Tag Archives: Darnell Nurse

Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 Season Preview

Edmonton Oilers

35-38-9, 79 points, 7th in the Pacific Division

Have made the postseason once in the last 13 years

Additions: F Josh Archibald, F Markus Granlund, F Tomas Jurco, F James Neal (acquired from CGY), F Riley Sheahan, G Mike Smith

Subtractions: F Mitch Callahan (DEL), F Milan Lucic (traded to CGY), F Ty Rattie (KHL), F Tobias Rieder (signed to a PTO with CGY), D Kevin Gravel (signed with TOR), D John Marino (traded to PIT), D Robin Norell (SHL), D Alexander Petrovic (signed a PTO with BOS), D Ryan Stanton (signed with Ontario, AHL), G Anthony Stolarz (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: F Colin Larkin, F Jesse Puljujarvi (has an agreement with a Liiga team, if not traded by EDM), F Tyler Vesel, G Al Montoya

Re-signed: F Alex Chiasson, F Jujhar Khaira

Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Edmonton Oilers have a new head coach and a new General Manager.

Dave Tippett brings his expertise behind the bench in place of Ken Hitchcock’s short tenure as head coach of the Oilers (after replacing Todd McLellan about a quarter of the way into last season), while Ken Holland is large and in charge of the reigns in Edmonton’s front office.

Tippett is fresh off of a few years without an NHL head coaching job, since being relieved of his duties from the Arizona Coyotes after the 2016-17 season.

On May 7th, Holland left the Detroit Red Wings for the Oilers after being “promoted” to a senior advisor role a couple of weeks prior– coinciding with Detroit’s hiring of Steve Yzerman as GM on April 19th.

Over the course of a generation’s time, Holland is known for making small, but deliberate, moves in the offseason to build his roster.

The additions of Markus Granlund and Tomas Jurco reflect the need for flexible top-nine depth.

While scouring the market, Holland found a perfect suitor for Milan Lucic’s massive contract and subsequently dealt Lucic to the Calgary Flames along with a conditional 2020 3rd round pick in exchange for James Neal.

Neal, 32, is a year older than Lucic and signed through the 2022-23 season, which is… just as long as Lucic is under contract for, but now with Calgary.

Oh, and the Oilers retained 12.5 percent of Lucic’s salary ($750,000 per season), because of course.

To top things off, the conditional 2020 3rd round pick becomes property of the Flames if Neal scores 21 goals and Lucic scores 10 or fewer goals than Neal in 2019-20.

Neal had seven goals and 12 assists (19 points) in 63 games with the Flames last season (down from 25-19–44 totals in 71 games with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18).

Lucic had six goals and 14 assists (20 points) in 79 games with the Oilers last season (down from 10-24–34 totals in 82 games in 2017-18). The new No. 17 for Calgary had been in decline each season while in Edmonton.

Looks like it’s business as usual in Edmonton so far.

What’s more, Holland faces an increasingly difficult 2020 offseason with 14 pending free agents, including 24-year-old defender (and pending-restricted free agent at season’s end), Darnell Nurse.

Nurse is looking to have a breakout year to translate into a big payday thereafter.

Meanwhile, it’d almost be better for the Oilers to just not re-sign any of their pending free agents, but then again teams still have to be cap compliant in order to participate in the league, so…

Holland also traded defensive prospect John Marino to the Pittsburgh Penguins in hopes of landing a touchdown in a conditional 2021 6th round pick.

The “Hail Mary” pass went incomplete as Marino signed his entry-level contract with the Penguins and the Oilers missed out on the draft pick.

At least there’s some stability in the crease with 31-year-old, Mikko Koskinen (25-21-6 record in 55 games played last season, 2.93 goals against average, .906 save percentage and 4 shutouts), and 37-year-old, two-time All Star, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record in 42 games with Calgary last season, 2.73 GAA, .898 SV% and 2 SO).

The average age of Edmonton’s goaltenders? 34.

Koskinen took over the starting role, while Smith was brought in as the backup in the post-Cam Talbot Era (Talbot was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers last season and signed with the Flames this offseason).

At least the Oilers have Connor McDavid (a career-high 41-75–116 totals in 78 games played last season) and Leon Draisaitl (a career-high 50-55–102 totals in 82 games last season).

Offseason Grade: F

The whole point of trying to trade Lucic was to save money and in the end, the result was not a gain, but a loss in salary cap space. At least the only players with no-trade or no-movement clauses (for now) are Kris Russell, Koskinen and Smith.

