Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.
Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.
- z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
- Florida Panthers, 92 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 61 points
- y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
- x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
- x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
- x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
- New York Islanders, 79 points
- New York Rangers, 78 points
2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook
Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.
The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).
Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.
2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
- x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
- Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
- Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
- Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)
What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).
Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.
Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).
- p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
- x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
- New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
- New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)
What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.
Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.
New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
- x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
- Dallas Stars, 95 points
- St. Louis Blues, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
- Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
- Calgary Flames, 80 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
- Arizona Coyotes, 73 points
2018-19 Western Conference Outlook
Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.
Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).
Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.
In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.
It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).
2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
- x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
- Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
- Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
- Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)
What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.
The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.
Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).
St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
- x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
- x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
- Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
- Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
- Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
- Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)
What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.
Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.
One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.
Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).
36-40-6, 78 points, 6th in the Pacific Division
Additions: F Kyle Brodziak, F Josh Currie, D Jason Garrison (signed to a PTO), D Kevin Gravel, G Hayden Hawkey (acquired from MTL), D Jakub Jerabek, F Tobias Rieder, F Scottie Upshall (signed to a PTO)
Subtractions: D Yohann Auvitu (signed, KHL), G Laurent Brossoit (signed with WPG), F Braden Christoffer (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Grayson Downing (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Nick Ellis (retired), D Mark Fayne (signed to a PTO with BOS), F Brian Ferlin (retired), F Roman Horak (signed, KHL), F/D Joey LaLeggia (signed with STL), F Iiro Pakarinen (signed, KHL), F Kyle Platzer (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), D Dillon Simpson (signed with CBJ), F Anton Slepyshev (signed, KHL), F Nolan Vesey (traded to TOR),
Still Unsigned: D Ben Betker, F Michael Cammalleri, D Darnell Nurse
Re-signed: F Ryan Strome
Then they fell. Hard.
After making a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017 for the first time since losing in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers missed the postseason in 2017-18.
Seventy-eight points. That’s not the worst, but it’s not great either. They weren’t even a bubble team. Edmonton finished 6th in the Pacific Division and they’re looking to climb before other teams climb over them– namely the Arizona Coyotes and their resurgence of youth.
Milan Lucic‘s second season as an Oiler wasn’t as productive as his first. Down from 50 points (82 GP) in his first year in Edmonton, Lucic amassed 10-24–34 totals in 82 games last season. His size might read “protection for McDavid”, but his game was off– pretty far off with his worst plus/minus (minus-12) since entering the league in 2007-08.
By default, thanks to snuggling up close to the salary cap, Chiarelli let many free agents walk. Anton Slepyshev was tendered a qualifying offer before the forward decided to return home to the KHL.
Ryan Strome was re-signed on a friendly two-year, $6.200 million contract ($3.100 million per season), meanwhile Darnell Nurse remains unsigned.
That’s right, 23-year-old restricted free agent defender, Darnell Nurse still doesn’t have a contract.
It’s fair to assume that most top-4 defenders reaching their prime would earn somewhere around $4.000 million a season on their next contract– and that’s probably what’s holding things up in Edmonton. The Oilers don’t have that kind of money– at least, they don’t have anything more than that to offer.
Nurse won’t attend training camp without a new deal signed, but it’s not Chiarelli’s first rodeo with an RFA holdout. There was Phil Kessel in Chiarelli’s early days as the Boston Bruins GM, then Torey Krug and Reilly Smith took until the eleventh hour to re-sign in Chiarelli’s final season with Boston.
Of course, of those three aforementioned players, Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rumors have swirled about Edmonton’s desire to move a defender, whether it’s Nurse, Oscar Klefbom or someone else. Given their cap situation, it’d make sense– especially as they added Kevin Gravel and 2018 Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals Jakub Jerabek for depth and signed Jason Garrison to a PTO.
Perhaps the Oilers’ emergency plan is staring us in the face? Then again, perhaps not. It’s hard to tell what the overall plan actually is in Edmonton, let alone what they’re going to do today or tomorrow.
In 2016-17, the Oilers had a plus-35 goal differential. It was their first positive goal differential since their Cup run in 2006. Last season, they were a minus-29.
