Hypocrite or Not?

After months of speculation, Brian Burke got his man. Phil Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a first and a second round pick in 2010, along with a first round pick in 2011. It's a pressure trade that Boston had no choice but to make and for a player like Kessel, had Boston been in a different cap situation, should have fetched more in return.

For many fans in Edmonton, the way this trade went down is subject to comment and likely much debate. How is it, that a GM (Brian Burke) who so publicly attacks another GM (Kevin Lowe) for the manner in which he employs a hockey player, can do everything but actually submit an RFA offer sheet without finding himself subject to the same set of public tyranny? Simple. When your name is Brian Burke, apparently the same rules don't apply.

I'll start this off by saying, I'm a fan of what Burke is doing in Toronto. I don't think they've significantly improved their ability to make the playoffs, but Kessel gives them much needed fire power upfront and Burke has made his team much tougher to play against with the defensive corps he's put together. He's well on the way to improving that team in strides.

That said, let's take a look at how this trade finally came to fruition.

Burke tried to trade for Kessel at the NHL Draft. He couldn't make the deal because he wasn't willing to give up his first round draft pick and Tomas Kaberle. In similar fashion, before Lowe was labeled the GM who ruined hockey by Burke; Lowe explored methods to obtain a goal scorer. Through free agency and trades, he wasn't able to accomplish it. My point being, an RFA offer was neither's first choice.

As the summer wore on, Burke kept a close eye on the situation in Boston. The Bruins did, in a way, create their own problems and introduction to disaster when they added Derek Morris at the expense of salary cap space, but Burke was well aware of what Boston could and couldn't do salary wise as was Lowe when he made an offer to Dustin Penner.

When the conversations with the Bruins didn't amount to a done deal, Burke went out and put the pieces together to make an RFA offer. I don't believe Burke had intended to make an offer at that point, and if you ask, he'll probably deny his plan to do so, however; it was always Burke's goal to use the ability to make an RFA offer as leverage to convince the Bruins to move a player they'd have liked to keep on their roster, but couldn't afford. 'Don't trade him to me, I'll make an offer' was his thinking. It's near impossible to deny such a large coincidence at this point.

Side Note** Funny, I remember the same issue in Anaheim as the Ducks wanted to keep Penner but couldn't afford the $4.25 million he was offered by the Oilers and didn't feel he was worth that much. At the time, Burke immediately bashed Lowe for inflating the prices of players not worth money based on one year of production. He hid behind the fact that he didn't think offer sheets were necessarily a bad thing, but that offering money like what the Oilers did Penner was beyond reasonable. I always wondered what Burke thought reasonable would have been... just enough to allow Anaheim to match it and keep the team under the cap? I guess we'll never really know.

Penner is no Kessel, and I don't for one second want to suggest that to this point Penner has proven to be worth the value of his pay scale; but hmmm... did Kessel ever eclipse 37 points before last years break out 36 goals? Nope. Not to mention, Kessel has a reputation for being a poor teammate, a bit injury prone and somewhat of a me first style player and poor leader. It's likely Kessel will produce at high levels again, but there's no pattern yet to prove it.

Had this trade not gone through, we'd have really found out if Burke is what he says he is -- blunt and in your face, but honest. To me it doesn't matter. He paid Kessel $5.4 million over 5 years. That's far more than he's proven to be worth at this point. Toronto doesn't have anywhere near the depth the Bruins do and as a Maple Leaf, Kessel will lack the linemates to set him up and he'll be asked to do a lot more on his own that ever before. It will be interesting to see if he can do it.

Burke never got around to making the RFA offer, but had we not seen this trade, my money says he'd have gotten there. While Kessel's new salary will be more highly defended by many than Dustin Penner, it's a gross overpayment in an NHL where bargains are everywhere. I'll argue that even for the Oilers who have to overpay almost everyone, $5.4 million is more than they'd have offered up for Kessel like Toronto did. Especially after he'd gone out and said how badly he wanted to be a Maple Leaf.

On a completely unrelated note: I'm glad to see Comrie was able to prove me right. He had a huge night and was motivated like no one else playing in the NHL last night. Good for him, and the fans who realized it's about hockey, effort and wins. Despite Comrie's past, he's here to help in all three departments.


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The Oilers Big Ticket Items Hit Rexall

I suppose at $1.125 million, Comrie isn't considered a big ticket item. If I had to guess though, a few tickets were sold to Fridays Florida Panthers vs Edmonton Oilers match-up because Comrie looks to be in the line-up and will make his return to Edmonton home ice.

