Which Penner Are We Dealing With Here?

There's a few things I'm eagerly anticipating for tonights (or at least this later afternoons) game against the Red Wings. In fact so much so, that in my absence from posting on this site due to the hustle and bustle of real life hitting me like a dump truck, I took a few mintues to share my thoughts.

Tonights game will tell me a lot about the new make-up of this team...

Which Penner Will We Get?

Dustin Penner by all accounts (if you're not a huge Oiler fan and watching every game) based on his numbers is having an alright season so far. In only 13 games played, Penner is on pace for 31 goals in an 82 game season and 44 points. The points category is shy, but 31 goals isn't something most fans would complain about.

The problem and the cause for some complaint amongst Oiler fans and media is Dustin's overall compete level from game to game. So much so, that trade talks have come up and teams like the Ottawa Senators have been rumored to have some interest.

With Shawn Horcoff still not ready to return, this is a chance for Dustin Penner to step-up his game. To be seen as a leader on this team with a lot of young rookies and show them that when one man -- an important one like your team captain -- goes down, the rest of the team needs to find another gear and get the job done.

That certainly didn't happen in Carolina.

Speaking of Young Guys

I'm extremely curious to watch how players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle come out of the gate tonight. I've yet to question Hall's compete level. He's made rookies mistakes and often tried to do too much, but he's also often been the most dangerous Oiler even when not getting his name added to the score sheet.

The benching by coach Tom Renney can't be sitting well with a player of Hall's compete level. I expect the first few minutes of the game for both Hall and Eberle to be quite interesting. I think as rookies, they'll be out to prove a point.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that neither like the idea of Jeff Skinner in Carolina being looked at as the leading candidate for the Calder trophy. Skinner right now is running away with the race, but it's early.

Break-out game?

We've yet to see a break-out game by any Oiler. Last season, while players weren't necessarily consistently getting on the scoreboard every game, it appeared that way because players like Gagner, Penner and Hemsky had 4 point nights in some games. That's yet to happen this season.

I'm not suggesting that of all the teams for which to break-out, we can expect it to happen against Detroit, but someone might need to get themselves rolling. Could there finally be a game that sees one line earn 12-13 points in one game? That would be nice.

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Game One: Horcoff Looked Like a Leader by the Prof

No surprise: the Oilers named veteran centre Shawn Horcoff as their new team captain on Wednesday. Bit of a surprise: Horcoff looked like a great leader on Thursday, playing well and seeming to inspire the young Oilers on and off the ice.

Here’s a bit of Oilers’ history. Horcoff is the15th player to wear the “C” since the team joined the WHA (in 1972) and the NHL (in 1979). Take a pencil: how many can you name right off the? Give yourself an A if you can name 10 Oilers’ captains and an extra point for naming the three Oilers’ captains who were also Oilers’ Head Coaches. [In case you want to check, see below.]

Horcoff succeeded Ethan Moreau, claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets last June after the Oilers put him on waivers. Horcoff is 32 – old for a hockey player – but young for a leader. He is starting his 10th NHL season, after Edmonton took him in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 1998 NHL entry draft.

So, how good can Horcoff be as a leader? He strikes me as a solid guy, with many leadership characteristics – except, perhaps, his ability to put up big goals and assists numbers – a trait that seems to be popular with other hockey teams but not, obviously, with the current Oilers. It seemed fitting that one bounced off him into the net – he was right where he had to be, blocking for the kids.

The Oilers need Horcoff to be a good leader because they need great leadership specifically and leadership is really important to any successful sports. A good captain can lead his team to success and can also help a young team and younger players be better. On the other hand, weak leadership skills can hinder a team’s chances of competing and bonding successfully – something last year’s Oilers know all too well.

What do the current Oilers need? Obviously, they need to escape injury and create space for young players to grow. But, the Oilers also need a leadership that provides emotional strength and models conditioning in every sense of the word – physical and mental. Leadership will be needed when more established teams benefit from biased officiating – we all know young teams don’t get all the calls veterans do. Sure, leadership does come from coaches, but leaders also emerge from within the team itself. Ergo, selecting a good captain is crucial.

Horcoff needs to do more than wear the captain’s “C.” He must also lead by his example and passionate belief that the team is more important than the individual. How he handles conflicts that eventually rise when the team loses (is there a chance they won’t?) a few close games and comes under pressure will be crucial. We don’t yet know how the youthful Oilers will act under stress, but we do know that Horcoff’s ability to handle problems will be crucial. How does he show his own anger? How does he behave professionally and responsibly despite his own personal feelings of frustration? All keys!

Here are a couple of other areas that sometimes slip under the radar. For example, how good will he be at building relationships with other members of the team, in good times and bad? For example, when a young player gets sent to the minors? I hope Horcoff takes each player – coming or going – aside. He clearly needs to talk with those going down or welcome those young players coming up for a shot. Plus, there is an extra burden being captain while still playing. It can be difficult to inspire, motivate, and raise team morale while you are trying to raise your own spirits.

So far, Horcoff has passed the test. We know he will be dependable. We bet he will be a good listener. We hope he will be motivating and inspiring, and will remain calm and positive under pressure. If he can do these things, he will only add to the Oiler’s success – whatever it might be – this season. We can hope for a great amount – the first positive step has been taken.

Team Captains
Note: This list includes Oiler captains from both the NHL and WHA.

Al Hamilton, 1972–76
Glen Sather, 1976–77
Paul Shmyr, 1977–79
Ron Chipperfield, 1979–80
Blair MacDonald, 1980–81
Lee Fogolin, 1981–83
Wayne Gretzky, 1983–88
Mark Messier, 1988–91
Kevin Lowe, 1991–92
Craig MacTavish, 1992–94
No Captain, 1994–95 (Lockout)
Shayne Corson, 1995
Kelly Buchberger, 1995–99
Doug Weight, 1999–2001
Jason Smith, 2001–07
Ethan Moreau, 2007–10
Shawn Horcoff, 2010–present

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The Oilers are Buying In

There is a funny scene in the movie The Replacements, when coach Jimmy McGinty asks his players what scares them on the field. Clifford Franklin talks about bees, and the whole conversation goes off the rails. But then, Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) adds: You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're in over your head. Like quicksand.

Last year, the Oilers learned about quicksand. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. They were sucked in and, as Clifford Franklin adds, Quicksand's a scary motha, man. I mean, first of all, it suck you right in, and even if you scream, you get all that muck in your mouth...

Well, the Oilers had it in their mouths – everywhere, actually. But, a recent quote by Dustin Penner hints that those days are over.

Penner is quoted, You never know when the stars could align. There's been a lot of change through the management and staff and the team, kind of a fresh start. We're changing the culture here. With that comes a new mindset and a new feeling. You can just tell it's a good feeling. I think we'll surprise some people.

This quote comes on the heels of an 8-2 victory over the Canucks – with both the youngsters and the veterans scoring goals – pretty heady stuff. Horcoff was leading and feeding the kids. The kids were coming through. And, Penner was feeling good. He should. He contributed; and, an 8 goal game is pretty rare. How rare? Well, all last year the Oilers didn’t have 8 goals. Not preseason. Not regular season. Eight goals is heady stuff.

If we look at his statement, we find a couple of really interesting and positive things. And it is the positive that holds the key to the Oilers’ year, I think. The Oilers have to keep thinking positive thoughts – which come easy when you are winning and much less easy when you aren’t. Positive thinking impacts one’s mental attitude and then one’s outward physical activities. But the mental is most important, because it produces growth and success. If the mental attitude expects results, the physical usually follows.

There is a lot of current talk about the “power of attraction,” which basically means that whatever people think will happen does happen. Some of this is downright goofy, but the idea that someone who anticipates happy, healthy, and successful outcomes will attract thos is far from ridiculous. What the head expects, the body finds.

The fragility of this positive feeling remains to be seen, but Penner’s words tell us it is present – and this is a good first step. That, of course, and a high skill set and a good game plan. But, Penner is right – as was Shane Falco: positive and negative thinking are both contagious.

Let’s hope this feeling rubs off on the team. Perhaps, in hockey, the positive or negative impact players have on each other is greater than in other sports. When things go well, they really go well. When they don’t, well – ask the 2009-10 Oilers. Already Penner is leading the team by affecting how the young players think. All people, not just hockey players, are disposed to help others who are positive and dislike and avoid those who are negative. In hockey, even truer!

We know that negative thoughts, words, and attitudes can be cancerous to a team – they bring with them unhappy actions. There is a physical aspect to this: when the mind is negative, real poisons are released into the blood. Such mental unhappiness and negativity then turn to physical failure and frustration. In hockey, that translates into losing.

Ok, Mr. Penner. Keep up the positive thinking. The team is 3-0 in the preseason. I am not taking the record itself all that seriously, but I am noticing – and liking – Penner’s positive attitude. Let us hope it spreads and stays. Perhaps then the Oilers could surprise.

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Like Looking for My 6th Ex-wife? : by the Prof

Two years ago, at Comox’s Filberg Festival, I heard Fred Eaglesmith tell the crowd at his musical show that he was looking for his sixth ex-wife. People laughed. Of course, the joke was the mix of optimism and realism such a statement evokes – one would think that, after five failed marriages, a bit of reality would set in. Alas, one is always hoping for better – thinking that this time is THE time but knowing somehow that you are probably wrong.