A porous defense, lack of offensive depth past their first line and an over-reliance on starting netminder, Cam Talbot, added up to mediocrity.
Whereas last season’s expectations were set higher given 2017’s playoff run, this season’s forecast for Edmonton is served with a slice of reality. It’s going to be another long season. There’s no other way around it until Chiarelli digs himself out of cap hell again.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Nurse situation remains unresolved as training camp is soon to get underway, but at least Edmonton gets the benefit of the doubt on letting poor performers walk this offseason.
There’s only one problem– they didn’t do anything to bring better players in, nor does it look like head coach Todd McLellan‘s going to have any holes to fill with youth.
Today’s yet another day of offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams starting, of course, with the Edmonton Oilers.
One season after finishing 2nd in the Pacific Division with a 47-26-9 record and 103 points– making the playoffs for the first time since their 2006 Stanley Cup Final appearance– the Edmonton Oilers collapsed.
The Oilers finished 6th in the Pacific in 2017-18 with a 36-40-6 record and 78 points on the season.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli bought into Kris Russell‘s successful 2016-17 season as a shutdown blueliner by re-signing the defender to a four-year, $36 million contract and Russell went on to yield 21 points on the season (an eight point improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18). Russell fits in with Edmonton’s defense.
The only problem is that it’s noticeable when he makes a mistake because the puck’s usually in the back of the net.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Chiarelli has expressed a desire for a winger and a young defenseman this offseason.
Get it out of your system now– you know his trade history and if you’re new around here, give him a quick search on Wikipedia.
The good news is Chiarelli has plenty of options with the 10th overall pick in the Draft in Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari, Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith and Joseph Veleno (should any or all of them be available by the 10th pick).
Past that, Chiarelli may try to shop Lucic and his $6.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season at the draft and work other transactions as necessary, but Edmonton’s a middle of the road team as things stand right now. Moving one player alone won’t help them and trading everybody isn’t an option either– what with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl‘s combined cap hit reaching $21 million.
Pending free agents
The Oilers can get back into playoff contention with some moves though.
One of the good things going for Edmonton is that they don’t have too much holding them back from solidifying a goaltending duo. Sure, Cam Talbot is a starter, but at 30-years-old with one-year remaining on his contract at $4.167 million and a modified-no-trade-clause, there’s plenty of room to find a 1A/1B option.
Talbot posted a 2.39 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 73 games played in 2016-17, but fell to a 3.02 GAA and .908 SV% in 67 games this season.
In his first year as a starter (2015-16) with Edmonton he had a 2.55 GAA and .917 SV% in 56 games. Clearly, he’s not a high volume goaltender. Somewhere between 45 and 55 games is a sweet spot for Talbot as a starter and the Oilers need a backup that can play almost 30 or more games.
Neither are 1B options.
Mike Cammallieri, 36, is the only pending-unrestricted free agent forward for the Oilers and should only get a callback if he’s willing to be a bottom-6 forward.
Caggiula improved by two points in seven additional games from his rookie season of 18 points in 60 games played. The 23-year-old forward had 13 goals and seven assists (20 points) in 67 games. If Chiarelli sees potential (as there have been some signs), then a bridge deal makes sense.
Pakarinen posted 2-1–3 totals in 40 games played this season. Hard pass. Find a replacement.
Slepyshev had six goals and six assists (12 points) in 50 games with the Oilers this season. He had 4-6–10 totals in 41 games played in 2016-17 and one assist in 11 games in 2015-16. Don’t bring him back if you’re expecting top-6 forward production.
Strome had his best season since his 17-33–50 totals in 81 games with the New York Islanders in 2014-15, but he only amassed 13-21–34 totals in 82 games. At 24, he’s still in the midst of his prime, so things can improve, but with the right linemates. Bring him back and find him a friend or two.
Pending-UFA defender, Yohann Auvitu participated in 33 games for Edmonton this season with three goals and six assists (nine points). The 28-year-old was a plus-four and could stick around as a depth defender.
Nurse’s name has flown around the trade rumor mill already and, sure, he could be a centerpiece to move and attract a decent package in return, but as a surefire top-4 defenseman, Edmonton should hold onto his services and try to convince Andrej Sekera to waive his no-movement-clause instead.
