Some firsts, 100s, broken fingers and pointing fingers– who should be concerned about their job security behind the bench? Plus Cap’n and Pete are back.
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.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nick, Connor and Cap’n recap the Matt Duchene trade and pick a winnner(s). The crew also discussed how good the Tampa Bay Lightning are and how the Montreal Canadiens haven’t been smart with asset management in recent years and where they could go from here.
47-26-9, 103 points, second in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Anaheim
Subtractions: C David Desharnais (signed with NYR), RW Jordan Eberle (traded to NYI), G Jonas Gustavsson (signed with Linköping), F Matt Hendricks (signed with WPG), F Anton Lander (signed with Kazan), D Jordan Oesterle (signed with CHI), F Tyler Pitlick (signed with DAL), LW Benoit Pouliot (signed with BUF)
Offseason Analysis: Going off the additions list, it seems General Manager Peter Chiarelli prescribes to an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
Considering Anaheim needed all seven games to knock off his Oilers in the second round last season in Edmonton’s first postseason appearance since 2006, it’s hard to argue with him.
Of course, that also ignores the elephants in the room: centers Leon Draisaitl and Captain Connor McDavid – two players slated to cost $21 million when the 2018-‘19 season begins (McDavid’s $12.5 million AAV extension begins next year). Assuming next season’s salary cap stays at this year’s $75 million, 28 percent of Edmonton’s payroll belongs to those two players in a sport that features 19 players hitting the ice per game (to compare, one-nineteenth of $75 million is $3,947,368.42 – approximately D Kris Russell’s yearly salary).
Thus, the Oilers were prevented from making many moves. Oh, the joy of having this generation’s Wayne Gretzky and his beloved sidekick-that-could-also-be-a-first-line-center-for-almost-every-other-club on the same team.
The only free agent signing the Oilers made this offseason of much value was their one-year deal with 34-year-old Jokinen. Don’t be distracted by the seemingly pedestrian .57 points-per-game he posted in his three seasons with Florida, as you need to take into account the Panthers’ below-average offense last season. When Florida dominated its division in 2015-’16, he posted impressive 18-42-60 totals before following it up with an 11-17-28 performance last year. Additionally, in his lone full season in Pittsburgh with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (a situation similar to Edmonton’s), he posted 21-36-57 marks – the second, third and third-best efforts, respectively, of his career.
Though it can be said for every player in the league, it’s much easier to do one’s job when surrounded by talented teammates and success. That’s no less true with Jokinen, and he should be able to provide even more versatility to last season’s eighth-best offense.
Instead, Chiarelli was forced to make trades if he wanted to make long-term plans – hence the deal with the Islanders that exchanged Eberle for Strome. Slated to make $6 million this season and next, Eberle had to make way for Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts. Meanwhile, Strome is slated to be a restricted free agent after costing $2.5 million this season.
The deal makes perfect sense for Chiarelli and owner Daryl Katz’ pocketbooks, but will it pan out for Coach Todd McLellan?
With 20-31-51 totals, 27-year-old Eberle had his best campaign since his 2014-’15 63-point last season, but still significantly under the .33-.43-.75-per-game totals he’s posted over his seven-year NHL career. To compare, 24-year-old Strome posted 13-17-30 totals in only 69 games played last season – a decent effort that shows growth, but still a far cry from his impressive 17-33-50 sophomore season in 2014-’15. Strome played on the top line with Patrick Maroon and McDavid in Monday’s split-squad preseason game against archrival Calgary, scoring two power play points late in the contest, including a five-on-three goal.
Strome should know that this is a true audition season for him, both with the Oilers and elsewhere. If he helps Maroon and McDavid make even more fireworks than they did last year, he might become a staple for the future. But if that pesky budget gets in the way, he could be well on his way to a major payday with another squad if he takes advantage of this prime opportunity.
Oh yeah, there’s also the Stanley Cup to play for. He should probably help Edmonton win that too, because it could very well be in reach. Anything short of an Oilers Conference Finals appearance this season is a failure.
Offseason Grade: B+
Even though we knew it was coming eventually, Chiarelli doesn’t get a glowing review for signing Draisaitl and McDavid to exorbitant contracts. But beyond that, the Oilers’ offseason went splendidly, as they did exactly what they needed to: make a dangerous team lethal.
I’ve said it on a podcast this season, but it bears writing: we’ve seen highly paid super teams before, as recently as last year (read: Chicago and Washington). One came away from their dynasty with three Stanley Cups; the other with three Presidents’ Trophies. Hardware is nice, but Draisaitl and McDavid must ensure their story ends like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’.