EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 26:  Adam Larsson #6 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up against the Calgary Flames on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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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.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.