GOOD TEST FOR KRUEGER

Jason Gregor
February 07 2013 01:41PM

Coaches usually are graded on wins and losses. If you win, you're considered a good coach, if you lose more than you win, eventually you get fired. Of course there are other intangibles, but winning at the NHL level is the most important factor. With a young team like the Oilers, Krueger doesn't need to win right away, but he will need to make decisions and evaluations that will lead to more wins in the future.

His first good test will be how he handles Ryan Whitney.

Whitney hasn't been great, and he seems to be the new whipping boy of many fans. Regardless of how you view Whitney, it will be up to Krueger to try and get the most out of him.

Last night in OT, Jaromir Jagr beat Whitney in the corner which led to Jagr's OT winner. It was great shot and good play by a future Hall of Famer, but when you get beat one-on-one you are open for criticism.

You can see the goal again here. Just click on the blue arrow beside Jagr's goal.

If you look at the play you will see that it wasn't so much a lack of footspeed that hurt Whitney, but rather taking a bad angle to the puck. If Whitney attacks Jagr a half a foot to Whitney's right, then Jagr could have gone underneath him to the corner, rather than to the middle of the circle. If Jagr beats him down low, he doesn't have a shooting angle like he gained from going above Whitney.

It was a bad angle, and bad decision by Whitney. But getting beat by Jagr doesn't mean he is awful though. Click here and then click the blue arrow by Jamie Benn's goal. Watch Jagr fend off and beat Ladislav Smid one-on-one before giving the puck to Benn.

D-men will get beat one-on-one especially if they have to face a beast like Jagr.

The point with Whitney isn't about whether he made a bad play or not, it is whether he can return to being a consistent defender.

I don't know the answer, but Krueger can't afford to have the same mentality that many fans have right now. He can't just say Whitney sucks, put him in the pressbox and let him rot.

He could do that, but that would diminish any value Whitney has. There are teams interested in his services, but right now they all want to obtain him at a low return to the Oilers.

Maybe Whitney will never be the player he was prior to 2011.

Whitney has had seasons of 38, 59, 40 and 39 points and that incredible run of 27 points in 35 games for the Oilers in 2010/2011. But then he suffered another foot injury, and since then he hasn't been able to find his game.

It is easy to just write him off, but keep in mind how many Oiler fans, and pundits around the league, were saying the same thing about Ales Hemsky last season. Hemsky tallied 66 points in only 69 games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and last year he only picked up 36 points in 69 games.

Many screamed he was disinterested, lazy and useless and his two-year contract extension was an awful decision. Hemsky was healthy enough to dress for those 69 games, but he wasn't as strong as he had been in the past and he wasn't confident in his abilities.

Hemsky is finally healthy again, and he's back to being an incredibly dangerous player.

I'm not saying it is a guarantee Whitney will return to the player he was pre-2011, in fact, because he had foot issues, it is probably a bigger risk, but I'm very curious to see how Krueger handles him.

The combination of footspeed issues and a lack of confidence is a deadly mixture for Whitney. A coach can't magically give a player confidence, but he will play a factor in helping him try to re-gain it. Krueger is a master motivator, and this will be a great test to see how he handles Whitney.

A player can't gain confidence sitting in the pressbox or just practicing. Outside of the top 1%, every player has lost their confidence at some point. The good ones find ways to avoid losing it for long periods, while some never find it again. I have no idea which path Whitney will skate down, but if the Oilers want to get any sort of return for him, they'd be better off supporting him, than just kicking him to the pressbox.

BALANCING ACT

How will Krueger balance trying to help Whitney, while also trying to win games? Can he do both?

The reality is the Oilers don't have many better options. Can we please stop suggesting that Taylor Fedun is a better option. His coach, Todd Nelson, said he isn't ready for the NHL yet. His footspeed isn't the same after shattering his leg last year, but he is getting better Nelson said. He also has zero NHL experience, and while he'd be a great feel-good story he is not a better option at this point.

Corey Potter is not a superior player either. The Oilers could play Potter ahead of Whitney, but will they be better long-term? I don't see how. They will de-value Whitney and then just lose him for nothing in the off-season.

At this point Krueger has to see if Whitney can get close to being the player he was before the last two seasons of serious foot issues. There is no guarantee he'll ever be that player again, but it might also be too early to just discard him.

Whitney will be Krueger's first tough decision, and how he handles him will show us a lot of how he thinks and acts as a head coach.

