would you do with Gilbert?

        It seems as though trading him (and his contract) would be difficult. Do you think he is tradable?

        Pairing him with Whitney worked in the past, but where does that leave the other pairings?

        I just don’t know what other options there are?

  • Bar Qu

    Here is the thing with the Oiler D:

    Ryan Whitney is a 2nd pairing guy.

    Tom Gilbert, Ladi Smid & Kurtis Foster are, at best, 5 – 6 guys on most NHL rosters.

    Jason Strudwick, Theo Peckham & Steve McIntyre are AHL quality.

    Gilbert HAD a big upside 3 years ago but has regressed so much that he is now a non tradeable asset at a $4 million cap hit for this year and three more. Shame.

    • D-Man

      I think you’re being a little harsh… I see it like this…

      Whitney is a good #2 defense; Ladi and Foster are #4-#5, Peckham #5-#6… Gilbert could be a #3-#4, but is obviously not playing nearly to his potential…

      That is three quarters of our problem… We don’t have nearly enough depth on the back end to be competitive…

      • I agree. Whitney is easily a #2 guy with the ability to play #1 minutes.

        Gilbert is what he is…

        The guy that is confusing my is Foster. He just seems to have everything to be a solid #3 guy, he just hasn’t been able to put it all together for any stretch. Even his surprising nastiness that he had in the preseason is gone. He did take a few bad penalties in the preseason – I wonder if that affected his game?

        • D-Man

          Yeah – I expected a bit more from Foster too… But then again – he was a #5 d-man in Tampa last year… Considering the loss of his child awhile back and the fact that he’s adjusting to Edmonton, I’d give him a 25 game pass… He does have a cannon of a shot and does lead our team in that category… If he can improve his foot speed and like you said, surprise the odd forward with a bit of nastiness, he’ll be a good addition to the squad…

    • I’d put them this way: (rated 1-6)

      Whitney 1-3

      Gilbert 2-4

      Smid 4-6

      Peckham 4-6 (looking and playing great for a rookie)

      Foster 5-7

      Vandermeer – AHL

      Strudwick – ECHL/Beer league

      You always hear how Strudwick is good in the room.

      You know what’s bad in the room? Constantly losing and getting your head kicked in.

      Tambellini needs to be held to account.

      Rebuilding does not equal having horrible vets.

  • I’ve been a regular Gilbert complainer here lately. He deserves this because he’s one of our “vets”, enjoys a chunky contract, and we’ve certainly seen that he can play better.

    Having said that, I think Gilbert is just one of many NHL contracts dependent on who he’s surrounded with; meaning he can’t make it work on his own, despite what we all expect for the money.

    Dumb on-ice decisions? Doesn’t hit? Yes. Hard to single out because he’s running with a crowd of rookies and other under-performing vets? Yes.

      • Adam D

        You said yourself that his +/-was black prior to this roadtrip, and while he wasn’t lighting the lamp he was doing a lot of the tough sledding and doing it with less than stellar partners.

        Was he playing the best hockey of his career? No. Was he playing a perfectly adequate game most nights? Yes. Did he show flashes of the good ol’ days? Yes. So I guess my question to you is whether sixteen games of hockey below his established high-water mark is a good reason to declare his contract a bust.

        • I haven’t declared anything. That said, Gilbert has played a lot of hockey below his “high-water” mark — like the first 50 games of last season, plus the start of this season.

          You like Gilbert. A lot of fans do. Do those people, many of whom were predicting those 45 points were a benchmark on his way to something more, not a finishing point, still feel that way?

          If they do, they need to tell me what I’m missing.

  • Coach says.. our team needs to earn its ice time….. well.. i think its time to sit some players!! ya vandeemer isnt the answer nor is struds.. but since we are getting our asses kicked anyways.. i say sit Gilbert for a game or 2.. Entitlement.. looks like he thinks it.. same mistakes over and over!!! Sit the guy..

    Same with some forwards… i know the roster is full but we can still sit guys.. even if its one at a time.. there are few earning their spot!!!!

    Also… do the kids need to play EVERY game?>? can they get something out of watching upstairs??

    Peace!

  • Zamboni Driver

    My disgust with Gilbert wasn’t even the primary assist to the Rangers player yesterday – it was the Gaborik hat trick goal.

    Have a look at the highlights and you’ll see Tommy boy doing his best POS impression, and having a nice leisurely skate back (actually more like a glide) as his mediocre world-class goalie gets hung out to dry again.

    And this was AFTER the supposed “team building” fights.

    Gilbert is both a pu$$y and heartless.

  • There is no question that Gilbert has started off poorly this year.

    I recall him doing that last year as well, and finishing off very strongly. Hopefully that can repeat this year.

    Here’s an interesting stat. The Oiler 5v5 Save percentage when he is on the ice is .843, the lowest on the Oilers.

    Even playing well its going to be tough to be a plus player when the goalie is letting them in at that rate.

    I am also very sure that if Nick Lidstrom played with the Oilers and was paired with Strudwick that he’d be a minus player and people would be howling to trade him because he’s too soft.

    After all Lidstrom only has 1 roughing penalty in his whole career.