Whether those tickets get purchased to boo Comrie or cheer him remains to be seen, but Comrie is aware he has a lot to prove out on the ice tomorrow and I for one, would put money on him having a big game. I can't remember a time when a player has probably been more motivated to make a good showing infront of his home crowd as Comrie might be for Edmonton.

"There will probably be fans going both ways, hopefully some cheers, but some people will want me to play well to earn back that respect and I obviously know that" said Comrie after another hard practice at Millennium Place on Thursday. Words spoken by a guy who knows performing well is his only option. This won't be new for Comrie who was well are that when he chose to sign with Edmonton in the first place, he was going to be watched closely under the very vocal and sometimes unforgiving Oiler fans. For me, forgive and forget and help the team win; is a better option and with the focus shown by Comrie thus far I expect him to do just that.

Not to be outdone, a few more tickets will be sold Friday because new free agent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin will also make his Edmonton Oiler debut and is anxious to get that first game this season with his new team underway. Unlike Comrie, who's had a chance to play a game in an Edmonton uniform this year; Khabibulin has yet to see game action and from the comments he's made about his start on Friday, he's understandably nervous.

Bulin really wanted to practice with the team a couple times before seeing real official game minutes. This tells me good things and bad. Good that he wants to win no matter what type of game it is and must really hold himself accountable when he might be the cause of a few goals against -- especially if he doesn't feel prepared with new teammates. Bad in that I'm a bit surprised that a goalie of his experience isn't just ready to go from the day training camp gets underway. Most goalies don't want to sit on the sidelines and take it in, they want the action and the pressure of being that man between the pipes.

Needless to say, I also expect Khabibulin to be sharp and if he is, that bodes well for the Oilers who will have had strong performances from all goalies looking at playing for this team in 2009/2010 and for fans who in some cases are still questioning the signing of Khabibulin at his age to a four year deal.

Oiler fans have something to really get behind at Fridays game. Sure it means nothing in the standings, it's against Florida and the team will be icing a plethora of players that won't see NHL action this year, but that won't matter because all eyes will be on numbers 91 and 35. I'm sure they won't dissappoint.

Game Predictions:

Comrie - 1 goal and 1 assist
Khabibulin - 16 saves for no goals allowed in about 30 minutes of game action.


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Oilers Officially Out of the Kessel Sweepstakes

While the Oilers were never really in serious contention, we're being told that the Oilers are officially done any form of pursuit with Boston for the rights to sign Phil Kessel. Not only would the trade have been difficult to facilitate, but the Oilers have decided that they'll be looking to the future of the organization in players like Eberle, Svensson and Omark to make the impact that a $5 million player like Kessel might make.

Because the Oilers are so financially strapped and can't trade back salary like they would have in the Heatley deal, Kessel just doesn't fit in, when you consider that a number contracts will be on the books for the Oilers over the next couple seasons and it would take at least a 3-4 year deal to keep Kessel for the dollars. Or at the worst a very high salary one year contract.

There are a number of other teams in the running for Kessel led by the Toronto Maple Leafs. That deal could be done in a day or two, but Minnesota, Nashville and The New York Rangers have contacted the Bruins about making a trade.

Sources say from the Rangers perspective, they may include a player like Dubinsky to get that deal done. Dubinsky is reportedly looking for at least a $1.4 million dollar deal and Boston, while tight, should be able to make that kind of deal work.


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Slimming Down

As per the Oilers website, the following players have been assigned to other destinations and for this year, their camp with the Edmonton Oilers is complete.

Assigned to Springfield (AHL): Jamie Bates (RW), Jordan Bendfeld (D), Kelly Czuy (RW), Jesse Dudas (D), Riley Emmerson (LW), Colton Fretter (LW), Bryan Lerg (LW), Ryan MacMurchy (RW), Matt Nickerson (D),
Andrew Perugini (G), Cody Wild (D)

Assigned to Barrie (OHL): Dalton Prout (D)

Assigned to Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL): Philipe Cornet

The Oilers now have 48 players on their roster and will start to give action only to those with a slight prayer of making the Oilers roster even though
there are still quite a few names, that are obvious selections for the next round of cuts. With 3 games in 3 nights starting Friday, the Oilers need to keep some depth around so as to not risk injury or exhaustion going into the season. You can bet after Sundays game, we'll see another waive of cuts and some real competition amongst those forwards looking to slot themselves in somewhere.