Nothing is overnight, but for an organization to have fallen so far* while having one of the best players in the world (McDavid) on their roster is about as bad as intentionally running things into the ground while still hoping the public will pay for a new arena and threatening to move the team if your demands aren’t met in the meantime.

*Relatively speaking from that one postseason appearance in 2017.

Game of the week: December 31-January 6

Welcome to 2019! Nothing quite rings in the new year like hockey (shh, nobody asked you what you think, college football!), and in case you haven’t heard, the Blackhawks and Bruins are headed to South Bend, Ind. for this year’s iteration of the Winter Classic.

However, there’s far more than that tilt going down this week, so here’s all the fixtures for 2018’s finale and the first six days of 2019.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 31-january 6
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 31
12:30 p.m. Nashville Washington 6-3
1 p.m. Vancouver New Jersey 0-4
6 p.m. Pittsburgh Minnesota 3-2
6 p.m. New York Islanders Buffalo Sabres 3-1
6 p.m. Philadelphia Carolina 1-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers St. Louis Blues 2-1
7 p.m. Ottawa Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Florida Detroit 4-3 (SO)
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Anaheim 2-1 (OT)
8 p.m. Los Angeles Colorado 3-2 (OT)
8:30 p.m. Montréal Dallas 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. San Jose Calgary 5-8
9 p.m. Winnipeg Edmonton 4-3
Tuesday, January 1
1 p.m. Boston Chicago 4-2
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Nashville 0-4
9 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas 0-2
Wednesday, January 2
7 p.m. Vancouver Ottawa 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Calgary Detroit 5-3
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Rangers 7-2
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Dallas 4-5
9:30 p.m. San Jose Colorado 5-4
9:30 p.m. Edmonton Arizona 3-1
Thursday, January 3
2 p.m. Minnesota Toronto 4-3
7 p.m. Calgary Boston 4-6
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 3-4
7 p.m. Carolina Philadelphia 5-3
7:30 p.m. Chicago Blackhawks New York Islanders 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Vancouver Montréal 0-2
8 p.m. Washington St. Louis 2-5
10:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Los Angeles 6-2
Friday, January 4
7 p.m. Winnipeg Pittsburgh 0-4
7:30 p.m. Nashville Detroit 3-4 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Columbus Carolina 2-4
8 p.m. Washington Dallas 1-2 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Rangers Colorado Avalanche 1-6
9 p.m. New Jersey Arizona 3-2 (SO)
10 p.m. Vegas Anaheim 3-2
Saturday, January 5
1 p.m. Calgary Philadelphia 3-2 (OT)
1 p.m. Minnesota Ottawa 4-3
7 p.m. Buffalo Boston 1-2
7 p.m. Vancouver Toronto 0-5
7 p.m. Nashville Montréal 4-1
7 p.m. Columbus Florida 4-3 (OT)
8 p.m. New York Islanders St. Louis Blues 4-3
10 p.m. Edmonton Los Angeles 0-4
11 p.m. Tampa Bay San Jose 2-5
Sunday, January 6
1 p.m. Carolina Ottawa RDS2
4 p.m. New Jersey Vegas SN
4 p.m. New York Rangers Arizona Coyotes  
5 p.m. Dallas Winnipeg ESPN+
5 p.m. Washington Detroit NHLN
8 p.m. Edmonton Anaheim SN, SN360
8 p.m. Chicago Pittsburgh NBCSN

If you enjoyed the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Finals and rivalries are your jam, this week’s slate of games was made just for you. Both Boston and Edmonton squared off against two rivals this week, with the Oilers taking on Winnipeg on Monday and the Kings on Saturday and the Bruins playing Chicago and Buffalo on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively.

Speaking of the Kings, their Tuesday tilt in Vegas was a rematch of the First Round from the most recent Stanley Cup playoffs – the only such tilt of the week.

Finally, in the “Player Returns” department, W Dmitrij Jaskin takes the cake for the longest tenure with his former club, as he was claimed off waivers by the Capitals earlier this season after six campaigns with the Blues – Washington’s opponent on Thursday.

In an attempt to avoid repeating teams too frequently, I turned my attention away from the Winter Classic (we all knew how it was going to go anyways) and the Flames and Sharks’ major showdown. Instead, let’s take in a pivotal game in the race for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

To put things simply, life has been much better for the Oilers and their faithful fans.