    Not saying Gilbert is anywhere near Lidstrom, only saying you don’t have to be a bruiser to be an effective NHL Dman, and that playing with Strudwick is enough to make any Dman look bad.

    • The lack of depth on this defence, and the fact Strudwick is part of that defence, is absolutely a factor in dragging down Gilbert’s numbers. Playing with Souray for stretches in the past helped his numbers.

      I ask again (although I know the answer because the comments are archived): how many people overshot what Gilbert’s top end would be after he had that 45-point season? Are you one of them?

      • Quicksilver ballet

        For the most part, I like what Gilbert brings in terms of getting the breakout started. He seems to know when to go up the boards or when to slide the puck to the center.

        He has just had way too many mistakes this year.

        I would still rather the Oilers try to find a complentary guy to play with him rather than give up on him.

        I am curious as to what you think they could get for him in a trade? Would it be better to unload him in a package deal (with Cogliano or other)?

      • Probably.

        The problem is that we need to see him with a competent partner for an extended period of time.

        He finished the last 20 games last year at almost a point/game pace.

        I can’t come to a conclusion on his contract yet.

        Bad teams can be tough on players.

          • Zamboni Driver

            No really it is.

            The number is horrid, but the term…three MORE years? Unless your name is Crosby, no one is looking at a three year ‘whoopsie’ contract.

            (Further cementing Lowe alongside Milbury as among the worst ever.)

          • So if you guys say “no it is” enough times I’m supposed to believe it?

            I have evidence that Gilbert has played against tougher players at a very high level in the past which indicates he will in the future.

            What do you have to indicate he won’t?

            The last 15 games?

            What about the 15 games before that?

          • Math is what happens when you add up all the chances you “see” on TV.

            So when you say “I know, I watch the games”

            Well, I watch them too and I read the sites where guys watch the games and add up everything they see.

            See this “math” you guys are distrustful of is just ticking off of boxes.

            Scoring chance for? Tick the box and included everyone who was on the ice.

            Scoring chance against? Tick the box

            Goal against? Tick the box.

            Then you add up all the ticks.

            It only looks like math once you have to divide it by minutes or games played so you have decimals.

            Once you are comfortable discussion numbers with decimals the rest just falls into place.

        • +1.

          Gilbert can be a solid #2 pairing guy or even on the first line in a pinch if he’s got a quality defensive-oriented partner.

          Sadly, we don’t have a player like that on the roster. I’ve been hoping for that kind of player to be added for 3 years now.

          Even though he’s my current whipping boy, even I admit that the guy doesn’t have to hit people to be effective, he just needs to be a lot smarter in his own end with and without the puck.

    • Oilfan4ever

      Really? I don’t think you can put the blame on Studwick for Gilberts play. Strudwick is a stable 6th Dman whose being forced to play with a partner that would rater play in a round arena. Strudwick gets caught out of place due to the fact that Gilbert won’t play in the ‘Dirty” areas like the corners. Dont get me wrong I think Gilbert has sick talent but you cant be considered a Good Dman if you only play with other Good Dman.

      • Strudwick had a -5 on Sunday. He is the only player in the NHL to get a -5 in one game.

        Gilbert is having a bad year so far with a terrible -2.22/60 minutes played.

        Strudwick is -4.10/60

        Out of all the defensemen in the NHL who have played at least 10 games, Sturdwick is the worst by this measurement.

        Next worst is Shaone Morrison (Buff) with -2.90/60

        Studwick is measurably worse than the 2nd worst Dman in the NHL.

        So is Strudwick stable? Not even close.

        As for Good D should be able to play well with bad D, show me examples.

        Even guys like Pronger have their play fall off when they play with poor partners.

        • Oilfan4ever

          Yes Stable, im not cruching numbers to give useless comp based on 14 games. we are comparing a 6th dman and one that is said to be a #2.

          What I am reffering to when i say stable is the fact that Strudwick is a worker and not a playmaker so we know his limts. Playing with Gilbert has increase the visablity of his glaring defensive errors.

          On the other side we have gilbert who has clearly shown that he can be the best player on the ice one shift and the worst the shift after. No matter what he will NOT take any kind of punishment what so ever to make any play.

          As for examples, How about Dan Boyle/Doug Murry.

  • So we all basically agree we need 2 more at least, D-men that play nasty like Peckam maybe with a little more offensive side to them. I just dont understand how management can just continue to let Struds and even Gilbert play the minutes everynight. Gilbert I guess with his contract you have to play him, but still he’s horrendous almost every shift!! Thats not acceptable at all! I’d rather have Belle and Petry.

  • Robin,

    Would like to see a post from you about Tambellini’s inability to fill out the roster with players who can actually play the game.

    You allude to it occasionally, like you did in this post (Second, anybody with two eyes in their head can see the Oilers blue line isn’t close to being good enough.) but haven’t seen a post dedicated to it.

    Looking forward to it.

    • I haven’t exactly given Tambellini a free pass on filling out this roster . . .

