Jason Brough

Some big decisions remain for the Edmonton Oilers

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The Edmonton Oilers have a bright future.

Obviously.

But even with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl under club control for years to come, and even after falling just one win short of the Western Conference Final, some big decisions remain for GM Peter Chiarelli.

The Oilers aren’t over the hump yet.

It starts this summer with Draisaitl, whose entry-level contract is now over. The 21-year-old star forward can become a restricted free agent on July 1, and Chiarelli will have to decide whether to pursue a bridge deal or long-term contract. Hockey fans know there are pros and cons to each avenue. A bridge can mean a higher cap hit down the road.

Meanwhile, McDavid’s ELC only has one season remaining. The Oilers will no doubt pursue a long-term deal with him, and that won’t be cheap, to say the least.

Patrick Maroon, he of the 27-goal season, also has just one year left on his contract, a bargain right now at $1.5 million per. If the Oilers pursue an extension, he’ll need a raise. If they don’t, he’ll need to be replaced.

So, cap space could become an issue very soon, and it may force Chiarelli to shop Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, each of whom has a $6 million cap hit.

As much as those two struggled in the playoffs, they’ve still been significant contributors. Eberle had 20 goals and 31 assists this past season. Nugent-Hopkins was the second-line center, a huge role on any team. Chances are, Eberle will be the one to go, with winger Jesse Puljujarvi coming up from the farm to replace him.

What happens to Edmonton’s defense will also be interesting to watch. Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera, and Oscar Klefbom are all signed long term. But Kris Russell is a pending unrestricted free agent, and he’s not about to sign another one-year deal.

So, do the Oilers lock up Russell, too? Or do they let Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse step into bigger roles? At the very least, Chiarelli can’t afford to overpay Russell, who just turned 30. It’s worth noting that Edmonton made a couple of nice picks in the 2015 draft, getting Caleb Jones (Seth’s brother) in the fourth round and Ethan Bear in the fifth.

Jones and Bear are both defensemen, and both are ready to turn pro.  

Related: Oilers disappointed to be out, but future looks bright

Ovechkin won’t join Russia at Worlds due to lower-body injury

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Alex Ovechkin isn’t going to the World Championship this year.

The Russian Ice Hockey Federation confirmed it today with the following statement:

“Forward Alexander Ovechkin cannot join the team at the World Championship because of a lower-body injury. Russia’s coaches contacted three Washington players, with all of them agreeing to travel to the tournament. However, during a conversation with coaches, Alexander Ovechkin stated that he is ready to join the team immediately as he always does, but doesn’t want to let the team down because he finished the NHL playoffs on pain-numbing injections.”

Two of Ovechkin’s teammates, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, will join Russia in Germany.

Ovechkin, who has yet to get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Capitals, has represented Russia 12 times at the Worlds.

Related: Capitals facing prospect of a decline

Caps facing the prospect of a decline

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At the risk of piling on the Washington Capitals the day after their latest painful playoff exit, their “two-year window” has now closed, and this tortured team is facing the very real possibility of decline.

Consider:

T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk are all pending unrestricted free agents, and with pending RFAs like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky due for raises, it will be impossible to keep everyone.

— There isn’t much down on the farm. Jakub Vrana (F) could be a player one day, and maybe Madison Bowey (D) too. But it’s hard to build up a deep prospect pool when you’re finishing high in the standings and trading away picks to go for it. The Caps’ first selection in the 2017 draft won’t come until the fourth round.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will both be in their 30s next season. Ovechkin turns 32 in September, Backstrom 30 in November. Those two have been unbelievable players for a long time, and they’ll still be pretty good for a while. That being said, their best days are behind them. Hockey players peak in their 20s, and that’s just reality. Yes, the greats can still contribute into their 30s. The Anaheim Ducks (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler) are proof of that. But they need a lot of help from the youngsters, and the Ducks (Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Shea Theodore) are also proof of that.

Bottom line: This should’ve been the year for the Caps. They got through the first round, then had Game 7 at home against the Kris Letang-less Pittsburgh Penguins. And with the beatable Ottawa Senators waiting in the Eastern Conference Final, they couldn’t even score a goal.

“In big moments, your big players have got to play big and, regrettably, I don’t think we did that,” Oshie told reporters.

Teams are always rising and falling in the NHL.

The Caps had their chance.

They couldn’t get it done, and now they’ll have to live with the consequences.

