It seems an odd thing to be harping on defensive conscience after a game where the Oilers held Calgary to a single goal through regulation. Yet, here I am, doing just that. 

The guy in the picture is Mark Arcobello. I remember, early into his AHL career, watching him play the wing and thinking he was stuck there because he didn’t have the defensive ability to play at his more natural centre position. He was just an itty bitty forward with good but not spectacular offensive skills, and his tendency to cheat for offence was going to be the death of him as an NHL’er. 

Somewhere in the years since then, Arcobello hasn’t just stopped going all in for points. He’s decided to do all the little things right. Pound-for-pound, there isn’t a more physical player on the team; every time it makes sense to finish a hit he does. The next physical battle he walks away from in the NHL will be the first one. He wins faceoffs.

And when the puck starts going the wrong way he’s on his horse and chasing after it. 

If Only…

Sam Gagner’s a popular whipping boy these days, and there is no mystery as to why, Two terrible plays with the puck tonight demonstrated a big part of the problem: his beautiful breakout pass on the power play to set-up a Flames short-handed chance in the first, a lazy pass into traffic in the second that might have been a goal against had the puck not been lucky enough to find Blair Jones. 

But it’s more than that, and while Gagner’s a favourite target there’s a malaise that seems to afflict almost the entire lineup, including the stars. Jordan Eberle impressed as a rookie with his attention to detail; somewhere in the time since he’s gotten negligent in his own end and prone to making bizarre choices with the puck in the defensive zone. Justin Schultz has been cheating for goals since day one and seems unable to break the habit. Even Taylor Hall, a guy who drives results, seems far more engaged from the offensive blue line in than he does elsewhere on the ice and has a nasty habit of flying the defensive zone well before the Oilers have a clear exit route for the puck.

It’s hard to watch a guy like Arcobello on one shift – a guy who probably isn’t going to be a pivotal part of the Oilers future – and then watch one of the young stars on the next and know that the former is playing a 200-foot game and the latter are looking to fly the zone at the first opportunity. 

Maybe it’s the losing, maybe it’s the fact that every coach the team has had has preached a different brand of hockey and the none of them lasted long enough to have a permanent effect, or maybe it’s something else entirely.

But Dallas Eakins has to figure out a way to fix it. He’s taken a hard line with the depth guys, and healthy-scratched second-tier people like Jeff Petry and Anton Belov and even the less-established Nail Yakupov. But the guys at the top end of the lineup keep getting fed primo ice-time, even when other options exist, and they’re the ones that really need to get the message if the Oilers are ever going to contend in something other than the draft lottery.  

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Silver Streak

    Jonathan could you compare last season to this season when we reach the same total games, I think we had 45 games last year i’m not sure.

    But by the stats i think its the coach our best players last year have looked like crap all this year.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    I enjoy watching every AHL call-up this year. It makes me think the coach down there is getting 100% out of his players and teaching them defensive commitment. (Except for Acton, he’s just not a good hockey player)

    This makes me wonder. Why can’t Eakins get 100% out of his players?

  • Minister D-

    If I were Eakins, I would bench Gagner as soon as Gordon is back. A close second would be Hall, who, along with (Lolly)Gags, was punked hard by Cassie Campbell in the intermission. These bums don’t know what it takes to win hockey games. They aren’t putting in the work: it’s time for consequences.

  • Minister D-

    First off, I am not defending anybody….. But, I could see why Eakins hands are tied, concerning playing his top five talents, now that they are here to stay, he has to let them have as much ice time as he could, and hope that they would develop into the players they were drafted for. The hand were dealt to him by decisions made before his time!!! obviously, ( hind sight tells us) none of the three 1st overall ( hall, Hopkins and Yakupov) were ready for the ‘Show’ ! But, they stayed after the initial 9 games… the rest is history, and to award huge contracts before two of them even remotely showed any signs of deserving it, is preposterous to say the least!!! How could anyone point fingers at the kids? They thought they were good enough, they have the big contracts to prove it!!! A negative reinforcement so to speak!! They are telling themselves ” I must be doing something right for them to pay me so much money, and if so, I’m not going to change a Darn thing with how I play…” and I don’t blame them!!!