As recently as three weeks ago, Edmonton was in third place in the Pacific Division and looking like a real threat for the remainder of the season. However, that impressive 9-2-2 run that got them to that point is long forgotten now, as the 19-19-3 Oil enter tonight’s tilt on a disastrous 1-7-0 skid, accented by last night’s embarrassing 4-0 loss to lowly Los Angeles.

Without a doubt, the worst aspect of Edmonton’s play over this eight-game run has been the play of its two goaltenders. 12-8-1 G Mikko Koskinen has received six of those starts, but his .869 save percentage and 4.45 GAA in those appearances (compared to a .915 season save percentage and corresponding 2.64 GAA) hardly reflect starters’ numbers.

However, handing the reins over to 7-11-2 G Cam Talbot has rarely been the fix Head Coach Ken Hitchcock’s club has hoped for, as almost every time they’ve turned to him they’ve gotten the same old Talbot they’ve gotten all year. Boasting an .893 save percentage and 3.23 GAA for the season, Talbot has stayed true to his form for this campaign in his last four appearances since December 16, posting almost identical .888 and 3.25 marks in those outings.

With both Koskinen and Talbot seeing action in yesterday’s tilt in Tinseltown, it remains unclear which will earn the nod this evening. Koskinen did start against the Kings, but he only logged 13:57 of action before getting pulled due to allowing three goals on eight shots (.625 save percentage). Conversely, though Talbot saw more TOI, his 14-for-15 performance (.933 save percentage) in relief could earn him the opportunity to reclaim his starting job tonight.

Though not the sole reason for the netminders’ struggles, part of their problems might be related to the Oil’s defensive play of late. Edmonton has allowed an average of 30.7 shots on goal per game this season, a mark that is good enough for 11th-best in the NHL. However, that mark has climbed ever so slightly to 31.75 shots per game in Edmonton’s games since December 16, the 14th-highest in the league in that stretch.

If any are to blame for that defensive decline, it is surely not F Jujhar Khaira (3.8 hits per game since December 16), C Connor McDavid (10 takeaways in the last eight games) or D Darnell Nurse (1.5 blocks per game during this run), as all three lead the team in their respective statistics.

There’s certainly still time for Edmonton to rediscover its winning groove, but the Oilers must make sure to stop the bleeding against Anaheim tonight, considering it is those very Ducks they’re trailing by four points for the Western Conference’s second wild card.

Speaking of teams looking to get off the schneid, the 19-16-7 Anaheim Ducks also fit the bill considering their seven-game losing skid that has seen them earn only two of a possible 14 points.

Since December 18 (the date of Anaheim’s 3-1 loss at Madison Square Garden, the first of these consecutive losses), no offense in the NHL has been as anemic as the Ducks’. The entire league has averaged 2.84 goals per game since that date, but Anaheim has ranked dead last with an uninspiring 1.57 goals per game.

Unsurprisingly, no players have averaged a point per game or better during this losing skid – not even the usually reliable C Ryan Getzlaf (9-20-29 totals in 36 games played) or W Ondrej Kase (11-8-19 in 24 appearances). In fact, only eight of Anaheim’s 20 skaters have registered more than a lone point in the Ducks’ last seven games – an alarmingly low number, especially for a team without a dominant top line of the likes of Boston, Colorado or Dallas.

Of course, it’s not as if Anaheim’s offense has exactly lit up the scoreboard this season. At this point in the campaign, the Ducks have averaged 2.4 goals per game for 2018-19, a mark that ranks second-worst ahead of only their crosstown rivals’ 2.26. However, dropping almost three-quarters of a goal per game is far more noticeable for a team lacking in offensive firepower than it is for a club like Tampa Bay that has averaged over four goals per game for the entire season. The Bolts can spare a goal here or there – the Ducks most certainly cannot.

And so, that brings us to our usual question: how does all this factor into tonight’s game?

This evening’s tilt features weak goaltending squaring off against a lackluster offense, and – by virtue of an NHL game being unable to end in a tie – one of them must win.

Usually I would favor the offense in that matchup, but Anaheim’s attack has been so awful I simply can’t bare to do it. Similarly, I think the Oilers will be fired up to score some goals this evening considering they got blanked by the *former* worst team in the league less than 24 hours ago. Edmonton should come away with two points tonight and pull within two points (not to mention its game in hand on Anaheim) of a playoff spot.

Oilers win home opener in OT, 3-2, over Boston

Connor McDavid‘s two assists helped the Edmonton Oilers beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2, in overtime Thursday night in Edmonton’s home opener at Rogers Place since starting 2018-19 regular season over in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils and journeying the long road back.

