Welcome to the third line, Nail Yakupov

Nail Yakupov2

In a long, wide-ranging interview with the Edmonton Jouranl’s Jim Matheson, Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish described Nail Yakupov as a third-line player.

This will doubtless be controversial. It shouldn’t be, because that’s exactly where the player should slot in on the organizational depth chart today.

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The Quote

Craig MacTavish3

Matheson: “From the outside, it looks like you have good top-six forwards and excellent character guys like Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon, who were maybe playing a little higher up in the batting order than they should have been. Could you use some third-line guys with some offensive touch?”

MacTavish: “Yup. That’s fair. Much like Chicago’s got where they have three lines of offensive guys and a fourth line that can play against anybody. That’s what we’d really like to do. We need (Anton) Lander to step up and (Mark) Arcobello, or add a free-agent forward or two who can compete for those jobs. Maybe somebody who could come in and be a good fit with Yak (Nail Yakupov on the third line). We have the first line (Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle). If we can draft a guy at centre who can play, then we’d have that guy, Perron and Sam or some form of that.”

The Chicago Model

Joel Quenneville

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MacTavish mentions Chicago specifically, which is interesting because the Blackhawks really had the blender running game-to-game in 2013-14.

  • The first line was a constant, featuring Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa together, with Patrick Sharp the regular third on that line.
  • The middle six was in constant flux. Patrick Kane played 150-plus minutes with eight different forwards, shuffling through the top nine depending on the night and the game situation, and his most regular linemate (Brandon Saad) spent less than one-third of the season with him.
  • The fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith featured two good faceoff men (Kruger and Smith) and was used as a defensive zone specialty line, occasionally even when tough opponents were on the ice.

It’s easy to understand why MacTavish picked Chicago. Aside from the Blackhawks being a great team that plays a style suited to the Oilers’ players, there are definite similarities in roster construction. The Oilers have a steady top line (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle), and a pair of players (Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon) perhaps suited to playing the role of Kruger & Smith.


What we don’t know is whether MacTavish envisions using Luke Gazdic in the Bollig role (prior to this season, Bollig had zero points in 43 career NHL games and was a perfectly wretched AHL player too). The trouble is that in that case all three players on the line would be left-handed shots, with none of them especially suited to right wing. A better solution might be to employ Mark Arcobello on the right wing of the line, which would add the offensive creativity that Smith brings to Chicago’s fourth line as well as a right-handed faceoff man and a designated right winger (in Kruger and Smith, the Blackhawks have the combination of RH/LH faceoff men), but Edmonton might not feel comfortable with Hendricks being the line’s designated physical player.

We can also include Steve Pinizzotto, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and Jesse Joensuu in this conversation.

The Mushy Middle


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In Chicago’s case, the gap between second and third line was pretty difficult to determine at times, except that the Kane/Saad duo were generally on the ice against better players than were Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. Other than that, both lines were primarily used in offensive situations and expected to score.

On a team with a power-vs.-power line, a defensive zone line, and two auxiliary scoring units, there is absolutely no question as to where Nail Yakupov should slot into the mix. He’s not ready for employment in a power-vs.-power role (and like Kane, that may never be his calling) and he’s certainly not getting wasted on the defensive zone line. That leaves the two other scoring lines, and sticking Yakupov in the one that gets slightly easier minutes is a no-brainer if ever there was one.

Assuming Sam Gagner sticks around – and it sort of sounds like he will – he, David Perron and Yakupov would fill three of those slots, likely with Gagner and Perron holding down the second unit and Yakupov on the third. That leaves three slots open for one or two free agent additions, the player Edmonton lands at the draft, as well as Arcobello and Lander, with the latter two likely the Oilers’ fallback options if all doesn’t go well in free agency or if Aaron Ekblad somehow falls to third overall.


  • pkam

    I find it an oddity that we seem to have less Nhl players , an overabundance of AHL players , as well as poorer teams since we got our own AHL team . I wonder if we did not have an AHL team , whether they would have been faced with going after more viable NHL players ? You would think it would have really helped by now , but it doesn’t show much so far .

  • Craig1981

    Gagner has no place on this team IMO. He has been absolute poison for anyone who is sentenced to play with him. He has not and never will make anyone else better. Winger or center he is a major fail and it is time move on. He must have some very damaging video on someone to have lasted this long. Cut bait.

