COACH FOR A DAY: WINGIN’ IT

There’s every likelihood Tom Renney will tweak his line-up for Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, and he certainly should in the wake of a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins.

With a mistake-filled defeat in Beantown in the books, giving the Oilers two wins and two losses through the first four games of a six-game swing with stops remaining in Detroit and Chicago, it’s time for a change.

If I’m Renney, I’ve had sophomore Magnus Paajarvi in the press box long enough. He’s coming and in and, for one night at least, Ben Eager is filling one of the cheap seats on press row at The Joe.

If I’m Renney, I’ve seen enough of Sam Gagner withering on the wing on the third line alongside Eric Belanger — neither one is getting anything done offensively — and I’m moving No. 89 back into the middle and bumping Belanger down a line.

And if I’m filling out Edmonton’s line-up, Andy Sutton, back from serving a five-game suspension for busting Gabriel Landeskog’s beak with head-shot in Denver, is going back in and Cam Barker is taking a seat.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

— While I’m not tinkering with the top two lines yet if it’s my call despite an inability to create enough Grade A scoring chances against the Bruins, I’m tweaking the third and fourth lines.

— Gagner had a couple of shots against the Bruins in 13:12 of ice time, but with just 0-1-1 in his last five games and 0-2-2 in nine games overall, I’m not seeing a fit alongside Belanger.

— Making Paajarvi a healthy scratch any longer, especially after a loss, starts to yield diminished returns in my books. Paajarvi has struggled and needs to produce more. I’m guessing he gets it and I want his wheels in the line-up against the Red Wings and Blackhawks.

— I don’t see a need for the robust Eager against the Red Wings, so he’s coming out. I’m moving Belanger to pivot on the fourth-line for the time being to keep him in the line-up for face-offs and penalty killing. I’m keeping Anton Lander in, but slipping him over to the wing for a look-see.

My forward lines look like this:

HALL-NUGENT-HOPKINS-EBERLE

SMYTH-HORCOFF-HEMSKY

PAAJARVI-GAGNER-JONES

LANDER-BELANGER-PETRELL

— On the back end, I’m keeping Tom Gilbert and Laddy Smid together on the top pairing and Sutton goes in with Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, and Theo Peckham. It’ll be interesting to see how Renney sees it.

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

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    H2E stays together even though Ebs had trouble finding time and space last night to get much done. That is part of what makes that line successful, if you take one of them out of the game then the other 2, whom ever they are can still make some things happen in the offensive zone.

    Keep Smytty and Horc together because of chemistry as I have not seen Horc play so well in years and the common denominator is Smyth. The great thing about Jones is he can play anywhere up and down the lineup so he can fit on this line just to get Gagner and MPS an opportunity to play with Hemmer.

    I don’t like Belanger on the PP, I understand he needs to get going but if you can’t get it done then next man up. Belanger and Gagner is not much of a fit thus far so because Belanger will get his ice time killing penalties and for his faceoff abilities you can put him on the 4th line and see what Lander can do on the wing. Eager out for a game because at least Petrell is hitting and is a great PK guy.
    Oilers 4 and Redwings 2 MPS pops his first goal tonight……. ahem….. if he plays lol

  • Colin

    I have a question for Steve Smith.How in he’ll could you let Tambi sign Barker?
    From your time in Chicago you had to know about his poor skating and lack of hockey sense.Bringing Barker in after seeing what he did in Chicago and Minnie is looking bad for the oilers good old boy management team

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I like RB’s changes except one. PRV has to come back, so does Omark. The third line doesn’t create, yet the most creative guy for the line is in Oklahoma. Jones to the 4th, Eager to the PB for a while, PRV with Gagner and Omark for a spell. Lander can work on his overall game in OKC for a month or two.

    The team has some depth and should use it. If they rotate guys more to the PB it isn’t just a punishment, more of a rest like having a 4th outfielder in baseball. Omark sitting for five games was just counterproductive management.

  • Roadhouse

    If Smythy continues to put points up at this pace what sort of respectable “home-town discount” will management have to offer him in the summer? If he finishes with 30 plus goals I’m guessing he will be signing for a minumun 3.5 million next year.

