Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

2011-2012 season preview: Edmonton Oilers

2010-2011 Record: 25-45-12, 62 points; 5th in Northwest, 15th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

Despite the amount of future talent in Edmonton, the Oilers were horrendous last season. Exciting forwards, a lack of depth, poor defense, and goaltending that was both bad and hung out to dry. So did anything get better in Edmonton? Let’s just say the Oilers at least have a lot of young stars to watch grow.

Offense

The offense will, at the very least, be fun to watch. How could it not be? Taylor Hall returns after a solid but injury-shortened first season. Jordan Eberle spices things up with his electric moves while Magnus Paajarvi looks to build on his solid first season. This year’s No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may or may not be joining them for the full season to really make everyone else look old. Ryan Smyth makes his triumphant return and joins up with old pals Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky. Eric Belanger will help them win faceoffs and youngster Anton Lander could be a factor as well. Fun pieces and a fast tempo will keep fans from turning their noses up completely at the team.

Defense

What will make fans grumpy is how their defense sets up. Cam Barker joins up looking to redeem his career after playing so poorly in Minnesota after starting so well in Chicago. The Oilers will need Ryan Whitney to stay healthy and Tom Gilbert to play smart to keep the offense rolling. Theo Peckham has developed into a decent physical defenseman and Ladislav Smid is OK out there. Andy Sutton will look to bring his expertise and gruff demeanor in a positive way to Edmonton. Young guys like Jeff Petry and Taylor Chorney will provide depth to a unit that has average pieces. No one here is a real standout.

source: APGoalies

After doing hard time in Tent City in Arizona this summer, Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, hopes to come back with a strong season. The question here is whether he should be the starter over 25-year-old Devan Dubnyk, who showed flashes of brilliance last season and it’s clear he’s got more of a future ahead of him. But will it matter at all with how questionable the Oilers are defensively all over the ice? Both guys are destined to be part of a shooting gallery.

Coach

Tom Renney enters his second season as Oilers’ coach and he’s working more as a school teacher than a coach given the amount of youth all over the roster. Things were about as bad as they could get last year even with the burgeoning youth explosion. He could be in for more of the same this season unless guys like Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi explode in their sophomore seasons and the goaltending does something other than get sunburn on their necks from the goal light.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

Nugent-Hopkins’ status is up in the air as he might get a nine-game peek before being sent back to Red Deer in the WHL. Anton Lander is a possibility for the breakout guy, but we’ll go with a guy who did OK last year but could do even better in his second season. Paajarvi has all the talent to be on that top level with the likes of Hall and Eberle but struggled a bit to find his way last season scoring 15 goals and 34 points last season. Look for Paajarvi to try and push for a 25-goal season and 50-plus points. Full seasons with him and the rest of the young army of players could see all their numbers jump a bit.

Best-case scenario

Edmonton gets all their offense and then some from a rejuvenated Smyth being back in his favorite city while they get healthy seasons from all of Hemsky, Hall, and Eberle who blow up big offensively. They see Paajarvi find his stride while Nugent-Hopkins proves he belongs and joins in the scorefest. The defense plays passable along the blue line and doesn’t resemble a line of  turnstiles too often while Dubnyk and Khabibulin hold the fort down and the Oilers challenge for the last spot in the West.

Reality

Health is the biggest thing for Edmonton. So many injuries really helped pile on to what was already a year meant for growing pains. If their whole team can keep it together and evolve together as well, they could be a dangerous team. That said, their goaltending and defense have too many questions and holes to it to take them seriously. It would be miraculous if they made the playoffs.

The Fleury-Murray watch in Pittsburgh is on

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammate Marc-Andre Fleury #29 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

After a spring and early summer filled with speculation, Marc-Andre Fleury is heading back to where he’s always been — Pittsburgh.

But while his city stays the same, the circumstances are more different than ever.

It’s still not 100 percent official what in capacity Fleury will report to camp next month, though logic suggests that — after watching Matt Murray backstop the club to the Stanley Cup in June — Fleury will enter the season as Murray’s No. 2.

But he wants to be the No. 1.

“I love Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are my team; I want to stay with them for the rest of my career,” Fleury said this summer, per NHL.com. “I had some good conversations with management after the season. Nothing is written in stone. I want to come to camp ready to win my job back.

“I have to get back to the same level of play and help the team, win games.”

The Fleury-Murray dynamic is complex, to say the least.

A few angles to consider:

— For as good as Murray was last year, he’s still only 22 years old with just 13 career regular season games on his resume. It’s a remarkably small body of work, and there’s always the looming specter of a sophomore slump.

— There’s also the looming specter of Fleury, who’s clearly gunning for Murray’s job.

— Next year’s expansion draft is a fly in Pittsburgh’s ointment. The way things stand now, they’d be forced to protect Fleury because of his no-movement clause, which would force them to expose Murray.

— No chance that scenario plays out, so Fleury and the remainder of his four-year, $23 million contract will (theoretically) be on the move at some point.