None of the players on this list have really stood out in any way thus far, but it was probably a great feeling to get some NHL experience under their belt.


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Nip It In the Bud...

Wednesday night had a lot of "nip it in the bud" type references. From the TSN interview with MacTavish, introducing his new position as a TSN analyst, to the post game comments by Pat Quinn about the Oilers performance in a 3-2 victory over the Islanders, I sensed a recurring theme -- the desire by those both old and new in the Oilers organization to make a change to the unsuccessful areas of their hockey team.

As always, Craig MacTavish and his dry sense of humor had me intently tuned in to his via satellite interview with James Duthie. Eager to see how he'd answer some questions about his exit from the Oilers organization, Mac-T didn't dissappoint. If this brief TSN video tells us anything about how MacTavish will be as an analyst, we're in for some funny and witty moments.

Duthie: Did you resign or were you fired from your job in Edmonton?

There's no need... they're both similar results. I tabled the fact that a change should be made and it was quickly supported unanimously by everybody -- including the players, management and myself. We all knew at the time, change had to be made.

An honest refreshing answer as it seems everyone involved understood that it was past the point of fixing. Players and coaches weren't responding to each other, thus that relationship and the frustration that went along with it had to be "nipped in the bud".

A funny moment was Duthie's reference to the dislike of MacTavish for the media to which MacTavish quickly agreed, even though he is now one of them.

The game against the Islanders was entertaining. I found myself at certain points excited about the overall effort with the likes of Jordan Eberle, Cogliano and Gagner. In the same breath though, I was ready to throw things around my house at the same mistakes by some of the same players. The indifference of a player like Hemsky, the over-carry of the puck and easy give-aways by Nilsson and Gagner and the constant inability for Souray to take just a bit of his shots to hit the net, drove me mad. (although it was entertaining to see how into it Rexall Place got when he broke the glass twice on two successive shots).

I didn't stay frustrated long after the game as one of the first things I noticed was the continuity amongst player and Quinn comments that these mistakes needed to be minimized and it was a focus of the team to do so.

There were points when I could see Gagner nodding his understanding when Quinn would point out the errors, or when Souray would sense (and admitted to it later), that the coaches were trying to keep the players honest. Quinn wanted to "nip it in the bud" and unlike their lack of focus to MacTavish and his instructions, the players responded quickly to Quinn, which is a fantastic sign.

It won't be long before players buy into and understand the system being run, which I think in many ways will reduce a lot of the errors being made that don't need to be.

Perhaps when all is said and done, as MacTavish admitted during his interview; the players, the coaches and everyone else involved with the Oilers, will have nipped enough in the bud to make it to the post-season.


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Tavares to Make NHL Debut Against the Oilers Tonight

He didn't play the first game, but he'll be playing the second as Jonathan Tavares suits up for his first ever NHL game (pre-season) against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place at 7pm tonight. Between Tavares and the always fun to watch Doug Weight, this is the first time, in a long time I can remember being excited to watch the New York Islanders play hockey.

Not to be outdone, the Oilers will be dressing Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Jordan Eberle, Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner. Outside of the last name mentioned, (but he's got good hands so don't discount him too much), this will be a showcase of some real skill and fast paced hockey tonight and it should be exciting to watch.

The Oilers came off a 4-1 win last night over a very depleted Calgary roster. Players Patrick O'Sullivan, Mike Comrie, Tom Gilbert and especially Ryan Stone had excellent showings against Calgary and Robert Nilsson and Jordan Eberle look to do the same if they're to crack this Oilers roster out of camp. I agree with many, that Nilsson and Comrie might be in direct competition for a spot on this team, so Nilsson needs to be on his "A" game.

I'll be watching to see if Dubnky and Deslauriers can repeat fairly strong performances and how Eberle does againt some higher level competition with higher end teammates. Of course, I'll also be keeping an eye of Tavares to see how he sets himself apart as most feel he'll be a lock for rookie of the year at seasons end.

There might be a few players on the verge of being cut after tonights game, so it might be worth watching names like Slava Trukhno, Jake Taylor, Bryan Young and Phillipe Cornet. Someone like Cornet may stick just for the depth required for the Oilers to finish their last 3 games in 3 nights, but with the coaching staff focused on systems play and special teams, they'll want to give as much time to those that need to learn it as possible on the ice to work out any kinks.

Should be a good game and half priced tickets are on sale now.


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Would You Give More than Two #1 Picks and a 2nd for Kessel?