    • ThinkingOutLoud

      Omg…I am not the only one with Gagneritous, horrible disease….we have to get rid of the complete embarrassment, that’s why the other teams just laugh…he even looks like some peewee wanabe with his mouth guard hanging out…he even thinks he is good…lol

    • camdog

      The only place I heard that it was a trade was on this site. Tsn never said it was a trade just permission for the Oilers to talk. If they signed him before a certain date, then the Oilers would make a trade.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    I agree Yak should start the season on the third line. He is way too unpredictable to be in the top 6. The problem is that the Oilers don’t have any good 2nd line players except Perron.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    I fight the urge (like some on this site) to over value our current roster. So to combat that I started to ask the following two questions about our roster as it sits “TODAY.”

    Forward Question: “On a good team _____________ would be on the_______ line.

    Defence Question: “On a good team _____________ would be a _________ pairing D-Man.

    eg. On a good team TAYLOR HALL would be on the FIRST line.
    eg. On a good team JEFF PETRY would be a 3RD pairing D-Man.

    Now some of these guys will improve their standing, some as soon as this coming year, but holy crap are we a long ways away from being really good. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    I am writing this because there are too many people on this site saying stuff like this:

    “Nail Yakupov is a top 6 forward.” The fact is he probably will be some day but until he can prove that as a 3rd liner he can carry his line and lay the boots to 2nd and 3rd pairing D-men he is what he is today….a 3rd line forward.

    Potential and future forecasts don’t win games today…results do.

    • camdog

      Very good post except the Petry example. He is not a top pairing guy on any other NHL team, but he is a 2nd pairing guy on almost ALL of them. He is a solid player being put in a situation where he is setup to fail here in Edmonton.

  • Rusty Patenaude

    I think there is too much being read into MacTavish’s comments. First off he begins the answer with “Maybe…” and then spitballs a possible scenario finishing with “…or some form of that.” My reading is that he is simply speculating about a possible scenario. MacT is not going to wade in to tell Eakins what his line combinations should be.

    But perhaps his comments here are not just shooting from the hip slip ups. These comments send a message to potential Sam Gagner buyers that Gagner is a top 6 guy and they had better be offering something in return that is fair compensation.

    Anyway, with the right line-mates, Yakupov could be a solid 3rd line/pp contributor in my opinion. I think too many Oiler fans are selling him down the river, a bit harsh considering he is only 20 years old.

  • bazmagoo

    Braydon Schenn gets a 2 year, 5 million dollar bridge contract – http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=455547. Yet somehow Schultz and Jeff Petry are worth over $4 million per season. Wow, so glad some of the people on here aren’t in charge of the team. Can’t see any reason why either Petry or Schultz should be offered anything more than a 2 year, 6 million dollar bridge contract. I like them both, they both have a legitimate future and could be top 4 defencemen. But neither has proven they are worth more than that currently.

    • Reg Dunlop

      What you just said about schultz and petry is exactly how rnh should have been handled. How that guy is going to be making 6 million this year coming up is highway robbery. Props to his agent bigtime

    • Three things.

      1. Schenn just had his best year ever with 41 points. Well short of RNH in what most would consider a disappointing season. He and RNH have been in the league for the same 3 years and he has never been close to being as good as RNH despite being significantly older.

      2. If a team only pays people for what they have “proven” that team will never have a bargain contract and that team will be constantly in cap hell. The only way to get a good deal on a player is to make good bets on who will be worth it and who will not. RNH was a good bet. The reason Schenn got a bridge is because his team lacks confidence he will be a top end player.

      3. Re: Petry – Edmonton has a long track record of running good defensemen out of town because grrrrr and it’s getting ridiculous. Petry is a solid top 4 defenseman.

  • bazmagoo

    Yakupov should play with Arcobello on the 3rd line, with preferably a large UFA winger on the left. Maybe Kulemin or Winnik. Yak needs to earn his minutes, personally I think he’s going to light it up this season. Of course I have been known to be optimistic when it comes to the Oilers, only to have my heart crushed by Christmas time, ugh.

  • bwar

    I think the the three scoring line scenario Arcobello would slot into the top nine probably with Perron dropping Gagner down to the weak competition line with Yakupov. Makes things very dicey defensively and the coaches would need to be vigilant with line matchups.

      • bwar

        The assumption is that the second and third line are viewed as equal on the depth chart with one line being given more favorable matchups. So Arcobello should be viewed as a top 9 forward in that scenario not a set in stone top 6 guy. We also have a reasonable amount of evidence that he is capable offensively when given an offensive role (see his replacement of Gagner and his AHL dominance). I also think that he faired poorly when he played any lower on the depth chart than the second line.

