Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, February 23rd

Buffalo 4, Atlanta 1

In a battle between a team with a new owner vs. a team looking for an owner, it was Buffalo who came out victorious. The Terry Pegula era started just about as well as Sabres fans dreamed as the home team skated away with the 4-1 win. Two goals by Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville 30 seconds apart was all Buffalo really needed. The loss was the Thrashers’ fourth in a row and dropped them to 10th in the Eastern Conference; Atlanta only has 6 wins in their last 26 games.

Ottawa 5, Florida 1

The Sens had lost 10 straight at home going into the game—but those were games without Craig Anderson. Another stellar performance and a scoring explosion Sens fans haven’t seen in a while lead to an absolute route. Bobby Butler potted a couple and the defense was a solid as it’s been in about a month.

Worse than just the loss in the standings, newly acquired forward Jack Skille went down with a high-ankle sprain and is expected to be out of the line-up for an extended period of time. When it rains, it pours.

When we look back at this game in a month or two, it will probably be in terms of draft positioning. But for a night, all is right in Ottawa. Since the Sens have won two straight, can we call it a streak?

San Jose 3, Pittsburgh 2 (OT)

There was a lengthy 20 minute delay before the 2nd period started as they couldn’t get the lights to turn back on at the CONSOL Energy Center; but not even a power problem could slow down the surging Sharks. After their 3-2 OT victory in Pittsburgh, they have now won 5 straight and are 14-2-1 in their last 17 games.

It was the first game in a Penguins uniform for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. After Logan Couture missed a shot at an empty net, Tyler Kennedy put in a rebound with 50 seconds left to force OT. It looked like there could be a storybook ending—until Patrick Marleau banged home a rebound with 5 seconds left in the overtime period.

Tampa Bay 8, Phoenix 3

With all due respect to the Sharks and Pens, this was the night’s marquee match-up. The key word in that sentence is “was” (as in past tense). The Lightning blew the doors open early as they dropped a 5 spot on the Coyotes before the 1st period was over. Maybe it was the back-up goaltender in net and maybe it was the back-to-back games against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, but the game never was in doubt. Teddy Purcell kicked off the scoring 2 minutes into the game en route to a hat trick. Vinny Lecavalier had 4 assists and 5 points. Hey, if a team is going to blow an 8-game winning streak, at least they did it in style.

Edmonton 5, Colorado 1

We knew it would be tough for the Avs to bring the same kind of intensity after an emotional, come-from-behind victory against the Blues. Back-to-backs are tough, but even tougher when the teams just made a blockbuster trade and there are storylines all over the place. Yes, the Oilers may be playing better lately, but losing 5-1 at home is not the sign of a team that came ready to play. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Tom Gilbert all had multi-point games as the Oilers scored early and often.

We should have expected a high scoring game when the two worst defensive teams in the league (in terms of GA/G) took the ice. At least one team followed through.

Los Angeles 3, Anaheim 2

Going into the game, the Ducks had given up 7, 5, and 9 goals in their last three games. On the other hand, the Kings were shutout in their last game against the Islanders—so something had to give. Split the difference and the Kings scored three goals en route to their victory to cap off their franchise-long road trip (in which they finished 6-1-3). The win for the Kings was fueled by a game-winning goal from one of the most unlikely sources: shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell. On the other hand, the Ducks lost for the fourth straight game and fell out of a playoff spot for the first time in two months. They gave a great effort with both Saku Koivu and Ryan Getzlaf out for the game—but at this point in the season, they need wins. Thankfully for Ducks fans, both players should be back for their next game.

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

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    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

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    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

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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.