Free Agent Centres: Western Conference

Jonathan Willis
June 17 2013 10:50AM

With the likely departures of Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Jerred Smithson this summer, the Edmonton Oilers are in a position where they need to rebuild their depth chart at centre. Aside from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who underwent surgery this summer) and Sam Gagner (an unsigned restricted free agent), the Oilers simply don’t have reliable NHL options.

Could some of the answers be found in this summer’s class of unrestricted free agents?

We’ll look at the Eastern Conference options later on; for now let’s look at the West.

The Western Conference Class

This isn’t a strong group, and it gets weaker once seen through the prism of the Oilers’ needs. The names that stand out to me are as follow (in alphabetical order).

Steve Begin. The 35-year old enjoyed a surprisingly effective campaign in Calgary after getting released by Vancouver last year and spending the season before that in the minors. He’s a smallish (6’, 192 pounds) agitator who hits, fights and kills penalties; there is no questioning his effort but there are better players on this list.

Kyle Chipchura. Chipchura really found a home in Phoenix the last couple of seasons after bouncing around the league over the last few years, but despite improved offensive totals he’s in the same range as most of the fourth-line guys on this list; he has yet to crack the 20-point mark in the majors and was never particularly prolific in the minors either. He has decent size (6’2”, 203 pounds) and fights more than most of the guys on this list but he’s not a regular penalty-killer and his on-ice totals aren’t particularly good.

Matt Cullen. He’s definitely a little on the old side (he turns 37 in November) but he’s coming off a very strong season and has been a reliable secondary offensive option for his entire career. Like Filppula, he plays centre and wing, both special teams and wins faceoffs (54.7 percent last year); at 6’1”, 200 pounds he’s also slightly bigger.

Valtteri Filppula. The Finn with the impossible to spell name is coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, one where he picked up just 17 points over 41 games. On the plus side, he has a history of offensive production (generally in the 35-40 point range, though he recorded 66 in 2011-12), he can play both centre and left wing, he’s a strong faceoff man (winning 55.4 percent of his draws last year) and he just turned 29 in March so he’s in the prime of his career. He’s played on both special teams in Detroit, though primarily on the power play. As far as negatives go, there aren’t many; the most glaring one is that he hopes to cash in this year (reportedly seeking more than $5 million per season). He’s also a little on the small side (listed at 6’, 195 pounds).

Boyd Gordon. Bruce McCurdy wrote a nicely detailed piece on Gordon as an Oilers option a few days back; he’s a defensive specialist and a very good one. Like both Cullen and Filppula he’s a mid-size forward (6’, 200 pounds) and not overly physical; unlike those two he is a dedicated checking centre who has never topped 30 points in an NHL season. Ownership uncertainty in Phoenix means he may very well find himself looking for a new home this summer, but he’s a guy who likely tops out as a third-line centre.

Maxim Lapierre. Every time I say his name I feel the urge to duck; the Canucks agitator is roundly disliked in Edmonton but that doesn’t mean he would be a bad fit for the team. Like Gordon, he’s a defensive specialist who wins faceoffs, kills penalties and sits in the prime of his career; unlike Gordon he is significantly bigger (6’2”, 207 pounds) and extremely physical. Vancouver has been slow to talk to him, so he’s likely heading elsewhere this summer. His offensive numbers also have some possibility of improvement – like Gordon, he’s never cracked the 30 point barrier but he has been a ~20 point scorer in situations where he started almost exclusively in his own end. In a more balanced role, he might deliver more.

Manny Malhotra. One of the best third-line centres in the league between 2005 and 2011, Malhotra’s career is in some jeopardy after suffering a major eye injury near the end of the 2010-11 season. No player in the Behind the Net era has played more defensive minutes; given how close Malhotra came to zero offensive zone usage under Alain Vigneault it’s possible no player in NHL history has started a higher portion of his shifts in the defensive zone. The question is whether the 6’2”, 220 pound centre – who still kills penalties and excels in faceoffs – has lost his game to that eye injury, or whether he’d rebound if given less Sisyphean minutes.

Brad Richardson. Richardson has a Stanley Cup ring, but far more importantly once upon a time he fought Teemu Selanne:

He’s been an effective utility guy with the Kings, but unlike many of the other options here he isn’t a penalty killer and despite playing a chippy game he isn’t all that big. On the other hand, he’s had some pretty good offensive seasons for a fourth-liner – he was a point-per-game guy in the minors and despite poor totals the last few seasons has occasionally challenged the 30 point mark in limited minutes.

Jerred Smithson. Oilers fans have had an opportunity to see Smithson firsthand, and he isn’t especially exciting. What he might be is useful as the team’s fifth centre – the guy who sits in the press-box much of the time and fills in as needed. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs, makes safe simple plays and adds a bit of size (6’3”, 209 pounds) and a willingness to hit. If he comes cheaply enough, the Oilers could do worse in a reserve role.

David Steckel. The Oilers could do a lot worse than David Steckel in a fourth-line role. The 31-year old stands 6’6”, kills penalties, wins faceoffs (he’s one of the best in the league in that role) and has an above average physical game. He’s also a guy who does a consistently good job of limiting shots and chances against in a highly defensive role – over the last four years he’s generally been on the ice for three defensive zone draws for every two in the attacking zone. He doesn’t add a lot offensively – he’s in the 15-20 point range most years – but given role and minutes played that’s not bad.

Recently around the Nation Network

It's very possible that we could be witnessing the final days of the Phoenix Coyotes - after years of staving off relocation, it appears the club is in serious jeopardy of moving to Seattle:

Quoting a statement by Seattle's mayor, Mike McGinn, Hansen introduced a pair of potential investors to Seattle city council. McGinn said to KING TV, "As recent news reports indicate, it appears the NHL is taking the new ownership proposal seriously."

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, 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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#101 OilersBrass
June 17 2013, 06:11PM
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If he had a beard, he could pass as Jesus.

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#102 MKE
June 17 2013, 06:20PM
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Go back and look at what Howson gave up in the deals he did. Especially for guys like Nikitin, Letestu, Bobrovsky...i believe this management team will surprise a few people.

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#103 MKE
June 17 2013, 06:29PM
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DSF wrote:

Let's be honest here kids.

Kevin Lowe has been the pilot of the Good Ship Lollipop for well over a decade.

He steered the ship into an iceberg.

HE hired Steve Tambellini who had been passed over in Vancouver THREE times.

He signed off on hiring Ralph Krueger.

He then signed off on hiring MacT as GM without doing a proper search for the best candidate available (see Nill, Jim for reference).

The guy he hired then publicly supported Krueger mere days before firing him and hiring another coach with no NHL track record when other much more qualified candidates were on the market.

When you want to know why the Oilers are a dreadful hockey team, put Yakkity Sax on the turntable and stare at pictures of Kevin Lowe.

Could MacT be better than Tambellini... maybe.

Will Eakins be better than Krueger...maybe.

Please note that the assistant coaches and pro scouting staffs who assisted in the Drive to the Ditch ® are still gainfully employed by the worst franchise in the National Hockey League.

I didnt say change wasn't needed. I believe MacT is the right guy for this team right now. And i would have taken him over Jim Nill.

I get that you don't like it. Im not sure why we have to hear that 25 times a day from you.

And on Dubinsky and his 5 on 5 numbers. If someone else would have thrown out those stats from last year to support their point, you would have had a fit because it was based off his highest ever ppg average in a season where it was shortened AND he was hurt part of the year.

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#104 MKE
June 17 2013, 06:31PM
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And again...you seemed to have no problems with Eakins when he was possibly going to Vancouver.

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#105 horndog77
June 17 2013, 07:17PM
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Trades are our only hope! As much as I'd like the high draft pick with hopes of Edmonton trading up for Sasha or Nic#@!$#& how ever you spell his name. The fact remains that Edmonton needs a NHL center now and not two to three years from now! I hope they can hammer out a deal with Philly for Sean or Schenn, hell Boston for Seguin. One top four defenseman, one backup goalie and solid center. Those are the three top priorities if you ask me. Those third and fourth lines can be found through free agency.

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#106 DSF
June 17 2013, 07:36PM
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MKE wrote:

I didnt say change wasn't needed. I believe MacT is the right guy for this team right now. And i would have taken him over Jim Nill.

I get that you don't like it. Im not sure why we have to hear that 25 times a day from you.

And on Dubinsky and his 5 on 5 numbers. If someone else would have thrown out those stats from last year to support their point, you would have had a fit because it was based off his highest ever ppg average in a season where it was shortened AND he was hurt part of the year.

1) why, exactly, do you think so?

2) Nonsense.

3)

Dunbinsky:

12/13 ON +- +.64

11/12 ON +- +.61

10/11 ON +- -.38

Gagner:

12?13 ON +- -.53 11/12 ON +- +.50 10/11 ON +- -1.02

Gagner has ONE decent season but has been dreadful defensively for two of the last 3 seasons.

Dubinsky has been getting better every season.

Gagner scores slightly more but gives up far more than he scores.