        Also I made no case for Lander to be in the top 9, so in that regard we agree.

        • camdog

          Lander also dominated in the AHL but as we all know it just hasnt transfered to the NHL. Arcobello is a third liner at best which means he will probably be slotted in with Yak. That leaves Perron and Gagner to flank a new 2nd line center which I sinserely hope is not an 18 year old.

          This just further shows how one dimensional our top 9 fwds truly are. Out of the 9 I think Hall, RNH, and Perron are the keepers which leaves Yak, Eberle, and Gagner as trade bait. We so desperately need diversity in our top 9. Sadly I think Mac doesnt trade for any forwards and instead tries through free agency to improve the D while rushing yet another 18 year old into either 2C or 3C.

          • Brad 21

            How about Josh Bailey as 3rd line left winger you could get him for a second or third rounder. He’s a 35-40 point guy at 3.3 million for the next 3 seasons pretty reasonable. Bailey-Drafted center-Yak has a ring to it.

  • Reg Dunlop

    For those of you personally affronted by criticism of comrade Yak, rest easy as help may be around the corner. When the oil call out the name Draisaitl on Friday the heat will be off Yak as the new future whipping boy will be official. I say this because, well, the kid looks like Phil Esposito, and that’s not a good thing. I mean, the kid can’t skate. You can’t skate you can’t play in today’s NHL. Sorry folks but this is not going to end well.

  • It’s a disaster waiting to happen if MacT is planning on using RNH and whoever we draft as our top 2 centers. We need a big vet center for the top 6 in the worst way. And a d-man who can eat minutes and push everybody else down 1 spot on the depth chart. Those 2 things are necessary if we want to see major improvement this year IMO.

    • camdog

      It was time for Smith and Buchberger to move on. The head coach needs to surround himself with capable coaches whom are more loyal to him than the President or the GM. It doesn’t work any other way.

      Smith has value as a coach, however I doubt Bucky will ever coach in another organization.

  • I hope the Oilers will draft Draisaitl, also if Ekblad would be there. With Marincin, Klefbom and especially Nurse the Oilers have very sound D-prospects with Nurse potentially beeing a future top-pairing guy. I think Draisaitl would really fit on a line with Yakupov, he would be the perfect playmaker for Yak.

    Overpay for both Grabo and Kulemin and the whole forward lineup would already look much better.


  • Yak made it clear last season that he needs to be sheltered. He isn’t ready for anything other than the soft parade, however, he also made it known the year prior that he has the ability to lead this team in goal scoring.

    Yak has a ton of problems in his game, but don’t be surprised if he earns his way in to the top six by game 40 this season. His qual of linemates will be rough, and his toi low, but I don’t believe he will sit lower on the depth chart than gags and perron for more than another season or two AT MOST. After that, I bet he surpasses ebs 2 years later. But for now, third line makes sense

  • Brad 21

    AS THE STOMACH TURNS : Derek ZONA has a good article on MACT’s club for this season , and it is not a pretty one .
    Defence we have 4 . If you include Nurse , Marincin and Klefbom that still only makes 6 . Nikiten would make 7 . Like it or not that is our best option , nothing in rest of AHL squad any better of options.
    Forwards : We have 10 with Arcobello and Gadzik . With Joensuee and Landers and 3RD PICK this draft we still only have 13 .
    Goalies : At least we have 2 .

    Yakupov is still one of two natural RW on our club , and like it or not still the best option for top two lines . After they got rid of Hemsky he should have moved up rather than have others move out of position to fill another unfilled position by MacT . What has MacT. added since ? What a bind he has put this team in . Did he really think he could just add decent players so easily to the holes he has created on our squad ?

    I sure don’t like the looks of what we appear to have now , and I doubt that can even beat Buffalo next year . Read the article and graph and I think you’ll see what I mean . We have to rush these players as it will still be our best option .

  • The Last Big Bear

    Replacing Hemsky , Smyth , Jones with the likes of Joensuu ,Arcobello and Landers is not upgrading . While i’m on Smyth , might he be bought back to replace/fill the vacancy left by Steve Smith ?

    • Zarny

      You do realize free agency hasn’t started yet right? The Oilers can’t actually go hard after anyone right now.