So, Oiler fans, here we go again. And the metaphor about being married to the team isn’t far wrong. New season: new romance. The past season and off-season was filled with love, hate, rejection, being left at the altar, and all sorts of junior high antics of “who likes whom.” Sheldon Souray – who whispered in the wrong ear about considering a new lover – gets totally rejected in a move more of anger than insight. Mike Comrie, cute-enough without much of a downside, gets let go for who knows why. And the new boys in summer camp bring out the swoons of the public – they are, after all, so very winsome. And they promise to make our hearts flutter widely.

Like it or not, we are married to our Oilers. Our romance is more of heart than head. Yet, with all our heart-fluttering optimism, isn’t there just something in our heads that reminds us that perhaps this year’s team will be like looking for our 6th ex-wife? Will we start with wild romance and end with heartbreak?

There is an old Buddhist story about a man chased off a cliff by a charging lion. Falling to his death in the valley below, he happens to grab a slender flowering plant growing from the side of the cliff face. He looks up: lion. He looks below: valley floor. Then he looks at the plant and says: “What a beautiful flower.”

Perhaps we Oilers fans should become Buddhists and come to appreciate the “beautiful flower” that Oilers’ hockey has always been and always will be to us. We might be on our way to another train wreck, but there will be beautiful scenery along the way.

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Bummer

I was hoping the delay was one of simple timing. That Comrie would eventually be signed.

He was-- just with the wrong team. This is great news for Mike Comrie, but I'm disappointed that Comrie will now be playing in Pittsburg instead of Edmonton as he signed a league minimum 1 yr deal worth $500,000.

Steve Tambellini did say that the likelihood the Oilers would sign more forwards was slim, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. I blindly assumed that list didn't include a veteran forward who would have been a great role model for the many rookies on the Oilers this season.

Good luck Mike. I suppse you don't need the money and your chances of winning a cup before the end of your career sure just went up 10-fold.

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Michaels the Man...

The Oilers have officially announced Rod Phillips replacement for Edmonton Oilers play-by-play radio broadcasts -- Jack Michales of the Alaska Aces in the ECHL.

A tidbit from the Alaska Sports Broadcast Network tells us the following about Michaels. "Last season, Michaels was selected to do the play-by-play for the NHL Network's broadcast of the 2008 ECHL All-Star Game, his third such honor. Jack won "Goldie" Awards, issued by the Alaska Broadcasters Association for "best live play-by-play" in each of the last three years (2006, '07, and '08)."

This was no easy selection for the Oilers. A plethora of who's-who applied and a number of qualified candidates turned away. The Oilers franchise must feel as though Michael's voice is the new voice to move a new Oilers team into the future. I can't imagine this job being one that Michael's won't be keeping for years.

This clip has been posted by others, but in case you haven't heard it yet, here is a sample of some of his work.

Congrats to Jack Michaels. I wasn't familiar with him, but after listening to this clip, I won't mind getting a lot more familiar with it. I can see why the Oilers made this choice.

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Does Pisani To the Hawks Mean Comrie to the Oilers?

As was already reported today by a number of sites, Fernando Pisani is no longer a man waiting by the phone and waiting for a job. After reports that not a single team had called Pisani and not a single GM expressed interest in the somewhat healthy veteran --including Oilers GM Steve Tambellini -- that all changed on Wednesday.

In what took very little time to finalize, Pisani signed a one year, one-way deal with the Chicago Blackhawks for $500,000. In many ways this makes sense for both parties and while it's understandable the Oilers have chosen to walk away from Pisani, Pisani could be a great surprise for the Hawks.

The chances were Fernando wouldn't be returning to Edmonton. Without him (or veterans like him) the Oilers are sorely lacking in veteran leadership.

Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jim Vandermeer, Jason Strudwick, Sheldon Souray, Kurtis Foster and Nikolai Khabibulin are the only current roster players who have played more than five seasons in the NHL. Sounds at first like a decent assortment, but at closer look 5 of the 8 are defencemen, while Souray and Khabibulin may not be of much help if either doesn't return.

On a team greatly lacking in veteran leadership, one could have argued bringing back a veteran forward like Pisani could have been important in a transitioning Oilers team bound to have a few bumps in the road. To give the new young Oilers futures a chance to talk, follow and understand the game at their position instead of looking to each other as rookies and struggling through changes they've not yet faced, someone with experience has to be added to the top twelve to round this roster out.

Is that someone Mike Comrie? Comrie is patiently waiting. Recently married, he's had other things on his mind, but his goal has clearly been to stay with the Oilers. Pisani going could have increased his odds Comrie's doing so ever so slightly.

Comrie is the type of player who makes sense for the Oilers. He'll take a one year deal at around $1 million dollars so the money seems to make sense. He's seen and been through everything a hockey crazed city like Edmonton can throw at a skilled young forward. Offering a mentor to the Halls, Eberles and Pajjarvis on the team is a smart move. One who is similarly skilled, and been where they are now seems logical.

Comrie also provides a strong example of a desire to be in Edmonton, when in the past that desire hasn't been at it's height. The argument that a team like Edmonton only keep players who want to play here regardless of skill is an old and tired one. Comrie doesn't fit that category or into that argument.

Comrie can still score. If healthy, it shouldn't be hard to see 20-25 goals. Should the rookies struggle, Comrie can play anywhere in your top six and on the powerplay.

Most want to see the Gagner deal get done. I do too. I'd rather add Comrie first. It's not likely Comrie will keep waiting. Gagner has no choice.

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Something to Talk About

Were a ways away from talking on-ice product, but the NHL isn't exactly quiet these days. Even the Oilers have given us some news worth taking a look at:

PPV

No more PPV's? I'm all for it.

According to a press release by the Edmonton Oilers, a new agreement between the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Rogers Sportsnet means fans can watch the remaining games on the Oilers schedule not normally broadcast on TSN or CBC without having to purchase a Pay-Per-View broadcast.

In order to view games, fans will need to purchase the newly launching Sportsnet One, but at a fraction of the price of some 13 games on PPV. Word is that somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2-$3 per month the channel will offer all the games we couldn't otherwise watch. For me, I couldn't think of a better birthday present. The channel launches on the same day and not having to buy PPV's all year is a nice treat.


Kovalchuk is a no-go, but so are others?

After the NHL struck down the ridiculous 17 year contract built to obviously circumvent the NHL salary cap, TSN is now reporting that at least two NHL GM's -- Peter Chiarelli and Mike Gillis -- have confirmed the NHL is examining the validity of contracts like Marc Savard, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger.

There is little doubt these contracts were also set to lower the cap of each respective player. Evidence suggests neither the team nor the player expected the full length of the term to be honored and with Kovalchuk having been denied, could we see others voided?

If so, what happens? Do players like Robert Luongo become free agents again? If so, this can't be great news for the players, who with the new trend in salary signings, likely won't receive the same cushy contracts. Would Gillis really sign Luongo to another contract in the neighbourhood of 7 million per year deal if that was the cap hit? I doubt it. Would Pronger get the same lengthy term he got before at his age? Unlikely.

Using Roberto as an example, starting in 2019, Luongo's salary drops more than 50% from the previous year and 90% from the first year of the deal. In the case of Marc Savard and Chris Pronger, the cases are even more telling as both players last couple years will be paid what could be at that time less than the league minimum.

It will be interesting to see if a trend has started with the Kovalchuk ruling and how messy this gets. Could it have a factor on the new CBA and a possible lockout? We all know the NHL can't afford another one, but the players can't be happy about this new information.

Oilers Sign Liam Reddox

Is this a minor league signing? Or as Jason Gregor suggests, is Reddox the answer the Oilers are hoping to find to the questions about the penalty kill?

There is no doubt that Reddox's game is built around hustle and effort. He lacks both the size and skill not to work his butt off. Can he be the 3rd line checker to replace Fernando Pisani or Ethan Moreau the Oilers need are seem to be missing?

I would suggest yes, but I might wonder if now is that time. Reddox could become that player. I see the same type of skill set and he lies somewhere in the middle ground between a Pisani and a Moreau style of player. That said, starting the season with him there is a huge question mark and unreliable at best. I'm not sure Reddox is more than a signing to start with the Barons right now. He'll get a chance at camp to prove otherwise.

Gagner and Cogliano Still Un-signed?

Some are starting to wonder what the delay is here. Does the fact that neither contract has been signed yet mean money is an issue?

I would suggest no. I see this more as a timeline issue and something that wasn't high on the immediate priority list of Steve Tambellini because he was well aware of how much time he had to get these signings done.

Fans shouldn't worry. Players like Bobby Ryan are RFA's still available. It's unlikely Gagner or Cogs will receive offersheets. Even if they do, not ones that make the Oilers hard-pressed to choose to match.

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Oilers Sign Martin Gerber

At first this looks like an odd signing. The Oilers have 3 goalies. Two of these in Deslauriers and Dubnyk are young and fit the mold on a kids getting the majority of the time style team. To boot, both also have newly and barely dry inked deals.