  • Minister D-

    The puck dies on Sam Gagners stick. He is too slowto be the puck carrier. And he DOES NOT HEADMAN the puck. If he did, he would advance the play. Instead he continues to carry it, while his wingers stop for a smoke break at the offensive blueline and wait for him to catch up. ‘Think SAM. Think !…how the game looks from the pressbox. Be a team player.

  • Minister D-

    Hockeycrazed,you are bang on.6 mill a year puts hall and ebs in the top end of the league which they have not eaned.gags and hemsky at 5 mil,no wonder you cant trade them,an unproven goalie starting goalie money,it all leads to failure.

  • 2004Z06

    3 turnovers by Hall in two shifts last night. Toe drag that Brodie broke up, two passes on the tape to Giardano on the PP no less. He scores the game tying goal…..and it is all overlooked as a result!

    I have harped on Gagners game for years and took the heat from Gagner lovers here. Seems a few more fans are starting to see the light!

  • **

    Eberle & our first rounder this year for a number one stud defensemen. Hemsky & gagner for a big strong 2 way second liner- lucic type player. Push J Schultz down the depth chart until he starts to get it. The reason he and everyone of our D are having issues is because they’re all too high on the depth chart. Bringing in that number one guy would make the whole D core better and the whole team better i can’t preach this enough. I love eberle just as much as the next guy but he has great trade value and we need a #1 defence men yesterday. I have no issue bumping arco to second line centre, I love his game. Gagner has had 7 years and still doesn’t get it so its time to part ways, him and hemsky will do better with a change of scenery so lets give it to them.
    Another die hard oilers fan who can’t stand the losing

  • 2004Z06

    The team is making progress, but it is soooo slow. Forget they have been bad for basically a decade (save one good play-off). THIS SEASON is NOT looking like the trajectory of the team is building to be a consistent play-off team.

    if you can only vote one way;

    A) Yes, Eakins can coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.


    B) No, Eakins can’t coach this team on to a NEW trajectory.

    I vote NO …. history is the best predictor of the future.

    Another year of learning to accept losing, cementing more bad habits, listening to a coach but not hearing a coach should not be an option.

  • **

    Can the Oilers use a compliance buyout on Gagner’s contract? I didn’t think you could use one on a contract signed after the current collective agreement came into effect, only before. I mean sure, management should try to trade him first, but I wouldn’t expect much (if anything) in return.

    • srbuhr

      They would either have to trade him for another bad contract player that would have either size or a decent d-man, or trade him and keep part of his contract on the Oiler books.

  • **

    I just figured this out…….talk about delayed intelligence? When Mr. Fitness is talking about accountability he means only the bottom two lines.

    Now I understand Mr. Hair better. Hall, Ebs, JSchultz, RNH, Gagner, Ference can all make stupid mistakes and NOT be held accountable, the rest will see the pressbox so they can “reset”!

    Now it’s time for Mr. Bangs to “reset” the rest of the crew. Once we reset everyone we can start winning more than one game in a row.

    Hey maybe we can reset the management team?

  • BillHK

    Gagner should have taken another week off to let his injury recover fully, and then played a game or 2 in OKC to get back up to speed. Arco was playing well and should not have been a healthy scratch. It would probably have been a good time to move Gagner to the wing seeing that he is weak on the dot.

  • Muji

    I know Gagner drops the gloves once, maybe twice a season and takes on anyone..but does that make him a character player? Not when your floating up and down the ice the other 99 percent of the time..

    He sucks on the draw, can’t help kill penalties..slow and unlike most small players he isn’t really quick..doesn’t hit much..

    He’s got good skill with the puck, shoots ok, passes nice..but is pretty much a .5 ppg least at this point in his career.

    It’s funny how Arcobello in his rookie season does all the little things we always hoped Gagner would do yet in his 7th season Gagner still hasn’t figured it out but he’s the one with the big contract.

    Not saying Arcobello deserves a Gagner contract yet..he’s gotta keep it up for at least another two years before he can get that kind of money but for now Gagner’s been shown what this team expects of him if he wants to stay on it.

    I wouldn’t trade Arcobello, not with the way Gagner’s been inconsistent over his career…Gagner’s still recovering from his injury but is there really a higher upside with this player than what he’s shown so far?
    Maybe make a trade, Gagner and Petry for solid top nine winger.
    Maybe keep him for another few months, either way don’t get rid of Arcobello, his play is what this team needs more of.