      Doubtful Joensuu, Arcobello and Lander are the replacements by the end of the summer.

      • I realize like everyone else does I suspect . How will we fair is the question and is debateable , and I for one am not that optimistic . I’m in a show me state not enjoying current weaknesses of our roster . It’s easy to say he will fill / shore up some , but the last ones are far from making us a decent/ good/better squad ?

  • Zarny

    Where Yak plays will be up to him. I’m sure he’ll get a look on the top 2 lines during pre-season.

    If he learned from last year and works his butt off this summer there should be improvement. Given his potential there could be significant improvement but we’ll have to see.

    I’ve been a card carrying member of the “Gagner Doesn’t Compliment Nuge” fan club for years but until they find a replacement moving him to the wing will only cause more problems.

    If the long term plan is for 3 scoring lines then Gagner may be the perfect 3C. His deficiencies are well documented but discounting 40+ pts in 6 of 7 seasons (including pro-rated lockout) is foolish. Florida didn’t have a single player reach 40 pts last year. Most teams only have 4-5 players who top 40 pts. You don’t throw that away.

    • The Last Big Bear

      The perfect 3C does not make $5m, and is not defensively questionable-at-best.

      15-ish goal and 40- ish point undersized playmaking centres who are suspect defensively and have no finish ARE a dime-a-dozen in the NHL.

      Those are the Kyle Wellwoods, Matt Stajans, and Roman Cervenkas of the league.

      Wellwood scored at a 15-ish goal and 40-ish point pace pretty much his entire career, and has 20 points in 40 career playoff games too. He also struggled to stay in the NHL, even at a fraction of Gagner’s salary.

      Stajan was the same story as Gagner, a young highly-touted slightly undersized playmaking center prospect thrown into top-6 duty as a teenager. Similar production (peaking at 21 goals and 57 points), who never really lived up to the hype. The only reason Stajan is still in the league is because be re- invented himself and embraced the role of a veteran hard- minutes defensive centre.

      Roman Cervenka is an offensive centre who scored at an 18 goal and 37 point pace despite limited minutes, where’s he now?

      Centremen who play a soft game and put up numbers while being poor defensively are not some hard-to-find commodity in the NHL. Nobody outside of Edmonton is drooling over the chance to pay $5m on a long- term contract for one.

      • Wellwood broke 40 3 times and had less than 30 every other year. Don’t compare him to Gagner if you want to talk “pace” either because his usual pace was around 30 and Gagner’s is around 50.

        Stajan only cracked 40 twice.

        Cervenka played less than 40 games, and again, “pace” is not your friend in this argument.

      • Zarny

        Good grief, get a grip on reality.

        Gagner makes $4.8M; not $5M. Long-term contract? He’s signed for 2 more years.

        Kyle Wellwood is 31 y/o and only hit 40 pts three times in his career. In 489 GP he has 235 PTS. Matt Stajan is also 30 y/o and has only hit 40 pts three times in his career.

        Over 82 games Wellwood and Stajan both average 39 PTS in their career.

        Gagner has 295 pts over 481 GP and had topped 40 pts more times when he was 23 than either Wellwood or Stajan did their entire careers lol. Over 82 games Gagner averages 50 pts which is almost 30% better than both Wellwood and Stajan.

        Roman Cervenka? ROFLMAO! Now you’re just desperate.

        There is also the reality that the peak age for production for the average NHLer is 25; followed by 26, 24, 27, 28, 29 and 30. So you can expect a slight bump in Gagner’s numbers over the next 5-7 years since it happens to virtually every NHL player.

        Whether you like it or not; 40+ pt players are not dime-a-dozen in the NHL. It’s asinine to suggest that.

        Everyone gets it; you don’t like Gagner. Your entire argument however, is based on rounding Sam’s salary up and comparing him to players whose stats after they have completed the prime of their careers are 30% worse than Gagner’s.

        Which means you have no point. Full stop.

        • The Last Big Bear

          My point was not to claim that any of these players out-produced Gagner.

          My point was that these are all one-way centres who play a soft game and are poor defensively, who put up good production numbers despite being borderline NHLers.

          Your retort is that Gagner scores 0.01 GPG and 0.1 PPG more than waiver-wire material?


          There is nothing wrong with the production of any of these guys. The problem is that putting up assists is the ONLY thing Gagner is any good for. And that just doesn’t cut it for an NHL centreman, and sure as heck doesn’t cut it for a $5m salary and a cap hit of $4.8m.