The Oilers also have a veteran in Nikolai Khabibulin, who to say the least, has a future that is somewhat up in the air. It's not so much that the Oilers are 50/50 on getting rid of Bulin (if onl it were that easy). It's that his court dates continue to be pushed back and the only way Edmonton can move his contract off the books, is if the result of those court rulings result in some time behind bars for the former Stanley Cup winning netminder. Even the specifics on that are foggy.


So with three goalies, all of whom are likely to see time with the Oilers this season, why would Edmonton sign another aging veteran for $500,00 dollars? Simple. The uncertainty of the situation.


Gerber comes from the KHL where he spent that last season after some time in Ottawa and Carolina. His track record is shaky at best and he's not by any stretch, a number one goalie. His age, his past performance and his cache around the league make him a good fit in Edmonton only at this time and on this team.


Gerber signed a two-way deal. Meaning he can move up and down between the NHL and the AHL. Waivers play somewhat of a role here, but what other NHL team, with a number of more suitable options still on the UFA market, would claim Gerber off waivers? Even if by some stretch they did, how much would it really impact Edmonton's future? None.


Gerber brings a much better option the AHL than the unproven goalies currently in the system. It was an area Tambellini needed to address after taking care of many other holes on the Barons roster. If Gerber sees time in the NHL, he's motivated to perform. He brings enough game action and experience that in the event Bulin is gone or hurt (both possibilites) and Deslauriers and Dubnyk crap the bed (also both possibilites), Gerber can be called up and is a reliable option.


No, Gerber is not the ideal situation when all else fails. But, all else shouldn't fail at the same time, thus Gerber becomes a piece of a tandum puzzle.


With the uncertainty in Edmonton and Oklahoma, Geber makes some sense. He has a name to back him for kids who need to be comfortable that their goalie can handle the job. He has a Stanley Cup finals run in his back pocket (even though he wasn't the key factor in that run), and he knows the game well. At $500,000 dollars, he also doesn't create any kind of financial cap burden.


Those viewing this signing as writing on the wall in the Khabibulin situation are likely off. Moreso, this tells us the Oilers don't know what's happening here. Because they don't know and their other options are young and younger, Gerber makes sense.


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Great Deal for Brule

Big day for the Edmonton Oilers. The franchise has inked a key part of this coming season and a real problem come arbitration if things went off the board a bit, by signing forward Gilbert Brule to a 2 yr deal worth $1.85 million per.

Edmonton wanted to get to a situation where trading Brule wasn't going to be a "have-to" scenario. With the recent rulings in arbitration, it became critical to get pen to paper on Brule if the Oilers wanted to avoid going higher than $2 million per season.

$1.85 for a player who should be getting better by the season is a very respectable allocation for Steve Tambellini and this should be considered another strong move in a summer of good moves by the Oilers GM.

Brule will play a number of roles on the club, likely starting in the 3rd line center position. He's gritty, he's not a faceoff liability, he's strong in 5-on-5 situations and he should be a character guy for this team if his recent off-ice news is any indication as to the type of person he'll be for this franchise.

I'm a real fan of this move.

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This should be the start of a few key RFA signings, with Sam Gagner now high on the priority list. Brule had to get done first. Deslauriers if the Oilers choose to keep him may be next and Gagner won't be far behind.

If what Tambellini has managed to keep his players around for is an indication, expect $2.25-$3 million per for 2-3 years for Sam Gagner. If the Oilers see him as a player who can outplay that value, he may get a longer deal.

Inking Sam Gagner will give the Oilers 14 signed forwards. Brule and Gagner the last two integral pieces. The fact that Brule got done today, won't be major news around the NHL as a whole, but it's a big peice of the Oilers pie.

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2nd Chances

This has been a slow week in hockey if you're a hockey fan. Outside of the fiasco that is Ilya Kovalchuk, not a lot of newsworthy items have been available for us "need to know" hockey fans to chew on.

A few items came to us over the past couple of days. They've been all about former Oilers, getting second chances.

Robert Nilsson Signs in Russia and Kent Nilsson Is No Longer With the Oilers

No one seems too sure on the reason that Kent is no longer with the organization. There was word that Edmonton was going to keep Nilsson on in a scouting capacity.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone however that both Nilsson's departures took place not long after each other. With Robert one of the last thing the Oilers franchise wanted to promote, that can't leave a yummy taste in a father's mouth. Kent was one of the first people to suggest that Robert needed to put in more time and had made mistakes, but being waived by Edmonton and then moving on from the Dad is likely connected just to sever the ties completely and eliminate any possible tension (like we said, we don't know this for a fact).

Robert Nilsson will get a chance to show he has the gumption to play in the NHL. A one year contract in Russia where he performs well may mean another shot here in North America.

Marc Pouliot Signs with Tampa Bay

Pouliot was bound to find a home. He didn't do much when he was in the Edmonton, largely thanks to injury, but a team was bound to give him a chance.

Tampa is that team and Pouliot, depending on where he plays in the lineup could make Steve Yzerman look like a very smart man. Pouliot's deal is a two-way contract so his playing in Tampa isn't a lock, but I'd bet Pouliot has his best year in the NHL with the Lightning.

Wayne Fleming Goes to Tampa

The Oilers hired some coaching in Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger. Some thought and still think another coach is going to be added. That coach isn't Wayne Fleming.

The extremely experienced bench boss has been added as an assistant coach with the Lightning giving some much needed NHL experience to a rookie head coach.

Khabibulin Held Off Again

Bulin's court date in Arizona on a severe DUI charge has been again pushed back. While it doesn't change what could happen with Khabibulin and the Oilers, it definitely could change how many goalies the Oilers bring to camp.

Deslauriers was looking like the odd goalie out, but the Oilers may have to bring two for sure if no one knows what is going to happen with Khabibulin. Should Edmonton not sign Deslauriers which is still a possibility, there are a number of goalie options still available on the UFA market.

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9 Lives, 1 Goal and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

With the summer here and plenty of action involving new faces, rookies, trades, signings and future plans, whenever one needs to get a reaction from a veteran of any team involved in said maneuver/transaction, where does one head? To the golf course.

It never ceases to amaze me that in almost every interview with an already proven hockey player, that interview takes place on a golf course. I tell you, that's the life. When you suck, your reward is one of the best games in the world. If I could be a professional hockey player I'd do it for two reasons. First, to be involved in a game I love to watch as a fan which is hockey. Second, to spend my off time doing something I love almost as much, which is golf.

I said today, when I spent the morning golfing with my Dad that if someone offered me enough cash to buy my business from me, the first thing I'd do is purchase a membership at about three different courses and play everyday. My Dad's reaction? "That's nice son, anything good happening with the Oilers?"

-----------------------

With my dreams dashed just a little, I replied to my Dad, "just when you think it's slow, hockey gives you something to talk about." That was very true today as officially a few things happened.

Tom Renney and the Oilers Hire Steve Smith

The reactions I've been reading are about 50/50. Some people think it's a great move, others kind of meh. When you subtract the morons who site this as a bad move because Steve Smith is often remembered as the Oiler who scored on his own team in the 1986 Battle of Alberta versus the Flames, you quickly realize it's more like 65/35 for.

I'm in the 65% group. I think Steve Smith was an extremely good defenceman. He made a lot of other defence partners appear better than they were nd that says something about one's knowledge of his game and position.

Steve Smith has been in the game a long time after his playing days were done (even some as a coach before his playing days officially ended) and while perhaps his coaching experience is a good decade old, Smith has been in an argueably better position as a scout with the Chicago Blackhawks. Smith knows the game, he knows young talent and he was a leader for the Oilers. All good things for this young group

Tom Renney and the Oilers Keep Buchberger

Talk about your cat with nine lives. Buchberger has just about sped them all and he's still here. He was rumored as a name to go back to the Barons, but it looks like Todd Nelson gets the job and Bucky stays with the big club. I'm not totally disappointed as Kelly is a leader and defines quite nicely the attitude management and coaches want the "new Oilers" to have.

I'm sure they'll be at least one more coach added.

Oilers Bring Back J.F. Jacques

If you're a stats geek, there are probably a million reasons why you're saddened by this news. Jacques has been largely unhealthy, he's been given almost as many chances as Pouliot who was shown the door but produced more offensively, and he's not anything more than a 14th forward which the Oilers already have.

Still, there's something about Jacques I like. He learned last year what it was that he'd be needed for. When he was healthy, something about his presence on the ice made me notice him. He took no guff from opposition, he was willing to drop the gloves on a dime to stand up for someone and he was a hitting machine.

Jacques may never be a stats favorite, but that whole "saw him good" thing really applies here.

I think he can change a game and I think if he's healthy he'll change it more for the positive than the negative.

Oilers Sign Dubnyk

Is this the end of Deslauriers? I doubt it and we'll know more on the 22nd when Khabibulin goes to trial, but I think if JDD is done, Dubnyk was the right choice for the Oilers.

His potential for growth seems much higher for me and of the two he's bound to become a NHL goalie and produce far greater results for his value contract than Deslauriers ever will.

Nelson and the Farm

OKC has a new coach in Todd Nelson. They also have what looks like the start of a good team. Shawn Belle is the latest and greatest of the group. He ranks up there with Giroux for me, but I see Belle as a potential for more with the Oilers than anyone Edmonton or the Barons have signed so far.