Dubinsky is paid $4.2M while Gagner is reportedly seeking $5M.

No brainer.

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#107 DSF
June 17 2013, 07:38PM
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MKE wrote:

And again...you seemed to have no problems with Eakins when he was possibly going to Vancouver.

Vancouver had already fired AV.

Edmonton already had a coach they hired a year ago.

In any event, I've always thought Dave Tippet would be the ideal coach for Vancouver.

Could happen.

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#108 MKE
June 17 2013, 07:48PM
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DSF wrote:

Vancouver had already fired AV.

Edmonton already had a coach they hired a year ago.

In any event, I've always thought Dave Tippet would be the ideal coach for Vancouver.

Could happen.

So any position you have filled you should never look to upgrade at that position? That's insanity. MacT felt he could upgrade and he did what he felt he needed to do.

And I never said Dubinsky wasn't a good player. Im saying you cant win with a whole team of Brandon Dubinsky's and I dont feel Dubinsky will have this much value again.

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#109 loglady
June 17 2013, 07:51PM
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Sign Lapierre

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#110 MKE
June 17 2013, 07:51PM
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DSF wrote:

Vancouver had already fired AV.

Edmonton already had a coach they hired a year ago.

In any event, I've always thought Dave Tippet would be the ideal coach for Vancouver.

Could happen.

I also highly doubt Tippet would join that train wreck thats abput to happen in Vancouver. Gillis is about to be exposed.

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#111 DSF
June 17 2013, 07:58PM
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MKE wrote:

I also highly doubt Tippet would join that train wreck thats abput to happen in Vancouver. Gillis is about to be exposed.

Nonsense.

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#112 DSF
June 17 2013, 07:58PM
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Bob Stauffer ‏@Bob_Stauffer 2m The #Oilers will not be getting Corban Knight

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#113 DSF
June 17 2013, 07:59PM
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MKE wrote:

So any position you have filled you should never look to upgrade at that position? That's insanity. MacT felt he could upgrade and he did what he felt he needed to do.

And I never said Dubinsky wasn't a good player. Im saying you cant win with a whole team of Brandon Dubinsky's and I dont feel Dubinsky will have this much value again.

Dubinsky is a better player than Gagner...by any metric.

Did MacT upgrade?

Explain why you think so.

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#114 DSF
June 17 2013, 08:09PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

Back to your old tricks again eh. You must get sick of always being right.

Reality is a bitch.

Is there another team in the NHL that would have hired MacT to be GM?

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#115 madjam
June 17 2013, 08:20PM
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Deletions : Horcoff , Hemsky , Whitney , Smyth ? Gagner ? entire bottom six ? Additions : Belov . 13 days to draft day , and this is not looking good so far . Can't seem to unload , and conversely , can't seem to add . No reason to drink the Kool-Aid at this stage . The walk is becoming more like the crawl with each passing day . Must be Tams incognito .

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#116 Racki
June 17 2013, 08:32PM
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madjam wrote:

Deletions : Horcoff , Hemsky , Whitney , Smyth ? Gagner ? entire bottom six ? Additions : Belov . 13 days to draft day , and this is not looking good so far . Can't seem to unload , and conversely , can't seem to add . No reason to drink the Kool-Aid at this stage . The walk is becoming more like the crawl with each passing day . Must be Tams incognito .

Of your list, the only player that is going anywhere with for sure no return is Ryan Whitney.

Also, Smyth is staying (almost guaranteed)... and Gagner probably is too. But even if Gagner is traded.. er.. dur.. they will get something back.

Horcoff and Hemsky probably won't fetch too much each, however.

As for the bottom six, I'm a firm believer that the majority of our bottom six is replaceable with any sludge floating around in the free agency pool. Not much to be upset about losing there.

Anyways, while I get your point, you've got 1 guy on your list who is for sure staying (Smyth) and 3 of the other 4 will get a return of some sort.

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#117 Eddie Shore
June 17 2013, 08:33PM
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DSF wrote:

Reality is a bitch.

Is there another team in the NHL that would have hired MacT to be GM?

You tell me. You seem to have all the answers.

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#118 DSF
June 17 2013, 08:36PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

You tell me. You seem to have all the answers.

No.

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#119 Racki
June 17 2013, 08:41PM
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DSF wrote:

Dubinsky is a better player than Gagner...by any metric.

Did MacT upgrade?

Explain why you think so.

I guess goals, assists and points aren't any of those metrics that really matter.

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#120 OutDoorRink
June 17 2013, 08:43PM
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No need to start hyperventilating just because old dsf is babbling on.

