Tom Renney admits that Nikolai Khabibulin’s role next season remains a ‘great mystery’

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As the Edmonton Oilers stockpile prospects and young players, the optimism around the organization remains strong. But as I’ve said before, at some point fans will grow tired of so-called potential and crave an on-ice product that isn’t regularly embarrassing.

Despite only scoring 193 goals (third worst in the NHL) last season, it seems like the team’s offense seems is moving in the right direction, especially if Taylor Hall has a strong second season and Ales Hemsky stays healthy in his contract year.

One must perceive the Oilers’ biggest issues to be in their own end of the ice, then. Merely glancing at the Edmonton Journal’s tragically comical poll about the team’s best defensive corps from the last four years sheds a troubling light on the team’s defensive deficits. Perhaps the team could make up for those shortcomings on the blueline by enjoying some sterling play from their netminders, but it’s tough to say that they’ll get above average results from their questionable duo of Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk.

Even Oilers coach Tom Renney isn’t sure what to expect from Khabibulin in general, as he admitted that the troubled Russian’s 2011-12 season remains a mystery even to the team that employs him.

Renney said Khabibulin’s physical and mental health will be assessed in training camp.

“I certainly don’t expect Nikolai Khabibulin to play 70 games. I’m not sure he can play 60. I’m not sure he can play 50. That’s the great mystery here.”

As for Devan Dubnyk, Renney said the young goalie needs to get stronger, more explosive, a fair critique. He added that Dubnyk will take over from Khabibulin sooner or later. “I think this is a young fellow who is on the verge of being a National Hockey League starter. There’s no question about that.”

Khabibulin is certainly getting older, Renney said.

“For me, it’s a perfect scenario at some point in time, whether it’s this year or the beginning of next year, sooner rather than later remains to be seen, but there is an opportunity for a changing of the guard. And it should be a healthy situation.”

Renney also spoke about banged-up defenseman Ryan Whitney, who’s still experiencing some tenderness in his surgically repaired ankle. The former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman ranks as one of the best options Edmonton has on defense, which is a troubling statement even beyond his health struggles because the solid offensive blueliner has his occasional struggles with turnovers.

I’ve seen some people list the Oilers as a possible dark horse candidate, which seems like a fun gamble to throw out because of their young talent. The problem is that they’re a flawed team in the stacked Western Conference, where it’s tough to imagine them overcoming their sub-par defense and shaky goaltending.

It would be great if that instinct ends up being wrong because Oilers fans have been waiting patiently for the team to regain the form they only briefly enjoyed during a Cinderella run with Chris Pronger and Dwayne Roloson. For that to happen, they’re going to need to see continued promise from Dubnyk and a much sturdier Bulin Wall.

Preds hire new assistant coach in wake of Housley departure

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The Nashville Predators have hired Dan Muse as an assistant coach.

Muse, who spent the last two years as head coach of the USHL’s Chicago Steel, will be in charge of the Preds’ forwards as well as the penalty kill, while associate head coach Kevin McCarthy  — in the wake of Phil Housley’s departure — will now have responsibility for the defense and the power play.

Muse led the Steel to a championship in May. He also won an NCAA title in 2013 as an assistant coach for Yale.

“Dan comes to us as a successful young coach that brings great energy and passion to the game,” said Preds head coach Peter Laviolette in a statement. “He has worked his way up through the coaching ranks, first winning an NCAA title at Yale in 2013, and then taking a Chicago team that had missed the playoffs eight straight seasons and turned them into the Clark Cup champions in just two seasons. We are excited to welcome him to the organization and look forward to his contributions to the coaching staff.”

Sens avoid arbitration with Dzingel

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The Ottawa Senators have narrowly avoided arbitration with Ryan Dzingel.

Per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Dzingel has signed a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.8 million.

Dzingel’s hearing was scheduled for today. Last season, the 25-year-old forward had 14 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

Earlier this week, the Sens also avoided arbitration with Jean-Gabriel Pageau, though that case didn’t go down to the wire like Dzingel’s did.

Pageau and Dzingel were the only Sens with arbitration hearings scheduled.

Related: Sens want to avoid arbitration with Dzingel

 

Palat feels ‘pretty good’ about the Lightning’s chances of bouncing back next season

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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman accomplished quite a bit this offseason.

Not only did he acquire Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin, but he also managed to lose Jason Garrison‘s contract before re-signing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They also signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency.

Even though fitting everyone under the cap couldn’t have been easy, Yzerman managed to get it done, and it has at least some of his players excited about the prospect of next season.

“I feel pretty good about the team,” Palat, who signed a five-year, $26.5 million contract extension last week, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I like all the new guys. They’re in the league for a while. Great veteran guys, experienced guys. That’s what you need to have on your team if you want to win a Cup.”

Going into last season, many people pegged Tampa Bay as one of the teams that would compete for the East Division crown. Not only did they not win the East, they didn’t even qualify for the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with injuries, but there’s no denying that the 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Bolts.

Despite not playing hockey in the spring last season, there seems to be a good amount of optimism surrounding the team’s chances of making a run this year (a healthy Steven Stamkos would help in a big way).

Sure, keeping guys on the ice and off medical tables would increase the odds of the team having a bounce back season, but there’s more to it than that. Outside of a handful of players (mainly Nikita Kucherov), the Lightning didn’t get consistent efforts from a lot of their key players that were healthy.

“It was an experience for us last year because we came from two good (playoff) runs and we thought we were going to make the playoffs just like that, and it didn’t happen,” added Palat. “In the NHL we have to play good from the beginning of the season, and we have to be good all season long.”

PHT Morning Skate: 3 coaches that are on the hot seat going into 2017-18

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–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series with the Boston Bruins. Thanks to a number of good drafts over the last few years, Boston’s future looks pretty good. They have a number of quality defensemen in their system, which should help get them back into the postseason sooner than later. (The Hockey News)

–It was five years ago this week that Shea Weber signed that huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Puck Daddy Blog looks at the fallout from that signing five years later. If Nashville doesn’t match the offer, there’s probably no P.K. Subban in Smashville, maybe Peter Laviolette keeps his job in Philadelphia, and maybe the Flyers don’t miss the playoffs as often. (Puck Daddy)

–TSN’s Scott Cullen breaks down NHL goalies in his latest “Statistically Speaking” article. The way he ranks them is by finding out what their expected goals against will be minus the goals they actually give up. No surprise, Carey Price finds himself at the top of the list (minimum 50 games played). Matt Murray, Philipp Grubauer and Andrew Hammond also find themselves in Cullen’s top 10. (TSN.ca)

–Every year, there’s at least a few coaches who get fired during the season. Last season, names like Jack Capuano, Gerard Gallant and Michel Therrien found themselves on the unemployment line. It’ll be interesting to see who gets their walking papers in 2017-18. The Score believes that Winnipeg’s Paul Marice is one of three coaches that will go into next season on the hot seat. (The Score)

–Ryan Poehling was Montreal’s first round pick in the 2017 draft, and he couldn’t have been more excited to land there. The St. Cloud State product was in awe as soon as he stepped foot in Montreal for the first time. The fact that he’s playing in such a passionate hockey city isn’t bad either. “(The fans) all just go crazy and I haven’t even played here, so it’s special. I just got drafted by them and they’re just crazy about me, so I think that’s pretty cool, how I haven’t even proven anything and they still love me.” (NHL.com)

Dominic Moore hosted the sixth annual Smashfest, which is a ping-pong tournament where fans and NHLers come together for all the bragging rights. For the third time in the tournament’s existence, Ducks forward Patrick Eaves came away the winner: