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

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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.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.

Predators’ Watson asking for $1.4 million in arbitration

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It could be a busy couple of days for the Nashville Predators with two arbitration hearings scheduled through Monday.

The first of those two was scheduled for Saturday with restricted free agent forward Viktor Arvidsson, while Austin Watson is scheduled to have his on Monday if no deal is struck before then. On Saturday Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Watson and the Predators have filed their numbers for that hearing with Watson looking to make $1.4 million, and the Predators countering with an offer of $700,000.

Watson made $575,000 this past season for the Predators when he scored five goals with 12 assists in 77 games while mostly playing in a bottom-six role.

The 25-year-old Watson was a first-round pick by the Predators in 2010 and has played his entire career to this point with the organization. In parts of three seasons with the big club he has scored just nine goals in 140 games.

He played what was perhaps his best hockey with the team during the 2016-17 playoffs when he scored four goals (nearly matching his career regular season high) and added five assists during the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. All four of those goals came in the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, including two in their series-clinching Game 6 win. He also recorded three assists in the Stanley Cup Final.

Given the relatively small gap here this seems like a classic “meet in the middle” situation when it comes to reaching a deal for this upcoming season.

Ducks prospect Jones seems ready to make the jump to the NHL

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The Anaheim Ducks had a chance to restock their prospect cupboard during the 2016 draft with a pair of first-round picks, selecting Max Jones with the No. 24 overall pick and Sam Steel with the No. 30 pick. Both prospects had strong seasons in 2016-17 with their junior teams — Steel recorded 131 points in 66 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, while Jones was a point-per-game player for the OHL’s London Knights before getting his first taste of pro hockey with a nine-game look in the American Hockey League playoffs with the San Diego Gulls.

He now seems determined to make the Ducks’ roster this upcoming season.

Here is talking to Eric Stephens of the OC Register following the team’s prospect camp earlier this month.

“I don’t know if it’s about that,” Jones said at the Ducks’ prospect camp earlier this month. “I just think … I won a Memorial Cup. I think it’s time to move on and try to win a Stanley Cup. That’s kind of what my idea is.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now. Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

The problem Jones and the Ducks will face this season is that he is still not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the CHL transfer agreement, which means the team has to decide whether or not to give him a look with the big club in Anaheim, or send him back to the Ontario Hockey League for a third consecutive season.

He also missed significant time this past season due to a broken arm and another suspension for crossing the line physically (this time it was 10 games for cross-checking), something he has struggled with during his junior hockey days.

Given his willingness to play the game with a physical edge and his size (6-3, 215 pounds) he certainly seems to fit the Ducks’ “heavy” style of play.

Still, the Ducks’ roster is already pretty deep and there aren’t many spots available, especially after the team just reached the Western Conference Finals this past season. For as big and talented as he is, he has still only played 112 games in the OHL over the past two seasons and hasn’t always dominated offensively. Some additional development time might not be the worst thing for him this season.