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Here are PHT’s Stanley Cup Final predictions

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Here we go!

After three rounds of scintillating predictions — well, from me anyway — we’ve finally reached the apex: Nashville versus Pittsburgh in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

PHT’s conference final picks went reasonably well. I went 2-0, as did Cam Tucker and Adam Gretz. Everybody else went 1-1, humans and non-humans alike.

If you’ve been following along throughout the playoffs, you’ll know that we enlisted the services of The Random Thing Picker. It, as the name suggests, picks random things, and in doing so has compiled a 9-5 overall record these playoffs.

As for the sentient beings? I’m 11-3 (and moving to Vegas next week), Tucker’s 9-5, Alfieri’s 8-6, Gretz and Brough are 7-7, and O’Brien’s bringing up the rear at 6-8.

Onto the picks…

Halford: Penguins in 7

I’ve analyzed this series 15 different ways now, and I keep coming back to one thing — the center position. Under any other circumstance, I think Nashville has enough strengths in goal and on defense and on the wing to overcome the loss of Ryan Johansen. But that’s under any other circumstance. Under this one, its a nightmare. The Pens have the league’s best one-two combo down the middle in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and a quality No. 3 in Nick Bonino. With all due respect to Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Vern Fiddler and a banged-up Mike Fisher, the disparity in talent at center between the teams is just too much.

More: Minus Johansen, the Preds have ‘some big shoes’ to fill

Brough: Penguins in 6

In the preseason, I picked the Pens to become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. And I felt great about my prediction, right until Kris Letang was lost for the playoffs. Then, I totally bailed on them. I was convinced the Caps would beat them in the second round. To me, it seemed like Washington’s time had finally come. How wrong I was. So now I’ve come crawling back to Pittsburgh. To be sure, this is not quite the dominant team that rolled through last year’s postseason and took out the Sharks in a series that wasn’t nearly as close as the six games suggested. But all things being equal, I like the Pens minus Letang more than I like the Predators minus Johansen.

More: For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

O’Brien: Penguins in 6

Months ago, these teams deployed the elements you’d expect from a contender. At this point, Nashville forwards are either done for the playoffs (Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala) or missing games. Meanwhile, the Penguins came into the playoffs with the glaring loss of Kris Letang on defense and have dealt with a ton of attrition in their own right. We’re left with a star-studded Penguins offense taking on a dauntingly deep Predators defense, and both goalies are playing great hockey. So, this isn’t an easy choice even by the standards of a postseason that’s been tough to crack. When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention Matt Murray and Mike Sullivan. But do note there is doubt.

Tucker: Penguins in 6

Despite missing Ryan Johansen for the latter part of the Western Conference Final, the Predators got by Anaheim without their top center, which is testament to how that roster is built in Nashville. I know the Predators have been propelled by great goaltending from Pekka Rinne and a very good, very productive group of defensemen, but I can’t see Nashville winning the championship without Johansen in this series. The Penguins are just way too talented and deep up the middle. It’s scary when you can go with Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin at center. The Penguins have been without Kris Letang for the entire playoffs — a huge loss. But they’ve managed to get by, and with Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz back, that’s quite a boost to their blue line and lineup at this point in the playoffs. The Predators deserve a tremendous amount of praise for their playoff run. Don’t think many had them to beat the Blackhawks, never mind sweep them. It’s been a historical spring for that franchise. But I feel not having Ryan Johansen in this series will eventually catch up to them.

Alfieri: Penguins in 6

Coming into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I didn’t think the Penguins would make it this far because of the amount of hockey their top players have played (last year’s long playoff run and the World Cup) over the last year. Not only have they been able to go on a great run, they overcame two Game 7s to do it. I realize that Nashville is clearly better on defense, but Pittsburgh’s group of blue liners have stepped up in Kris Letang’s absence. In my mind, the biggest thing separating these two teams is their depth down the middle. Even if Ryan Johansen was healthy, they’d still have their hands full with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. No team has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years in the salary cap era, but I think the Pens get it done.

Gretz: Penguins in 6

The Predators were my preseason pick to win it all, and if they had a healthy Ryan Johansen I might stick with them at this point. But the loss of Johansen just seems like a pretty devastating blow because you need a No. 1 center to win the Stanley Cup. Nashville has the huge edge on defense at this point, and Pittsburgh is missing an essential Stanley Cup ingredient of its own with Kris Letang out, but that center matchup just seems like a major issue for the Predators. While the Penguins can roll with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Nashville will be countering with Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons. Between them that trio has six goals and seven assists (combined) this postseason. That seems like a problem.

Random Thing Picker: Predators

You humans are weak and simple-minded. This is why we will one day rule the planet, beginning with this sorry website.

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.

***

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.