Five thoughts: Trouble ahead for East favorites? Kings have guts; Miller and Pavelski are huge

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After a goalie-dominated second night of the NHL playoffs, our five thoughts on last night’s action have us wondering a bit too hard for two teams that are supposed to win.

1. It’s tough to say we didn’t see this coming, but there has to be real concern for the Flyers in the Eastern Conference. They played a tough game with Buffalo before ultimately being shutout by Ryan Miller 1-0 in Game 1. The concerns aren’t with Sergei Bobrovsky as he was outstanding in defeat but rather with the Flyers power play. Taking advantage of being up a man for two minutes is huge for any team looking to win in the playoffs. Goals come at a premium in the postseason and failing to take advantage of the power play creates doubt and makes guys squeeze the sticks a little harder.

That was the case last night for Philadelphia after they went 0-5 with the man advantage including a short time five-on-three. While many (including us) were wondering how the Flyers defense and goaltending would stand up without Chris Pronger playing, it was the offense that let them down in Game 1. That’s a trend they absolutely cannot afford to see develop.

2. Same can be said of the Boston Bruins. After playing Montreal so many times during the regular season they knew what they’d be up against with the Habs. Instead, they ran into an even more staunch Montreal defense and a stoic Carey Price who didn’t let anything by in a 2-0 loss.

The B’s streakiness with their offense has been a bit of an issue again this year and against Montreal, not every game is going to be a supercharged 7-0 win or a rock’em-sock’em 8-6 fist fight. The playoffs mean things are tighter and every goal is huge. If Boston’s offense continues to be frustrated by P.K. Subban and Hal Gill, their stay in the playoffs is going to be a short one. Guys like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic have to be less focused on Subban’s antics and just work on getting free around the net.

3. Despite it being a 3-2 overtime loss for Los Angeles, give them a lot of credit for playing the way they did. When overtime started and for most of the period, the Kings carried the play and got the better of the chances to end the game. Their offense without Anze Kopitar did well enough to create opportunities all throughout the game and they weren’t thrown off by Dany Heatley’s goal less than 30 seconds into the game. The Kings have to be sharp all series long if they’re going to pull an upset but with how they played last night, they showed the Sharks they have no fear.

Most encouraging part of the night for L.A.: How well Justin Williams played in his first game back from a dislocated shoulder. A goal and an assist for Williams will do every night.

4. If the Ryan Miller we saw against Philadelphia in Game 1 is the guy that’s going to be there each game for the Sabres, the rest of the Eastern Conference had better take note. Miller was brilliant in his 35 save shutout of the Flyers and did excellent to fight the swarming net presence of the Flyers forwards. Miller has had a rough go of it in the playoffs last year against Boston, but last night was a game that he won for the Sabres himself. The kind of lift that should provide Buffalo is immense but they’d do well to give him a bit more offensive support. Getting the lone goal from a hockey irritant like Patrick Kaleta can’t be counted on nightly.

5. If Joe Pavelski’s performance in last year’s playoffs didn’t help you shake that nagging opinion of the Sharks as “chokers” then he’s determined to prove to you again that that’s not the case. During the first two rounds of the playoffs, Pavelski was a man possessed netting nine goals and six assists including three game-winning goals, one of which came in overtime.

If he gets that goal scoring touch alive once again throughout the playoffs, The Big Pavelski will be an even bigger cult hero than he already is in San Jose. The dude abides in a big way.

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.

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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.

Cullen signs with Wild, opting against retirement (and Penguins)

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Matt Cullen is going home, but that doesn’t mean that he’s retiring from hockey.

Instead, the Minnesota native decided to sign a one-year, $1 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. It’s unclear why, precisely, Cullen didn’t ink a deal to try to “threepeat” with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Wild note that his deal also includes $700K in potential performance bonuses.

This will be the 40-year-old’s second run with the Wild. His first run came from 2010-11 through 2012-13, where he appeared in 193 regular-season games and five postseason contests for Minnesota.

Cullen managed back-to-back 30+ point seasons with the Penguins while providing useful all-around play as a veteran center. If he can maintain a reasonably high level of play, this gives the Wild quite the solid group down the middle, even with Martin Hanzal gone.

Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

They didn’t come cheap.

Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

Then, the playoffs happened.

Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

More to follow…

 

Report: Vegas among teams in on Pens draftee Byron

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Will Butcher isn’t the only college free agent garnering interest in free agency.

University of Maine senior Blaine Byron, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in ’13, has passed on signing with the club and can now ink with a team of his choosing. Per The Hockey News, the four “lead suitors” for Byron are Vegas, New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo.

Byron, 22, is coming off a great year. He racked up 18 goals and 41 points in 36 games, finishing tied for 18th in the country in scoring. It’s unclear where he would’ve fit in the Pittsburgh organization, though, and one has to think the signing of Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese might’ve played a factor in his departure.

In a recent Tribune-Review piece, Byron did make a list of the club’s top-20 prospects, coming in at No. 17.

Yesterday, Butcher — the reigning Hobey Baker winner — announced that he wouldn’t sign with Colorado, the team that drafted him four years ago. Instead, Butcher will parlay a successful senior campaign at Denver University into interest on the open market.