Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers

It’s Edmonton Oilers day on PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Edmonton Oilers.

Change has been consistent for the Oilers over the last five years. Five coaching changes. Three captain changes (four, if you count the one game Ryan Smyth wore the “C”). Numerous personnel and front office changes.

And this summer was no different.

In an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Edmonton made some big moves. Literally. The club addressed its lack of size and depth on defense by adding Nikita Nikitin (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), Mark Fayne (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and Keith Aulie (6-foot-6, 228 pounds). Up front, a big splash was made by inking Benoit Pouliot to a five-year, $20M pact — this coming after Pouliot, at age 27, scored a career-high 36 points with the Rangers — and the club finally parted ways with Sam Gagner, who always seemed to be in the rumor mill, by flipping him to Tampa in exchange for Teddy Purcell.

Changes happened off the ice, too.

A pair of polar opposites were brought aboard as Dallas Eakins’ assistant coaches: Rocky Thompson, the former journeyman pugilist and Craig Ramsay, the longtime NHL bench boss. Thompson is just 37 years old and was playing professionally in 2007; Ramsay, 63, is a well-traveled veteran that’s head coaching gigs in Buffalo, Philadelphia and Atlanta to go along with assistant/associate jobs in Florida, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Boston.

Upstairs, the Oilers made a bit of a splash by hiring advanced statistics blogger Tyler Dellow as an analytics specialist. Eakins called the Dellow hire “the perfect match” for the organization, adding “we think there’s going to be a great opportunity to look at our team in a number of different ways that Tyler can help us.”

So yes. Change abounds.

The real question, of course, is if the results will be any different. The Oilers were bad last year, finishing dead last in the Western Conference while allowing an NHL-high 270 goals. Granted, the Taylor Hall-Jordan Eberle-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins troika is still maturing and wildly talented, the defense looks to be better and the goaltending situation should be more fluid with a full season of the Ben Scrivens-Viktor Fasth combo… but the Oilers still play in one of the NHL’s toughest divisions, and they went an ugly 8-17-4 against the Pacific last season.

Given how badly things went in ’13-14, it’s fair to suggest the Oilers will be better this year than the last. But how much better? For a team that hasn’t tasted the playoffs in six seasons, minimal improvements probably won’t appease the suffering fanbase.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.