Leon Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal 37 seconds into overtime to oust the Bruins, while Cam Talbot (3-2-0) made 27 saves on 29 shots faced for a .931 save percentage to go along with the victory.

Boston netminder, Jaroslav Halak (2-0-1), turned aside 19 shots out of 22 shots against for an .864 SV% in the loss (Halak’s first of the season).

The Bruins are now 4-2-1 (9 points) and tied for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division on points, but are technically situated 3rd in the division standings, thanks to the Montreal Canadiens having a game-in-hand on Boston.

The B’s fell to 1-2-1 on the road so far this season, recording a 7-0 loss on Oct. 3rd in Washington, a 4-0 win on Oct. 4th in Buffalo and a 5-2 loss on Oct. 17th in Calgary in addition to Thursday’s overtime loss to the Oilers. Of their four road games thus far, three of them have been the home opener for their opponent.

220px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svg

Edmonton jumped to 5th in the Pacific Division standings with a 3-2-0 (6 points) record in five games played. The Oilers have two games-in-hand over the Vegas Golden Knights (who also have 6 points on the season), therefore maintaining the tiebreaker for now.

In addition to being happy about the win, Edmonton was just as happy to return home after playing a preseason matchup with the German club, Kölner Haie (DEL), then starting the regular season against New Jersey in Sweden and being on the road ever since.

Bruins bench boss, Bruce Cassidy, kept Jake DeBrusk on the second line right wing with David Krejci, but inserted Danton Heinen back into the lineup to the left of the Czech center, demoting Joakim Nordstrom to the fourth line left wing slot.

Chris Wagner replaced Anders Bjork on the third line right side of Ryan Donato and David Backes. Bjork and Steven Kampfer were healthy scratches while Torey Krug remains out due to injury.

Boston blue liner, Kevan Miller, left Thursday’s game in the third period with an upper body injury and did not return to action– this, after Matt Benning caught Backes up high with a shoulder to the chin of No. 42 in black-and-gold, causing concerns among the Bruins brass in the first period given Backes’ concussion history.

Backes would return to action, unlike Miller.

Adam Larsson was guilty of the game’s first penalty for slashing Boston forward, Brad Marchand, at 6:51 of the first period. The Bruins did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Brandon Carlo was called for holding Oilers rookie Kailer Yamamoto at 15:10 and Edmonton failed to take full advantage of the skater advantage that followed.

Entering the first intermission, the score was tied, 0-0. Shots on goal were 12-5 in favor of the Bruins, while the Oilers led in blocked shots (8-5), giveaways (7-4) and face-off win percentage (63-37). Boston led in hits (12-11) and takeaways were even (3-3). Both teams were 0/1 on the special teams advantage.

Oilers defender, Kris Russell, tripped up Marchand 6:18 into the second period and gave the Bruins their second power play of the night. Boston failed to convert, yet again, on the man advantage and play continued at even strength.

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Matt Grzelcyk received the puck from Heinen and sent a pristine cross-ice pass to Krejci (1) for the Bruins second line center’s first goal of the season– and the first goal of the night for either team– to give Boston a 1-0 lead at 11:17.

Grzelcyck (3) and Heinen (1) were tabbed with the assists on Krejci’s goal.

After recording zero points in the first four games and being scratched for the matchup in Calgary, Heinen earned his first point of the season in the form of an assist on Krejci’s tally.

Not to be outdone, Edmonton responded quickly with a first of their own.

Yamamoto (1) led a fast break-in for the Oilers on a long transition pass from Larsson in his own defensive zone to the rookie forward at the blue line and got past Bruins defender, Charlie McAvoy, to go high-glove side past Halak and tie the game, 1-1.

Larsson (1) and Russell (1) had the assists on Yamamoto’s first career NHL goal at 13:24 of the second period.

Shortly thereafter, Edmonton announced Benning would not return to the night’s action with an injury and Marchand even briefly went down the tunnel for Boston in some discomfort before returning to play.

Through 40 minutes of gameplay, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bruins were leading in shots on goal, 19-15 (despite being outshot, 10-7, in the second period). Boston also held onto the lead in blocked shots (12-11) and takeaways (8-7), while Edmonton had an advantage in giveaways (14-10), hits (21-17) and face-off win% (58-42).

After two periods, the Oilers were 0/1 on the power play and the Bruins were 0/2.

McAvoy was guilty of holding the stick of No. 97 in orange-and-blue and was subsequently dealt a minor penalty at 6:31 of the third period.

