Riding the Zamboni – Thursday, March 3

Edmonton 4, Columbus 2

The Edmonton Oilers might not be a very good team in the standings, but they sure can be fun to watch. When they’re on their game, they show tons of potential for the future and play an exciting brand of hockey. Lead by Taylor Hall’s Gordie Howe hat trick, the Oilers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, chased Jackets’ goaltender Steve Mason, and held on for the win. They may be reduced to the spoiler role—but they’re playing it well. Unfortunately, they may be doing it without Hall pending the results of his MRI on Friday.

The Blue Jackets came into Edmonton needing points if they wanted to keep pace in the playoff hunt. Inexplicitly, they came out flat and never really deserved to win a game they could have used. Jackets coach Scott Arniel summed it up best:

“We didn’t come to compete. We didn’t win many one-on-one battles, our power-play (0-of-5) stunk. We did a lot of ugly things tonight, really out of character of what we’ve been doing the last month and a half.”

Nashville 3, Vancouver 0

The two best defenses in the Western Conference got together and through 40 minutes no one could score a goal. But in the 3rd period, the Predators broke loose, scored three unanswered, and beat the best team in the league in their own barn. Blake Geoffrion scored his 2nd career goal two minutes into the final period which proved to be enough. Patrick Hornqvist had a sweet goal and an empty netter sealed the deal. The game had the look and feel of a playoff game with the two teams playing such a tight brand of hockey. No doubt it’s a good sign for fans in Nashville that the Preds were able to go into a hostile environment and play their style of game.

San Jose 3, Detroit 1

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that people were wondering what was wrong with the San Jose Sharks? Those complaints seem like a distant memory nowadays. With their exciting win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Sharks have now won eight straight and are leading the hotly contested Pacific Division. Over the stretch, the Sharks are only giving up 1.63 goals per game. Of course, when Dany Heatley scores a pair of goals and Patrick Marleau has a goal and an assist, it’s a little easier to win a few.

Detroit finished their 3-games-in-4-nights California stretch with a 1-1-1 record. Joey MacDonald gave his team a chance to win, but the Wings simply couldn’t score enough to earn the win. There’s a reason why back-to-backs are so difficult for NHL teams.

Los Angeles 1, Phoenix 0

The Kings and Coyotes gave fans at Staples Center a taste of what playoff hockey will look like next month. Both teams had to fight for every inch of ice until the Kings were able to take advantage of a power play to score the only goal of the game. If you like low-scoring games that are heavily influenced by special teams, then this was right up your alley.

With the win, Los Angeles is 12-2-3 in their last 17 games. Jonathan Bernier earned his 2nd shutout of the year. They started the game in 8th place; one Jarret Stoll goal later and the Kings are in 5th place. If they lost, they would have been in 9th. Needless to say, the Dustin Penner era is off to a pretty good start.

Who says the playoffs don’t start until April?

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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.