I'm sure that Eakins has already spoken to the team or at least some of them. He's getting a feel for what he has. MacT is working the phone coming up to the draft. We have parts to move and cap space to spare.

There's plenty of areas for improvement and that is why MacT was hired and that is why he jumped at the chance of grabbing Eakins when he did.

Keep the faith. We took a small step back last year in the over-all advancement of the team and there's no better time to rectify that than right now.

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#121 Gaz
June 17 2013, 08:48PM
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@DSF

Can you prove that statement? I'm not looking for inference, I'm looking for proof.

Let me save you the effort.

Nope.

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#122 DSF
June 17 2013, 08:50PM
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Racki wrote:

I guess goals, assists and points aren't any of those metrics that really matter.

Sure.

If you score more than you give up.

Gagner is a mess defensively.

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#123 DSF
June 17 2013, 08:52PM
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Gaz wrote:

Can you prove that statement? I'm not looking for inference, I'm looking for proof.

Let me save you the effort.

Nope.

So am I.

Prove MacT was the best man for the job.

Please bear in mind that absence of proof is not proof of evidence.

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#124 Citizen David
June 17 2013, 08:55PM
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DSF wrote:

So am I.

Prove MacT was the best man for the job.

Please bear in mind that absence of proof is not proof of evidence.

So Mactavish is guilty until proven innocent?

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#125 madjam
June 17 2013, 08:58PM
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The Oilers attempt at going after Ufa's has been minimal when bidding wars develop . Any good one will have several suitors . I doubt they will go that route . They have to use the trade route as far as I am concerned , and we are being quiet on that front . I,d like to see Smyth be the new assistant coach next season if things go well in acquisitions .

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#126 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:03PM
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DSF wrote:

Dubinsky is a better player than Gagner...by any metric.

Did MacT upgrade?

Explain why you think so.

Ganger is the better offensive player. And no i don't care to tell you because you cant do any better then " the Oilers already had a coach".

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#127 DSF
June 17 2013, 09:04PM
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Citizen David wrote:

So Mactavish is guilty until proven innocent?

No, he's incompetent until proven competent.

He has zero track record in signing players or trading for assets.

Does that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling?

If you have a different opinion, please show your work.

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#128 DSF
June 17 2013, 09:07PM
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MKE wrote:

Ganger is the better offensive player. And no i don't care to tell you because you cant do any better then " the Oilers already had a coach".

Oh, okay.

You obviously have no idea how or why hockey teams win or lose games.

Fill yer boots.

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#129 Citizen David
June 17 2013, 09:08PM
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DSF wrote:

No, he's incompetent until proven competent.

He has zero track record in signing players or trading for assets.

Does that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling?

If you have a different opinion, please show your work.

No one is incompetent until proven competent. Everyone starts with a blank slate.

I am not spooked by the MacT hiring. I have hope in him. Time will tell.

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#130 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:09PM
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DSF wrote:

So am I.

Prove MacT was the best man for the job.

Please bear in mind that absence of proof is not proof of evidence.

Its impossible to prove one way or another since results are all that matter.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

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#131 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:13PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh, okay.

You obviously have no idea how or why hockey teams win or lose games.

Fill yer boots.

No im correcting you. There are metrics where Sam is better then Dubinsky. And just as you can't win with a team of only Bandon Dubinsky's, you can't win with a team of only Sam Ganger's.

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#132 Fantheoilman
June 17 2013, 09:17PM
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Why so angry DSF? Mommy not feed your kitty? Here is a concept for you. Add to the conversation, don't take from it and turn it into a DSF hate fest. You make some real good comments. Stick to those and stop pissing of oilers fans. If your team is any team but the oilers then go to any other of the 29 teams sites. Oilers fans have been beaten down for years, we don't need you to add to the misery. It's the off season and a time for hope. So I ask of you. Let us have our hope without you being a controlling dick.

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#133 Gaz
June 17 2013, 09:18PM
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@MKE

You, sir, are a smart man! You beat me to the punch on ol' D.

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#134 DSF
June 17 2013, 09:19PM
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Eddie Shore wrote:

False. He scooped up the hottest up-and-coming coach, according to the centre of the universe. Or does that not count?

Oh. good grief.

There were far better coaches with a winning track record to choose from.

Eakins might well work out fine but there is significant evidence that AHL head coaches fail at the the NHL level.

Would you like a list?

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#135 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:20PM
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Gaz wrote:

You, sir, are a smart man! You beat me to the punch on ol' D.

ha ha if not me someone else would have. i know there are many wise people on here. it makes for good discussion

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#136 DSF
June 17 2013, 09:21PM
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djc wrote:

I wonder what DSF did with his evenings before he decided to spend them all responding to articles about a team he doesn't even like?