Especially with Benning posting 24 points this season, both defensemen are ready for bigger roles if the Oilers are content with another middle of the road season. Having been more established in the league than Benning, Nurse is opt to be the one dealt this summer.
Edmonton has about $10.100 million to spend this summer and will undoubtedly have to trade one of their younger guys just to keep everyone else happy– this is where Nurse’s name comes up and guys like Oscar Klefbom, the only NHL ready defenseman without a NMC/NTC as part of his contract and at an affordable $4.167 million price tag through 2022-23.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Buyouts on the books: Benoit Pouliot— $1.333 million through the end of the 2020-21 season.
Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand
*leans away from microphone looking off to stage right* THAT’LL BE ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, @nlanciani53! WE KNOW HE’S GOOD, WE JUST REALLY HATE HIS FACE!
Anyway, here’s how the ‘Little Ball of Hate’ earned the nod for the week.
Marchand started the week by single-handedly ruining the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, racking up three goals and two assists (one of each on the power play) for a five-point night, and tacked on the game-winner for good measure. Then on Thursday he notched a single goal against Philadelphia, with it also being the game-winning tally. Then he capped the week with a pair of ‘apples’ on Saturday to finish off the week with a 50/50 split of four goals and four assists.
Also he possibly tried to murder Anthony Duclair maybe.
Brad Marchand, folks.
Tendy of the Week: Cam Talbot
Talbot has, like basically everyone in Edmonton not wearing #97, had a bit of a forgettable year. Currently carrying a .906 save percentage and 3.03 GAA, but sporting a near-.500 record, Talbot’s stats are basically a microcosm of the year the Oilers are having. In fact, his three-straight wins this week directly followed three-straight losses.
But for now we’re focusing on those three wins, as I’m sure all of Edmonton would like to do. Talbot carries a .949 and 1.61 out of the week with him, stopping 94-of-99 shots faced. He did start the week with three goals against on Monday when Arizona visited Rogers Place, but still managed a .914 save percentage on 35 shots. After that he basically completely shut down both the Islanders on Thursday (one goal on 31 shots) and Wild on Saturday (one goal on 33 shots).
It’s definitely a case of too little too late in Edmonton, but a strong finish to the season could give the team, organization, and fans a much-needed morale boost heading into the offseason.
Besides, regardless of where they finish in the standings, we know they’re winning the draft lottery…
Game of the Week: Florida Panthers 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 5 (OT), Tuesday March 6th, 2018
If you like hockey games that have a little bit of everything, go watch the condensed game highlights of this one.
Nine goals on 82 shots, 56 hits (evenly split at 28 per team), a fight, a hat trick, and a beautiful overtime winner in a tilt between two in-state rivals. Definitely a candidate for game of the year.
You’d have never guessed there would be nine goals scored if you just watched the first half of the first period. Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Roberto Luongo were fully on their game, and both goaltenders made multiple standout saves just in the opening minutes alone. In particular, Vasi’s early denial of Nick Bjugstad on a two-on-one and Luongo’s breakaway glove snag on J.T. Miller stand out.
Also early in the first period we had a scrap between the Lightning’s Braydon Coburn, who is 6’5″ and 223 lbs., and Michael Haley, who is neither of those things. Haley, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader this season, more than held his own in a fairly uneventful scrap, but it certainly got the crowd at Amalie Arena into the game.
Finally first blood would be drawn at the 10:38 mark, when Yanni Gourde would pounce on an off-the-glass rebound at the side of the net before Luongo could locate the puck and put the Lightning on top. Vasilevskiy would make a pair of outstanding stops on consecutive shots from Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov to keep the score 1-0, eventually allowing Miller to take a Gourde centering pass from behind the goal line and roof a backhand over the glove of Luongo to extend the Tampa lead to 2-0 at the 12:51 mark. Although being outshot 15-8, the Lightning would nearly survive the first with their lead unblemished, but with just 1:37 to play it would be Bjugstad firing one from the goal line to Vasilevskiy’s left that ricocheted off the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net behind him, sending the two teams to the locker rooms with the score at 2-1.
