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How much has the Hall-Larsson trade helped Edmonton?

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During one 60-minute stretch back in late June the NHL briefly went crazy with a flurry of blockbuster moves that included the P.K. SubbanShea Weber trade, Steven Stamkos re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Edmonton Oilers finally going through with a trade involving one of their core players (Taylor Hall) to the New Jersey Devils in an effort to solidify their defense by acquiring Adam Larsson in a one-for-one swap.

On Saturday night in New Jersey, the Devils and Oilers meet for the first time since that blockbuster trade and they will meet again in Edmonton a week later. That means it is now a good time to look back at that trade and see how it is working out for both teams. So let’s do that.

In the immediate aftermath of the trade it was largely viewed as a major win for the Devils. Hall was a top-line player — and just the type of player the Devils needed — while Larsson was simply a solid defenseman that probably fit in better as a second-pairing guy on a contending team.

Now that the 2016-17 season is half over, perception of the deal has shifted a bit, at least when it comes to the Oilers’ return because of how well the team has played this season.

Entering play on Saturday the Oilers are the owners of a 20-13-7 record and have a pretty strong hold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Devils, meanwhile, are still six points out of a wild card spot in the East with six teams ahead of them.  Coming out of that to earn a playoff spot seems like a real long shot at this point even as Hall scores at would be a 70-point pace over 82 games.

Based on the success of the two teams, it would be easy to chalk the trade up as an easy win and shrewd move for the Oilers that has helped drastically change their fortune on the ice. Especially as the Oilers have seen an improvement in their overall defensive performance go from complete dumpster fire to middle of the pack NHL team this season.

It would also be a bit unfair and misleading, and a good example as to why team success isn’t necessarily the best way to evaluate a trade.

Larsson is a good player, and the Oilers are no doubt happy to have him. But do you know who else is a really good player? Taylor Hall. A possession-driving forward that is still among one of the top-30 most productive players in the NHL.

So why have the Oilers been able to turn it around this season with Larsson while the Devils remain stuck in mediocrity?

It basically comes down to this: The Oilers have Connor McDavid, and the New Jersey Devils do not.

That is what has sparked the turnaround for the Oilers. Playing in just his second season in the league — and what should be his first full season, barring an injury in the second half — McDavid is already one of the two best players in hockey and has had a profound impact on the Oilers’ success. He is in now in a back-and-forth race with Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the NHL’s scoring title, while the Oilers play like a top playoff team when he is on the ice. They control more than 55 percent of the shot attempts during 5-on-5 play and outscore their opponents by a 34-21 margin (that is more than 62 percent of the goals).

When McDavid is not on the ice, the Oilers play like … well … the Oilers team we have come to expect. Their share of the shot attempts drops down to only 47.9 percent while they actually get outscored by a 41-48 margin. The difference is night and day.

There is no question that Larsson has been a solid addition to the Oilers’ blue line and an upgrade over what the team had been trotting out there over the past five or six years. But he hasn’t been so great that it has sparked this sort of one-year turnaround for the team. Especially when you look at his actual contributions. For example, when it comes to limiting shots and keeping pucks out of the net Larsson currently ranks sixth out of the eight Oilers defensemen (minimum 50 minutes of ice time) in goals against per 60 minutes (2.58) and total shot attempts against (55.20), and he isn’t a huge contributor offensively (only six points in 40 games).

Granted, those numbers are still better than what a lot of Oilers defensemen were able to put up in recent seasons. Heck, just last season the only two defensemen that played in Edmonton that posted better numbers in both categories were Brandon Davidson and Jordan Oesterle … and Oesterle only played in 17 games. But it is not the type of defensive performance that turns a team around.

Plus, there are a lot of other factors that go into the Oilers’ improved defensive play beyond just the addition of Larsson.

Andrej Sekera has been better in his second year with the team. Oscar Klefbom (only played in 30 games a season ago) is healthy and has taken a huge step forward in his development. Kris Russell might be a polarizing player in the eye test vs. analytics debate, but he is at the very least serviceable NHL defenseman that is better than a lot of players the Oilers relied on last season. And that does not even get into the fact Cam Talbot has given them better than league average play in net while playing in almost every game this season.

All of that has played a role in the Oilers’ improvement.

But nothing has played a bigger role than McDavid turning into hockey Superman. That is the source of most of your turnaround, Edmonton.

Hall and Larsson — as well as the success of their two teams — are going to be compared against one another for as long as they both play in the NHL because of the trade that sent them to their current teams.

Individually, Hall is still the better player. But the Larsson side of the trade is looking like a winner because his team is playing better — and it’s mostly due to a player that isn’t Adam Larsson.

Gibson skates, could start as Ducks face elimination in Nashville

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John Gibson, who exited Game 5 of the Anaheim-Nashville series with a lower-body injury, could be back in the Ducks’ goal tonight for Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Gibson participated in today’s morning skate, and was the first goalie to exit. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief on Saturday and allowed two goals on 18 shots, stayed out for extra work.