Wow, since 11:00am DSF has posted on this article 30+ times. Seriously old man, find something else in your life besides this website. Of course I should find something better to do than count all your comments ... maybe I'll go watch all the Grandlund highlights on YouTube.

Serial killer.

Where do you live?

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#137 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:23PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh. good grief.

There were far better coaches with a winning track record to choose from.

Eakins might well work out fine but there is significant evidence that AHL head coaches fail at the the NHL level.

Would you like a list?

Just like no team has ever won the cup withput a number 1 defenceman? *cough* carolina *cough*

Give it a rest already. When you get hired somewhere you can do with your team what you want to do.

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#138 Eddie Shore
June 17 2013, 09:25PM
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@DSF

I guess all those people, like the guys on tsn/sportsnet and the vancouver canucks and the new york rangers and the edmonton oilers, who believe Eakins to be ready for primetime are all mistaken. And you are right. How stupid of everyone.

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#139 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
June 17 2013, 09:26PM
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For a GM with a lot of work to do, Craig sure doesn't appear to be anxious to get things rolling. Certainly appears to be no plan at all.

A whole lotta talk and very little action so far. Time to pick up the pace. There's 27 other teams open for business already.

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#140 Citizen David
June 17 2013, 09:29PM
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Gaz wrote:

I would like a list.

Prior to a list, we should agree on what defines failure.

Then, for the sake a balance, please provide a complimentary list of coaches who did not "fail" at the NHL level. We can add a "neutral" category to that categories as well, if you like. Let's just make sure we're above board before embarking here.

I would also appreciate it if you made this list inclusive of all head coaches since creation of the league.

Excel format is fine. Colour-coding always helps too.

Yes please.

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#141 Gaz
June 17 2013, 09:31PM
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@Next up, is Connor McJesus.

That's a silly thing to say. Are you lurking in the bushes outside of his office, watching him play Minecraft, and therefore know conclusively that he isn't working the phones?

Just because a couple college guys were signed and an over-the-hill d-man was shipped to the zaniest org in the league doesn't mean everyone else is spinning on their thumbs.

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#142 djc
June 17 2013, 09:31PM
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DSF wrote:

Serial killer.

Where do you live?

Oh please, like you would ever leave your Kyle Wellwood doll and jar of Vaseline to hurt anyone.

You are so riled up today! It's sad this is all you have old man.

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#143 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:33PM
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Gaz wrote:

I would like a list.

Prior to a list, we should agree on what defines failure.

Then, for the sake a balance, please provide a complimentary list of coaches who did not "fail" at the NHL level. We can add a "neutral" category to that categories as well, if you like. Let's just make sure we're above board before embarking here.

I would also appreciate it if you made this list inclusive of all head coaches since creation of the league.

Excel format is fine. Colour-coding always helps too.

i think you and i will get along just fine!

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#144 Gaz
June 17 2013, 09:34PM
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@15w40

Meh, I'm having fun.

It's better than everyone slapping ass and designing their MacT tattoos together.

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#145 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:34PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

For a GM with a lot of work to do, Craig sure doesn't appear to be anxious to get things rolling. Certainly appears to be no plan at all.

A whole lotta talk and very little action so far. Time to pick up the pace. There's 27 other teams open for business already.

absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

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#146 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:41PM
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@Walter Sobchak

Good to see you Wes. I mentioned earlier that id rather have Dubinsky on THIS Oilers team right now. I agree with all your points. But Ganger is more gifted offensively. I think we all agree.

We have to give MacT and Eakins a chance to see what they can do. We can judge without any wins and losses

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#147 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
June 17 2013, 09:44PM
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MKE wrote:

absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Can I atleast get a thumbs up for the absence of motivation?

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#148 Taylor Gang
June 17 2013, 09:46PM
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MKE wrote:

Good to see you Wes. I mentioned earlier that id rather have Dubinsky on THIS Oilers team right now. I agree with all your points. But Ganger is more gifted offensively. I think we all agree.

We have to give MacT and Eakins a chance to see what they can do. We can judge without any wins and losses

I've actually said this before on ON; trading Gagner for Dubinsky and a 3rd. Thoughts?

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#149 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:47PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

Can I atleast get a thumbs up for the absence of motivation?

How do you know what his motivation level is? Im not trying to bash. Im genuinely asking.

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#150 Taylor Gang
June 17 2013, 09:48PM
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MKE I swear we have identical thoughts on the Oilers, it's almost scary

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