After stinking for years, will this season's Edmonton Oilers pass the 'smell test'?


kevinloweatthedraft.jpgI cannot help but be intrigued when an NHL general manager provides a look behind the curtain, whether the public perception is that he’s a wizard or a dunce. So it only seems natural that I found David Staples of the Cult of Hockey’s look at Edmonton Oilers GM-turned-team president Kevin Lowe’s “smell test” quite interesting.

Here is what Lowe said regarding the club’s team building strategy after the squad made it tantalizingly close to a Stanley Cup victory.

“I’ll say this, our decisions made prior to the new CBA in 2005-2006 season, all those decisions were made on, all the contracts we signed, were made on a completely different attitude and philosophy than the ones we made post-new CBA.”

“All the ones prior to the old CBA, the contracts had to pass the smell test. In other words: Are those contracts moveable? … And as it turned out all the contracts were moveable.

“Not that you sign a guy thinking you have to be move him, but you you have to recognize that you might be caught with a contract, and if the player is not performing you have got to move the player. If you can’t move the player, then you’re stuck holding the bag.

“Our philosophy changed with the run in ’06, and new ownership, and we were able to try to just sort of opposite of what you’re saying … (We were) trying to think long term, trying to average it out a little bit, if the guy is projecting to be a good player for a long period of time, try to cut out free agency and what have you.”

taylorhallandtambellini.jpgWhatever reasoning attached to the Oilers moves the last few years, it doesn’t take a capologist to figure out that many of the decisions were foolish. Staples points out that new GM Steve Tambellini was able to get out from under some of the Oilers’ worst lingering contracts including Lubomir Visnokvsky’s deal, but they still are guilty of being shortsighted with Nikolai Khabibulin, Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff and so on.

Chances are good that Tambellini will continue to try to move some of the cap-killing contracts, but the question is: would the team’s current course of action pass the “smell test?”

Like Staples, I think – for the most part – the answer is yes. The Oilers must be careful not to rush their prospects to the NHL; while Taylor Hall almost needs to play in the league in 2010-11, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi (-Svensson?)’s development situations should be handled carefully. Sure, it’s easier for forwards to adjust to the highest level than defensemen and goalies, but you don’t want to waste a player’s entry level years if they’re not ready yet.

If the Oilers’ roster received smell test-inspired scratch and sniff stickers, the last few years’ editions would sport a skunk-like odor. It might not be all berries and cream for Edmonton next season, but chances are that Lowe and Tambellini are just hoping it doesn’t smell rancid.

Canucks’ Tryamkin refuses AHL assignment, would prefer to be a healthy scratch apparently

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers battles against Nikita Tryamkin #88 of the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The Vancouver Canucks have an interesting situation with big Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin. Six games into season, the 22-year-old defenseman has yet to get into the lineup, and he’s been brandishing the KHL out-clause in his contract by refusing an assignment to the AHL.

“There is no possibility that he will play in the American Hockey League,” GM Jim Benning said this weekend, per the Vancouver Sun. “We’ve explored that. We’ve talked to him and his agent and he has said no. In a perfect world, we’d like him to get some games (in the minors). But it is what it is. He is working hard in practice and doing extra work.”

Tryamkin was the 66th overall pick in the 2014 draft, an enticing project with size and strength, one who naturally drew comparisons to Zdeno Chara. He came to North America late last season, after his fourth KHL campaign with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg had finished, and played 13 games (1G, 1A) for the Canucks down the (meaningless) stretch.

It remains to be seen when he’ll get into a game again. Chris Tanev got banged up Sunday in Anaheim and is questionable for tomorrow’s home date against Ottawa, but Tanev is more likely to be replaced by Alex Biega, who played as a forward against the Ducks.

Tryamkin, meanwhile, will likely have to sit and wait. Unless he gets bored enough to go to Utica, which is where the Canucks would like him anyway.

Per Cap Friendly, Tryamkin’s contract pays him $925,000 in the NHL versus $70,000 in the AHL. He can become a restricted free agent after the season is over, which would allow him to return to the KHL should he choose to do so.

The list of struggling netminders is a long one, as it’s been goals galore to start the season

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) watches as Patrik Laine's game-tying goal goes past Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

In case you haven’t noticed, NHL goalies are having a real struggle to start the 2016-17 season. After 80 games, the average save percentage sits at just .903, per Hockey Reference.

To put that number in perspective, the last time a season finished with that low an average was 2000-01. The last couple of years, it’s been at .915, the highest save rate in league history. So don’t expect it to stay at .903 for long. Remember, the goalies’ equipment hasn’t really been altered yet.