      From Nov 8 item:
      “I’d also argue that the Oilers need to take a look at Belle for their back end because I’m getting dizzy just watching overmatched Jason Strudwick and Jim Vandermeer lurching around in their own end because Renney has no other options. Enough already. You want to talk need? There it is.”

      From an Oct. 17 item:
      “When it comes to organizational blind spots, the Edmonton Oilers seem as incapable of recognizing the importance of having centres who can win face-offs, and doing something about it, as the Philadelphia Flyers have been at finding goaltenders who can stop pucks.”

      “While the Flyers have been unable to get it right in the blue paint since Ron Hextall retired, a weak link that’s been obvious to everybody but the people making the decisions in the City of Brotherly Love, Edmonton’s management has become equally inept at recognizing how badly the Oilers are wanting on the face-off dot.

      “Ever since the Stanley Cup run of 2006, fans, bloggers and even some MSM types have been looking at the stats and eyeballing Edmonton’s personnel down the middle as the Oilers have slid from the top of the heap on the dot to the depths of futility. If we can see it, why can’t the Oilers?”

      • Robin,

        Don’t think you are giving him a free ride, that’s why I quoted part of your post showing your displeasure with the roster.

        Would just like to see an entire post dedicated to it.

        15 games is probably a little too early.

        30 games won’t be.

  • Gilbert is the fake stuff, and he’s one the two biggest veteran no-shows on this hockey team, with Dustin Penner being the other.

    These are disinterested hockey players that are merely collecting cheques. They are soft. Their indifference is astounding. They are not team players. They are not the veterans that are going to show the way for impressionable rookies.

    I’d be absolutely shocked if there aren’t plans afoot to remove these 2 plaers in particular from the Oilers roster by whatever means possible. Neither player should finish the season with the Oilers.

    • Can you please provide proof that neither Gilbert nor Penner are team players?

      Just because their style may not be popular with yourself, doesn’t mean that they aren’t focused on the team and winning.

      It may also be worth it for you to consider that either player may be used in a role that does not fit their game? Maybe they are simply supporting players (that every team needs) that are being asked to do too much???

      I don’t think you can have a team of 20 leaders, can you?

      Just some food for thought…

  • It’s disconcerting, but this is hardly the first time a player that fans and media were counting on to play well has struggled; it’s happened before and it will happen again. Should we take a poor twenty games and extrapolate it into assessing him as a poor player or a poor contract? No, but it is disconcerting, and for the sake of a team with already limited blue-line depth, he needs to turn it around.

  • Horcoff was -30 last year when he was forced to play with two AHL quality players for almost the entire season.

    Gilbert was even until he was forced to play with Strudwick on this road trip. Strudwick is not and NHL calibre defenseman.

    Play Gilbert with an NHL defenseman, and he will be fine.

    Lidstrom and Rafalski don’t punish people either. It doesn’t mean they aren’t useful players.

    The problem with the critics of Penner and Gilbert and Horcoff is that they want them to be different players than what they are. What they are is pretty good, when they don’t have to drag around deadwood.

  • I’m as big of a 77 fan as you’ll find but some of his mistakes have been of the head-scratching variety; to the point where you almost wonder what’s going on because I’ve never seen him play this stupid before.

    granted, WG had a nice point about the PCT when he’s on ice so the guy’s going through a touch stretch of luck too and that stuff will level out somewhat.

    All that being said 77 isn’t my biggest worry right now because there aren’t more than a handful of D who Could look good on this club right now given all the GP for the kids and guys like 13 and 67 who are bit older but can’t get a thing done offensively and aren’t helping anyone.

  • OF4E,

    Which part of “he has the worst plus/minus per 60 minutes played in the entire league” did you miss?

    Yes Strudwick works, he works hard, and he pulls the puck out his net more than any other defenseman in the NHL.

    You can’t spin that.

    • I don’t need to spin it i’m saying that we have a stay at home dman with bad foot speed who’s compansating for Gilbert who wont’t do his job to the capability that he has.

      So we have Strudwick trying to compinsate for Gilbert’S lack of Effort or skill. So Studwick isnt to blame.

      I think that were are both stating that the defensive pairing isn’t working. We have an old gaurd slow dman playing with a younger guy thats not pulling his weight.

  • And the walls, come tumbling down….terrible goaltending. Now if we were getting the goaltending that we (at least I) expected from Bulin we’d have more confidence, more foot speed and maybe desire to compete.

    As for Gilbert(Tom the terrible), I have never been a big fan of his. I own a company, and when someone doesn’t work for the money i pay, they are looking for employment elsewhere. So sad people DON”T have to earn their living. Might be a great league if lawyers didn’t run it.

    I’m surprised Renny has gotten away without being called out. He is far enough into the season to know who can perform best together. I think he is. Ok he should be. I don’t have faith in him either. If something is or seems to be working, he will F it up. I’m surprised they haven’t signed him to an extension yet.

    I assume they are hoping for another high pick. I’m ok with that, but I do expect them to compete. Or at least make me believe they are trying.

    Duby has played two very solid games, and Gagner has played very well from what I have seen. But Duby rides the pine, and Sam gets benched. Almost seems like Renny has a problem with quality workmanship. Or maybe he just doesn’t like cretain players.