Around The Rink: Saturday, October 16th

It’s Saturday and that means it’s a full docket of games, so without further ado, here’s today’s NHL schedule and preview of all the action. Hope you all didn’t have plans that didn’t center around hockey, you’ve got a lot of studying to do. As always, all times listed are Eastern.

6:00 pm

Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia

This one is getting an hour head start so as to not conflict with Game 1 of the NLCS. The Penguins are coming off a win against the Islanders last night but still not looking all that smooth. Philly will hope to take advantage of that and the good sports karma brought to town by the Phillies. Worth watching here is seeing if either team can snap out of their miserable power play doldrums.

7:00 pm

Ottawa @ Montreal

Hockey Night in Canada gets this battle featuring the Senators having to start Brian Elliott while Pascal Leclaire is out with an injury. The Habs will be looking to stay hot after a strong defensive effort in a win over Buffalo last night. Ottawa, meanwhile is still trying to get themselves figured out. Cracking the Montreal defense would do them a world of good.

Boston @ New Jersey

Boston hits the ice once again after their long layoff after returning from Europe. The Bruins haven’t played since Sunday so jet lag shouldn’t be an issue for them. Being rusty may be an issue though and going against a frustrated New Jersey team might not make for the best recipe for success. Expect New Jersey to come out firing after losing last night to Colorado 3-2 despite putting up 43 shots on goal.

Colorado @ NY Islanders

Speaking of the Avs, they’ll be hoping to keep the number of shots on goal down against the Islanders who come back home after dropping a tough one in overtime to Pittsburgh. Colorado’s tenacious high-paced skating should make for a challenge for the Islanders.

Tampa Bay @ Florida

The unbeaten Lightning will be trying to ruin the Panthers home opener in Sunrise. The Lightning are off to a great start going 3-0-0 to start the season. While the Panthers are just 1-2-0, they very easily could’ve finished their western Canada road trip 3-0 with a little bit of luck. The Panthers may not have all the talent in the world, but they’re playing solid hockey. Believe it or not, this one could turn out to be pretty good.

8:00 pm

Washington @ Nashville

Even though the Preds are without starting goalie Pekka Rinne, it hasn’t stopped them from winning. Of course, having to deal with the high-powered Capitals should make for a good test for Barry Trotz’s team. If they can keep Ovechkin and company under control, the buzz about the Predators will only grow.

Columbus @ Minnesota

After the Blue Jackets got virtually run off their own ice against Chicago last night, they get to make the trek to Minnesota to play the schizophrenic Wild. Will the Wild team that attacked and took it to the Oilers in the second half of their last game show up or will the team that struggled and couldn’t put together many chances rear its ugly head? Bet on both happening. It’ll be up to Columbus to try and take advantage of the Wild while they’re figuring out their game.

8:30 pm

Buffalo @ Chicago

You may have heard a little bit about this one. Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson makes his return from a two-game suspension for hitting Sabres forward Jason Pominville from behind. Conveniently enough, Hjalmarsson gets to face those very same Sabres in his first game back. The Sabres are struggling to find their way right now, and getting motivated for this game could be the thing they need to snap out of their early season funk.

St. Louis @ Dallas

The Stars are off to a nice start and so are the Blues. Jaroslav Halak has done very well so far, even in spite of dropping his last start against Nashville. Meanwhile Kari Lehtonen is making Stars fans forget about Marty Turco, meanwhile Brad Richards is picking up where left off last year scoring points at will. It’s a shame that Cam Janssen is out for St. Louis, otherwise we could’ve seen the first Twitter-arranged NHL fight between him and Stars enforcer Krys Barch.

9:00 pm

Detroit @ Phoenix

It’s the Coyotes home opener and the fans could be in an even more festive mood considering their team is close to being sold to an investor looking to keep the team in Arizona. As for the game, it’ll mark the first meeting between these two since Detroit beat Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs last year. Detroit will be looking to rebound after a stinkbomb of a game in Dallas the other night.

10:00 pm

Edmonton @ Calgary

So they meet again. They seemed to play each other non-stop in the preseason and now they’re already going at each other for the second time this season. Nothing like getting those rivalry games out of the way early I suppose. When these two faced off on opening night, the Oilers routed Calgary and beat them up along the way. Calgary is mired in some miserable play and a game with Edmonton might be what they need to get themselves figured out.

10:30 pm

Atlanta @ San Jose

Atlanta is coming into the Sharks home opener after coming back to beat Anaheim in a shootout last night. They’ll need all of their magic to handle the Sharks in a game that will see more than a few former Blackhawks potentially facing off against each other with Antti Niemi playing goal for San Jose while Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Brent Sopel hold down Atlanta’s roster. It’d be a bit of a bummer if Niemi doesn’t start for the Sharks now wouldn’t it?

Draisaitl on signing with Oilers: ‘We have something really special’

Getty
4 Comments

As a restricted free agent, Leon Draisaitl only had so much say regarding his future with the Edmonton Oilers, especially since teams rarely send offer sheets around in the NHL.

Even so, Draisaitl could have opted for a “bridge” deal; instead, he signed for the maximum of eight years for a whopping $68 million on Wednesday.

Some would probably grumble but understand if Draisaitl explained his rational by pointing at one of those big checks or at a calculator. Instead, the promising young forward explained that he believes that the Oilers have a bright future, and he wants to be a part of it.

In case you’re wondering, additional details have surfaced regarding the year-to-year breakdown of Draisaitl’s deal. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie also reports that Draisaitl has a no-movement clause, thus making it that much more likely that he’ll get his wish to stick with the Oilers:

Of course, with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for a $21M cap hit beginning in 2018-19, the bigger question is not whether they will stay, but who the Oilers will manage to keep in the fold.

Still, that’s for GM Peter Chiarelli & Co. to decide. For Draisaitl, this is a great moment, and he might even be able to back up that big contract with big results on the ice.

Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

Getty
3 Comments

If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

“Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?

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

Getty
6 Comments

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

Getty
4 Comments

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.