As was reported by TSN, the Bruins have asked for two first round picks and a 2nd rounder for Kessel should a trade be completed with Toronto. What I find interesting, is the fact that when this news was reported, those reporting it specifically mentioned the Maple Leafs. Now is this to mean that Boston only wants to deal with Toronto? For some reason I doubt it.

If you were another team that showed interest, what would you be willing to give? We did something similar with Dustin Penner, and many will argue that didn't turn out well, while others are still waiting; but by most accounts, Kessel brings a lot more than Penner does for the draft picks in return. He lacks size, but he's capable of being a 70 point player, which Dustin Penner would have to turn water into wine to achieve.

What would Edmonton be willing to offer to give a bit more the Bruins, thus making Toronto not the only viable option? Would they take a couple first round picks and a couple prospects, thus sweetening the deal to get Edmonton in the door?

Yes, there are a lot of hurdles the Oilers would have to jump even to fit Kessel in at this point. If we thought we had too many forwards (which we do), we'd be in real tight with Kessel, so any trade would likely have to include a few of the players in camp on the cusp of cracking the team.

My question to readers -- what would you be willing to give up for Kessel?. I'd at least make a phone call to see. Keep in mind, you'll be expected to pay between $4.5 and $5 million just to add him to roster after you complete the trade.


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The Most Important Words to Come Out of Training Camp So Far

I'm not ignorant to the fact that there are a number of writers, bloggers, fans and you name its writing tidbits about every inch of the first three days of training camp thus far. I find, like them; that it's more entertaining to watch specific players as they show their stuff in a setting that allows them the opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, skill alone won't be the main element that allows some of these players to make this team.

The way Quinn has been public in his ideas of what will make this a successful team, leads me to believe we might see a few surprises when the final roster for the Edmonton Oilers is announced for October 3rd. It won't have much to do with the skill level of the players in that game, but how they demonstrated their ability to match that skill with an understanding of a few keys words that Pat Quinn made perfectly clear were important for this team.


It was immediately evident that Quinn, Renney, Fleming and Buchberger have a system they'd like the Oilers to play. One that involves getting the puck out of the defensive zone as quickly as possible, quick passes and possibly even quicker shots on net. A system that emphasizes the importance of puck retrieval and puck possession.

It's a new system for this team and one that some players admitted was the focus of their first couple days. They understood as the coaches do, that the players best able to showcase their skills within the confines of the system set before them will have the best chance to make the starting 23 man roster.


It is well understood that the coaches here, while not yet completely familiar with all the players and faces, know damn well what they have to work with. They've been surprised in a few cases, but reaffirmed in their belief that they won't necessarily have that superstar number one line that some teams do. A balance of scoring depth in the form of three, maybe even four balanced depth lines will be how the Oilers succeed.

They'll be looking to four or five 20 goal scorers over creating one or two 30 to 40 goal guys and the way they plan to sort this line-up of forwards will likely mean we aren't looking at creating a point a game type player. Not a big surprise to anyone since it's likely we don't have that level of skill on this roster anyways.


Much of the first two on ice days were spent looking at possible pairings for the season. Quinn is a firm believer in the "there's two guys you always remember" theory of line creation. The Gretzky/Kurri and the other guy line. Or the Messier/Anderson and the third man out there unit. They'll be spending some time trying to see which pairings make the most sense.

Thus far, it seems that Hemsky and Horcoff will be one and Gagner and Penner another, rotating the third man to find the best match for those pairings. It might be important for some of the players on the cusp of making this team to see how they can fit themselves into a pairing, instead of that 3rd man type role. After all, while you want to be flexible to the coaches; nobody wants to be that easy to move or replace on the line type player.

First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make a first impression isn't exactly true when you're at a tryout camp for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009. There are at least 5-6 players currently at camp that have a shot at working their way into the line-up if they can demonstrate their understanding of the above mentioned words Quinn has uttered frequently.

Players like Brule, Schremp, Potulny, Reddox, Eberle, Pouliot, Nilsson and others who are part of the constant debate as final cuts truly have a chance to make a strong case for their place on the Oilers roster. Proving they can be complimentary players in the system set out by the coaches, providing balance on any line and perhaps finding the right home with a player that makes you hard to cut, could be the secret to pushing them over that final hump.

More now than in a long time, I expect to see a few surprises announced when they introduce the starting lines for the first game of the year and that the team won't be made up of pure skill, but players who were able to think the game and understand the style and system of play better and faster than the rest.