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Rob Daum Should Be Pi$$ed

The Oilers are set to name a new head coach for the Oklahoma City Barons. From the sounds of it Todd Nelson is the man who'll take the reigns.

Nelson has some experience in both the AHL and the NHL (as an assitant coach with the Thrashers) and from all accounts while he seems qualified for the role, isn't likely the first choice of Oilers GM Steve Tambellini. I have no good authority on this mind you, but it seems as though a bigger fish was on the radar and wasn't landed.

Who that bigger fish is or was we may never know, but according to the Edmonton Journal, Todd Nelson, who most recently was known in Edmonton for not getting hired for the coaching job with the Edmonton Oil Kings, will now be named as the first head coach of the Oklahoma City Barons tomorrow. I guess when you can't land your first or second choice, go with a backup plan for another team?

The end result is that Todd Nelson is about to inherit a much more quality team than any of his predecessors. The squads coached by Rob Daum, Jeff Truitt or Kelly Buchberger were just not very good. The way Steve Tambellini has been adding talent to this roster almost daily, Nelson may have fallen into a terrific situation.

Contrary to how it may sound, I have nothing against Todd Nelson. In all honesty, I know so little about him it would be unfair to pass judgement. What I do know is that it seems odd to me that if hiring for OKC wasn't a priority (it took quite some time to finally land a coach) or it was a priority and obtaining a viable head coach who was willing to relocate to OKC was going to be tough, why not give Daum one more season with the fresh new faces the Oilers have added to their minor league affiliate? It was bound to be that the team would see more success.

The only answer is that the Oilers saw Rob Daum as a problem and that no matter what team was iced and what coach was brought in to coach them, the Oilers wanted out. Adding the likes of defenceman Shawn Belle, Ben Ondrus who is a big AHL winger, Jake Taylor a solid minor league blueliner, and an abundance of minor league skill in Brad Moran and Alexandre Giroux, meant Daum and anyone else, including Nelson, would actually have the talent to give the Oilers AHL team a fighting chance.

Instead, it leaves Daum in a tricky place. He was let go too late to likely find a job to replace the one he though he'd be keeping and he's sitting at home watching his former club stack itself for a season in which the head coach, who likely wasn't the first choice, will have a long long leash.

Great for the Oilers, their farm team and Oklahoma fans. Probably not a great summer to say the least for former coach Rob Daum.

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Available PK Machines

The Oilers have made a lot of changes. They were soft, they added toughness. They had players who lacked effort and character and they added character guys. They had issues with morale in the dressing room and they cleared out almost everyone who trained, managed or could influence the team in that respect.

The Oilers still have a few puzzle pieces left to fit into place.

On that list is a need for a penalty killing machine. Losing Pisani and Moreau may not mean much in terms of offensive production, but in the case of playing one man down, both players were relied upon to pull much of the heavy weight.

The Oilers could fill one or two more spots. Comrie seems to be one that makes sense in terms of a top six forward with experience, but on the blueline (an area that I think Edmonton has really improved) one more experienced defensive minded blueliner could help. That they can also kill penalties will be a must and Comrie isn't really that guy.

Right now the Oilers only have Tom Gilbert (2:39), Ryan Whitney (2:30), Colin Fraser (1:26), Jason Strudwick (2:33), Shawn Horcoff (2:22), Sheldon Souray (2:12), Ladislav Smid (1:51) who have played any time on the kill. Souray likely won't be here and Strudwick's numbers are deceiving because he won't play 60% of the games.

There are a few defensemen and forwards available on the market still who can fill that role quite nicely. The Oilers might be smart to go after one. There is no telling what these kids (MPS, Hall and Eberle) can or can't do on the kill and finishing worse than where the Oilers did last year (26th in the NHL) would mean trouble.

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Willie Mitchell

Mitchell won't be going back to Vancouver. Gillis has said he'd wait until he was aware of what health issues were still of concern for Mitchell before ruling out bringing him back, but the moves Vancouver made during the draft and free agency means there is absolutely no room for him.

Mitchell is a question mark because of his health. If he's ready to go for opening night, it might be worth taking a chance. The Oilers could use a veteran defencemen if they were to add someone and Mitchell led the NHL last season in time/game on the penalty kill at 4:04. That's almost a minute and a half more than anyone on the Oilers roster.

Mitchell made about $3.5 million last season. There is no way he makes that again. If the Oilers offered $2.5 -$3 on a one year once they knew he was healthy, they might have a good chance of landing him.

Mike Weaver

Weaver is a blueline UFA from St. Louis who finished second in the entire NHL in terms of penalty kill time last season with 3:59 per game. The bonus with grabbing someone from St. Louis is that they were the best team in the NHL shorthanded last season, so if Weaver led the way, we know he must be good at it.

Weaver made $800,000 last season. I don't think he gets a lot of time as a high ranking defenceman for you, but at $1 million bucks, you could play him in the #5 or #6 spot and use him primarily on the kill if you needed. It would still be money well spent. Weaver is 32 and has NHL experience dating back to 2001. Otherwise, I don't know a whole lot about him.

Ian Laperriere

Truly a grit and character guy who makes for a great fourth line right wing. Problem is Laperriere is still under contract for one more season with the Flyers. The Flyers however are in a situation where they won't be able to keep everyone they want to and there might be a situation where Laperriere becomes part of a trade between the two teams.

Lapperriere spent 2:50 per game on the kill last season and likes to block shots with his face. I strongly emphasize the word like. While noone really enjoys it, I can't remember the last time someone smiled after it happened -- Laperriere did. He reminds me of Jason Smith, just as a forward. He might not be captain material, but his actions speak loudly in a teams dressing room.

Craig Conroy

Veteran center who could fill in well on that fourth line and played 2:13 per game last year in Calgary on the PK. You wouldn't want anything more than a 1 year contract with Conroy thanks to his age, but he seems quite durable.

Calgary had a few forwards who were strong on the kill last season. Langkow, Higgins and Conroy led the team and with that many strong guys to play a similar penalty killing role it is possible Conroy is being overlooked in Calgary. He could be had to a very fair price and is definitely a leadership and character type guy the Oilers have been going after this off-season.

John Madden

The Blackhawks are still stuck in cap hell and are in the midst of trying to figure out what to do about an recent RFA offer on Hjalmarsson. Madden quietly was the leading forward for Chicago on the kill averaging 2:18 per game. Madden could be a 3rd or 4th line center for the Oilers and the added bonus is that he was 53% on faceoffs last season adding 10 goals and 23 points while doing so. Killing two or three birds with one stone is a good strategy here.

$2.5 million for one year or if you want to take a chance $1.8-$2 over two years would get it done. Madden is 37 though, so the Oilers would want to be careful with dishing out more than one year contracts.

Fernando Pisani

The Oilers and for that matter any other NHL team have yet to make a call. Pisani's injuries and health are of major concern and Pisani likely won't be offered a contract. It means that either a) Pisani can be had for league minimum and surprise a few people or b) will be offered a tryout by some NHL franchise.

If Pisani is healthy he's a deal at $500,000 - $700,000. Perhaps he might even accept a two-way contract to keep playing and show he has something left to offer. In either case, his skill on the kill is reason enough alone to warrant consideration.

Going back to the well is something Edmonton seems to be avoiding, but if other short-handed options aren't available Pisani fits.

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There are others, but this list is a start. The longer free agency goes on, the more likely some of these players go unsigned. It becomes a matter then of who offers the only contract these guys are going to see versus offers the first tryout to an NHL camp.

Players like Blair Betts slipped through Edmonton's fingers last season. I don't suggest the Oilers let it happen again.

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Cooling the Jets But Looking at the Blue

The title of this post makes it sound like I'm going to give my two cents on the Winnipeg talk. I'm not. Instead I'm giving my three cents on the newfound and possibly unwarranted enthusiasm in Edmonton.

It's easy to get excited. The Oilers just came off a prospect camp where rookies looked great against other rookies. Edmonton also has the first overall draft selection and two top end prospects looking to crack the roster.

With all that going on, fans are starting to get an idea of how this team is going to shape itself up and often people get a bit carried away as if all of a sudden the Oilers could be a playoff team.

I'm not saying Lowetide is one of them, but he recently did a depth chart examination for the Edmonton Oilers. In there he suggested with a few possible changes the Oilers could be a playoff team. He's right -- they could be. But the Oilers may not make those changes and if they don't, it might be best not to get too carried away.

Every once and a while I throw out possible combinations and a quick glance at the Oilers depth. I tend to reserve a full examination and an up close and personal look at the roster until much closer to opening day because there is simply so much that can still happen. I'm changing my approach a bit because it occured to me that maybe this newfound excitement warranted a bit closer than a general peek at the roster.

Overall, there is a chance that the Oilers surprise everyone (much the same way Colorado did). Theoritically, they could have one of the better records to open the season and the kids light it up. The logical approach however would be to suggest that there will be some major bumps along the road.

Kids tend to tire over a long NHL season and the Oilers will have a lot of kids playing major roles. Injuries play their part and the Oilers have a vast history of injury concern. Finally, while different, the Oilers are not proven to be vastly superior than they were last year. With every young prospect we have high hopes for, that same prospect could do little to nothing.

