Free Agency Brings Changes to the Edmonton Oilers

Well, Edmonton Oilers fans – you were promised bold moves. After getting off to a good start with the Horcoff deal to Dallas, GM Craig MacTavish continued to put his stamp on this new Oilers team with six signings on Free Agency Friday.

Among the players signed wasAndrew Ference. The former Bruins defenseman signed a 4 year deal today, with an AAV of $3.25 million. Ference is from Edmonton, and actually grew up tagging along to Oilers practices with his neighbor Petr Klima.

The Oilers also added two former Coyotes – center Boyd Gordon (3 years, $3 million AAV) and goalie Jason LaBarbera (1 year, $1 million), filling a hole at center and providing goalie Devan Dubnyk with a reliable backup.

MacTavish wasn’t done, however. After adding free agent  F Jesse Joensuu, a former  New York Islander (2 years, $950,000 AAV), MacTavis went on to sign two former Toronto Marlies forwards – Ryan Hamilton and Will Acton. Acton is the son of new Oilers assistant coach Keith Acton, and Hamilton served as the Marlies’ captain for the past two seasons. Both played under Eakins during their time in Toronto.

The moves made today by the Oilers address a great many needs within the organization – experience and grit on defense, depth at center, a backup goalie, more size and grit at forward – but there are still many moves to make. MacTavish said today that he hasn’t yet done all that he wants to make the team “tougher”, so there is undoubtedly more action in the team’s future. For today, though, the job seems to be done.

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Oilers Trade Captain Shawn Horcoff

In yet another trade made today by Dallas GM Jim Nill, the Oilers have sent their captain Shawn Horcoff to the Stars in exchange for D Philip Larsen and a 7th round pick in 2016.

New Oilers GM Craig MacTavish said shortly after taking the reins that he would like to move both Horcoff and veteran winger Ales Hemsky, preferring to give both of them a “fresh start”

elsewhere, rather than keep them in a situation potentially detrimental to both the players and the club. The trade appears to be a genuine “hockey trade”, fulfilling needs for both teams, giving the Oilers much-needed fresh blood on defense and the Stars depth at center.

Horcoff has two years left on his contract with a cap hit of $3.5m AAV. The Oilers managed to free up that space without having to eat any of the former captain’s cap hit, and got a 23-year-old right shot, puck-moving defenseman out of the deal, as well as a future draft pick. Time will tell if the trade is as good as it looks for the Oilers, but at the moment, it certainly seems MacTavish is making good on his promise to make “bold moves”.

NHL Awards: Our Picks

The NHL Awards are nearly upon us, and while due to the lockout we don’t get a fun show in Vegas this year (say it with me – “Thanks, Gary!”), the awards are still being given out. The lovely Julia and I have made our picks below – sound off as to whether you agree or not!

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On My Way To Steal Your Players

or, 5 Players Expansion Teams Should Steal (For My Benefit As A Fan).

With the NHL realignment being finalized, everyone has noticed the space left for two potential expansion teams. Speculation is already running rampant over locations (I’ve done a little myself), but what I have yet to see anyone mention is – who is going to play for these teams?

After doing a little brainstorming, I’ve put together a list of five players that I want expansion teams to steal away from their current teams purely for my own selfish reasons as a fan.

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Me Minus You Is Such a Lonely (and Scoreless) Ride

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(gif credit to cali-canuck)

You could see it on their faces during the game, and you could hear it in their voices during the postgame interviews and in Taylor Hall’s appearance on the NHL Live Arena Cam. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were back where they belonged. Last night on the ice in St. Louis, the Edmonton Oilers reunited their Kid Line, and everyone rejoiced.

Everyone, that is, except the St. Louis Blues.

To be fair, I can’t really blame the Blues. The Kid Line’s offensive effort, combined with Nikolai Khabibulin essentially standing on his head, ended in a 3-0 win for the Oilers – the exact opposite of the final score the last time these two teams met, on March 23rd in Edmonton. Apparently being shut out in their own barn really does something to the Oilers, because they weren’t giving any quarter last night, and at the core of it was this particular line of talented young forwards.

The Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle line started the shortened season together and with large expectations placed on them, after their performance last season and in the AHL during the lockout. The Oilers’ early slump, however, resulted in Ralph Krueger deciding to split the line, shuffling his players in the hopes of sparking the offense, and they’ve only been together sporadically since then – usually in cases of desperation.

I haven’t exactly been quiet about voicing my displeasure with this decision. I know that you’re all shocked.

Yesterday, Krueger said after morning skate that the forward lines were going to be “a surprise”. Line rushes in warmups looked fairly similar to recent games, so the mystery seemed unnecessary, and it made me, at least, wonder if this was going to go the same way as the last game against the Blues. But just a few minutes into the game, Krueger pulled out his line blender, shuffled everything around, and sent out the Kid Line. It was a completely different story from there on out.

Three goals. Eight combined points. A chased goalie. An almost-fight with the Blues captain in a period where the Blues became bullies and the Oilers refused to back down. These are a few of my favorite things…because the performance given by the Kid Line last night, in a game that was absolutely vital to the Oilers’ playoff chances, means that Krueger is definitely going to think twice before splitting them again. And that’s the way I like it.

That seems to be the way the kids like it too.

“They put me, Nuge and Ebs together tonight, and I thought that was great,” said Taylor Hall on the NHL Arena Cam.

“We found some chemistry early, and it worked throughout the game,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said in his postgame media availability. “It’s definitely nice to be back together and playing well.”

“We were playing well, it’s nice to play with those two,” was Jordan Eberle’s contribution. “All three of us like playing with each other, and when it’s going, it’s fun.”

