A Competitive Advantage

Jonathan Willis
December 22 2012 11:37AM

If the NHL starts up again in January, the Edmonton Oilers might be one of the league’s most improved teams. The shorter season means that low probability events – things like Nikolai Khabibulin's red hot start to 2011-12 or Jeff Deslauriers' five consecutive road wins back in 2009-10 – will have more impact than they would over an 82-game schedule. More than that, however, the Oilers have a competitive advantage.

That advantage is the Oklahoma City Barons. Robin Brownlee wrote briefly yesterday about the impact guys hitting the ground running could have and I’m in complete agreement on that score.

The fact that three of the Oilers’ top-six players – Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – will have 20+ games under their belt by the time the league is back in session is almost certainly a good thing. This isn’t the 1970’s, so “mid-season shape” doesn’t mean what it used to, but it seems entirely reasonable that a 20-year old who has been skating regularly in game situations is going to outperform a 30-year old who has not been playing competitive hockey all year.

For Hall in particular, starting in the minors is a positive. It was obvious that he was at less than 100 percent coming off shoulder surgery; he did not excel in his first few games with the Barons. He’s been exceptional since, though, rivaling Jordan Eberle as the team’s best forward.

The advantage goes beyond that, however.

On defence, Justin Schultz has been a revelation. I had high expectations, given what scouts and hockey men I respect have had to say about him over the years, but he’s blown those expectations out of the water. This summer, I posited that the Oilers needed a backup plan on the blue line just in case Schultz had difficulty adjusting to the majors. I still think the team could use some help on the back end but those concerns are gone: Justin Schultz is and was NHL-ready.

There is some fear that Schultz – as with many college players before him – hits a wall at the mid-season mark. But this is a guy who has been the AHL’s best player in the early going, a guy who on playmaking ability alone is probably the Oilers best offensive rearguard already. He should get top-four minutes in the first NHL game he plays.

Other Barons players either should or could play a key role in Edmonton.

Teemu Hartikainen appears to have won a job; he fit well on a line with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins but at least as importantly has continued to be a factor when separated from the elite talent. I am still dubious about his offensive upside, but he looks to me like a guy who can be a decent complementary player on a skill line and given his size and willingness to play a physical game he is a good fit for team need. He is particularly adept at the cycle game in the offensive zone, something valuable regardless of which line he ends up on.

Magnus Paajarvi may or may not get a job immediately once hockey starts up, but there’s virtually no chance he isn’t on the Oilers’ roster at some point this year if hockey is played. He lacks the finishing ability of an elite player, but what he has a real knack for is puck possession – he is both a capable distributer and a great option for skating the puck up ice. Combine that with his penchant to cheat for defense, and he’s a guy who can fill in anywhere.

Yann Danis is the other guy who might crack the Oilers’ roster relatively early in the year. Nikolai Khabibulin was hurt this fall, and though it seems like he’s ready to go he also turns 40 in January; maybe the time off helps him, but there should be no tolerance for early season struggles. Danis has been excellent for the Barons after a lousy October, he has NHL experience, and he’s a capable backup if Khabibulin falters and/or is hurt again.

If the season starts in January, these guys – along with players who have played in Europe, like Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner and Ladislav Smid – will give the Oilers an advantage other teams don’t have: a strong core of players who don’t need to adjust to playing hockey again. It’s the exact sort of advantage that could propel the Oilers up the Western Conference standings, and cause individual players to surpass expectations.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 DSF
December 22 2012, 11:51AM
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The flip side of the coin is that more mature teams with very skilled players will be more rested for a stretch drive.

In a 48 game season, the first and last 10 games will be hugely important.

While I agree there is an early advantage, it would disappear at around the 20 game mark and the teams with elite skill will start to take over.

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#2 FastOil
December 22 2012, 11:57AM
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I agree with your points but still feel the lack of experience and lack of defenseman with experience and/or enough ability will trump having the motor running.

Perhaps we might see another hot start, but the better teams will pick up speed fast as there will be no time to waste.

I also think after players get their legs back the older players may have advantage in not being as worn down. The quality vets will have more gas in the tank than they typically would.

That could make the playoffs pretty good.

I don't see the Oilers moving forward much yet. Not until the younger skill players can play better without being sheltered as much (Hall is already there of course) and they find or develop an at least stable group of defenders.

I think they are still too green and there are too many holes left in the roster despite the talent.

Besides, I want Jones or one of those quality centres coming up. Too soon, especially with the season messed up.