  • justDOit

    I’m not seeing how Gagner is going to help the 3rd line at C, but I guess he really deserves the opportunity. And IF he does, then O! deserves an opportunity to play some quality minutes as well.

    Is there a certain number of games that, if Omark plays, will make him eligible for waivers in going to/from OKC?

    • OilFan

      I agree that Gagner wouldn’t be a good checker/grinder, also see that he needs to be in a more suited role for him. Yet Renney has the Oilers with a winning record and his job is to see that last. It may not be good for certain players but the decisions are harder now.

      • You are flirting with abandoning the process of a proper rebuild — finding out who fits where, who stays and who goes and what players are still needed — because of a 9-4-2 start.

        Renney’s “job” is to continue to oversee that process, not to make decisions based on making a winning record “last” 15 games into the season. Success (winning) must become more of a factor in the process, but you’re getting ahead of yourself.

        A winning record now is not a priority to the point where decisions are OK even if “it may not be good for certain players” when one of those players is a 22-year-old first-round draft pick.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          and @Oilfan and @Justdoit

          It’s easy to forget how young Gags still is. Two years younger than Omark. I think we kind of pooched his development by bringing him up too fast.

          His path to success is getting back at C and playing with other talented guys. I’d put him with MP and Hemsky, or MP and Omark.

          But I also wouldn’t be afraid to sit him for a game here and there. That said, he is definitely not 4th line material and I think the Marchand comparison is off. Marchand has a chance to be this generation’s Theo Fleury – small, scrappy and productive – mind you he will never score 100 points. Gags is small and has the potential to be very productive, but he’s not scrappy… it’s just not part of his game.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Gagner has a proven track record of production, the other two don’t. Brule also has outside issues and was horrifice this year in camp.

          • OilFan

            Renney as played Horcoff, Belanger, Lander and Hopkins at center any reason why Gagner isn’t playing center ? Just may be Renney feels the others are better at that position. Sitting Sam for MPS makes sense both players have proven the same THIS SEASON. Do you notice Gagner more then MPS (when in the line up) ? Suggesting Gagner play fourth line isn’t a out to lunch idea, he will at least play center (his play on the wing hasn’t been great).

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Unfortunatly (or fortunatly) the NHL doesn’t work like the little games that are played on here, where guys earn and lose spots based on a handful of games.

          • Lofty

            I don’t know if I would consider Gagner to be a proven point producer. They guy started off with a bang but has been mediocre since his rookie season. He’s no longer playing much on the powerplay so his numbers will likely be substantially lower this season.

            It seems to me that as his career has moved forward he’s become more and more a perimeter player. I’m not hating on the guy but with the depth the team has there are more dynamic and cheaper options to play his position. I’m 99.9% sure this is Sam’s last season with the Oilers. The only reason he’s in the lineup and MPS isn’t is for trade purposes.

    • RPG

      I definately think your line combinations would work on the short term, but once the Oilers match up against teams that play big and strong, they would be in serious trouble. If we can agree that Omark is an NHLer. Gagner deserves better then to be played as a third line checking center or out of position on the wing, is a trade not inevitable? Gagner, Omark, Jones, PRV, Hordichuk (soon), Eager, Petrell, Lander, Belanger, and I’d suggest Hartikainen, could all easily be in the lineup and currently fight for playing time. The Oilers would finally be in a position to trade from a position of strength, given the depth, in order to address an area of weakness on D (RHD preferred).

  • Semenko and Troy

    Sit Barker. He moves at the speed of glacial ice.

    Sit Gagner. Opt for more size and speed through the line-up.

    RNH-Hall-Eberle

    Horcoff-Smyth-Jones

    Lander-PRV-Hemsky

    Belanger-Eager-Petrell

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    The winning record has concealed the fact that this team hasn’t been playing very well. And yet Renney has kept the lineup the same as if it were. That’s bad management. Moreover, when he does sit someone down it isn’t the worst players it is Paajarvi and Omark who he expects more out of instead of players who might fulfill expectations but that is because expectations are low to begin with (the fourth line). That’s also bad management.

    It’s really simple. If you play your best players you give yourself the best chance to win. Sitting Gagner down would be just as wrongheaded as sitting down Paajarvi and Omark was.