The goaltending is still a mess and may not get sorted out for a few weeks. Even if the Oilers keep all three (Bulin, JDD and DD), two are unproven and one is injury riddled. With how often goaltending can steal a victory this lineup of netminders suggests the Oilers might not steal too many.

The forwards have major promise but outside of Penner and Hemsky offer no real guarantees for production. MPS, Hall and Eberle (if they play) could have 40-50 point seasons. They could also easily have 20-30 point seasons. Penner seems to be the best weapon, but he's streaky and Hemsky is on the verge of being a superstar but never quite gets there for multiple reasons. Both have also been trade rumor for over a month.

The defence might be the area that surprises a few people. The lineup is quite different and still has some question marks but also has a proven track record of performance. This could be a real shining spot for the Oilers.

The Oilers have Gilbert, Whitney, Souray, Foster, Smid, Vandermeer, Strudwick. I don't include Peckham or Chorney because I'm not sure either start the year here and I think the Oilers move Souray, but I go back and forth on it the longer this soap opera plays out.

Ryan Whitney had a shaky 2008 campaign but is a proven 40-60 point defencemen. That shouldn't be overlooked. Whitney rejuvinated himself with the Oilers and I think is serious in showing people he's not the guy you trade away -- he's the guy you trade for.

Tom Gilbert hasn't had a season with less than 30 points and has been known to go on massive point producing runs. He's also known to have poor spurts throughout the year, but it seems it's when he's partnered with someone forcing him to play a role he's not comfortable with. Playing with Whitney, Gilbert was red hot. We can expect that the hotter rather than the colder is a fair assumption.

Ladislav Smid is still a tad unproven but he's Edmonton's new shut-down kid and he's good at it. He's never going to get you much in the way of offense but it looks like he'll be relied upon to shutdown the top end guys. Whether he can do it might be a question mark and he should be a good 3 or 4 blueliner, but it's up for debate.

Kurtis Foster could be the real surprise for me here. His injury history is a concern but if he plays close to a full season, Oilers fans should prepare themselves for a 40-50 point offensive weapon. We shouldn't underestimate how quickly he can put up points if he's used on the powerplay and his ability to get that puck on net creating goals for other players.

If Souray comes back, we all know what he provides. Multiple 50 plus point seasons, powerplay threat and size are all things he has going for him. His attitude and a mutual desire to be somewhere else by both parties? Not so good.

Vandermeer is a more defensive tough man not suited for anything beyond the 5 or 6 slot. If he's asked to play more than that it could be a problem for the Oilers. Along side his partner Strudwick big minutes of ice-time could be an issue. Vandermeer could prove me wrong though. I don't think Strudwick will.

Overall the Oilers have a strong case for a good blueline. Their top four (especially with Souray) is as good as many. It's more offense than defense, but all four aren't the worst defenders by any means and Smid is a key player there.

Let's look quickly at the other teams in the Northwest to see where they rank. (I'm not a big stats guy so this is a pretty rough look and should be in no way taken as more than my opinion).

Calgary:

Mark Giordano, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regeher, Ian White, Corey Sarich, Steve Staios, Adam Pardy.

Despite the fact that the Flames came off poorly from free agency, the Flames have seven viable options on their blueline. Whether they start the year with all seven remains to be seen and with the Flames as close as they are to the cap, one of these players will likely go. One would think Calgary will try to make room to get Ian White under contract which at this point he isn't. That won't be easy considering White will be due a large raise over last years $800,000 salary. (13 goals and 38 points from the blueline will do that). Keeping him means likely moving another defenceman because the Flames are weak at forward depth.

Giordano, Bouwmeester, and White are all offensive threats. Bouwmeester has to be considered a huge disappointment having his worst NHL season to date along side his most expensive one, but the odds he'll be that poor offensively again in 2010 are slim. Regeher, Pardy and Staios are more your defensive guys, but Staios as Oilers fans know is providing less and less value vs what he brought teams in years past.

To me, Calgary still has a strong blueline. Much stronger than the Oilers if you consider the "superstar" factor associated with Bouwmeester and Regehr. I think Bouwmeester, who can still be played in any situation, will need a bounce back year though to keep that status and if one of the big names is traded, the Flames blueline is much weaker since losing Phaneuf and whomever else might go.

Colorado:

Scott Hannan, Kyle Quincey, John-Michael Liles, Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Ryan Wilson

Colorado's blue is much less proven. Adam Foote is a soldier, Liles is a good but overpaid offensive threat and Quincey had a breakout year. Beyond that, one has to think that defence will be an issue for the Avs this coming season. It's somewhat well rounded, but still contains a lot of question marks.

While Ryan Wilson came in a showed he had the chops to play in the NHL and Quincey was much better than people had expected and played a more prominant role, Foote is like the Staios of Calgary and on his way down in terms of effectiveness. Hannan and Liles are both on trade watch in Colorado.

There are no real star threats on defense with the Avs. No defencemen that an opposing team really needs to watch out for and no offensive threats so big that a team is at a disadvantage while they are on the ice. Quincey and Liles might be close, but no more than Gilbert or Whiteny who I'd give the edge to.

Vancouver:

Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Shane O'Brien, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrew Alberts.

The Canucks became an offensive threat overnight. They were already pretty good, but one would have to classify them now as scary. Adding Ballard and Hamhuis did wonders for their perception around the NHL, but with about $25 million tied up in 8 defencemen, the Canucks will have to move someone. Popular belief is that the someone is either Kevin Bieksa or Sami Salo.

Salo has major injury concerns and like Souray from the Oilers is somone few teams might be willing to gamble with. Salo is a less expensive option than Souray so he has that going for him, but Bieksa might be the player that gets the most value in return for the Canucks.

That still leaves them with at least four 20-40 point defencemen, some poop disturbers and some strong defensively minded players. Outside of Hamhuis, the Canucks are more offense than defence, but they are extremely strong. Easily the best blueline in the Northwest division.


Minnesota Wild

Marek Zidlicki, Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, Cam Barker, Greg Zanon, Nate Prosser

Minnesota's top 4 could be a sleeper pick on defence. Zidlicki has proven his worth and Brent Burns is somewhat of an inigma. Burns had one great season, but injury seems to have hurt his progress and he hasn't been quite the same since his one 43 point season in 2007/2008.

Schultz and Barker are average to better than average, but I'm of the opinion Barker benefited from playing with the Blackhawks and his production in Minnesota is more reflective of his true value. He's still a pretty strong player with upside at a young age.

Zidlicky seems to only real comparison defencemen with the upside of the Gilbert's, Whitney's and Souray's of the Oilers. He hasn't reached the same offensive heights as any of them though. It seems the peak of each Oilers player is higher than any on the Minnesota blue.

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In terms of where the Oilers sit, I'd put their blueline at the #3 spot of 5 in the Northwest. I think however if Gilbert and Whitney click and Foster stays healthy, they could be #2. But, this is the area I consider the strongest for the Oilers.

If I rank them 3 out of 5 and that's their strength, it tells me perhaps I don't want to get too carried away. That would be good for about 18th to 22nd in the NHL if that trend throughout the other divisions continues.

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Some Oiler Rumblings

We haven't heard much in respect to the Oilers since prospect camp started. It's almost like management took some time and ignored the dealings in the NHL to watch the kids play like so many Edmontonians did.

But, not all is totally quiet...

Mike Comrie

To further an article Brownlee did on Oilers Nation today regarding Mike Comrie and his status with the Oilers, we did a little digging to see if anyone we knew had heard anything. We didn't find much, but a couple tidbits that were interesting.

Mike Comrie's first choice is Edmonton. He's let the management know it and he's advised those that are listening that he'd be willing to wait a little for another 1 year deal until Edmonton gets the "holes" filled that need filling. Comrie's take is that he didn't get the chance to prove what he wanted last year when he made his return. He'd like to have one full healthy season with the Oilers to get his numbers back on track and in a place the Oilers find him either a) indispensible or b) worth a lot more than $1.2 million on the open market.

Those are all good things for Edmonton fans hoping the Oilers keep Comrie one more year. The trick is that Comrie might not wait forever. As Brownlee pointed out (and we hadn't heard any specific names, but I believe Brownlee when he says it) there are teams kicking tires. There shouldn't be much concern over the next five days or so with teams like Chicago and San Jose battling over Hjalmarsson as they'd be silly to make other moves while this Hjalmarsson RFA offer thing is going on, but after that all bets are off. If Edmonton wants Comrie signed, they need to do it in a week or two. My guess is if they don't we might see Comrie in a San Jose uniform.

Simon Gagne

Despite how big I think it is that Gagne could get placed on waivers, the people I talked to don't seem to hear anything in the Oilers office about it. They think it's because no one truly believes that the Flyers would waive Gagne and that eventually a trade would be approved by Gagne to someplace like L.A.

I was also corrected about Gagne's ability to be traded at the end of the season if Edmonton claims him on waivers. The belief is that Gagne would have to be put back on waivers before being traded by Edmonton at the deadline. If this is true, it takes away a major factor in picking Gagne up as an investment.

I still believe if Gagne is put on waivers a team would be silly not to take a proven goal scorer, but the Oilers do have depth on left wing. Perhaps it's why there hasn't been much excitement about the rumors.

Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark

There is some buzz going that outside of the big three (Eberle, MPS and Hall) Hartikainen was the sleeper prospect in this years camp and may get some time with the big club. There is a feeling with the lack of options at that 3rd line center spot, Teemu may get a look if he does well prior to making the jump to the NHL.

Hartikainen caught the eye of a number of coaches and management.

There is also word that some think Linus Omark who many call a shoe in for Oklahoma, might be considered more than just a straight to the minors guy. Obviously Omark wasn't at camp, but there is some thought he might get serious consideration and be that 4th prospect Renney was talking about in interviews when he said "who knows, maybe we're taking about more than three guys making this team".

Rob Neidermayer

It sounds as though Edmonton wasn't too concerned they lost out on Neidermayer and their kicking tires wasn't an official offer. It was rumored Neidermayer had given serious consideration to Edmonton, but that Buffalo offered something official more quickly and he jumped on the sure thing.

The Oilers may not do much about that third line center spot until arbitration hearings or pre-signings with players like Gilbert Brule. The Oilers might be back and forth about whether or not they already have something in their system that could effectively fill that 3rd line void.

Tom Gilbert

Spoke to a guy who spoke to a guy who had the chance to talk to Tom Gilbert (take that to mean I have no idea how valid this is). They said Gilbert was extremely excited for the coming season and getting the chance to play with Ryan Whitney.

Gilbert was the biggest benefactor when Whitney arrived and went on an incredible offensive point producing run. Gilbert feels his game is more suited to that style of play and that his pairings last year left him to be the more defensive minded of the two defencemen, which he wasn't totally comfortable with. Whitney liked to work with Gilbert and Gilbert with Whitney.

My buddy seems to think Gilbert can get 60 points plus playing with Whitney for an entire season and being on the top powerplay unit. I'm not as sold, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.

Taylor Hall Partying It Up

There were some spottings of Taylor Hall throughout prospect camp around Edmonton. Some of the recollections of what Taylor Hall was doing involved guest bartending, partying and enjoying the nightlife. As you can guess, reaction to it was mixed and sparked some conversation about the Oilers arranging a living situation with a seasoned pro for Hall during his rookie campaign.

I agree on the living situation as many good players like Crosby and Gagner have done it, but not because he was seen partying a couple times during the offseason. Let me be the first to say the following about people seeing Hall partying... who cares.

I didn't see Taylor Hall except at the camp. He looked a bit sluggish at times, but he was probably beat up and tired from the non-stop press and media buzz surrounding his being the 1st overall pick and it being to a hockey mad market like Edmonton. Some should consider it a good sign that Hall is enjoying what the city has to offer.

I don't want to hear of course that Hall isn't preparing to be the best he can be for the Oilers this season because of course Edmonton has a lot riding on his success, but sheesh, players like the Staals, Jason Arnott, Patrick Kane and half the Montreal Canadiens roster have done worse than guest bartend somewhere. This is no big deal and shouldn't be taken to the extreme.

Shawn Horcoff

I've been told from people who have seen Horcoff, is that he's leaned out a bit. There was some concern that he put too much beef on in an effort to get more physical and was concerned about another injury while doing rehab and playing. His overcompensating for it took away from his speed.

Horcoff isn't given much credit for being as fast as he actually is, and I think it will be a good thing if Horcoff is around the weight he was before his injury. Personally I hope that of all the players on this years roster to bounce back or really shine it's Shawn Horcoff.

When the pressure wasn't on him last season as the year closed, he was argueably Edmonton's best forward playing along side Moreau and Pisani. Despite the odds he won't have either as linemates this year, it would be nice to see him pick up where he left off on that little run.

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Oilers and Flyers Need to Talk

News came today that Nikolai Zherdev was signed by the Flyers to a one year $2 million dollar deal. When word first broke that Zherdev wanted to return and it was the Flyers who were interested, everyone seemed to ask the same questions -- how could the Flyers possibly afford Zherdev?

The $2 million dollar number Zherdev signed for one year is far less than the rumored reports Zherdev was seeking $4 million over multiple years. That kind of money was outrageous considering what he offers and his reputation as a skilled but full of attitude and half-assed effort kind of player. The reality is, the Flyers got a pretty good offensive weapon at a pretty good price.

The question still remains how the Flyers intend to get themselves under the cap. Here are the logical choices and to me, everyone single one of them speaks volumes that Steve Tambellini should pick up the phone and make something happen here...

Simon Gagne is placed on waivers

I'd be amazed if the Flyers gave Gagne away for free, but from a report we wrote on earlier, it sounds like this is an option the Flyers are considering. Edmonton becomes the first team eligible to lay claim to Gagne if he is waived and despite the strengths of the Oilers on LW, they should take Gagne if he's free.

Gagne has one year with a manageable cap hit. He's a two time 40 goal scorer, a veteran leader and he gives the Oilers prospects a bit more time should they require it. I'd like to see the kids play, but if they're not ready passing on Gagne now is a kick yourself proposition later if you need someone when a LW goes back to the AHL.

If the Flyers are not 100% sure, I'd even throw a 6th rounder to Philadelphia in trade so they get something instead of nothing. You'll easily be able to upgrade the 6th for a 2nd or higher come the trade deadline for a playoff team needing to make a push. With only one year on his contract, he becomes one of the most attractive deadline deals for any team if he's healthy. The Oilers likely won't re-sign him so make him an investment.

Scott Hartnell is Moved for Cap Space

The Oilers like Hartnell. Why wouldn't they? He's 6' and 210 pounds and nasty. He's tough, he does the dirty work, he's big, he's still young and he's signed until a point the Oilers should be competitive. Because of his $4.2 cap hit, he's also likely a move for the Flyers to clear their cap space problems.

The thing I like about Hartnell is that he has another gear. In big games and in nasty situations, he seems to excel. Look at last years playoffs for example. Hartnell had a decent regular season with 14 goals and 44 points, but in the playoffs he had 8 goals and 17 points in 23 games. That's huge.

He might be too expensive to be a third line guy, but man oh man would he fit nicely there and he can be used on the 2nd unit powerplay and used effectively for the Edmonton Oilers. Over in the depth chart it would give Edmonton Penner/Hall/Hartnell/Jones. That's a line-up your set with at left wing for a long time. It's got a nice combination of speed, size, grit and feistiness. It's also under $12 million of your entire cap which is not terrible in the bigger picture.

Jeff Carter Moved to Clear Cap Space

Carter's been talked about a lot in rumors involving the Flyers and possible trades. He wasn't a factor in last years playoffs thanks to two broken feet, so for some reason that makes him expendable. If he is and money can't go back the other way, why not an Andrew Cogliano or Gilbert Brule, Theo Peckham and a late draft pick for Carter?

That's decent value going the other way and should save the Flyers the $2 million plus in space they need to save. The Oilers give up good prospects but get a 30-40 goal and 60-75 point first line center. If the Flyers cap problems mean when Carter's RFA contract is due he has to be shipped anyways, Philly might as well get something you can use now instead of less later.

Some might suggest Carter's RFA status a problem for Edmonton, but think about it this way. Re-signing Carter is going to be in the Oilers favor come contract time. Even if Carter earns an RFA offer, the Oilers are bound to get a pile of draft picks when that offer comes in somewhere around $5 million per season. If it's $5 million or less, the Oilers would likely match.

With Carter in, the Oilers have Carter/Gagner/Horcoff/Fraser. That's about $13-$14 million depending on what Gagner gets for this contract. It means that Horcoff is overpaid as a third line center, but we already knew that. I'd still do the deal and try to move the space later. It's not like the Oilers all of a sudden become the Flyers and go $2 million over the cap.

Flyers Move Daniel Carcillo Because There's No Room to Re-sign Him

Daniel Carcillo is a jerk. He's also a great fourth line winger who can play higher than fourth line minutes at an affordable price. You hate him on every other team he plays for and perhaps you don't like him as an Oiler, but he can be effective and has hockey skill.

He's purely a depth trade for Edmonton in which the Oilers would move maybe a late round draft pick to get him considering the Flyers have no space to sign him. He's got a reputation for stirring the pot, but he will drop the gloves if he has to.

Flyers Trade Matt Carle Because They See Him As Somewhat Expendable

I'm not sure this is actually the train of thought in Philadelphia right now, but look at what the Flyers have on defence. Pronger, Timonen, Mezaros, Coburn, Carle and others. Of those names Carle seems the odd man out.

Carle makes $3.4 million for the next three years and makes total sense as a #3 or #4 defenceman on the Oilers. He logs 23 plus minutes of hard ice-time, he can kill penalties and he logged heavy powerplay time.

In any other situation Carle isn't likely someone you'd trade. The Flyers aren't in any other situation though.

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Long story short (I may be passed that point now), there are literally a number of options for what Edmonton should see as attractive players. Some of them are temporary stop-gaps while the kids mature and others are actually workable parts you can include in your rebuild.

If things got interesting there could be a deal that sees more than one of things happen at the same time. The interesting part becomes what these Flyers players are worth in terms of cache around the NHL. If a lot, the Oilers might not have much to go on here except Gagne (who if waived Edmonton has first shot at).

Even if that's all Edmonton does here, that's a pretty good upgrade for one year and a solid investment comes trade deadline day to pick up more picks or prospects for a proper rebuild.