“When they skate, usually that leads you to believe that there is a great opportunity for him to play,” head coach Randy Carlyle said at Monday’s media availability. “But I haven’t talked to [Gibson]. We’ll wait until he is off the ice and has a conversation with the training staff.

“And then we’ll make a decision based off that.”

Gibson has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Ducks this postseason. His numbers (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage) are somewhat pedestrian, but he’s been a calm, steadying influence for his team.

Bernier has also been good for the Ducks this year, though his playoff body of work is limited. Game 5 was just his third appearance of the postseason, and he’s never started a Stanley Cup playoff game before.

Report: Thornton knee injury mostly MCL, not ACL damage

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A fairly significant development regarding the health of veteran Sharks forward Joe Thornton, from NBC Sports California:

Thornton apparently dodged disaster in terms of his left knee, as multiple sources have told NBC Sports California that the brunt of the damage was to his MCL, not his ACL.

As long as he recovers fully, as expected, there’s reason to believe that Thornton could be better next season than he was in 2016-17.

Thornton, who turns 38 in July, suffered the tears on Apr. 2 against Vancouver. He sat out the final three games of the regular season and the first two of the playoffs before returning in Game 3 of the Oilers series. Playing through the pain, Thornton registered two points over four games while averaging just under 19 minutes per night.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” head coach Peter DeBoer said following the series. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

That gutsy performance further endeared Thornton to the Bay Area faithful, and he was pretty beloved to begin with. It also clearly made an impact on his head coach.

Those are just two of the many facets that promise to make up a compelling summer.

Thornton just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M cap hit. He’s played exclusively on three-year contracts since coming to San Jose more than a decade ago, and TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp is looking for another.

From Sharks GM Doug Wilson’s perspective, he’ll have to factor in Thornton’s recovery and long-term health outlook to any potential extension. Wilson also has a timing issue at play, as it would behoove the Sharks to sign Thornton after June’s expansion draft, so they don’t have to protect him.

Finally, there’s the added factor of Thornton’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Patrick Marleau, also needing a new contract.

Thornton’s situation does appear the more complex one. Some will argue his down ’16-17 campaign — one in which he only scored seven goals and 50 points — was a sign of father time catching up.

Others will counter it was the byproduct of a brutally long ’15-16, one in which Thornton went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and had 21 points in 24 games, it should be noted), then had a short summer before joining Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey.

Karlsson, Brassard and Ceci all good to go in Game 6 for Senators

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Trailing by five goals entering the third period on Sunday evening, Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher decided he was going to shorten his bench and protect some of his most important players from further injury. So defensemen Erik Karlsson and Cody Ceci, as well as forward Derick Brassard, were given the entire third period off (after the game Karlsson said he could have played if needed).

On Monday, Boucher confirmed that all three players will be ready to go for Tuesday’s Game 6 with the Senators facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Final.

Karlsson was playing through a fractured foot earlier this postseason and appeared to be shaken up late in the second period on Sunday when he awkwardly fell to the ice during a tie up along the boards. Brassard was shaken up following a hit coming through the neutral zone from Penguins forward Chris Kunitz.

Boucher also added that defenseman Mark Borowiecki, who has not played since Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, is “possible” to play on Tuesday while forward Alex Burrows is not as likely to play.

Before Game 5 Boucher said that Borowiecki was getting close to a return but was not quite ready yet on Sunday. He talked about what he could potentially bring to the lineup when he does get back.

“I mean, he’s the number one hitter in the League. He’s a heat-seeking missile, that’s what he is,” Boucher said. “So, you know, it usually puts the opponents on their heels. It’s better for the tough players to get some ice around him. He’s one of those guys that creates fear in the opponent. That’s what he did all year. I mean, we’re missing it, but at the same time we’re getting something else from other players.”

Sunday’s game, a 7-0 loss, was easily the Senators’ worst one of the postseason and on Monday Boucher seemed to attribute it to his team getting too excited and getting away from its game.

“We have to play to our strengths,” said Boucher on Monday. “Last game we tried to play run and gun with the best offensive team and we got slapped.”

Following the game on Sunday Boucher was asked if that type of game can leave a mark, a question that Boucher dismissed by citing the Senators’ blowout win over Pittsburgh in Game 3 and his team’s ability to rebound from tough losses earlier this postseason.

“Did it leave a mark on Pittsburgh when we did that to them at home? They won the next game,” said Boucher on Sunday. “In the playoffs, just like the season, your ability to rebound from a great game or a really bad game is necessary. We’ve done it all year. We’ve done it in the playoffs. After the fourth game against the Rangers, we were supposedly done, so, rebound, get ready for the next one.”

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Ottawa at 8 p.m. ET.

 

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.