— Calgary reportedly made calls about Fleury’s availability earlier this summer, prior to trading for Brian Elliott at the draft. But the Elliott acquisition might not close the door completely. The former Blues netminder is heading into the final year of his contract, and there’s been no word from Flames GM Brad Treliving about an extension. Elliott could be a one-year stopgap solution, especially if he doesn’t perform.

— Pens GM Jim Rutherford has been artful in dodging queries about Fleury’s future with the team, dating all the way back to last year’s playoffs. He was at it again prior to the draft, saying he would “like to start next year with both goalies.” The key part there, obviously, is “start.” Nothing about both finishing the year as Penguins.

While this situation doesn’t figure to derail Pittsburgh’s championship defense — as Rutherford pointed out this summer, having two good goalies is a good problem to have — it will be a constant source of speculation and banter until a solution is found.

So yeah, the Fleury-Murray watch is on. The question now is how long it’ll last.

Poll: Are the Pens poised to repeat?

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

By now you know the statistic, but here’s a refresher anyway.

The NHL hasn’t had a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner since Detroit turned the trick in ’97-98, and hasn’t seen a reigning champ return to the Final since Detroit turned the trick in ’08-09.

Doing it once is tough. Doing it twice has become nearly impossible.

In fact, winning the Stanley Cup in recent years has, more often that not, paved the way for an extremely difficult encore. Chicago won it all in 2015, and was bounced in the opening round last year. L.A. hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug in ’14, and missed the postseason entirely in ’15.

Which brings us to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On paper, this year’s Pens are a virtual carbon copy of the club that won the Cup in June. Their most noteworthy departures were defenseman Ben Lovejoy (off to join former Pens GM Ray Shero in New Jersey) and third-string netminder Jeff Zatkoff, who signed in L.A.

And that’s it.

Everyone else is back.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are back. The HBK line is back. Both goalies, Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, are back. Even the depth guys that some weren’t sure the Pens could afford — Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen — are back.

Head coach Mike Sullivan and his staff are back, and reigning GM of the Year Jim Rutherford is back.

At first glance, this would make Pittsburgh a likely candidate to “do the Detroit” (as outlined above, in either scenario). But the NHL is fickle, and a grind — and it’ll be curious to see what that does to a Pens team coming off an extremely long season, with six players set to participate in the World Cup of Hockey.

Anyway, go have a vote:

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been a summer of celebration for the Pittsburgh Penguins. They enter the upcoming season as the defending Stanley Cup champs.

The Stanley Cup made its way to the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children in a heart-warming visit from Phil Kessel. Bryan Rust was photographed cuddling with hockey’s silver chalice, because, why not? Jim Rutherford was named the GM of the year when the end-of-season awards were handed out.

All of it a reward for a Penguins team that was struggling in the Eastern Conference before a mid-season coaching change. And shortly after Mike Sullivan took over behind the bench, the Penguins took over the conference, rolling to a championship.

This summer, the Penguins made their pitch to land coveted college free agent Jimmy Vesey, with Sidney Crosby reportedly reaching out to the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner. Pittsburgh, like many other teams, was ultimately unsuccessful in its quest, as Vesey signed with the Rangers.

The Penguins did sign another college free agent, forward Thomas DiPauli, on a two-year entry-level contract.

They also re-signed forward Matt Cullen to a one-year, $1 million deal. Defenseman Tim Erixon re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 in the NHL. Justin Schultz, who initially didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Penguins, making him an unrestricted free agent, eventually re-signed in Pittsburgh and that could give Derrick Pouliot, another young blue liner, some stiff competition when the season opens up.

A Stanley Cup victory did not come easy. The Penguins came out of the playoffs with injuries to several players, including Kessel, who underwent hand surgery.

But Rutherford is confident all the injured players — The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review listed Trevor Daley (ankle), Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow) as those on the road to recovery this offseason — should be ready for the opening of training camp.

The Penguins could also have a competition in the crease.

Matt Murray, who turned 22 years old in May, backstopped the Penguins to their championship. But Marc-Andre Fleury, 31, would like the opportunity to regain his old No. 1 spot.

Capitals have big plans for Dmitry Orlov, but there is just one problem . . .

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center on November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Dmitry Orlov is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

A restricted free agent, the 25-year-old defenseman had eight goals and 29 points last season, while making $2.25 million in salary for the season, as per General Fanager. His previous two-year contract had an annual cap hit of $2 million. But with training camps approaching, he remains unsigned for right now.

As noted before, there is a cap crunch for the Capitals heading into the new season. Orlov is the only RFA left for the Capitals to re-sign.

From the Washington Post:

According to generalfanager.com, Washington has $3.4 million in salary cap space left, but to allow for in-season roster flexibility or a 14th forward, the Capitals have around $2.6 million to devote to re-signing Orlov.

Still, despite that fact, the Capitals coaching staff has big plans for Orlov for the upcoming season.

“I envision him playing with a [Matt] Niskanen or a [John] Carlson, probably more prime minutes as we try even out our defense a little bit in terms of [workload],” said Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic.

“It’s a great opportunity for him. He’s at the right age where he can really contribute. We’ll look for his contributions on the power play, the penalty kill, playing in that top-4 on a pretty regular basis. I just think it’s right for him.”