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#3 FastOil
December 22 2012, 11:59AM
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Sorry to repeat, DSF beat me to a few points as I wrote.

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#4 Romulus' Apotheosis
December 22 2012, 12:06PM
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JW,

While I completely agree with you and Brownlee that the Oil have some structural advantages over other teams (esp. having the forward core already playing together in a competitive league)...

I just want to re-iterate my question from yesterday regarding what you call "low probability events":

Isn't it just as likely that such events unfold in the opposite manner?

i.e., that a small sample size comes out at a cost rather than a benefit?

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#5 Rama Lama
December 22 2012, 12:12PM
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Finally we seem to have a team......but no hockey?

Scrooge came and visited me last night and told me that there will be no hockey this year! Yes the NHLPA will reduce itself to playing outdoor games for free! This joke of a union is going to self-mutilate itself to death.

That is the best we can hope for. I pray that all of the champions of this union get what they deserve........eternal damnation! If we never get to see Horcoff play again, this will all be worth it.

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#6 DSF
December 22 2012, 12:59PM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

JW,

While I completely agree with you and Brownlee that the Oil have some structural advantages over other teams (esp. having the forward core already playing together in a competitive league)...

I just want to re-iterate my question from yesterday regarding what you call "low probability events":

Isn't it just as likely that such events unfold in the opposite manner?

i.e., that a small sample size comes out at a cost rather than a benefit?

That's why the first 10 games will be critical.

If the Oilers get behind the 8 ball, they could be hooped.

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#7 DSF
December 22 2012, 01:01PM
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From Elite prospects:

Matias Strozyk Matias Strozyk ‏@MaStrozyk

Pardubice announce Ales Hemsky (14-18-32 in 27 GP), Jakub Kindl (1-10-11 in 27 GP), & David Krejci (16-11-27 in 24 GP) are leaving the team.

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/22/krejci-hemsky-and-kindl-leave-pardubice/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

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#8 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:12PM
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DSF wrote:

The flip side of the coin is that more mature teams with very skilled players will be more rested for a stretch drive.

In a 48 game season, the first and last 10 games will be hugely important.

While I agree there is an early advantage, it would disappear at around the 20 game mark and the teams with elite skill will start to take over.

By that point how many points are those "elite" teams going to have to make up to catch the mighty OIL.

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#9 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:13PM
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your point is moot as usual DSF

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#10 Johe
December 22 2012, 01:15PM
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DSF wrote:

From Elite prospects:

Matias Strozyk Matias Strozyk ‏@MaStrozyk

Pardubice announce Ales Hemsky (14-18-32 in 27 GP), Jakub Kindl (1-10-11 in 27 GP), & David Krejci (16-11-27 in 24 GP) are leaving the team.

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/22/krejci-hemsky-and-kindl-leave-pardubice/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

That's odd. Any explanation?

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#11 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:23PM
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DSF wrote:

From Elite prospects:

Matias Strozyk Matias Strozyk ‏@MaStrozyk

Pardubice announce Ales Hemsky (14-18-32 in 27 GP), Jakub Kindl (1-10-11 in 27 GP), & David Krejci (16-11-27 in 24 GP) are leaving the team.

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/22/krejci-hemsky-and-kindl-leave-pardubice/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Hate to say it DSF but this stuff is the only stuff your good for. Keeping us in the loop.

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#12 Robin Brownlee
December 22 2012, 01:23PM
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Johe wrote:

That's odd. Any explanation?

One . . . pending deal on CBA.

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#13 Johe
December 22 2012, 01:29PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

One . . . pending deal on CBA.

Pending as in there's a deal on the table? I thought the two sides were hardly even talking...

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#14 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:30PM
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Have too see if others start leaving the swiss and KHL leagues soon. Hope so, does anyone else think the Caps are gonna have a real hard time getting Ovi back?

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#15 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:32PM
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Johe wrote:

Pending as in there's a deal on the table? I thought the two sides were hardly even talking...

They have been talking just behind closed doors with nothing being leaked.

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#16 David S
December 22 2012, 01:36PM
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Johe wrote:

Pending as in there's a deal on the table? I thought the two sides were hardly even talking...

It either gets done in the next couple of weeks or the season is lost. The odds favor a new CBA. Neither the league (credibility, retaining sponsors) nor the players ($$$) can afford to lose an entire season.

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#17 jay
December 22 2012, 01:38PM
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none of it matters anymore! hope they enjoy playing infront of empty arenas while us fans with integrity watch chl and juniors

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#18 DSF
December 22 2012, 01:38PM
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Oilertown wrote:

Hate to say it DSF but this stuff is the only stuff your good for. Keeping us in the loop.

Better than being good for nothing.

Please look in mirror.

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#19 Johe
December 22 2012, 01:41PM
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@DSF

OOOOOOOH BURN!!!!!!

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#20 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 01:44PM
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DSF wrote:

Better than being good for nothing.

Please look in mirror.

Ohhhh good one. I post about the Oilers and their bright future. What do you post about DSF? Nothing but a steady stream of negativity about the Oilers management and team that no one cares about. So again this is an Oilers site if you have nothing nice to say about this team then buzz off and go to whatever site of team you like.

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#21 RexLibris
December 22 2012, 01:45PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

One . . . pending deal on CBA.

Robin Brownlee for Santa Claus 2012!

If it were just Hemsky how many of us would be holding our breath thinking it was an injury? With Kindl and Krejci coming home as well, it would certainly seem a deal might be close.

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#22 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 02:05PM
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Johe wrote:

OOOOOOOH BURN!!!!!!

Not really even if in fact I did add nothing which I do, its still better then what he adds to any Oilers based conversation.

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#23 Johe
December 22 2012, 02:12PM
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@Oilertown

I'm just playin. Been watching too much of That 70's Show lately. Kelso is always looking for a good burn.

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#24 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 02:22PM
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Johe wrote:

I'm just playin. Been watching too much of That 70's Show lately. Kelso is always looking for a good burn.

Lol used to love that show.

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#26 nuge2nail
December 22 2012, 02:47PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

The Oilers always start off hot, and than goaltending starts to cost them tight games, the vets become useless and the team loses all confidence.

The best thing that could happen for this team is a short season, we will come flying out the gates, and Eberle will make big plays and carry us to the playoffs. Yakupov, Shultz, Hall, Hopkins, Whitney, and Hemsky will need to be healthy as well.

Im predicting a Presidents trophy start with a 7th-8th seed finish. Wow would Rexall place ever be rocking in the Playoffs, this is Oil Country and im getting chills just thinking about the playoffs - its been too long.

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#27 Romulus' Apotheosis
December 22 2012, 02:52PM
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DSF's article makes the case that it seems the mass exodus from one team may indicate CBA talk movement... but also adds this non-trivial nugget:

"It would seem logical that they’re coming back to see if there will be an NHL season. Should that wind up being canceled, you have to think they’ll have a spot waiting for them in Pardubice."

Looks like these 3 may simply be leaving in the hopes (rather than the expectation) that a deal gets done early in the new year, with an agreement (of sorts) that a job is available without any trouble back in CZ whenever.

@JW

"But I'd argue that a short season benefits the less talented teams by emphasizing chance to a greater degree."

I think that is right about emphasizing chance... but I'm not certain that equals a clear benefit.

If there are three basic scenarios:

1) chance fails to deviate;

2) chance deviates at a benefit (health, streaky play, catching under-performing teams, etc); and

3) chance deviates at a cost (health, streaky play, catching over-performing teams, etc)

than it is still unclear to me that 2 is a lock (assuming an ideal, original position scenario).

that said, there are some structural signs the Oil may out-perform opponents (mostly having a large core playing competitively together already)

I'd be loath to call those structural advantages "chance" though.

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#28 Fatbob24
December 22 2012, 03:32PM
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Oilertown wrote:

Ohhhh good one. I post about the Oilers and their bright future. What do you post about DSF? Nothing but a steady stream of negativity about the Oilers management and team that no one cares about. So again this is an Oilers site if you have nothing nice to say about this team then buzz off and go to whatever site of team you like.

Keeps our feet on the ground and provides us with something to argue about, lol. Once the season starts (if), the results will speak for themselves. Good or bad ( oh lord, a small Christmas miracle? Just make brownlee right, just this once?)

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#29 B S
December 22 2012, 03:56PM
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@Romulus' Apotheosis

Willis' point is that chance aside, the Oilers are not a playoff team, i.e. most other teams are better than them, by this token, catching over-performing teams, bad health (a staple of Oilers hockey), and losing streaks is the norm for the Oilers. basically the results from 1) and 3) are incredibly similar, so that the the only two options remaining when chance becomes a significant factor are the norm and winning streaks, vs just the norm during a full season.

This is why JW and Brownlee only see upside to a shortened season. Anything is better than the status quo.

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#30 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 04:06PM
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Fatbob24 wrote:

Keeps our feet on the ground and provides us with something to argue about, lol. Once the season starts (if), the results will speak for themselves. Good or bad ( oh lord, a small Christmas miracle? Just make brownlee right, just this once?)

That is true, perhaps I take his comments a little too personal sometimes instead of taking them as they should be.Which is to get a rise outta ppl and create some baseless humour.

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#31 Wax Man Riley
December 22 2012, 04:26PM
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@Oilertown

your point is moot as usual DSF

Did you know that in old England, a moot was a meeting of kings and heads of state in order to discuss and debate laws and legal proceedings.

So a moot point is actually a point that is up to be discussed or debated. It does not actually mean a meaningless point.

So most of DSF's points are moot. And he moots them well. ;p

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#32 OILERSORDEATH
December 22 2012, 04:52PM
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I got it now! DSF is like that fat chick that comes to the party with the two hot chicks!! You don't really want her there but.........yeah...

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#33 DieHard
December 22 2012, 04:59PM
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DSF just puts reality into HOPE. Nothing wrong with that. Never take it personally.

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#34 DSF
December 22 2012, 05:07PM
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Looks like the kids are out of school for the holidays.

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#35 Darrell
December 22 2012, 05:39PM
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@DSF

It's our playground and your the kid that no one likes ... Sorry man

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#36 Rogue
December 22 2012, 06:58PM
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Thank God Defying Sanity Forever is here. It would be a shame if 1 Oiler article did not get defiled.

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#37 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 07:35PM
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Darrell wrote:

It's our playground and your the kid that no one likes ... Sorry man

Lol that was good thanks for the laugh.

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#38 dougtheslug
December 22 2012, 08:07PM
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Johe wrote:

That's odd. Any explanation?

I'm not hearing of similar movement from other NHL players. Pardubice has a 6 day break over Christmas -maybe just coming home for Christmas?

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#39 nofool6110
December 22 2012, 08:07PM
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@DSF

I appreciate your posts. It's good to hear another voice. If you hear all the positive, it makes the negative a lot harder to swallow when it inevitably shows up.

Life ain't thorns, but life ain't roses, either.

*slowly bows out of discussion*

Yeah! Start of season! Good luck Oilers!! Yak's gonna be something.

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#40 John Chambers
December 22 2012, 08:29PM
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A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE

The Oilers 6th defenseman is Corey Potter, a career AHL'er

The Oilers 5th defenseman is the fragile, underperforming Ryan Whitney

The Oilers 4th defenseman is a raw rookie, albeit an impressive one in Justin Schultz

None of the Oilers top-3 defensemen are legitimate top-pair options.

If they make that rumored "big trade", it had better be for a very good defenseman.

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#41 DSF
December 22 2012, 08:31PM
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nofool6110 wrote:

I appreciate your posts. It's good to hear another voice. If you hear all the positive, it makes the negative a lot harder to swallow when it inevitably shows up.

Life ain't thorns, but life ain't roses, either.

*slowly bows out of discussion*

Yeah! Start of season! Good luck Oilers!! Yak's gonna be something.

It happens every off season.

The fanboys think the Oilers are a powerhouse and then they start to play hockey.

While there's a lot to look forward to regarding the Oilers, they still have smoking holes in the lineup.

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#42 DSF
December 22 2012, 08:32PM
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John Chambers wrote:

A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE

The Oilers 6th defenseman is Corey Potter, a career AHL'er

The Oilers 5th defenseman is the fragile, underperforming Ryan Whitney

The Oilers 4th defenseman is a raw rookie, albeit an impressive one in Justin Schultz

None of the Oilers top-3 defensemen are legitimate top-pair options.

If they make that rumored "big trade", it had better be for a very good defenseman.

Pretty much sums it up.

And, of course the Oilers goaltending is suspect and their bottom 6 forwards are sketchy at best.

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#43 Oilertown
December 22 2012, 10:40PM
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DSF wrote:

Pretty much sums it up.

And, of course the Oilers goaltending is suspect and their bottom 6 forwards are sketchy at best.

Oils bottom 6 is coming along with Jones Smitty Harski Horcs Vandevele and and Belanger and maybe MPS unless they decide to leave him in the minors. Their D is coming along with the addition of Schultz and a full year of Schultz SR. Dubnyk had a great end to the year.

A little more worrying about your aging Nucks and a little less with the soon to be perennial playoff team of the Oil.

Granted things may not go as planned but with the fab 5 atleast the future is very bright.

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#44 David S
December 22 2012, 11:17PM
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John Chambers wrote:

A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE

The Oilers 6th defenseman is Corey Potter, a career AHL'er

The Oilers 5th defenseman is the fragile, underperforming Ryan Whitney

The Oilers 4th defenseman is a raw rookie, albeit an impressive one in Justin Schultz

None of the Oilers top-3 defensemen are legitimate top-pair options.

If they make that rumored "big trade", it had better be for a very good defenseman.

Totally agree. Lowe pretty much said the same thing a while ago. Not to mention our "#1" goalie hasn't had a puck aimed at him in anger in how long? And our backup is...well I don't really have to go there, do I?

My guess is there's gonna be alot of 9-7 games. Our boys will be able to put 'em in but it's going to be sieve city on the back end.

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#45 nuge2nail
December 23 2012, 12:51AM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

I Imagine Our top Two Lines will consist of + Players. Yakupov should be a nice addition and news is that Hemsky is healthy and strong as he has ever been.

Which means that if our third line Jones Horcoff Hartkainen outplay other teams third lines this team has a shot of getting into the playoffs.

When Whitney is your number 5 Dman your D isnt so bad. The Canucks backend is a model where you dont need a true #1 to win the presidents trophy. Its realistic to think SMID and PETRY will continue to develop, if WHITNEY stays healthy, and J SCHULTZ is a calder nominee - which is realistic... well than gents our Defence is turned around. NICK is going to be a leader, the more the rest od the Defence watches him the better they will get

Dubnyk/Loungo tandem would be nice...Before the Bertuzzi trade Vancouvers goaltending situation was much worse than ours... If we can get him for lets say Magnus, Anaheims second, and Gernat.

Dubnyk gets to develop with no pressure the way schneider has and if he continues to get better management has the option to trade him for a #3/#4 solid defenseman.

Ps. Hemkys Insurance Expired, Thats Why He Is Coming Home For The Holidays

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#46 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
December 23 2012, 01:03AM
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DSF wrote:

From Elite prospects:

Matias Strozyk Matias Strozyk ‏@MaStrozyk

Pardubice announce Ales Hemsky (14-18-32 in 27 GP), Jakub Kindl (1-10-11 in 27 GP), & David Krejci (16-11-27 in 24 GP) are leaving the team.

http://prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/22/krejci-hemsky-and-kindl-leave-pardubice/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Wonder if this has anything to do with the Spengler Cup?

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#47 Johe
December 23 2012, 01:57AM
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DSF wrote:

It happens every off season.

The fanboys think the Oilers are a powerhouse and then they start to play hockey.

While there's a lot to look forward to regarding the Oilers, they still have smoking holes in the lineup.

Wait wait wait. Do you realize what you just said DSF? You said, and I quote, "there's a lot to look forward to regarding the Oilers..." It's a Festivus miracle! :)

But in all seriousness, yes, the Oilers have some holes. I mean, I think that's obvious. Only the most biased of fans would argue that.

If I could pick only one hole to fill before the season starts in October, my wish would be an experienced D-man who can play twenty reliable minutes a night, kill penalties, and chip in on the powerplay when called upon. I think that would be a reasonable expectation, though I won't hold my breath- yes, even I, a huge Oilers fan and believer, can admit that management doesn't always seem to like addressing need. That Schultz kid looks pretty good though.

So now it's your turn. If the Oilers fill only one hole before October, what would you like it to be? And be reasonable. This isn't NHL 13.(My first year controlling the Oilers we won the Cup, so yeah...)

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#48 David S
December 23 2012, 02:48AM
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I have only one question to ask.

Where the h3ll did this "Oiler domination to follow" sh!t come from? Seriously. Where?

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#49 F$@k the NHL
December 23 2012, 08:35AM
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Unfortunately no one gives a sh@t about a shortened season and there will always be a asterisk beside it...

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#50 michael
December 23 2012, 09:27AM
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Your comments regarding MP are interesting. Has MP ever played center? he guy can skate as you say.Can hold the puck and is a heck of a play maker. Most of his points have been as a play maker this season. Would it be worth the effort to move him to center and see what gives. He isn't a defensive liability either just to note. I think a change to center would make better use of his skill set. There are times he reminds me of Hemsky in his unwillingness to shoot the puck. He is almost to unselfish.

Is January 11th the drop dead date for the NHL? Is that what were being led to expect in terms of when a CBA needs to be done by?

BTW. When did DSF get internet in his bunker? I thought he was waiting for the end of the world on December 21st. See any Mayans DSF?

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