McDavid bounced an errant indirect pass off the endboards, giving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2) a prime carom to pounce on and score the power play goal that gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead at 7:33.

The Oilers captain, McDavid (6), and Oscar Klefbom (2) had the assists on the go-ahead goal, but it wasn’t enough offense to secure the deal just yet.

Brad Marchand worked the puck from Wayne Gretzky‘s office behind the goal in the attacking zone and found David Pastrnak creeping in from the right point as McAvoy was pinching in down low.

Pastrnak (8) scored on the short side of Talbot on a one-timer snap shot and tied the game, 2-2, at 11:26 of the third period. Marchand (10) and McAvoy (5) had the assists for Boston.

Just over a minute later, tempers were tested as McDavid failed to convert on a scoring chance and sought to take out a little frustration on Wagner while returning to the bench. Wagner sought retaliation and found Ryan Strome before everyone on the ice was involved in a minor scrum.

Edmonton’s Milan Lucic and Strome received minor penalties for roughing, while Boston forwards Wagner and Nordstrom each earned two minutes for roughing as well. All penalties were matching at 12:31 of the third period so the action remained 5-on-5.

Shortly after the gaggle of players in the penalty box were freed, Tobias Rieder took a trip to the sin bin– coincidentally– for tripping Backes at 14:37.

Boston did not score on the ensuing power play.

After regulation, the game was tied, 2-2, with Boston leading in shots on goal (29-21) and outshooting the Oilers, 10-6, in the third period. Edmonton held onto the advantage in blocked shots (17-14), takeaways (12-9), giveaways (17-14) and hits (34-29). Face-off win% was even (50-50) after 60 minutes and Edmonton was 1/2 on the power play. The Bruins were 0/3 on the skater advantage.

Marchand turned over the puck in the neutral zone to McDavid who found Leon Draisaitl (2) for the prompt conversion on the scoreboard and game-winning goal 37 seconds in to overtime. McDavid (7) recorded his second assist of the night on the goal and Edmonton walked away with the, 3-2, victory in their home opener.

The Bruins accrued one giveaway in overtime– and a costly one at that– while the Oilers notched a shot on goal and one hit to add to their game totals. Edmonton also finished the night with the slight advantage in face-off win% (52-48).

Among other stats…

Boston captain, Zdeno Chara, played in his 900th game for the Bruins Thursday night, becoming just the sixth player in franchise history to do so. Ray Bourque (1,518 games played for Boston), Johnny Bucyk (1,436), current General Manager Don Sweeney (1,052), Wayne Cashman (1,027) and current teammate Patrice Bergeron (970) are the others.

Ryan Donato, David Backes and Chris Wagner finished the night each as minus-one, while Wagner led the Bruins in hits with eight. Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Kevan Miller were the next closest with three hits each.

Miller led in blocked shots with three, while fellow defenders John Moore and Charlie McAvoy, as well as forward, Patrice Bergeron each had two.

Brad Marchand led the way for Boston in shots on goal with four, while his linemates (Bergeron and Pastrnak) were the next closest with three shots on net apiece.

Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard were each a minus-two for Edmonton, while Larsson and Lucic each recorded seven hits. Larsson and Russell led the Oilers in blocked shots with four apiece and Nugent-Hopkins led his teammates in shots on goal with four.

Boston and Edmonton split their season series with the Bruins going 1-0-1 in two games against the Oilers. The B’s take on the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night at Rogers Arena before paying a visit to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 23rd.

Halak and Bruins first line beat Oilers, 4-1

The Boston Bruins defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1, Thursday night at TD Garden on the backs of a strong effort in goal from backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, and their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Connor McDavid opened the game’s scoring before Pastrnak tied it and Marchand gave Boston their first lead of the night shortly thereafter. Joakim Nordstrom provided the insurance goal for the Bruins and Patrice Bergeron added the empty net goal late in the third period.

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Halak made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .992 save percentage in the win, while Edmonton netminder, Cam Talbot, stopped 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.

Boston improved to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and held onto 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Edmonton is 0-2-0 (0 points) and sits last (8th) in the Pacific Division.

Milan Lucic made his 3rd annual visit to the Hub since the former Bruins winger and 2011 Stanley Cup champion was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 NHL Draft before signing with the Oilers on July 1, 2016. There were a few Lucic No. 27 Oilers jerseys in the crowd along with throwback sweaters to his days in Boston among the fans, as seen on television.