          • The Last Big Bear

            1) I argued soft one-dimensional undersized playmaking centres with *similar* pace. You are the one who jumped on ‘pace’, completely ignored the fact that their goals-per-game pace is virtually identical, and made like a 0.1 PPG difference should make the case between the KHL and a $4.8m NHL contract.

            2) If you don’t see the similarity between undersized one-dimensional 15-ish goal centres, then you’re not paying attention.

            3) DSF was a Canucks fan, wasn’t he? I’m a Flames fan. Also, I’m far too lazy to run multiple accounts on a hockey blog for two years.

          • I brought up pace because you compared the 82 game pace for those other players to Gagner’s actual total. It’s an extremely dishonest argument and your math is wrong.

            Now after the fact you switch to goals because you were wrong and are grasping to save your point, but it isn’t an argument that helps you. There are plenty of useful playmaking centers in the NHL.

          • The Last Big Bear

            Yes, I said Gagner’s numbers are “similar” to players producing 15-ish goals and 40-ish points.

            And about 2 sentences later I said Gagner’s numbers were also “similar” to Stajan’s 21 goals and 57 points. Numbers which he’s never actually hit.

            This is your idea of extremely dishonest? Because I’m pretty sure both of those statements are true, and don’t require any “math”.

            And I’m pretty sure I referenced goals and/or goal scoring pace as a metric in literally every single sentence which contained any reference to scoring numbers. This was not an “after the fact”.

          • Zarny

            No, your point was an asinine comparison of Gagner to 2 vastly inferior players.

            I’ll grant you their styles and deficiencies are similar but that’s it. Gagner is much better player offensively. His worst season ever was 37 pt in 67 games after getting his jaw broken. Wellwood and Stajan have both had much worse seasons when healthy. It’s a ridiculous comparison.

            You also conveniently ignore Gagner’s lockout season which most Gagner haters like to do. You can certainly debate what he would have finished with but he clearly would have topped 20 G and 55 pts which is what his contract was based on given that he was 23 y/o at the time.

            You know who Gagner matches up with really well with statistically? The guy drafted immediately after him in 2007…Jakub Voracek.

            Sam Gagner 295 PT in 481 games. Voracek has 291 PT in 449 games.

            And now we get to putting up assists is the ONLY thing Gagner is good for. So 20 G is now some magical number? Assists just don’t cut it for a $5M centerman hey?

            You should probably tell that to Nicklas Backstrom and Joe Thornton who finished last year with 18 and 11 G respectively. Or David Krejci who only had 19 G. Jiri Hudler from your Calgary Flames is obviously a flaming pile of dung considering he managed only 17 G.

            Here is the thing…borderline NHLers and elite superstars aren’t the only types of players in the NHL. Gagner is a classic 2nd and 3rd line tweener.

            If his offense rebounds to his lockout season pace he’s a legit 2nd line C with poor defensive habits. Guess what…most players in the NHL have bad defensive habits compared to the guys like Bergeron and Datsyuk. That doesn’t mean Gagner is a borderline NHLer. To suggest that is beyond absurd.

            If Gagner’s offense stays in the 40-50 pt range then he’ll be a very good 3C or a poor 2C given his deficiencies.

            And if you think a 40+ pt C is not a very good 3C then you haven’t been paying attention to what the best teams have been icing as a 3C in the NHL.

        • Thank you. Posts like these are shining beacons in a sea of dumb.

          Trade Gagner if it makes sense and we get full value in an area we desperately need – I get that. But hate him because he’s not the hockey equivalent of a bro truck? That’s weak.

    • Randaman

      Most of the time I agree with you Zarny but why do we have to compare ourselves to the Panthers to make your point? Can’t we aim a little higher? Gagner should be traded for anything we can get. That is unless MacT absolutely chokes this summer.

  • Joy S. Lee

    It will be a great opportunity for Yak to learn the game from a sheltered position for a while. I hope he is encouraged to create offense, and not just learn defense.

    As the quality of the forwards is improved, Yakupov will benefit. He needs a quality center to support him. Someone mentioned Draisaitl being a perfect fit, and they may be right, as Yak’s choppy stop and start game could be complimented by a power center.

    Plus, I suspect he’s going to bring a new mindset next year; don’t be surprised if he lights it up. This kid is determined… there’s a fire inside. He passionately hated last year, and that passion can be converted to growth, and October 2014 may be when we really see it. I eagerly anticipate (and hope for) the “Rise of Yak.”