QUICK HITS

  • The Oilers re-assigned Mark Arcobello to OKC today, because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play on Saturday.  Anton Lander will get an MRI this afternoon, and if he can't go they might recall Chris Vande Velde.
     
  • Ben Eager is close to returning, and could play as early as Saturday according to Krueger. Where do you play him though? And when you activate him to the roster, who will they send down? Will they finally part ways with Darcy Hordichuk.
     
  • Magnus Paajarvi and Teemu Hartikainen have been getting better every game. Paajarvi is using his speed more often, he drew a penalty last night, and he is going to the net better. Hartikainen is a load down low, and once he learns to shake off the defender and go to the next more frequently he'll be a solid contributor.
     
  • Lennart Petrell is getting better at ES and on the PK and he's a great shot blocker. No way he comes out with Horcoff and Belanger on the sidelines.
     
  • Ryan Jones skated with a visor for the first time today. He said he has no set timeline, but he joked, "My feet are coming along great. Hands are what they were before, not great." I suspect he might be ready to play by the 16th. The Oilers play Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday before getting three days off. That gives Jones ten days to get his cardio up to speed.  

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Bonvie
February 07 2013, 04:58PM
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@bwar

If you are wanting an enforcer like semenko than we would have waived hordichuk and picked up smac, hordichuk is not gonna scare anybody.

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#52 GVBlackhawk
February 07 2013, 05:58PM
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bwar wrote:

Same could be said for Yakupov, Whitney, Potter, and Hemsky, they've largely been defensive liabilities this year. Besides the dumb penalty Hordichuk took earlier in the year I haven't noticed this so called "bleeding" of scoring chances.

As things stand right now Oilers lack forward size and grit. Over the course of the season this will cost us games. The vikings offer a bit of grit but when things get ugly, and at some point this season they will, how will the Oilers respond?

Do you remember when Oilers had that Gretzky guy? Well they also had a guy named Semenko. And what did he do? Protected the talent. Every once in a while he took a shift or two with the top guns just to let everyone know that if they messed with Gretzky they answered to him. Without a presence like that this team will get bullied, our top players will get hurt and yet the fans will still refuse to see the value of a guy like Hordichuk.

In 2013, there is zero proof that an enforcer will "protect the kids". They are not on the ice when the best players are, therefore cannot respond to an opposing player taking liberties. They cannot 'enforce' after the fact. And the biggest problem: the opposition usually just refuses to fight. So if you jump a guy, then the team is on the hook for an instigator and a major. This is absolutely NOT a deterrent. The kids need to protect themselves with on ice awareness and the occasional lumber across an opposing player's mouth.

Semenko did a great job protecting Gretzky....30 years ago. Times have changed, the game has changed. The days of an enforcer are numbered. If you still don't believe me, have a look at the rosters of the last ten Stanley Cup winners. They don't waste roster spots on knuckle-draggers.

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#53 Rama Lama
February 07 2013, 06:23PM
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GVBlackhawk wrote:

In 2013, there is zero proof that an enforcer will "protect the kids". They are not on the ice when the best players are, therefore cannot respond to an opposing player taking liberties. They cannot 'enforce' after the fact. And the biggest problem: the opposition usually just refuses to fight. So if you jump a guy, then the team is on the hook for an instigator and a major. This is absolutely NOT a deterrent. The kids need to protect themselves with on ice awareness and the occasional lumber across an opposing player's mouth.

Semenko did a great job protecting Gretzky....30 years ago. Times have changed, the game has changed. The days of an enforcer are numbered. If you still don't believe me, have a look at the rosters of the last ten Stanley Cup winners. They don't waste roster spots on knuckle-draggers.

Your argument is full of holes.......yes the time they have changed, what has not changed is the intimidation factor.

If you think for one second that opposing players do not factor in the toughness of a team, then my friend, it's obvious you have never played the game. We must remember that we have a very highly skilled, small, team that needs some measure of protection........mainly from guys running our guys, not necessarily fighting.

The best example of a good modern day tough guy is Chris Neil who is a true policeman, not necessarily a true enforcer. I think we have one of those in Ben Eager.......except he is a one game wonder.

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#54 Rob
February 07 2013, 06:41PM
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The faults listed above vis-a-vis Whitney have been discussed to death. Whitney will never have to worry about getting injured blocking shots. He is not likely to make any play that puts him in jeopardy.

The one thing that disturbs me is Whitney's attitude. He had the 'A' ripped off his sweater before the season started. That was because of attitude. What the coaches know and we can only speculate about is his how his physical conditioning and attitude inter-lock.