Boston is set to take on the Detroit Red Wings (0-2-2, 2 points) Saturday afternoon on home ice for a 3 o’clock ET puck drop. The B’s moved up the start time so as not to interrupt fans across the New England region’s experience of Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros in the ALCS at Fenway Park.

The Bruins are facing the Oilers twice in a matter of eight days this season, as Boston begins their Western Canada road trip in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, October 17th against the Flames before traveling to Edmonton on the 18th and Vancouver on the 20th to face the Canucks. The B’s wrap up their four-game road trip (including three in Western Canada) after visiting the Ottawa Senators on October 23rd.

Thursday night’s action kicked off with a couple of changes made to Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup for the Bruins. After being a healthy scratch for Monday’s win against the Senators, Nordstrom was back in the lineup– this time around on the second line to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.

DeBrusk was placed on his off-wing on the right side, while Ryan Donato was scratched.

Everything else remained the same as Monday’s lineup with the exception of Halak getting the nod in net with Tuukka Rask expected to play Saturday and the bulk of the Western Canada road trip.

McDavid (1) scored his first goal of the season after being held scoreless in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils for Edmonton’s season opener as part of the NHL Global Series this season.

220px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svgTy Rattie sent McDavid a backhand pass on a spin-o-rama up the ice, where McDavid then burst into nearly the speed of sound, turning on his jets into the offensive zone and beating Halak with a quick release that snuck through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole while Halak was slow to react.

Rattie (1) and Darnell Nurse (1) had the assists on McDavid’s goal at 3:43 of the first period and the Oilers grabbed on to the 1-0 lead.

It wouldn’t be for long, though, as Edmonton defender, Adam Larsson, interfered with Nordstrom’s ability to play the puck at 8:12 of the opening frame and sent the Bruins onto their first power play of the night.

Just 68 seconds into the skater advantage, David Pastrnak (4) scored a highlight reel goal– and early candidate for goal of the season– and tied the game, 1-1, at 9:20 of the first period. Matt Grzelcyk (1) worked the puck to Pastrnak for his first assist of the season.

After receiving the puck from Grzelcyk, Pastrnak juked the puck through his own legs– pulling it to his backhand, before deking Talbot out of his mind– forcing the Oilers netminder to butterfly– then quietly sneaked the puck past Talbot’s short side on the backhand.

The game would remain a 1-1 tie until late in the first period, when Jujhar Khaira hit Boston defender, John Moore, from behind and received a boarding minor at 13:54.

On the ensuing power play, Anders Bjork sent the puck from halfway down the boards in the offensive zone back to the point, where the Bruins defense went d-to-d and across the ice to Marchand (1) waiting in the low slot for the power play goal.

Grzelcyk (2) picked up his second assist of the night and Bergeron (3) was credited with the secondary helper on Marchand’s goal at 14:37 and Boston had their first lead of the night, 2-1.

The Bruins wouldn’t look back.

Less than a minute later, Joakim Nordstrom entered the zone on a rush with David Krejci, sending a pass over to the Bruins playmaker who was skating down the right side with Nordstrom moving up the middle towards the goal.

Krejci slid the puck back to Nordstrom (1) for a one-timed wrist shot past Talbot and Boston had a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 15:13 of the first period. Krejci (2) had the only assist on the goal after Nordstrom originally turned the puck over and created a rush.

Charlie McAvoy was guilty of interference against Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 16:45 of the first period, giving the Oilers their first chance on the power play.

While shorthanded, Marchand broke free and drew a slashing penalty on a breakaway that nearly resulted in a goal at 17:19, canceling Edmonton’s power play opportunity and instead resulting in an abbreviated period of 4-on-4 action.

Oscar Klefbom was the guilty party and served his two minutes in the box while both teams failed to generate any scoring in the ensuing 4-on-4 play and shortlived power play for Boston.

After 20 minutes of action, the Bruins led 3-1 and were outshooting the Oilers, 15-11. Edmonton led in blocked shots (4-0), giveaways (2-0) and hits (11-9), while both teams were even in takeaways (4-4) and face-off win percentage (50-50). Boston was 2/3 on the power play and Edmonton was 0/1 entering the first intermission.

Tempers flared early in the second period when Kevan Miller and Khaira squared off and exchanged fisticuffs 3:33 into the second frame.

David Backes and Drake Caggiula got into a bit of a shoving match of their own minutes later after. Each received a roughing minor at 7:27 of the second period for their quarrel.

The ruckus simmered down as the period went on, despite one more crescendo as Sean Kuraly checked Edmonton blue liner Matt Benning hard enough into the glass to force the entire pane to fall out. Credit to the TD Garden ice crew, it was fixed in minutes and play resumed without much interruption.