  • camdog

    What’s Gangers excuse going to be this year? I know. Well the reason he sucks this year is because he had to readjust to playing the wing.
    Give him half the year to prove himself and if he still sucks ship him out.

  • Brad 21

    I know it seems like the sky is falling and we need to make huge changes but let’s breakdown last season into 2 parts.
    1) Before MacT trades for Ben Scrivens pre- Jan.15 (15-29-5)oilers earn 35 of a possible 98 points 36%
    2) After MacT trades for Ben Scrivens post-Jan. 15 (14-15-4)oilers earn 32 of a possible 66 points 48%
    That would have put us a measley 12 points out of the playoffs if we had Scrivens and Fasth all season. 6 wins. I am not saying this team does not need to get better it does but it is not as bad as everybody thinks.
    Having competent goaltending changes a whole teams attitude on how to play the game.Look no further than 2006 before we traded for Roloson we were a terrible team. The team played scared because they didn’t know if Markkanen or Conklin would stop the puck or let another bad one in.
    Hell look at Colorado they only made minor adjustments. The difference? Varlamov 2012-13 .903 save percentage 3.02 GAA 29 shots against per game. 2013-14 .927 save percentage 2.41 GAA 32 shots against per game. He literally gave up .61 goals against less this year while the defence gave up 3 more shots per game. Would have Colorado have been as good if they had Dubnyk in net this year. Not even close they would still be cellar dwellers and they better hope that Varlamov is the real deal or they are in huge trouble.
    We are close is all I’m saying so don’t wager the future for short term fixes. These kids will be one year more experienced when the season starts and one year closer to their true potential.

    • camdog

      Wow. So you consider 14-15-4 a successÉ Not to mention Scrivens posted that record while standing on his head.

      The Oil need a massive overhaul of their defence and more diversity in their top 9. Mac has a hell of a lot of work to do to change this team into a contender. Dont kid yourself

      • Brad 21

        Yes I do think it’s a success. I know it’s a small sample size I get it. You know the last time we were a 500 team or better? 2008-09 we went 38-35-9 and still missed the playoffs by 6 points. So yeh if we are in the hunt for a playoff spot come March and we are playing meaningful games I would consider that a success wouldn’t you? When was the last time we were actually able to have hope come January 1st? I would love to see 500 hockey.It would be a step in the right direction.

        • Playing at a .500 pace is not going to get you anywhere near playoff contention, especially in the west. And like I said before the Oilers where getting badly outplayed and Scrivens was standing on his head down the stretch.

          I just hope that with a revamped defence we can minimize the 40+ shots against games.

    • camdog

      DD put together a few good runs when there was no pressure on him to win. However when the games were meaningful he collapsed.

      Scrivens has put together a few good runs when he had no pressure to win, however when the pressure was on him to win at the World Championships he collapsed.

      The most games Scrivens has played in an NHL season is 40 and Fasth played 25 one season. Going into this season there should be as many questions about our goaltending as there was last season. I guess we well cross our fingers and hope for the best like we did last season.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Hmm, lets see, who’s a better comparison for Sam Gagner, a young Matt Stajan, or Joe Thornton… Let me think…

    Getting right down to it, I’m not even questioning Gagner’s skill. It’s more his combination of skills that’s the problem. I agree that his overall talent level is that of a middle-6 NHLer, but he has a bad combination of skills to be a centreman at the NHL level.

    In a league full of round holes, he’s a triangular-shaped peg. Nobody needs a one-dimensional offence-only centre on the 3rd line.

    He needs size on his line to be effective. He needs goal-scoring finish on his line to be effective. He needs defensively responsible players on his line to be effective. Those are not assets that most teams can push all the way down to the 3rd line.

    Going back to the Matt Stajan comparison, once it became clear that Stajan had hit his peak as an undersized 20-goal 50-point centre with no defence, that was nearly the end of him in the NHL. In the right circumstances that might fly, but la lot of teams in the NHL have no use for that kind of player.

    I think that’s the situation Gagner is headed towards. The Oilers certainly seem to have little use for him in that role, and they’re dying for centremen.

    Stajan was able to resurrect his career by applying his talents to a completely different role, ie a hard-minutes shut-down centre. I think Gagner may be forced to make a similar change (ie moving to the wing), or he could likewise end up playing out a long-term contract on the 4th line of a team that has no place for him.