It’s fun. It’s great. It’s definitely nice. And most importantly, it’s a winning combination. And that, most of all, is what the Oilers need right now.

Nail Yakupov Is A Tease, & Other Stories From Warmups

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Last night, I attended the Oilers-Predators game in Nashville, TN. Our seats were literally at the very top of the nosebleeds (not that those are bad at all in terms of seeing what’s going on) but for warmups, we were right on the glass by the Oilers bench, and I managed to get some photos of the team.

The stories that go along with some of these photos are really all that I want to say about that game.

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Sam Gagner: Tragically Underrated

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If I had asked the internet, prior to the beginning of this season, to predict who would be leading the Oilers in points at the halfway mark, I feel reasonably certain that the vast majority would’ve given me one of three names: Hall, Eberle, or Nugent-Hopkins. Some may have been generous and thrown the highly-touted rookie into the mix, given Yakupov’s past statistics, and some diehards may have gone with Hemsky. But I doubt greatly that many people would’ve predicted correctly and said Sam Gagner.

And yet, it is Gagner who sits atop the Oilers’ scoring race, rather than a member of the “Kid Line”, or the team’s latest first overall pick. On a team that is struggling to keep their heads in the game night after night, Gagner has been a much-needed source of consistency and stability, posting a point per game on average and outworking nearly everyone else on the ice.

I’m not trying to suggest that Gagner is the only Oiler putting out that kind of effort, and I don’t want to lessen the importance of what many other members of the team are doing this season. But I feel that, very often, Gagner’s accomplishments get lost in the shadow of his younger teammates, and it’s time for that to change.

Picture this: you grow up with a father who plays in the NHL for half of your childhood, a best friend who is John Tavares, and an eventual close friend named Patrick Kane. All of this combined with your small stature makes it easy for you to be shuffled aside so that the spotlight can be placed on others, no matter how quick you are.

And you keep working.

Then you get drafted in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers, and the city pins all of its hopes for a renaissance on you. You can’t return the team to its glory days by yourself, so the city turns on you. When the organization initiates a burn-it-to-the-ground rebuild and gets shiny new first-overall-draft-pick toys, the fans fall in love with them and clamor for you to be traded.

And you keep working.

Through every bit of this, you continue to work your ass off for your team. And then, when you finally give them what they want – when you show everyone what you’re capable of – people call it a fluke. They congratulate you, sure, but they do it in that disbelieving-laughter way that suggests it shouldn’t have happened; and they say that nothing like that will ever happen to you again; and, moreover, that it isn’t the kind of play that should be expected of you.

Now tell me Sam Gagner doesn’t get the shaft. I dare you.

Thankfully, it seems that this season, both fans and media alike are beginning to catch on to everything Gagner contributes to the Oilers. The organization has known for a while, and it would behoove them not to forget it – Gagner will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and if the Oilers don’t recognize what he’s worth, I can assure you that another team will.

Sam Gagner is a veteran player who is vital to the future of the Oilers’ franchise and the new dynasty that they are trying to build. He’s a proven leader both on the ice and in the room, and he is finally growing into the elite player he has the potential to be. It’s far past time he got his due.

Not A (Cookie) Monster

I definitely couldn’t have called this as the topic of my first real post this time yesterday, but the landscape of the season changes with every single game. And with this abbreviated season, there’s a lot happening all at once.

I have to say, the idea that people believe Matt Cooke would intentionally use his skate blade to injure an opponent absolutely repulses me. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and pretend that in that situation it was even possible – that while trying to regain his balance after finishing his check, Cooke was able to get his skate blade up and into the proper position to slice into Karlsson’s Achilles tendon – I find it difficult to believe that even the old Matt Cooke would’ve been capable of something like that.

Of course, as multiple replays of the incident show, there was nothing to remotely suggest that the incident was intentional, or the result of a dirty play. Let me be clear: I feel for Erik Karlsson and the Ottawa Senators. Karlsson is an incredibly talented young player who is a delight to watch (when he’s not playing against one of my teams) and with what is undoubtedly a long career ahead of him, and no one wants to see injuries like this happen to anyone. But what happened last night in the second period of the Penguins-Senators game was entirely accidental, and (further) demonizing Matt Cooke and calling for his blood isn’t going to bring Karlsson back any sooner. All that will do is cause further damage to the reputation of a man who has worked hard over the past two years to change the way that he plays his game.

Cooke took his March 2011 suspension very seriously, not in the least because he was informed by Ray Shero that his career with the Penguins was potentially in jeopardy because of it and factors surrounding it (i.e. the more dangerous aspects of his play). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player look as completely disappointed with himself as Cooke did in interviews following the suspension. He promised to work to change his play, and anyone who has been watching him play since then can vouch for the fact that he has delivered on that promise. The Matt Cooke we’ve seen on the ice last season and this one is a completely different player than the one we saw prior to the spring of 2011.

His reputation still precedes him, however, and because of that it is understandable that some fan may have immediately jumped to conclusions following the incident during last night’s game. But jumping to conclusions, particularly in this case, doesn’t achieve anything other than placing blame where it doesn’t belong. Even Shanahan and Player Safety, after reviewing from every possible angle, concluded that there was no intent to injure or evidence of it being a dirty play. Cooke is guilty of nothing more than finishing his check, trying to regain his balance, and landing in the wrong place.

Unfortunately, sometimes freak accidents happen. I wish Karlsson all the best, and hope that his recovery goes as quickly and as smoothly as possible. But I also hope that Senators fans, and other fans around the league, can start cutting Matt Cooke a little slack. He’s hardly a monster.