There's a lot of new information being thrown around at camp and it will take fast learners to get this team off to a good start.


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Good First Impressions...Nilsson Might Surprise a Few People.

Jason Gregor did some great work over at Oilersnation keeping us up to date on what was happening at training camp on Day 1. A few of the notes, with some observations thrown in:

The Good

Patrick O'Sullivan looks to be getting a good crack at the 1st LW spot and is excited about the opportunity. That said, an interview with Quinn today stressed that the Oilers might be able to run 3, possibly 4 balanced lines thanks to some unexpected size he wasn't aware the team possessed. "Pairings" was the word of the day for Quinn and the spot O'Sullivan holds after Day 1 seems flexible.

The net result means a possible separation of Horcoff and Hemsky, while they look for the best possible "pairing" that helps the team. Day 2 should see a different set of players together to test that theory.

The Somewhat Surprising but Positive

Dustin Penner and Zack Stortini looked a step faster. That's nice to see considering they'll be asked not only to be more physical but keep up offensively. This is likely an easier thing for Penner to do and he showed some evidence of his soft hands for a big man, but I see a big year for Stortini under Quinn's guidance. Stortini has proven to be a coach's type player and eager to not only follow instructions, but execute them beyond what is expected by a player of his skill level. He's got the size Quinn wants and more of an ability to score and produce offensively than I think many give him credit for.

Rob Schremp did a good job of getting noticed, when it's of critical importance he do just that. Based on the opinion of a lot of experts and many of the readers of this site, Schremp is currently among the forwards on the outside looking in and getting off to a good start is huge. His 5 on 5, wasn't the greatest which supports many of the negative comments about his game, but in odd-man situations and in sheer areas of skill he was better than almost anyone on the ice on Day 1. He'll need to keep that up if he has a prayer of staying put.

The Not So Good

Both Gilbert Brule and Oliver Roy left Sundays session a bit early due to what might be slight injury. Roy is expected among the first cuts on the roster and is really only going to be here for any length of time as will some others because Quinn stressed the importance of the team being an "organization" off the bat. Any injury, which we hear is minor won't affect the Oilers.

For Brule, this would be a bad sign for a forward really needing to make this team based on what he shows in camp. If he doesn't get the chance to, he's in tough and any spot he had a chance to earn could go to a Pouliot or another forward.

While not exactly having to compete for a roster spot, news on Lubomir Visnovsky's injury isn't terrible, but it isn't terrific either. Visnovsky could miss close to, if not all of camp thanks to his shoulder not quite being ready for contact and lacking full rotation. He's skating, running drills and learning the new system, but major competition isn't in the cards for him quite yet. He says it's a matter of a week, but the Oilers will most likely play it safe and only give him non-physical action for the next little while.

Mike Comrie didn't really have a chance to get noticed on Day 1, but I expect that to change on Day 2 as he'll get a much closer look in a top pairing. I wouldn't be surprised to see him lined up with Hemsky on Monday.

Under The Excellent News Section

Robert Nilsson. If you look around this site and many others, you'll notice a recurring theme. Nilsson seems to be the forward least likely to stick on the Edmonton roster when last year he was handed a spot. That said, both Nilsson and Quinn seem to have a different read on the situation and Nilsson could shock a few fans.

Pat Quinn was more than positive in his comments on Nilsson and what was showed on the first day of camp. Nilsson to his credit looked fantastic and Quinn's high hopes for the forward, considering his lack of experience with him could be warranted and from the tone of Quinns comments, Nilsson is only a few pieces shy of being one of Edmonton's better players.

An interview after Day 1 revealed that Quinn is very high on Nilsson's skill level and considers last years dissappointing season to be odd, more than a reflection of the player himself. Reading between the lines suggests Nilsson just needs to find that extra gear to stay competitive and remain the type of player he's capable of. Quinn did admit that Nilsson will be challenged for a roster spot thanks to the sheer number of forwards trying out, but something tells me Nilsson will rise to that challenge and continue to impress the coach.

For fans, that's not news. We know of Nilsson's ability. What might be news is that Quinn seems to feel he can really get that out of Nilsson and it sounds like he's going to give opportunities for Nilsson to make it work.

Where he'll fit and for that matter a lot of other's on the roster is still yet to be determined. For the most part even Quinn admits to not knowing fully, although he did comment that the line-up, while being tweaked, is set for the first two pre-season games.

If Day 1, tells us anything, which it shouldn't completely yet; it's that Nilsson, O'Sullivan and a couple others have made good first impressions.


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