Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? PHT staffers make their picks…

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Sixteen teams out of 30 make the playoffs, but only one can win. Now that we know those 16 teams, we’re making our Stanley Cup picks again. Has anything changed our minds from the preseason? 

Jason Brough: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Penguins over Blackhawks)

I would’ve stuck with the Penguins, but Kris Letang‘s injury swung the pendulum towards Washington. I just don’t see Pittsburgh winning four series with that defense. The Capitals, on the other hand, have three very capable, right-shot d-men in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and deadline acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk. They’re obviously deep up front as well, with a much improved third line. Plus, they’ve got an excellent goalie. Bottom line: this really feels like Washington’s time. Granted, I said the same thing last year and was wrong, but only because the Caps ran into Pittsburgh. I don’t think the Pens will trip them up this year.

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

(Preseason pick: Lightning over Blues)

“That energy, that ambition and motivation is back,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said earlier this week. “We have that feeling again.” Without reading too much into a fairly stock quote, I’m buying what Toews is selling. Getting bounced by St. Louis in Round 1 last year might’ve been a good thing — it made the ‘Hawks hungrier, not unlike when they lost to Arizona in the opening round in 2012, then came back to win it all the season following. The energy angle is interesting, because it comes on two fronts: One is from all the young guys (Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero) that’ve never had a deep playoff run before, and are all playing vital roles. The second? The old guys, back for another shot at glory — Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, specifically.

Adam Gretz: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Predators over Lightning)

Simply put, I think the Capitals are the best team in the NHL. They don’t really have any glaring weakness, they have elite forwards, are the best defensive team in hockey and only made themselves better after adding Kevin Shattenkirk, and they have a Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltender behind all of that. Yes, they have been the best team in the league before and it has not yet brought them a Stanley Cup, but sooner or later things have to break their way in the playoffs, don’t they? They can’t run into a hot goalie every year, can they? Their obvious challenge in the Eastern Conference is going to be if they have to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round again, but even that should be different than a year ago simply because the Penguins will not have Kris Letang in their lineup, which is a total game-changer.

James O’Brien: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Stars over Penguins)

Much of what others have said about Washington’s depth and favorable luck (the Caps being healthy, peers such as the Penguins not so much) applies here. But allow me to add another wrinkle: the Capitals have some hungry players chasing raises. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, Karl Alzner and Dmitry Orlov are the standouts among a slew of pending free agents who can boost their bank accounts via playoff heroics. “Greed is good” in sports, and it’s yet another feather in the Capitals’ … cap.

Cam Tucker: Washington Capitals

(Preseason pick: Capitals over Predators)

I am sticking with the Capitals. This is it. This is the year the Capitals get beyond the second round and win the Stanley Cup. And they’re going to do so by getting by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in the second round. It’s simple: The Capitals have just too many weapons. Look beyond the starting point of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Eleven different players reached double digits in goals scored and 11 different players had 30 points or more. They are stacked. If they remain healthy, they should get it done. Not only are they among the best scoring teams in the league, behind only Pittsburgh and Minnesota, but they allowed the fewest goals against. They’re among the best in the league on the power play and penalty kill. They have Braden Holtby in net. This is their time.

Joey Alfieri: Chicago Blackhawks

(Preason pick: Lightning over Stars)

The ‘Hawks got off to a decent start this season, but they really turned it on after their bye week in mid-February. Their 13-3-1 stretch allowed them to blow by Minnesota for top spot in the Central Division. The Blackhawks might not be as deep as a team like the Capitals, but they still have seven players (Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Hartman) that scored at least 19 goals in 2016-17. Add a group of veteran defensemen like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, and a star goalie in Corey Crawford and you have a pretty solid team.

Draisaitl on signing with Oilers: ‘We have something really special’

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As a restricted free agent, Leon Draisaitl only had so much say regarding his future with the Edmonton Oilers, especially since teams rarely send offer sheets around in the NHL.

Even so, Draisaitl could have opted for a “bridge” deal; instead, he signed for the maximum of eight years for a whopping $68 million on Wednesday.

Some would probably grumble but understand if Draisaitl explained his rational by pointing at one of those big checks or at a calculator. Instead, the promising young forward explained that he believes that the Oilers have a bright future, and he wants to be a part of it.

In case you’re wondering, additional details have surfaced regarding the year-to-year breakdown of Draisaitl’s deal. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie also reports that Draisaitl has a no-movement clause, thus making it that much more likely that he’ll get his wish to stick with the Oilers:

Of course, with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for a $21M cap hit beginning in 2018-19, the bigger question is not whether they will stay, but who the Oilers will manage to keep in the fold.

Still, that’s for GM Peter Chiarelli & Co. to decide. For Draisaitl, this is a great moment, and he might even be able to back up that big contract with big results on the ice.

Cullen explains why he chose Wild over Penguins

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If you check out a bio on Matt Cullen, you’ll notice that he’s from Minnesota. It doesn’t take a leak, then, to explain why Cullen signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

As Cullen explained to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “this is a family decision.” As he goes deeper into his logic, even especially sore Pittsburgh Penguins fans should probably understand Cullen’s perspective.

“Minnesota is home and it’s a special place for me,” Cullen said. “It’s not easy to say goodbye and it’s not easy to walk away [from Pittsburgh]. I’m confident in the decision we’re making and it’s the right thing for our family. But at the same time, it’s not an easy one.

Now, to be fair, Cullen also told Russo that he believes the Wild are a “hungry” team that might have been the West’s best in 2016-17. It’s not like he’s roughing it, and surely the $1 million (and $700K in performance bonuses that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher hopes Cullen collects) didn’t hurt, either.

Still, such a decision makes extra sense for a 40-year-old who’s played for eight different NHL teams during his impressive career. Russo’s story about Cullen attending his kids games and seeing his brothers is worth a read just for those warm and fuzzy feelings we often forget about in crunching the numbers and pondering which teams might be big-time contenders in 2017-18.

This isn’t to say that getting a fourth Stanley Cup ring wouldn’t be appealing to Cullen, but perhaps he’ll get his family time and win big, too?

There’s also the familiarity that comes with playing three fairly recent seasons with the Wild, so Cullen’s choice seems like it checks a lot of the boxes.

In other positive Wild news, Russo reports that Eric Staal is feeling 100 percent after suffering a concussion during the playoffs.

Tuesday was Wild day at PHT, but perhaps this feels more like Wild week?

Bovada gives McDavid higher odds than Crosby to win Hart in 2017-18

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In handing Connor McDavid an eight-year, $100 million extension, the Edmonton Oilers essentially are paying the 20-year-old star based on the assumption that he’ll provide MVP-quality play.

At least one Vegas oddsmaker agrees, as Bovada tabbed McDavid as the favorite to win the Hart Trophy, edging Sidney Crosby.

That’s interesting, yet it might be even more interesting to note where other players fall in the rankings. Auston Matthews coming in third is particularly intriguing.

Who are some of the more interesting choices? The 20/1 range seems appealing, as Carey Price is one of the few goalies with the notoriety to push for such honors while John Tavares has the skill and financial motivation to produce the best work of his career next season.

Anyway, entertain yourself with those odds, via Bovada: (Quick note: Bovada originally had Artemi Panarin listed as still playing with Chicago. PHT went ahead and fixed that in the bit below.)

2017 – 2018 – Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player?
Connor McDavid (EDM)                         3/2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)                              5/2
Auston Matthews (TOR)                         17/2
Alex Ovechkin (WAS)                            9/1
Patrick Kane (CHI)                                 14/1
Vladimir Tarasenko (STL)                       15/1
Evgeni Malkin (PIT)                                16/1
Carey Price (MON)                                 20/1
John Tavares (NYI)                                20/1
Jamie Benn (DAL)                                 25/1
Steven Stamkos (TB)                             25/1
Erik Karlsson (OTT)                               33/1
Nikita Kucherov (TB)                              33/1
Jack Eichel (BUF)                                  50/1
Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)                               50/1
Patrik Laine (WPG)                                50/1
Brad Marchand (BOS)                            50/1
Tyler Seguin (DAL)                                50/1
Nicklas Backstrom (WAS)                      60/1
Brent Burns (SJ)                                    60/1
Braden Holtby (WAS)                            60/1
Phil Kessel (PIT)                                    60/1
Artemi Panarin (CBJ)                              60/1
Joe Pavelski (SJ)                                  60/1

Oilers cap situation is scary, and not just because of Draisaitl, McDavid

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The Edmonton Oilers pulled the trigger – and likely made teams with big RFA headaches like the Boston Bruins grimace – in signing Leon Draisaitl to a massive eight-year, $68 million contract on Wednesday.