    At what point does Renney take the blame for torpedoing the season of all three?

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Sitting Gagner down would be just as wrongheaded as sitting down Paajarvi and Omark was.

      At what point does Renney take the blame for torpedoing the season of all three?

      I think there are developmental questions here for all three of these players but I do not agree with your assessments.

      1) Omark. I think sitting him for 5 games was a mistake. That wasn’t helping him or the team. He needs to play and sending him to the A was better than sitting him. But I don’t think time spent in the A is lost time. I suspect Omark is back with the big boys by the end of the month. Other than missing those 5 games, I would hardly call a stint in the A “torpedoing” Omark’s development. that’s an overreach.

      2) MP. The guy has been given ample opportunity and ice time. I don’t see an issue unless we want to debate whether he is too green for the Oil and should be in the A. I also don’t think sitting for two games constitutes “torpedoing” someone’s development. Again an overreach.

      IMO benching players is a valid option for coaches for both developing players and seasoned vets. It sends a limited, targeted message. It is a teaching mechanism. It reminds players the value of ice time and it publicly calls out players – be better! I think that has an impact.

      Of course, benching also works in the more traditional sense (which is I think the only one you acknowledge), ie. a player is performing poorly and therefore should not play.

      3) Gags. Again the guy has had ample opportunity to play and play in a variety of situations – he is getting prime PP time. There are good arguments to be made about his position and his linemates and how they affect his play. But, he’s had opportunity now at both C and Wing and has underperformed. He needs a wake up call of some kind to rattle the cage into action. To take what I consider a legitimate tool like a spot benching out of the hands of the coach seems foolhardy to me at any rate.

      In general I disagree that benching has the egregious effects you claim. It is certainly possible that it has a negative impact on a player. But I take it that a player who spirals downward at that kind of adversity is not going to make it anyway.

      These aren’t delicate flowers. You simply cannot torpedo a player’s development by a limited benching imo.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    When discussing Gagner, PRV and even Omark people need to get over this “3rd line – checking line” misconception.

    Just because you are on a line that is getting the 3rd most ice time, doesn’t mean you are a checking line.

    Sure, some teams run that way but on this team the “checking line” is doubling as the first line.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      I totally agree.

      I think the topic of Gags and checking came up because Oilfan suggested Gags center the 4th (not the 3rd), ie. switch with Belanger. See #54

  • Jerk Store

    We have three Guys 89* 23 91 that we need to either a) determine if they can play and get going b) get them playing and increase their trade value or c) let them continue to struggle. Here is the problem, they all are essentially the same guy. Young (or fairly young), allegedly offensively talented, not overly gritty or defensively savvy and all “needing to play with offensive players”. Quite a challenge.

    So if playing with Hemsky is going to be the magic elixir – not sure I am sold but honestly I DKWTFETD, let’s do it. Start with the two that are here now and roll the dice for a couple games. PRV has more rope than Gagner right now because of his size and speed. I honestly like Gagner, it just seems like he stalled and the only role he has on this team is a scoring center so let’s see if he can get some flash back.

    4 – 93 – 14

    94 – 10 – 28

    91 – 89 – 83

    37 – 20 – 55

    I like Lander and he has played well but Renney does not play him a ton anyway. From an asset mgmt POV, send him down. Its not like he is playing 18 mins a night here. If you want to play him over 55 v Detroit fine. But long term we need a bigger body with some edge in the line up. Once (if is a better word) we get 89 and or 91 figured out one way or the other worry about 23. Bottom line is we need to start scoring goals and make decisions on 3 guys in particular.

    Edit * thanks to RA for pointing out my error.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      something is mixed up in here, or I am…

      Why is Horc on your chopping block? and how does this description fit him:

      “Young (or fairly young), allegedly offensively talented, not overly gritty or defensively savvy and all “needing to play with offensive players”.”

      I think maybe you or I has the player #s mixed up

      [edit] what is DKWTFETD??

  • Chris.

    Quinn made a lot of mistakes, but one thing he did that I liked was put Gagner on the fourth line after a brutal camp. Gagner responded well, pulled out of his funk, and worked his way back up the lineup. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to elevate Lander to play with MPS and Belanger and have Gagner center a fourth line with Jones and Petrell.

  • Chris.

    Props to either Renny or the pro scouts for finding Potter… but how is it that nobody in the organization knew just how poorly Barker skates prior to offering him $2.75M?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    And yet it is these players who take the fall at the first sign of trouble. That’s the problem. Instead of putting them in a position to succeed they are deemed failures at the first sign of trouble while guys like Lander and Eager are just taking up space.

    Gagner, Paajarvi, and Omark should be playing together. Or put Gagner with Smyth and Hemsky and put Horcoff with the Swedes. In any event Belanger needs to be where he belongs on the fourth line and Lander needs to be in the AHL learning to score.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Not sure about “first sign.” Omark was given five games. MP 13. and Gags hasn’t taken a fall yet. Also, it could be argued (I would) that with the exception of Omark not playing for 5, none of these players has had to fall very hard.

      I don’t mind Lander going down. But I wouldn’t expect much offence to come. It isn’t in his prospect notes. Or, at least it comes after those parts of his game he truly excels at: two-way, backcheck…

      He’s a Center after the mold of Peca, a future Selke winner, not a Richard winner.

  • Crude Oil

    Brownlee, I don’t get it! Jones was great with Smyth and Horcoff, so why don’t they go back to that? Hemsky could possibly help Paajarvi and Gagner get some offense going on the 3rd line, which is a good fit for him at the moment since his ice time should be limited anyway until his health issues clear up completely.

  • Dan the Man

    Barker is coming back to Edmonton with an ankle injury so Sutton will play for him and Eager is out tonight with Pajaarvi coming in per Principe on twitter.

  • justDOit

    As Robin pointed out, O! has 4 NHL games until he becomes eligible for waivers when moved up/down. I think that, more than anything, is why he’s been relegated to OKC. Until Renney/Tambi get a good look at other options (including trades), I don’t see Omark back in the NHL.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Oh yea… that too. That makes a big difference. They would definitely lose him on waivers… and they clearly aren’t ready to commit to him for the full season yet.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I don’t like the looks of this:
    http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fhockey.expressen.se%2Felitserien%2F1.2619172%2Fomark-jagas-av-elitserieklubbar

    Basically (if the translation is accurate) it says Omark is being pursued by multiple SEL teams and that he is considering their offers. Thankfully it says a deal is not imminent, but the disturbing part is at the end of the article:
    ” he would rather play in the NHL but he has not heard anything from Edmonton about the future.”
    It’s one thing to send him down to the minors to get him some minutes, but they need to have an open line of communication. Whether or not you like Omark you have to admit it’d be a shame to lose him for nothing. That 4th round pick is starting to sound appetizing compared with the alternative.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      If they aren’t talking to him directly or through Nelson or someone else… that is a big unforced error. Were not talking kid gloves here. Were talking about being clear and upfront and consistent in communication, that’s crucial.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        All that article proves is that Todd Nelson and a reporter writing a puff piece are paying attention to his progress. There isn’t a single comment that makes any reference to someone on the Oilers.

        Omark isn’t in their plans because they think they should only play six hockey players on scoring lines and then six other guys who “contribute” in ways other than being good.

        I don’t see a path to Omark playing for the Oilers again. I don’t see what he could do to “earn” a spot that he hasn’t already done and I can’t see them changing their mind on the players ahead of him. He might get a few games here or there because of injuries but that’s it and there is no way he plays for the Oilers next year if he doesn’t play for the Oilers this year.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          But in reality you don’t know anything about Oilers management or their feelings or ideas about the team. The Oilers were right to send down Omark he will come back up (If he wasn’t then he would have been gone to the SEL the moment it happened) they aren’t sending down anyone else because they have to clear waivers and Lander isn’t going down because he does everything he needs to, yes he only plays 10 minutes a night max but he fills his role and that 4th line looks good IMO.

          Yes Lander getting 18 minutes in OKC would be nice for his offense but I think his place is here in the NHL (Look at Seguins development).

          I agree the third line shouldn’t be a “checking” line but the Hocs-Smyth-Hesmky line is a mix of shutdown and scoring. And nothing the Oilers have done would make me believe their 3rd line is a checking line.