Danton Heinen tripped up Connor McDavid at 18:24 of the second period, but the Oilers power play would carry over into the start of the third period.

Through two periods, Boston held onto their 3-1 lead and was outshooting Edmonton, 22-17. The Oilers led in blocked shots (6-4) and hits (22-13), while the Bruins had the advantage in takeaways (13-8) and face-off win% (55-45). Edmonton was 0/2 on the power play after 40 minutes and the B’s were 2/3.

Boston had a bit of a scare in the third period, as McDavid forced a pass to Rattie, who then sent the puck to Nugent-Hopkins in the low slot. From close range Nugent-Hopkins rang the iron, then the rubber biscuit rolled on edge across the goal line but just wouldn’t go in as Zdeno Chara guided it out of the crease at the last second.

Jesse Puljujarvi got a stick up high on Pastrnak midway through the third, but the Bruins failed to convert on the power play.

With 2:19 remaining in regulation, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan pulled Talbot for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Boston worked the puck out of their own zone, first with Brandon Carlo missing an empty net opportunity, then with Bergeron (5) successfully connecting on the gaping twine at 19:25 of the third period.

Bergeron secured a 4-1 victory for the Bruins as time expired and one more scrum ensued.

Boston finished the night with an advantage in shots on goal (32-26), blocked shots (11-8) and face-off win% (62-38), while Edmonton led in giveaways (11-10) and hits (27-21). The Oilers finished 0/2 on the power play, while Boston ended up .500 on the night going 2/4 on the skater advantage.

Among other stats…

Chris Wagner led the Bruins in hits with four, while Moore had three from the blue line. Kuraly led the team in shots on goal with six shots fired on Talbot. Bergeron finished the night second in shots on goal for the black-and-gold with four, while Marchand, Pastrnak and Wagner each had three.

Despite not engaging in any extracurricular activity, Milan Lucic managed six hits on the night for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl and Klefbom were non-factors in the 60-minute effort as they both finished the night as a minus-2.

Meanwhile, McDavid led his team in shots on goal with four, while Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom had three shots apiece.

DTFR Podcast #124- 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview

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.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Long-Awaited Offseason Krug Thoughts

It’s only taken me all offseason, but don’t trade Torey Krug.*

*At least in a one-for-one with the Edmonton Oilers, anyway.

There’s been plenty of talk on hockey Twitter among experts, recreational bloggers and fans alike surrounding Boston Bruins top-four defender, Torey Krug, and whether or not the 27-year-old blueliner should be considered an expendable asset for the right return.

At some point this offseason, rumors swirled that Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney had been in contact with Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli with both GMs expressing desire for a defender.

For starters, Sweeney and Chiarelli are friends.

Sweeney worked under Chiarelli during Chiarelli’s tenure with Boston and, while it’s likely they talked at some point this offseason– as all friends do– to what extent they delved into their roster concerns, well, that’s not for me to say.

But with rumors comes speculation on Twitter.

Polls were created, people became enraged because people tweeted their two cents and… people tweeted. Never tweet.

In the aftermath of the Krug Twitter War, let’s take one more sensible look at if Boston and Edmonton had worked out a deal this offseason– salary cap be damned.

Krug notched a career-high 59 points in 76 games for the Bruins in 2017-18. He had eight more points last season than he did in 2016-17 (51 points in 81 games played) and improved his plus/minus from a minus-10 in 2016-17 to an even rating last season.

There’s a couple of things to takeaway from that.

First, Krug had 59 points (a career high) last season, which was only three fewer points in five more games played than one of the league’s best blueliners– Erik Karlsson— had in a down season.

Yes, you read that right, Karlsson had 9-53–62 totals in 71 games for the Ottawa Senators in 2017-18, while Krug had 14-45–59 totals (76 GP) for Boston. Anytime a defender scores more than 10 goals, that’s something to celebrate– let alone when that player reaches a new career-high in scoring.

And second, Krug’s mistakes are still noticeable.

When a defenseman makes a mistake it’s usually easier to spot, because it leads directly to a goal against. Krug’s positioning hasn’t always been spot on, but he spent all of last season working with Brandon Carlo on Boston’s second defensive pairing– a season that Carlo is looking to learn from and move on from after failing to score a goal in his sophomore slump.

Krug’s best career plus/minus (plus-18) came in 79 GP in the President’s Trophy winning 2013-14 season for the Bruins. Since then he’s slipped to plus-13 in 2014-15, plus-9 in 2015-16 and a minus-10 in 2016-17, before rebounding to breaking even in 2017-18.