It's patently unfair to push Whitney's play and ultimate fate onto Krueger. Whitney looks to me to be uncoachable based his lame effort against Jagr that led to he game-winning goal last ight. That is not a one-of incident and everyone knows it.

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#55 GVBlackhawk
February 07 2013, 06:41PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Your argument is full of holes.......yes the time they have changed, what has not changed is the intimidation factor.

If you think for one second that opposing players do not factor in the toughness of a team, then my friend, it's obvious you have never played the game. We must remember that we have a very highly skilled, small, team that needs some measure of protection........mainly from guys running our guys, not necessarily fighting.

The best example of a good modern day tough guy is Chris Neil who is a true policeman, not necessarily a true enforcer. I think we have one of those in Ben Eager.......except he is a one game wonder.

Rama, read post #35 -- you have not been following the conversation. You are reiterating what I have already stated.

And for the record, hockey analysis and the ability to play the game are mutually exclusive.

But if you ever want to get together and play, I've still got some game in my 34 year old legs.

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#56 justDOit
February 07 2013, 07:03PM
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@GVBlackhawk

34? Yeah - as long as you still have your original hips, you should be able to skate adequately.

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#57 justDOit
February 07 2013, 07:13PM
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JW's right - this is going to be a true test to see if Krueger is 'The One'. Whitney's problems just might be coachable to some extent. It figures to reason that when a player is not able to skate the way he could just a short time ago, his angles have to change and his decision-making process has to adapt in plenty. Coachable. Is Ralph our Thomas A. Anderson?

I just hope that Whitney doesn't become the next Larry Murphy.

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#58 rama lama
February 07 2013, 07:18PM
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@GVBlackhawk

sorry missed item 35.........I'm too far removed from my junior hockey days to challenge a young stud like you.

Call me Whitney.

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#59 Oilers4ever
February 07 2013, 07:49PM
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Never mind defense... The Oil need to get a centerman that can win faceoffs, and now.

If the mgmt of this team is actually SERIOUS with their so called words on getting to the playoffs then they need to do something. Sitting on their cans like they have done the last three seasons when injuries have hit will just prove their word means crap. And if that happens shame on them and fire the lot of them.

Even Tim Connolly would be an improvement, hell even Arnott at a low contract price. Doing nothing just shows mgmt doesn't give a damn, but then should we be surprised. They haven't for the last three years when injuries have hit either. Might as well let the players think losing is okay for another season... MORONS...

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#60 a lg dubl dubl
February 07 2013, 08:00PM
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Whitney, to me, seems like he's scared of the puck, scared of taking the body. A bad case of the Salo Syndrom. Can it be coached out of him, I hope so! he can be a hell of a hockey player when he's on his game.

Or maybe he really does want out of E-town who knows

I heard that Krejeci(sp?) might be available, could Whitney and the 1st round pick be enough.

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#61 Dog Train
February 07 2013, 10:10PM
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If Hordichuk can only play 1-2 minutes a night then he will have 0 impact on the game. I am actually excited for Eager's return. I really liked his game/role in the season opener. Jones also brings some grit and speed on the wing that we are missing. Krueger will have lots of tough lineup calls as this team continues to get healthy. When Eager and Belanger get back I say put Belanger between Harski and Paajarvi then put Eager on the wing with Smyth at centre and Petrell on the other wing.

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#62 Slats
February 07 2013, 11:17PM
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First if you look at Whitney's career lifetime he's a -22. His best ever season? A +13 on the backs of 27 pt/35 g season. This guy is not a defensive shutdown player. He's not. So why the hell was he out against Benn/Jagr in OT? Was this his test?

In my mind he was not set of up for success. Bad coaching decision given your choices and worse when you consider the forward pairing. You want to help him with confidence get him better matchups and offensive zone starts. You want better d-coverage match him with your best defensive Fwds.

Am I wrong here?

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#63 GVBlackhawk
February 07 2013, 11:33PM
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Dog Train wrote:

If Hordichuk can only play 1-2 minutes a night then he will have 0 impact on the game. I am actually excited for Eager's return. I really liked his game/role in the season opener. Jones also brings some grit and speed on the wing that we are missing. Krueger will have lots of tough lineup calls as this team continues to get healthy. When Eager and Belanger get back I say put Belanger between Harski and Paajarvi then put Eager on the wing with Smyth at centre and Petrell on the other wing.

Then where do you play Jones when he is ready?