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Is Simon Gagne Too Good To Pass Up?

Darren Dreger reported something interesting on Thursday. A tweet in the afternoon read "Some NHL execs think Philly will place Gagne on waivers, if a trade isn't found very soon."

It sounds like something that wouldn't catch the eyes and ears of many and it didn't even find its way to the TSN site, but this is pretty big news. Simon Gagne is a legit first line winger in the NHL. Despite some injury riddled seasons, he's posted multiple 60 plus point runs and at least two 40 goal campaigns. The fact that the Flyers are considering moving him, especially for a wildcard like Zherdev amazes me.

But, that's not really the point here.

Gagne is a strong option for a team that lacks a big time, first line goal scoring forward. His cap hit is a bit high, but at $5.25 is manageable. He's also only got one year remaining in his current deal which means that Gagne quickly becomes a small risk and a great pickup for someone on waivers who isn't forced to make a trade or give up assets to obtain him.

Let's put it this way, Gagne is not Sheldon Souray -- he's simply too good, he's lower priced, he offers value and he's got a good attitude. He won't be passed over by 29 other NHL teams.

With the timing of this news, is it me or is it too bad the Oilers have a lot of left wingers? Just our luck that while Edmonton could use a veteran to help lead the kids along and someone who has a reputation for being a pure goal scorer is literally dropped on the doorstep, this is one time the Oilers might not actually be interested.

With the Oilers first to have a crack at a waiver eligible player, not taking advantage of such an opportunity seems a shame if it becomes available. One might think finding a way to fit him in versus letting him simply pass on by for another team to jump on is what the Oilers should consider. Gagne and his one year could be just the right player at the right time to buy the kids more time and if need be, moving pieces (without having to get rid of them) should be possible.

It's too bad that might not happen.

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Ryan Smyth Not An Option For Oilers

With all due respect to Ryan Rishaug of TSN, tweeting that Ryan Smyth would be a good fit for the Oilers was Rishaug simply tweeting his opinion. He's entitled to it, but in his position he might want to be more careful with his words.

Rishaug has been nothing shy of extremely informative since joining the twitter world. He got some great scoops at the draft, he's been adding updated news on players and prospects the Oilers have signed or were trying to sign, and he's been bang on with almost everything. Long story short, I'm a fan of Rishaug and I follow his tweets often. When he says something, I think it has legs and don't for a second discredit his ability to get inside information.

The problem is this bit of news was an opinion misunderstood as a possibility Edmonton was looking at. I don't think Rishaug realized just how much people might hang on his every word -- or tweets if you will -- because of his job title and associated clout in the industry. From his subsequent tweets on the same subject, it's clear he realized he should calm the waters before it became too late.

Mere minutes after Rishaug posted his tweets, the Oilers blogosphere was flooded with articles about the possibilities of Ryan Smyth coming back to Edmonton in a deal for Sheldon Souray. From bloggers like our little site here, to widely respected names like Robin Brownlee, writers have been giving their two cents. That's the beauty of blogging and what blogging is all about. Yet, this specific rumor has gotten way bigger than it should have.

My opinion might upset Oiler fans hoping to see Souray moved. My opinion is in definite disagreement with Rishaug and Brownlee who posted (or seemingly suggested) Souray possibly being moved for Smyth. I'm going to give it anyways.

Unless some major cards fall down and Lombardi loses his marbles after not getting Kovalchuk (or paying way too much to get Kovalchuk) Ryan Smyth for Sheldon Souray isn't going to happen. Not now, not ever.

I could go on and on about the reasons why this deal makes no sense. I could also go on and on about why I'd love to see this trade. If the Oilers could do it, I would be floored with enthusiasm. I like Ryan Smyth. He's captain material on a team that isn't sure who their captain should be and him being in Edmonton makes a lot of sense from an Oilers perspective. But for the Kings, this trade makes little sense. Here's why...

Sheldon Souray has absolutely no cache around the NHL right now. None. If a trade like this was an option it would have happened by now and Souray being placed on and clearing waivers should be an indication of that. With Souray's history of injury, his cap hit and his attitude, I don't see Souray's cache going up later down the road either. Unless Souray plays in the NHL to start the season -- and plays extremely well -- the Oilers were always aware that in any trade involving Souray, they'd be taking on salary. That wasn't going to be a surprise to anyone.

When it comes to specially using Kovalchuk as the trigger in this trade, here is where it gets even more complicated.

Kovalchuk is likely mere days away from making a decision. Even though he hasn't yet, everyone knew the Kings were on the top of the list from day one. Should Kings GM Dean Lombardi be successful in snagging Kovalchuk from free agency, he would have formulated some kind of plan to let the dominos fall once Kovalchuk was on board. If Rishaug has information on it now, why would he not have gotten information back then?

My guess, is because no conversation -- or at least not a serious one -- has likely taken place between Lombardi and Tambellini. If Smyth was trade bait, Tambellini would know (assuming he's doing his job shopping Souray). Furthermore, if Tambellini had some inkling that a trade like this was possible, why put Souray on waivers before Kovalchuk decides? It just doesn't make sense to risk losing Souray for nothing if a possible return you'd be interested in was Ryan Smyth.

Another huge factor here, is that this entire trade idea is reliant on the fact that Kovalchuk goes to the Kings. That's a big "if". Lombardi has now backed away from negotiations with Kovalchuk twice, which should give us some indication of the seriousness and stop at nothing mentality of the Kings to get this UFA deal done. The Kings would like Kovalchuk in the fold, but not at the cost of the teams recent success. Lombardi won't be willing to overpay and he won't mess up team chemistry, depth or momentum just to accomodate a player who's already proven himself to be a handful.

Signing Kovalchuk to anything more than a $7 million dollar cap hit per year risks the future success of the Kings franchise. Yes the Kings have $17 million in cap space (well near the most of any NHL team) but Lombardi has Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds all up for contracts by the end of next season and adding a player with a $10 million dollar hit no matter who you get rid of hurts your odds of re-signing all of those players.

Add to it that the logical choice should Kovalchuk get his $7 million plus wouldn't be to move Smyth. With the lack of left wing depth on the Kings roster, a name like Justin Williams or Michal Handzus makes more sense. They too have big cap hits and they too make adding Souray's number doable.

The Kings actually have depth in the center and right wing positions and could move one without shaking up too drastically the makeup of the team. In contrast, Kovalchuk and Smyth would really be the only two top six left wingers on that squad. Why trade Smyth which then gives your team only one?

This is not even considering the fact that Ryan Smyth has a no-trade clause in his contract. In blogs and articles I read, some pointed this out quickly. Just as quickly many pointed out that Smyth would be willing in a heartbeat to waive it and come back to Edmonton. Why and what makes people think this? I'm not suggesting he wouldn't. I'm suggesting the odds that he would or wouldn't are about the same. To me, there are lots of reasons Smyth might not want to return.

Smyth left the organization on not the greatest terms. The franchise felt like they had to move him because of his unwillingness to take a home-town discount. He was upset Edmonton couldn't boost their offer by a mere $100,000 to get a deal done. The result was being shipped to the NYI. I'm not saying there is, but perhaps there is still some left over feelings there.

The Oilers are also rebuilding and far from a cup contender. Smyth finishes out his current deal in two seasons and he's on the right team for that situation. How much longer will Smyth be playing with his recent injury history? Wouldn't he want a chance to win a cup which he's yet to do? Edmonton is likely the last place he'd have that chance and the Kings give him a shot.

By coming to the Oilers, Smyth would have to be willing to admit to himself he's not going to be anything more than a semi-productive mentor. That's a serious blow to a man who likely still thinks he has something to offer.

We're also assuming here that the Oilers would like to add a $6 million plus 3rd line winger. I'm sure to get rid of one contract they take on another, but Smyth being buried there isn't the answer for the Oilers. It's the lesser of two evils sure, but logic suggests Edmonton to seek options before they seek this one.

Ryan Smyth is a nice idea, but it's not a realistic one. Yes, stranger things have happened, but with everything the Oilers have done thus far, nothing to me suggests this move makes sense. If it didn, I'm hard pressed to see how it hasn't happened yet. What's your thought?

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Nabokov 4yrs in KHL?

It's not Oiler related, but it looks like big ticket goaltender UFA Evgeni Nabokov has signed a 4yr deal with the KHL. Not much of a home these days for expensive goalies in the NHL.

More as we get it...

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Ryan Stone Heads to Calgary

The first of what will likely be a few exiting UFA's from last years Oilers squad has left knowing there just isn't going to space for them in Edmonton.
UFA Ryan Stone has signed with the Calgary Flames. A two way deal worth $500,000 in the NHL and $100,000 in the AHL has sent Stone south a few hundred kilometers.

Stone missed much of last season with the Oilers due to a knee surgery. In 27 games he tallied 6 points and 48 penalty minutes.

Some quick reaction from a few fans has people suggesting Stone is the next Curtis Glencross. People were upset when Glencross was signed to a contract in Calgary after being seemingly ignored by the Oilers. Glencross started strong in the first part of the following season, but never really became the superstar his points in the final few games he played with Edmonton might have suggested he'd be.

Stone is a gritty mucker type player. The Oilers won't miss him though. He played few games, he fills no real glaring need and I'll bet if people had to try and figure out where to stick him in the depth chart of this years Oilers squad, they wouldn't know where to start.

Better to let him move on and try and earn some playing time elsewhere.

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Oilers Prospect Camp Day 1

I had the chance to pop by the camp this morning. I got there just after 9am and was able to grab a good seat. Glad I did because by 10am it was packed.

Lots of people just wanting to watch the new faces and lots of people with no clue who certain people were, but it was cool to see Edmontonians get behind these kids as the Oilers will likely have a number of them in their lineup come opening night.

Here's a few notes from what I gathered today:

The Oilers started with some skating drills with Steve Serdachny. I'm no hockey player, but some of the drills were interesting including a jumping drill when players would wave their own sticks under their feet and be forced to jump over them. Some of the prospects did well, others really struggled. This was the first time I noticed MPS who really stood out here. As you read you'll start to notice a recurring theme... MPS was awesome -- there is some real power in his stride.

Serdachny wasted no time getting on kids and he played no favorites. Among others, he harped on Eberle a bit. Not because Eberle wasn't skating but I think because he saw the potential in Eberle being able to set the tone to the rest of the rookies. I was impressed with Eberle considering the knock on him is his skating speed. Eberle to me actually looked a step faster than a lot of the other prospects and from what I've seen before.

The zamoboni came out and did a lap around the ice. All went well until the second machine spit out a whack of ice and left the driver looking like a real putz. Kelly Buchburger wound up spending a few minutes trying to get rid of the debris. Fortunately it had no effect on the rest of the day.

Mike Sillinger took over with some additional offensive drills. 3 on 0 and breakout drills were the meal of the day. Again, some kids struggled and others picked up on things right away. You could really tell the high end prospects from some of the later picks. A few names surprised me too like Kristians Pelss who has an unbelieveable release. Again MPS stood out with his speed and size. Taylor Hall got a few fan reactions for some pretty stick handling and shots when he started to put a bit more effort into it. For the most part however, Hall looked tired and not surprisingly. I can't imagine how much running around he's done since his arrival.

Renney, Sillinger and Buchburger then finished off with some breakout drills and game of rebound on the goalie Tyler Bunz. Bunz looked great and the only player to really light him up was center Tyler Pitlick. Pitlick has a great snap/wrist shot and scored about three consecutive on a goalie who otherwise made some crazy good saves.

In an interview after day one, Renney mentioned after the fact that there wasn't too much of a premuim placed on effort today. This camp is more about the kids getting to know each other, the coaching staff and getting their footing back on the ice. Many of the kids were tired, jet lagged and haven't rested much yet.

Kids like Anton Lander, who provided the most entertaining moments of the day with a few spills and a nice reaction to a fan with a Sweden t-shirt, was visibily tired. He landed late last night, but kept a smile on his face all day.

It was an interesting camp to say the least and I look forward to tomorrow. I'll be looking at a few of the defencemen in a bit more detail. If you have any players you'd like me to keep an eye on, feel free to leave it in the comments section.

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What Heading For Arbitration Will Tell Us About Three Oilers

31 players filed for arbitration on Monday. Three of them came from the Edmonton Oilers.

Gilbert Brule, Jeff Deslauriers and J.F. Jacques have all decided they have a case to make before an arbitrator. Their hope is to get the maximum allowable for a player of similar skillset, experience and salary in their given position. Their other hope? To stay employed when all is said and done.

For two of these three players, the odds of employment may have gone down a tad.

Gilbert Brule is the one player of these three that might have the right to take the Oilers to arbitration. As a first round draft pick, he played significantly more minutes last season, scored 17-20-37 in 65 games and came in fourth in team scoring. Had he played a full 82 game schedule, he can argue he was on pace for 22 goals and 25 assists for 45 points.

Those results are reasonable numbers for a player looking to get a $2 million plus salary for about two years. That Brian Burke gave Kulemin a similar deal in Toronto, helps the cause of a player like Brule when making compareables.

The other card up Brule's sleeve is that he is aware of Edmonton's desire to keep him knowing he has tremendous upside and grit unlike some of the other fowards on this roster. He fits into their 3rd line center depth chart nicely and his skills suit him to be a top six forward.

For a number of reasons, unless a trade becomes available to Edmonton that sees Brule involved and gives the Oilers better return or a chance to make other required moves, the Oilers will likely try to get a deal done before Brule's scheduled arbitration hearing. Something similar to what Nilsson got two years ago isn't out of the question.

As for J.F. Jacques and Jeff Deslauriers? They should be hoping this decision doesn't cost them their respective jobs.

With how little Jacques contributes to the Oilers and the competing forwards looking for NHL jobs, Jacques should have considered himself lucky to have been qualified by Edmonton. He's been injured, he's been ineffective and he's produced nothing offensively or defensively that would warrant a large pay increase over his previous salary of $500,000.

We know Tambellini thinks a lot of what a healthy J.F. could do in terms of grit and more skilled size, but this move by J.F. can't make the Oilers happy. What kind of raise does Jacques expect to get? Is he really of the mindset that players like Boogaard and Konopka who did well in free agency is a worthwhile measuring stick?

Whatever Jacques receives from an abitrator might be a mute point. The Oilers should have no problems letting Jacques hearing come and go. If he's awarded anything more than a sniff of $700,000, the Oilers should just walk away and I think they are prepared to. I don't have it on any kind of authority, but this is the kind of writing on the wall that leads a player who should consider himself lucky to have a job, unsurprised when he isn't lucky to keep it.

Then there's Jeff Deslauriers. Deslauriers has a bit stronger a case, but it isn't looking good for the default starter. The Oilers are in no real rush to keep Deslauriers. Instead the real issue here is that the Oilers are hesitant to give up Deslauriers for nothing. No team wants to lose a higher draft pick for nothing. Deslauriers is taking a risk that Edmonton feels that way about him too.

Edmonton is already dealing with the three headed goalie monster. Tambellini has gone on record saying there won't be three goalies to start the season. Between Khabibulin, Dubnyk and Deslauriers, where does JDD think that leaves him?

If Khabibulin doesn't return, Deslaurier may catch a break. If Bulin does come back, Deslauriers may be looking for a backup job somewhere since the Oilers can and likely will sign Dubnyk to a much lower and more reasonable contract. If all else fails, Edmonton can always head to the wealth of goalie talents on the market that can be had for fair value.

Three very different cases, three likely different outcomes. A betting man might say Brule has the best shot at being an Oiler next season. Even that isn't a gimmie by any means.

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Probert...More Than a Fighter

This is Bob Probert. Most know him as one of the heavyweight greats. His bouts with the likes of Tie Domi, Stu Grimson, Joey Kocur, Marty McSorley and others are of legend in the NHL. Probert truly was a feared tough guy and known league wide for it.

Probert was drafted as the 4th pick in the third round (46th overall) in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, in which the Red Wings also selected his "Bruise Brother" Joey Kocur. He spent his career as a penalty minute producing machine until 1989 when he was arrested for cocaine possession while crossing the Detroit-Windsor border. He served three months in a federal prison in Minnesota, three more months in a halfway house, and was indefinitely suspended from the NHL. The NHL lifted the suspension at the conclusion of his prison term.

The time didn't seem to slow Probert down too much, coming back as an Alternate Captain with Detroit and averaging 40 points a season. He continued as a strong roster player for the Red Wings until 1994 when Probert wasn't renewed in Detroit after a motorcycle accident that again got him in a bit of legal trouble.

While Probert had his ups and downs, many don't know how good of a hockey player Probert was. Younger fans now know him as one of the true heavyweights back in the day. Heavyweights in that regard did have decent NHL careers. But Probert was unlike the Derek Boogaards of todays NHL because Probert was a skilled NHL'er who produced often as many points and he did penalties.

Did you know that Probert had 5 NHL seasons where he was close to 40 points or more? Can you remember the last true heavyweight to do that? Did you know that in 87/88 Probert had 62 points in the regular season and 21 points in 16 games during the playoffs? He scored more than 20 goals twice in his career and in one season came awfully close with 19.

Except being voted to the 87–88 Campbell Conference all-star team, Probert would make you pay on the ice in a bunch of ways and he rarely got enough credit for it.

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Today, AM 800 CKLW reported that emergency crews met a boat with other passengers in Lakeshore, Ont., just east of Windsor. On that boat was the 45-year-old Probert who had collapsed and at the time had no vital signs. They performed CPR on the former Red Wings and Blackhawks’ forward and transported him to Windsor Regional Hospital, but he could not be revived. Probert was later pronounced dead.

Probert, who was married with twin boys, had a great NHL career. In 16 seasons in NHL Probert had amassed 384 points and 3,300 penalty minutes. He was feared, liked, respected and popular around the league. Probert had his troubles, but had cleaned up his life to a large degree. He made a lot of post career appearances including charity work and a recent visit with the Canadian troops in Afghanistan as part of an NHL alumni tour.

Probert will always be remembered as one of the true heavyweights. I'll remember him as a guy who had his ups and downs, but seemed much nicer in public appearances than his on-ice persona ever made you think he'd be.

This is a sad day for the NHL and for Bob Probert's family and friends. Our prayers go out to everyone who knew him and for the fans who loved to watch Probert do his thing.

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