SAM MEASURES UP

There might be a perfectly good reason why GM Steve Tambellini trades Sam Gagner one day, but size shouldn’t be it. Just a thought and a simple rule of thumb for armchair GMs who insist size is an issue with Gagner, or any player for that matter – find a way to keep your best players and move out the rest, regardless of how tall they are or aren’t.

All things being equal, which they seldom are, I’ll take a big, fast, skilled, smart player over a smaller player with exactly the same attributes every time, but that’s a far cry from building a team by trading your best players because you have too many small, skilled types and not enough guys who happen to be six feet tall.

I’m thinking specifically of the argument made by some that Tambellini should jettison Gagner between now and the NHL trade deadline because the Oilers will be too small down the middle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner as the team’s top two centres. Likewise, that coach Tom Renney’s top six forwards won’t measure up with Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, the only six-footer, in the mix.

If Nugent-Hopkins is your top centre for the next decade or so, which he is, you can’t have Gagner, who continued his ridiculous hot streak with two more goals in a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings tonight, as your second-line guy. Well, yes you can, actually. And the way Gagner is playing – he has 8-7-15 in his last five games — you should.

KEEP REAL PLAYERS

While Gagner, 22, obviously can’t keep up the pace he’s on, it’s becoming obvious to me, as somebody who has questioned his upside from time to time, he’s capable of filling the role as this team’s second-line centre behind Nugent-Hopkins. That goes for now and when the Oilers are actually good.

Yes, that leaves the Oilers somewhat undersized in the first two spots down the middle, if a tape measure figures into how you talent, but if I’m looking for some size, I’m not sacrificing Gagner to get it.

The way I see it, if Tambellini feels the need to add size, he’s got two spots in his top six forward positions where he can add it. Neither of them are at centre. With Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner at centre, Hall a lock as the top left-winger and Eberle entrenched as the first-line right winger, that leaves one spot on left wing and another on right wing going into next season when Ales Hemsky is gone.

If Tambellini feels the need to add some bulk – size that skate, shoot, make passes and think the game, not six-foot-three sluggos with wood for hands and poop for hockey sense – add it in those two spots to complement your smaller, skill guys. There is no "need" to trade Gagner in the name of size.

Find a way to keep your best players.

WHILE I’M AT IT

— How long are the Oilers veterans up front going to impersonate luggage while leaving the offensive load to Gagner, Eberle and Hall? It’s getting just a bit ridiculous, no?

While Gagner and Eberle remain hot as $3 pistols, Renney has to figure out how to coax some secondary scoring out of Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff that goes beyond throwing them over the boards for unproductive shift after unproductive shift, as was the case at The Joe. We’ve already seen this movie.

— I don’t know if Renney can explain why Horcoff got 22:04 of ice time against Detroit and Smyth played 19:37 while Eberle played just 17:24, Gagner saw just 17:19 and Hall got 18:23, but I’d love to hear his thinking behind that. If winning is part of the process, and the kids are your best players, throw them over the boards and stop deferring to the veterans.

— Would one of the Oilers equipment staff please tape Cam Barker’s stick to his gloves so there’s at least a chance it’ll spend as much time in his grasp as laying on the ice somewhere? Barker, struggling mightily for the second straight game with a minus-3 against the Red Wings, got caught flat-footed, clueless and stickless on two Detroit goals.

— If Magnus Paajarvi is going to insist on playing on the perimeter and flipping harmless shots on goal from outside – a tactic that has him with no goals on 63 shots this season – he’d be better served back in Oklahoma City. Let Paajarvi spend the rest of the season alongside Linus Omark and see if he can regain some semblance of confidence.

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

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      poor old DSF.

      he is probably locked in a tiny room at the alberta hospital… wearing a ratty bathrobe and slowly rocking back and forth in a dirty old rocking chair… clutching his kyle wellwood cuddle pillow just a little to tight.. mumbling gibberish about gagner,brownlee,skinner and seguin..

      give it time. once gagner has a game or 2 of “normal” play he will grow his pebble sized set of balls back and start chirping around here again

  • I’m not one of those super stats guys… but I think Renney tends to focus heavily on zone starts. If it’s a defensive zone start, you’re often getting the Horcoff/Belanger types or the 4th liners. If it’s a cushy offensive zone start, you often get your young kids. So say the super stats guys anyways.

    I’m curious if that’s why Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky saw so much ice time tonight… cause really, the puck was in our end an awful lot tonight.

    I’m not saying they SHOULD have gotten more ice time than the kids, but I am just trying to guess as to what was going on in that post-concussed brain of Tom Renney.