  • **

    Gagner sucks at centre and it pisses me off to see him in that position, when there is another player better suited for that spot. I absolutely believe the reason we see him at centre, is because that is what his contract (one of the worst) stipulates. Being arrogant, Gagner won’t think Arco is better on the dot and he should be on the wing. God knows, MacT and Eakins know, Gagner is the wrong guy for the job.

  • Oilers Coffey

    When is the Perron deal expiring? He’s been the best player by far and most consistent. He’s out played the big
    $$$ of Gagner and Eberle.
    I’m afraid to lose Perron for nothing cuz this organization has already paid the big bucks.

    • **

      $3,812,500 for 3 seasons including this one. He is a steal of a deal and a great bargain for the next 2 seasons. If he keeps playing like that, he is going to want (and deserve) at least as much as the six million dollar men. The good thing is that Hemsky and Gagner’s contract will be done by then (assuming Gagner doesn’t get a 10 year 10 million/year contract after the fact) and the salary cap will be going up. By then the Oilers will hopefully at least one legit top 2 d man with a similar salary and Yakupov will probably be somewhere else (not that I want that, it’s just my feeling given how this organization has handled him.)

      If MacTavish keeps giving out big contracts like candy, come crunch time he won’t have any money to pay the players who have really earned it and the Oilers will go into another cycle of sucking until 2020.

      • Oilers Coffey

        I’m sad to say this too, but I’m sure Yakupov is going to move along to a place where he has an opportunity. Eakins still refuses to use him effectively.

        • D-Unit

          The problem with Yak, and the Olilers is they don’t have anywhere to put him that would protect him, but NONE of the wonder kid “talent” were given protection as rookies or second year players. Yak is -17, worst in the NHL, and most games has not shown much desire to play defensively. But that is the same as the rest of the “talent”. IMO Yak is getting the treatment Hall, Crazy Eyes, and RNH should have been given in their first couple seasons. If they were, they might have an idea what they should be doing when the puck is on their side of the red line. Seems unfair for Yak, when he can say, no one else has to be responsible, why should I? If Yak can hang in and learn the defensive end, he will be better than the other “talent” by miles.

        • And Yakupov still refuses so much as run into anybody. Their refusal to throw a hit last night was painful to watch. Arco is proof anyone can play the body – you don’t need to run a guy through the glass, just finish your bloody check.

          Hall scrum with Giordano summed it up. They don’t have to fight but the other teams know that everyone, except Perron, in the Oilers top 6 will always back down first. Perron (I think) to a late whack at a loose puck in the 2nd – 4 Flames surrounded him & not one Oiler tried to intervene. It’s not a size issue, it’s an attitude that’s missing.

          Since Hall is the alpha dog amongst the skill young guys until he starts to do it the team will not. 3 years of soft play by the forwards says so.

          • Chainsawz

            The assertion that Yakupov refuses to throw a hit is a false one. He crushed Landeskog the other night. He finishes checks when he’s engaged in the game.

  • **

    except for Ference, all the d men’s contracts are up at the end of this season, so are all toe goalies. This will be the perfect opportunity to build a strong back end. This will be the most important time for MacTavish and the Oilers if they want to make a comptetitive team.

  • Rdubb

    I completely agree Willis. The Oilers will never be competitive until their top players play a more complete game. The best teams’ best players play well at both ends of the ice. The Oilers are constantly cheating for offense and some nights it works, most nights it does not.

  • Chainsawz

    What a great piece to read. This is completely on point. As much as we’ve focused on coaching and management being a disaster (which it is), the Oil should not be this bad. It’s great that the light is being shined on the so-called big guns and their flawed defensive games.

  • reaperfunkss

    hmm management does not have to be accountable.

    Top Players don’t have to be accountable.

    Heard somewhere once that attitude reflects leadership.

    Well Lowe is probably the best Hockey man in the game and MacT is the best new GM in the world (just cause no other NHL team wanted him means nothing) so Leadership is good.

    Must be that the league is conspiring to keep the Oilers down. Ya thats the ticket, a big ole plot to keep the Oil down.

    JW why arent you writing about that.