Tonight's games: Fight through the headaches

Tonight’s schedule is loaded with 10 games, so I’ll spare you a breathless introduction.

Today’s Best

Ottawa Senators (37-25-5, 79 pts) at Calgary Flames (33-24-9, 75 pts) 9:30 PM ET

Even though most of their players were able to rest, the Senators probably would’ve loved to keep their pre-Olympics streak going. They’ve been 1-2-1 since everyone came back from Vancouver. Calgary has an opportunity to strengthen their flimsy 8th place lead as every (relevant) team behind them is on at least a 1 game losing streak.

Boston Bruins (29-24-12, 70 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (35-26-4, 74 pts) 7:00 PM ET

You’d have to either be heartless, a Habs fan or a heartless Habs fan to not sympathize with the Bruins after their Murphy’s law season. It’s pretty easy to root against the Flyers, though, because they’re delightfully devoted to evil.

Jump for the other 8 games


Pittsburgh Penguins (40-22-4, 84 pts) at Carolina Hurricanes (27-31-8, 62 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Matt Cooke was once called the “Cookie Monster.” Now the second part of that nickname will suffice.

Edmonton Oilers (21-39-6, 48 pts) at Montreal Canadiens (33-29-6, 72 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Since it’s so obvious that the Oilers are lottery draft fodder, what is the over/under on “Spoilers” pun headlines?

St. Louis Blues (30-26-9, 69 pts) at New York Islanders (26-32-8, 60 pts) 7:00 PM ET

This game is unremarkable, but I’ll provide two nice words per team: Erik Johnson and John Tavares.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-27-11, 65 pts) at Toronto Maple Leafs (21-33-12, 54 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Steven Stamkos’ point scoring streak is now at 17 games. Will we see Stamkos in the playoffs this year?

Atlanta Thrashers (28-27-10, 66 pts) at Columbus Blue Jackets (26-30-11, 63 pts) 7:00 PM ET

Rather than rebuilding their franchise with what they don’t have (courage, competence) maybe the Blue Jackets should just make an “Ohio: we’re … pretty close to the East!” presentation. They could probably make the playoffs in Atlanta’s Conference.

Minnesota Wild (31-28-6, 68 pts) at Detroit Red Wings (31-23-12, 74 pts) 7:30 PM ET

You have to really hate the Red Wings to hope they miss the playoffs completely. Conversely, you really have to love the Wild (or Minnesotan accents) to want them to make the playoffs at all.

Florida Panthers (27-28-10, 64 pts) at Colorado Avalanche (37-23-6, 80 pts) 9:00 PM ET

It’s weird to say, but Panthers fans would kill to step into a time machine and go back to that Stanley Cup Finals series where they didn’t have a prayer against the Sakic-Forsberg-Roy Avs.

Nashville Predators (36-25-5, 77 pts) at San Jose Sharks (42-14-9, 93 pts) 10:30 PM ET

On paper this would seem like a big game, but the Sharks are far ahead in the Pacific and the Predators are far behind in the Central. Still, this is the best game that wasn’t a part of “today’s best.”

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    Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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    In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

    At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

    That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

    Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

    Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

    2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
    Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
    Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
    Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
    Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
    Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
    Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
    Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
    Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
    John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
    Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
    Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
    Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
    Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
    Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
    Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
    Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
    Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
    Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
    Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
    Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
    Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
    Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
    Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
    Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

    Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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    The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

    You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

    Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

    (As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

    Bloated supporting cast

    There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

    At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

    Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

    Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

    One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

    Yeah, not ideal.

    It’s not all bad

    Now, let’s be fair.

    RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

    The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

    Crucial future negotiations

    GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

    Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

    The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

    Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

    ***

    Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

    It’s not just about those stars, though.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

    You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

    Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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    Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

    Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

    This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

    Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

    Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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    The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

    They didn’t come cheap.

    Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

    McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

    The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

    Then, the playoffs happened.

    Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

    More to follow…