With that in mind, here are five goalies that need to pull it together:

Brian Elliott: The most obvious candidate. He’s been extremely shaky for his new team in Calgary, going 0-3-0 with an .839 save rate. Another poor performance tonight in Chicago and head coach Glen Gulutzan may need to give Chad Johnson an opportunity to take the ball and run with it, because the Flames are already in a hole.

Frederik Andersen: Another goalie playing for a new team. He’s gone 1-0-3 for Toronto, with an .879 save percentage. The Maple Leafs had better hope this is just a blip, because they’re committed to Andersen through 2020-21 for a cap hit of $5 million.

Corey Crawford: This is an interesting one, because Crawford has mostly been ventilated on the penalty kill. His save percentage is a ridiculously low .615 while the ‘Hawks are shorthanded (10 goals allowed) and an impressive .966 at even strength (three goals). Overall, he’s 1-3-0 with an .886 save percentage, which needs to be higher one way or the other.

Eddie Lack/Cam Ward: Let’s count these two as one, because they both play for Carolina and they’re both having serious issues. After five Hurricanes games, Lack’s save percentage is just .857 (three starts), while Ward’s is somehow worse at .852 (two starts). It was a similar story last year, when Lack and Ward combined for the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL, so don’t feel obligated to act surprised.

Steve Mason/Michal Neuvirth: We’ll also count these guys as one, since they both play for Philadelphia and they’re both having a tough go. This scenario is different than Carolina’s, though, because Mason and Neuvirth were both excellent last season in helping the Flyers to an unexpected playoff berth. This season, Mason is 1-2-1 with an .882 save percentage, while Neuvirth is technically undefeated with a 1-0-0 record, but his save percentage is just .854 in two appearances.

So that’s seven struggling goalies. There are plenty of honorary mentions, including Anton Khudobin, Louis Domingue, Darcy Kuemper, Craig Anderson, John Gibson, Martin Jones, Jake Allen, and even Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, whose save percentage sits at a lowly .861.

PS — Henrik Lundqvist, Semyon Varlamov, and Marc-Andre Fleury haven’t been great either.

Oh look, more injuries in Dallas

Lindy Ruff
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The Stars should be on the lookout for banana peels and open manhole covers.

After a disappointing 3-0 loss to Columbus, Dallas received more bad news in the health department — Ales Hemsky, who returned from a groin injury to play his first game of the year on Saturday, was re-injured and is now out for Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg, while Jason Spezza “tweaked something in practice” today and is listed as questionable, per the Morning-News.


Spezza and Hemsky join Cody Eakin (knee), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Patrick Eaves (lower body) and Jiri Hudler (flu) among Dallas’ inactives.

Eaves might be able to go against the Jets, while Hudler has all but been ruled out. The rest of the ailments are of the longer-term variety, with Janmark the longest at 5-6 months.

As you might expect, the Stars have struggled while trying to compensate. The lineup against Columbus featured the likes of Gemel Smith, Lauri Korpikoski and Adam Cracknell — all of whom are basically new to the team this season — and, unsurprisingly, Dallas’ recent record reflects that lack of roster consistency: 1-2-1 over the last four games, including a pair of home defeats to the Kings and Jackets.

“We’ve got to deal with what we’ve got,” head coach Lindy Ruff said.

Related: The injury situation in Dallas is out of control

Rozsival to make season debut for Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 20: Michal Rozsival #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks passes against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on December 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Sharks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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An injury to Trevor van Riemsdyk has paved the way for Michal Rozsival to make his season debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Rozsival might’ve been scheduled to play anyway, as the veteran defenseman is expected to replace Michal Kempny when the ‘Hawks host the Flames tonight at United Center.

“We want to get everyone in at some point,” said head coach Joel Quenneville, per the Chicago Tribune. “We don’t want to wait too long to get him into the season here. He can be useful, gives us some experience and can play minutes against top guys.”

At 38, Rozsival is one of the oldest players in the NHL. When the ‘Hawks re-signed him for another year, it came as a surprise to many. And by the time training camp rolled around, even he wasn’t exactly sure what his role would be this season.

But not surprisingly, after last season, GM Stan Bowman would rather err on the side of too much depth on the back end.

“It’s funny, because we had these [interviews] a year ago and they were always saying, ‘Are you worried about your defense? Do you have enough depth there?'” Bowman said, per the Sun-Times. “And now you’re saying we have too much depth. I think no matter what the story is, there’s a story line to it. But I’d rather have more guys who can play. Are we going to be healthy all year long? I hope so. But I don’t know if we will. … The thing with Michal, even last year, he just played too much consecutively. He still has a lot of hockey left.”

Related: Blackhawks’ issues go beyond the penalty kill