The second period would see a much faster start, as once again Yanni Gourde (recording his third point in three Tampa goals) put his entire heart and soul into a turnaround wrist shot from the right circle that beat Luongo high glove and put his Lightning up 3-1 just 1:27 into the second. A good chunk of the second would pass rather uneventfully (sans a great save by Luongo on Nikita Kucherov) before Bjugstand would walk out from the corner with Steven Stamkos all over him, drive to the crease and bang home his own rebound to bring the Panthers within one again at the 13:35 mark. But less than three minutes later the lead would stretch again as Alex Killorn picked up a juicy rebound off of a Stamkos one-timer and send the game to its final intermission with a 4-2 score in favor of the home team.
The two-goal lead would last just 21 seconds into the third period, as Bjugstad would bury his third of the game to cut the deficit in half. After an Andrej Sustr tripping penalty a few minutes later, Vincent Trocheck would finally knot the score with a power play wrister from the right circle, beating Vasilevskiy just between the glove and left pad. 4-4 would remain the score through the end of regulation, despite the best efforts of the Panthers who would total 16 third period shots to Tampa’s 11, though a tipped Sustr point shot finding Luongo’s left goal post was probably the closest call of the rest of the third. But, alas, off to overtime we’d go.
A fairly tame start to OT would give way to serious offensive zone pressure by Tampa right around the midway point of the frame. Anton Stralman nearly ended things with a one-timer fired at a gaping net, but it would hit the outside of the post and be collected in the corner by Tyler Johnson. Johnson would give it back to Stralman, who saw an open Brayden Point (waving every available limb and utensil frantically) waiting just inside the right circle. Point would receive the pass, absolutely dance a charging Evgeny Dadonov out of his skates, then roof a laserbeam over the glove of Luongo to rid Amalie Arena of its roof and send the Bolts faithful home happy.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
The Carolina Hurricanes are accepting job applications for their next General Manager via Twitter. Obviously we here at DTFR are biased, but I think we’d all gladly throw our hats in the ring for our own @capncornelius to get the gig.
Sidney Crosby reached 1,100 career points, which seems like a slightly obscure number to celebrate. But congrats, I guess.
…this was a slow news week…umm, hey @connorzkeith, can you throw in some sort of funny cat photo or something for filler in the edit? Thanks, buddy.
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
We see it every year. There is always one fan-base screaming TANK… TANK…TANK…
All NHL programs have had their weak moments. Times when fans question management and coaches; times when players request trades or refuse to renew contracts; times when teams literally couldn’t buy a win if they wanted to. So what is the response to these moments? General managers have one of two decisions to make: Get to work and fix the problem now, or sit back and warm your hands over the dumpster fire that will continue.
Serious problems within organizations don’t simply go way. Sure every team faces a slump every now and again, but I’m talking about real, legitimate issues. Maybe it’s a coach that doesn’t fit, a lack of roster depth, or internal conflicts among players. These are the types of concerns that management must deal with if they expect to be contenders, or just have a winning season for that matter.
So what is the solution? In order to answer that, take a look at how the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers attempted to right their ship. Both methods can be classified as tanking, but there is definitely a right way to do it.
So tanking… It should never be the goal to lose a hockey game, plain and simple. Even if a team is in the toilet, they should respect the sport of hockey enough to go out and give their best effort. Even from a management perspective, don’t think that they are trying to lose games intentionally. It is more so the fact that by making the decision to do nothing, they are prolonging their problems, which leads to tank mode. The best example of this is the historically bad run of the Edmonton Oilers.
Most people may not realize this, but from 2009-’10 to ’15-’16, this organization did not have a winning season. Yes, their drought really was that long. Seven season’s worth of pain and agony for their fan-base, which unfortunately has picked right back up this year. First-overall pick after first-overall pick and they could not do anything right.