        • Romulus' Apotheosis

          Ok. that Pravda point is well taken… the source is arguably questionable… but no more so than a foreign, google translated, source.

          It is really interesting how you and I seem to interpret everything (and I mean just about everything) differently.

          Two things stood out in the Oilers piece for me:

          1) The Oilers are interested in his progress. Sending Gazzola and some other journalists down to OKC to do an update on the Farm and keying in on Omark means they are interested. Getting thorough comment from both Omark and Nelson about his progress and going public with it shows an interest in his progress.

          (and yes I consider Nelson a key part of the Oilers overall organization. If he is talking about one of his players, a talking about the things he is doing and needs to do to get back to the NHL I take that as being representative of the Oilers organization. If I didn’t take it that way, I would have to assume the Oilers had a failed development model where elements were working at cross purposes)

          2) unless he’s putting on a good face (which I doubt… Omark had no problem publicly displaying his dissatisfaction with the team last year; so I assume he is being candid) Omark emphatically states his commitment to the team and getting back to the NHL via OKC.

          so I do think the OIlers are interested in his progress and are talking to him and he is interested in staying.

          It is clear that they aren’t as keen on him as you would like… but that seems to boil down to idiosyncratic preference. I imagine everyone on here thinks one player or another is being mismanaged.

          anyway, it’s really fun arguing with you. hope you feel the same!

  • OilFan

    Why are you surprised they aren’t talking to him? They don’t think he’s a player and he’s not part of their plans. This is entirely consistent with how they’ve treated him from the beginning. He’s an afterthought for them.

    And they didn’t “give” him five games. He was benched halfway through the first game. They decided on him a long time ago.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Not saying I’m surprised, it’s just frustrating watching them treat a valuable commodity like he’s worthless, and more frustrating watching these characteristics of the organization shine through again.

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      you see that “reply” button… press it. It makes conversations easier to follow.

      Well I guess we have different conceptions of authority. The coach is in charge and ice time is his currency. Players have no “right” to TOI. They have to earn the privilege, by gaining the trust and confidence of the coach. Omark earned and was given five games. But that is a semantic debate. You think he deserves more. Renney disagrees. All I’ve said is I’d be happy to see him back in the lineup (although I have a lot of questions about getting that done, re: line combos), but failing that it is better for him to be in the A.

      Also, that first game his TOI was not cut in half. his average TOI over those 5 games was 14:35, so his game one TOI of 11:52 represents 80% of his average… not to mention Renney trusted him enough to send him out for the shootout and he embarrassed Renney, the team and himself.

      But those are game oriented decisions. They are tangential (although closely related) to management and development decisions. I have problems with some of Renney’s game decisions (sitting 5 games was silly) but not as many as you. But that does not mean I can’t have big management/development issues with how they are treating him (if what some foreign blog says is true).

  • OilFan

    Some people think that coaching to win is abandoning the rebuild. So even with a winning record the Oilers should stick with players out of position since that’s a rebuild.Oh yeah it has only been 15 games !! Yet Potter gets full props 10 games into the season ?

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Is it ironic that the Oilers problem so far is with no scoring depth in their bottom 6. The Oilers need to address that. The organization could address it in a trade, or bring up one of Cornet or Hartski which would bring in some size and effort I think. I know Hartski’s been a scratch in OKA, but you got one guy in Eager who’s not doing what you want and is bringing you nothing. Gagner is playing outta position, and for some unknown reason the one guy who does anything is MPS who’s enjoying the finer hotdogs in the league right now.

    I bring up Harkski and my bottom line’s are

    Gagner, Hartski, MPS
    Belanger, Lander, Petro or Hordi

    I think Landers done all anyone could ask, but I think he’s better served playing 18 mins in OKA then 9 in Oil Country.

  • Mitch

    If you got Khabby on the bench when he is screaming hot that’s the first mistake.

    Put Hemsky on the wing with Hall and RNH.

    Put Jones back with Horc and Smyth.

    Belanger with Gagner and Eberle.

    Lander Paajarvi and Pettrell.

    Sutton in for Barker.

    and Peckham is only half as good as he needs to be.