You have to do a little stretching to call it a good deal, although credit Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnki with some reasonably stated optimism.

Either way, the per-year cap bill for Connor McDavid and Draisaitl is $21 million once McDavid’s extension kicks in starting in 2018-19; that’s the same combined cost that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane receive … and those two got those paydays after they won three Stanley Cups for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, if the Oilers struggle in the near future, plenty of people will heap blame on McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Really, though, the true scapegoats should be a management team with more strikeouts than homers.

(As usual, Cap Friendly was a key resource in studying Edmonton’s salary structure.)

Bloated supporting cast

There are some frightening contracts on the books in Edmonton, especially if a few situations work out unfavorably.

At 29, there’s severe risk of regression with Milan Lucic, even if he enjoys a more stable second season with Edmonton. He carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23, so he’ll be on the books for all but two years of Draisaitl’s new deal.

Kris Russell costs $4.167M during a four-year stretch, and even now, he has plenty of critics. Those complaints may only get louder if, at 30, he also starts to slip from his already debatable spot.

Andrej Sekera‘s been a useful blueliner, yet there’s some concern that time won’t treat him kindly. He’s dealing with injuries heading into 2017-18, and at 31, there’s always the risk that his best days are behind him. Not great for a guy carrying a $5.5M cap hit through 2020-21.

One can’t help but wonder if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be an odd man out once the shackles of the salary cap really tighten. Just consider how much Edmonton is spending on a limited number of players, and you wonder if the 24-year-old will be deemed too pricey at his $6M clip.

Yeah, not ideal.

It’s not all bad

Now, let’s be fair.

RNH could easily grow into being well worth that $6M. Draisaitl may also justify his hefty price tag. McDavid honestly cut the Oilers a relative deal by taking $12.5M instead of the maximum.

The Oilers also have two quality, 24-year-old defensemen locked up to team-friendly deals: Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M through 2022-23) and Adam Larsson ($4.167M through 2020-21). They need every bargain they can get, and those two figure to fit the bill.

Crucial future negotiations

GM Peter Chiarelli’s had a questionable history of getting good deals. He’ll need to get together soon, or the Oilers will really struggle to surround their core with helpful support.

Cam Talbot is a brilliant bargain at the strangely familiar cap hit of $4.167M, but that value only lasts through 2018-19. After that, he’s eligible to become a UFA, and could be massively expensive if he produces two more strong seasons.

The bright side is that the Oilers aren’t locked into an expensive goalie, so they can look for deals. That isn’t as sunny a situation if you don’t trust management to have much success in the bargain bin.

Talbot isn’t the only upcoming expiring contract. The Oilers have serious questions to answer with Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Also, will they need to let Lucic-like winger Patrick Maroon go? Even with mild relief in Mark Fayne‘s money coming off the books, the Oilers might regret this buffet when the bills start piling up next summer.

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Look, the truth is that management is likely to be propped up by the top-end in Edmonton, particularly in the case of McDavid’s otherworldly skills. As much as that Draisaitl deal looks like an overpay – possibly a massive one – there’s a chance that he lives up to that $8.5M, too.

It’s not just about those stars, though.

The Pittsburgh Penguins gained new life by complimenting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the likes of Phil Kessel. The Blackhawks have struggled once they couldn’t afford as much help for Kane and Toews.

You have to mix your premium items with bargains, and one wonders if the Oilers will be able to spot sufficient value beyond the no-brainer top guys. Their recent history in that area certainly leaves a lot to be desired.