Their “saviors” include Taylor Hall (gone, New Jersey Devils), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov (gone, Colorado Avalanche), and Connor McDavid. Two of those four were completely useless for them and really only McDavid plays like a true first-overall draft pick. Their method of tanking was so extreme because they solely depended on lottery draft picks to revive their club. In the 2012-’13 season, they didn’t make a single trade to receive additional draft picks in return. The last time they traded for a first-rounder? The ’14-’15 season when they shipped David Perron to the Penguins. During the 15-16 season, the Oilers made two terrible deals for poor the situation that they were in. They sent three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, and 5th) to the Rangers for Cam Talbot. Granted, he’s had a couple good seasons for them, but he’s now 30 years old and his GAA has crept over 3.00 this season. The worst deal though? They sent a first-round and second-round pick to the Islanders for… *Drum Roll*… Griffin Reinhart. That 16th-overall pick turned into rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the Calder Trophy race. If I haven’t caused Edmonton fans enough pain, Reinhart isn’t even on their roster anymore.
Big deals involving big names need to happen. Key players need to go when the time is right and when their stock is at its highest. You obviously want to keep the guys with franchise tags, but others need to be put on the trading block. It may hurt in the short-run, but you can quickly build a pile of prospects and picks to assure that the future is bright. Growing pains are something that all organizations will inevitably go through, but sitting around and waiting for your first-overall pick to come should never be the answer.
The New York Rangers are not the type of organization to watch problems and twiddle their thumbs. Although typically a playoff team, this season they found themselves in an interesting situation. They have had a roller coaster of a year, with moments of promise, but during the second half of the season, they have been in a state of decline. An aging goaltender and a lack of scoring has them searching for answers. Their management decided it was time for a rebuild and I believe they are in the process of doing it the right way.
They could have chosen to simply tank and pick up a lottery draft pick, but instead, management went into fire sale mode. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a team currently sitting seventh from the bottom of the NHL couldn’t creep down into a lottery pick, but why wait to make necessary changes? Over the course of the year, the Rangers have completed nine trades. They have racked up a total of seven draft picks, including three first-round selections (Arizona – 2017, Boston – 2018, and Tampa Bay – 2018). Their recent transactions show they may be pulling out of the playoff race for this season, but plan to reload for the immediate future.
Some people are scratching their heads as to why Jeff Gorton decided to give up both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. Mixing in Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, those are some heavy names to throw around in trade deals, especially considering McDonagh was taking care of captain duties for the Rangers. The casual fan must realize that these types of deals are necessary and, honestly, if it all pans out for them, the Rangers will have won their deadline deals. The goal for the Bruins and the Lightning is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this, they just gave up coveted draft picks for players that may or may not help them in the future. Particularly, if Nash, a soon-to-be free agent, leaves Boston, the Rangers will have received three players and two draft picks for a guy that was likely to walk on them.
The New York Rangers took a chance, a shot in the dark you may call it. They did give away quality players, but their “tank” will be nothing close to the miserable years the Edmonton Oilers experienced. If their scouting and recruiting staff can pick the right guys, they could be a contender once again in two or three years. With some space in their salary cap, they could pick up another player or two in free agency that will help turn things around. Even just next season, with the additions of prospects like Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov, they could see big improvements.
This is the moral of the story and the lesson that fans must learn. If rosters get blown up the right way, things do work themselves out in the end. By keeping players around to “stay competitive,” you’re left with a mediocre team that has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to this business, that should be the only goal. Playing for a playoff spot or to finish above 0.500 isn’t going to help an organization in the long run. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but with that in mind, management must do whatever it takes to have a chance at a championship, even if that opportunity is down the road.
After NHLers were not allowed to participate in the 2018 Winter Games and due to the success of last week’s episode, Nick and Connor decided to create rosters with NHL players anyway for Team Canada. Also discussed, Alexandre Burrows, Max Domi and the New York Rangers plan for the future.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game. Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday. Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:
“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”
Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16. In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3. While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.
No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage. Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent. This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league. This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.
So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense. Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit. But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell. It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.
Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive. There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season. This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.
Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara. In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.
On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers. Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better. If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs. Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name. It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.
The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.
The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing. And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given. The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.
Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer. Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL. With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.
Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency. He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games. That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar. He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage. I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season. He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome. At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian. All of those players are negative possession players. Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.
With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap. Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring. While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets. I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal. Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system. Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.
While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together. If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets. I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.