    I think the stats geniuses have been saying that the kids have been getting a lot of sheltered minutes though (which makes sense), and I wonder if that’s what happened.

    Also, I may have misinterpreted your statement but the Nuge is 6 feet… although he is a scrawny lad. So both Hall and Nuge are the “six footers in the mix” there. Also, if Paajarvi gets things going, there’s a positive that he’s a big kid (now will he ever learn how to use it to his advantage is another question), so he’ll potentially add good size with skill to our top six one day.

    • I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what’s been going on all year. And to be fair to Renney it’s not like he’s going into every game with the mindset of “well we’re probably going to finish in the bottom 5 anyway, so it doesn’t really matter which guys we put out there at any given time”. It’s his job to make this team win games. He’s got his systems and strategies and he’s got his idea of who’s best suited to play in which scenario.

      Like I said a few posts up, at this point the Oilers are probably better off just giving all the kids as much ice time as their little legs can handle, but at least there’s sort of a method to this madness.

    • Nugent-Hopkins was six feet until he got his hair cut . . . Come on, man. Let’s not get that picky. He’s six feet tall. Just.

      My guess is Paajarvi will end up being a third-line player who is capable of 15-18 goals a season and can move up into the top six on occasion. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Crash

    Yes Sam measures up….he was always going to

    Paajarvi will be more than a 3rd line player….

    Again, just as with Sam and most NHLers including many of todays top NHLers…..by the time PRV hits age 23/24 he will find his stride…

    How were the Sedins, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, etc, etc at 21 yrs of age?

  • MJM

    “– If Magnus Paajarvi is going to insist on playing on the perimeter and flipping harmless shots on goal from outside – a tactic that has him with no goals on 63 shots this season – he’d be better served back in Oklahoma City. Let Paajarvi spend the rest of the season alongside Linus Omark and see if he can regain some semblance of confidence.”

    He drove hard to the net on at least two occasions tonight, one of which set up a goal.

    Tonight was one of the few games all season I’ve noticed 91, and not for the “lack of 91” and I like to think not because he actually got some top 6/PP time either.

  • MJM

    While I agree with you generally on Pajaarvi’s play, I thought that he had some shifts tonight where he was physical on a couple of the D men. Also, his drive to the net on Gagner’s goal was nice to see (and a long time coming). Gotta start somewhere…

  • “If winning is part of the process, and the kids are your best players, throw them over the boards and stop deferring to the veterans.”

    ESPECIALLY at this point in another lost season. I could see a bit of logic behind it if Renney were to say “Smyth and Horcoff are easily our best options for shutting down other teams top lines, so we need to throw them out there so often to help us win all these games and stay in the playoff picture/hunt for a playoff spot” but since the only thing the Oilers are fighting for at this point is to not finish 30th for a third straight year, why not throw the kids in the deep end and see if they can continue to swim? What are they gonna do, lose 6-2 instead of 4-2?
    Seems to me it’d be a lot easier for our burgeoning superstars to learn what it takes to keep pace with the Zetterberg’s, Datsyuk’s and Lidstrom’s of the league if they were, you know, actually out there playing against them.
    I’ve been defending Renney all year, but I’ll admit it’s getting harder every day (THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID).

  • By the way, in response to my own comment, I’ve had a look, and Belanger and Horcoff did take the majority of defensive zone faceoffs (as per usual), and were pretty on par when it came to the neutral zone faceoffs with Gagner. Gagner and Horcoff were about even in offensive zone faceoffs though, which I think we’d all agree isn’t right (thankfully though, Belanger only took 1 draw in O-zone).

    Either way, I’d still like to see these kids battle their way out of the defensive zone more often. Coaches tend to have their go-to guys for that sort of thing. I have to wonder though which units cause the puck to end up in our zone more though…. are the veterans providing themselves with more TOI by floundering around on the ice, or are the kids screwing themselves over?

    Cue stats dudes..

    • OilLeak

      The kids will get their tough zone starts and competition one day, but its best to ease them into it. Hall is capable of tough opposition, because Renney tried it last year and at times this year. Eberle experienced tough comp last year as well, however RNH is not ready for the heavy lifting yet, as he’s struggled 5vs5.

      Also, you were wondering why the puck spent a lot of time in the Oilers zone tonight? Just check this
      link .

      The Potter-Barker pairing was an absolute disaster, while bumping up Petrell in the line-up didn’t help either. Petrell struggles against 4th liners, let alone 3rd liners.

      Renney, please stop with the Barker experimentation already!! Andy Sutton is twice the defenseman that Barker is.

  • Eddie Shore

    Amazing what a little confidence can do isn’t it? I hope Sam can continue to play well for the final 30 games to prove that he has indeed “turned the corner”.