Now, I’ll fully acknowledge plus/minus does not tell the full story. Plus/minus alone does not take into account situations like being on the power play, penalty kill or even strength (Krug had 24 power play points last season– only one shy of his career-high 25 points on the power play in 2016-17). That’s where the argument for Corsi Relative, Corsi Close, Corsi Even and all that jazz comes in as another way to measure situational play, but I digress.

Back to the Oilers for a moment.

If Krug were to have been swapped in a one-for-one with an Edmonton defender, the Bruins would’ve taken a major step back.

Boston doesn’t need a young defenseman approaching his prime– they’ve got Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk already in those roles with Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon (just to name a few) coming down the pipeline in the system.

In other words, a hypothetical Krug for current-RFA, Darnell Nurse, deal wouldn’t look good. Especially when you look at the stats.

In just 2017-18 alone, Krug’s 14-45–59 totals in 76 games decimate Nurse’s 6-20–26 totals in 82 games with the Oilers. While shutdown defenders are favorable for their defensive purposes, giving up 33 points from the backend for one player alone isn’t sound. Especially with Krug as Boston’s offensive defenseman centerpiece over the two-way skills of McAvoy.

Sure, Nurse is only 23, but he needs a new contract as things stand right now with Boston looking at pay raises for both McAvoy (likely a hefty one) and Carlo in the summer of 2019. Then there’s that whole “already in his prime” thing going on with Krug. It’s perfectly fine to hold onto a defender in their prime into their early/mid-30s.

What about Oscar Klefbom? Could the Bruins improve in a one-for-one involving Krug for him?

Again, the answer is no.

Klefbom, 25, is two-years younger than Krug (so that whole “already in his prime thing”, yeah, that’s not favoring Klefbom in this hypothetical) and had 5-16–21 totals in 66 games for the Oilers last season. He was also a minus-12, which was surprisingly worse than everyone’s favorite Chiarelli overvalued blueliner in Edmonton– Kris Russell.

Russell was a minus-seven in 78 games and had, yep, 4-17–21 totals at 31-years-old.

Sure, adding Klefbom (6’3″) in place of Krug (5’9″) adds height, but it hinders skill.

There’s always that change of scenery argument, but there shouldn’t be anything attractive in Edmonton. Hard pass on any and all one-for-ones unless Connor McDavid is involved for some insane reason.

And for the record, Chiarelli’s prized possession in his biggest one-for-one trade in Edmonton (Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson) had 4-9–13 totals in 63 games last season. Larsson’s only reached the 20-point plateau once in his career (24 points in 64 games for New Jersey in 2014-15). Ouch.

If you’re thinking of trading Krug for any reason, don’t let it be in a one-for-one with the Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers 2018-19 Season Preview

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Edmonton Oilers

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

Offseason Analysis: The Edmonton Oilers put up 103 points on the board in 2016-17, General Manager Peter Chiarelli locked up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for $21 million a season combined.

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.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #121- Four-Year Vets

Nick and Connor celebrate the conclusion of the fourth season of the podcast, talk jerseys and logos from the week, the Edmonton Oilers defense and rank the best division by goaltenders.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

2018 Offseason Preview: Edmonton Oilers

Today’s yet another day of offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams starting, of course, with the Edmonton Oilers.

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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.

Connor McDavid continued to excel, locking up the Art Ross Trophy with his second consecutive 100-plus point season, while linemate Milan Lucic virtually disappeared on the ice.

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.

Al Montoya, 33, and Mikko Koskinen, 29, are currently listed on the NHL roster. Both have one-year left on their contracts at $1.0625 million and $2.500 million, respectively.

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.

Drake Caggiula, 23, Iiro Pakarinen, 26, Anton Slepyshev, 24, and Ryan Strome, 24, are all pending-RFAs for Chiarelli to review this summer.

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.

Both Matt Benning, 24, and Darnell Nurse, 23, are pending-RFA blueliners.

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:

Laurent Brossoit (UFA), Brian Ferlin (UFA), Mark Fayne (UFA), Braden Christoffer (RFA), Dillon Simpson (UFA), Ben Betker (RFA), Joey Laleggia (UFA), Kyle Platzer (RFA), Grayson Downing (UFA)

Buyouts on the books: Benoit Pouliot— $1.333 million through the end of the 2020-21 season.

Jackets and Oilers Are Perfect Trade Partners

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.