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#64 GVBlackhawk
February 07 2013, 11:36PM
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justDOit wrote:

34? Yeah - as long as you still have your original hips, you should be able to skate adequately.

Ouch...is 34 really that old? I still feel good -- no gray hair :)

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#65 Bonvie
February 07 2013, 11:39PM
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@a lg dubl dubl

Another skilled small forward just what the team needs. Id rather keep Gagner.

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#66 r
February 07 2013, 11:59PM
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@ Slats

In my mind he was not set of up for success. Bad coaching decision given your choices and worse when you consider the forward pairing. You want to help him with confidence get him better matchups and offensive zone starts. You want better d-coverage match him with your best defensive Fwds.

Am I wrong here?

In a word...yes I would say you are wrong regarding Krueger's decision to put Whitney out in OT against Jagr.

He had just been benched the game prior for 'not moving his feet, gap control and defensive play'. So what does our veteran D-man do? He goes into the corner taking neither the man nor his stick, waves his stick at Jagr with one hand and gets pushed out of the way by the forward who goes to the net and scores.

Clearly the big suck learned nothing from the press box and showed the coaches just what he is or is not made of.

If he is one of the Oiler's top four D then lottery pick here we come.

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#67 Ryan2
February 08 2013, 12:07AM
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bwar wrote:

Same could be said for Yakupov, Whitney, Potter, and Hemsky, they've largely been defensive liabilities this year. Besides the dumb penalty Hordichuk took earlier in the year I haven't noticed this so called "bleeding" of scoring chances.

As things stand right now Oilers lack forward size and grit. Over the course of the season this will cost us games. The vikings offer a bit of grit but when things get ugly, and at some point this season they will, how will the Oilers respond?

Do you remember when Oilers had that Gretzky guy? Well they also had a guy named Semenko. And what did he do? Protected the talent. Every once in a while he took a shift or two with the top guns just to let everyone know that if they messed with Gretzky they answered to him. Without a presence like that this team will get bullied, our top players will get hurt and yet the fans will still refuse to see the value of a guy like Hordichuk.

You are kidding with lumping Yak and Hemmer in this list, right? Whitney and Potter are a disaster waiting to happen every shift they are paired together. Potter is not an NHL d-man - he is here because of a parting gift from Renney AND a lack of NHL ready d-men in the system.

Whitney is a shell of his former self and may never be close to the player he was pre-foot surgery.

As far as that line goes, watch closely and you will see where the forward defensive liability is, and it is not on the wings. Gagner has always been horrible defensively, and that has not changed this year. Fans may be willing to give him a pass due to his point scoring streak, but watch him closely during a game and you will see how weak he is in his own end. As lazy as Penner could be, he hid some of Sam's d-zone deficiencies by covering forwards down low for Gagner.

Hemsky is back-checking and playing solid defensive hockey. Yes, he still turns it over trying to dangle it in, but overall he has been putting in decent defensive effort.

Yak is a rookie still learning what to do from a defensive perspective, just as expected. However, it is clear that he is making an effort and improving a bit.

Sam is playing a bit better positionally, but he is still way too easy to beat down low against bigger and better teams. I doubt this will improve much over his career as you can't teach size, speed, and strength. As long as he keeps scoring and shows small but incremental d-zone improvements that will be fine.

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#68 Walter Sobchak
February 08 2013, 06:13AM
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Boy will ever be glad next year when Weber and Clowe get here.................it could happen.

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#69 Smokey
February 08 2013, 09:27AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Your argument is full of holes.......yes the time they have changed, what has not changed is the intimidation factor.

If you think for one second that opposing players do not factor in the toughness of a team, then my friend, it's obvious you have never played the game. We must remember that we have a very highly skilled, small, team that needs some measure of protection........mainly from guys running our guys, not necessarily fighting.

The best example of a good modern day tough guy is Chris Neil who is a true policeman, not necessarily a true enforcer. I think we have one of those in Ben Eager.......except he is a one game wonder.

Does Hordichuck go after guys who take liberties on skilled players in the 1 minute he plays a game? Shakes head.

It is a opininion that carrying an enforcer protects players, but hockey has changed. If Chris Neil goes after someone on the Oiler's for hitting a skilled Ottawa player is that going to stop it next time. Do players have it there mind they got worry about him. I believe having an enforcer stops the enforcer on the other team by putting him in the penalty box. Chris Neil doesn't stop Ben Eager from running around unless they take fighting majors together.

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