Related: ‘I don’t think the urgency was there,’ says Ovechkin

Predators postseason run has turned Music City into Smashville

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The place known as Smashville is ready for its close-up.

The Nashville Predators have reached their first Western Conference final in franchise history and that has spread hockey fever far beyond their arena and the team’s loyal legion of fans. Stars from Carrie Underwood to Lady Antebellum are lining up to sing the national anthem and the likes of John Hiatt to Lee Greenwood are singing with the house band during intermissions.

Not only do Predators’ flags and banners drape Nashville’s famous honkytonks, they now hang from front porches in the suburbs of Music City.

“You can’t drive through a neighborhood without seeing a flag,” Predators president Sean Henry said. “So it’s fun to tap into a passion that this community has for sports, and right now it’s all about the Nashville Predators.”

College football may be king in the South and NASCAR remains popular, but hockey certainly has a foothold. It’s not unusual anymore for a Southern team to be in the mix for a Stanley Cup championship – this just happens to be the first time that Nashville has made it this far.

The Predators are on their best run postseason yet and the longest by either of Nashville’s two major league franchises in 14 years. Shoot, the NFL’s Tennessee Titans haven’t reached the playoffs since 2008 and last reached the AFC championship in 2003.

That’s why most TVs were tuned to hockey at a local barbecue joint after the Predators ousted St. Louis in six games . People wanted to watch Nashville’s next opponent, either Anaheim or Edmonton.

Nashville native and PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker said he’s never seen so much yellow walking around downtown before Game 4 against the Blues. Everyone in his child’s class at school has Predators’ gear, too.

“To feel the energy on the ice was unlike anything I’ve felt in sports before,” said Snedeker, who brought the Ryder Cup with him to the game. “It was such a dynamic, electric atmosphere to see all that energy in one place pulling for one team and doing something only Nashville would do in the right way … it was awesome to watch.”

The Titans have been very supportive. Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray stirred up fans waving a rally flag for one game, while coach Mike Mularkey and general manager Jon Robinson regularly wear Predators’ gear. During a rain delay, the Triple-A Nashville Sounds showed the Predators’ playoff game a few blocks away on their guitar-shaped video board. The Vanderbilt Commodores watched the end of Sunday’s clincher on their own video board after their own game.

Former Bills and Jets coach Rex Ryan is a season-ticket holder who attended playoff games in St. Louis and Nashville. Former Titans coach Jeff Fisher also was at a recent playoff game.

“People just want to be with this team, and we just love this fan base,” Henry said.

The Predators also are benefiting from youth hockey programs in this non-traditional market, and now former skaters are buying their own tickets. They’ve now sold out 55 consecutive games, including every luxury suite this season.

About 70 percent of the Predators’ tickets are sold outside the city’s home county, with up to 20 percent of those coming from outside of Tennessee.

Matt Clark, a 30-year-old human resources manager, drives down from Louisville, Kentucky, for two to three games per month for the past three years. He grew up playing hockey in Roanoke, Virginia, where his favorite ECHL player was Terence Tootoo whose brother, Jordin, played for Nashville. Clark said the Chicago and Detroit jerseys he used to see in the stands are gone now, replaced by Predator gold.

“I’ve been to a lot of hockey stadiums, and it’s definitely up there at the top,” Clark said. “Every time I go the atmosphere’s pretty electric. Definitely one of my favorite things about it is during the TV timeouts when everybody stands and cheers at the top of their lungs to encourage the team.”

Fans make Bridgestone Arena so loud that a radio engineer measured the decibel level at 121.7 late in Nashville’s last home game. The NHL may have bigger buildings than Nashville, whose official capacity is 17,113. The Predators insist none is louder.

“They’re on their feet the entire game,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “You don’t see that at a lot of hockey games. It almost feels like a college football game of some kind.”

Tapping Underwood for the national anthem this postseason was pretty easy since her husband, Mike Fisher, is team captain. Who’s singing the anthem now is a closely guarded secret with artists offering to help out as the good times roll in Smashville.

“It’s great to see that the whole hockey world realizes how big of a hockey city this is,” defenseman Roman Josi said.

 

Subban fined for embellishing

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P.K. Subban was warned once, and now he’s been fined $2,000 for embellishing.

From the NHL:

Subban was issued a Warning following an incident flagged by NHL Hockey Operations during NHL Game No. 707 against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 22. His second Citation, which triggered the $2,000 fine, was issued for an incident at 5:15 of the third period during Game 4 of Nashville’s Western Conference Second Round series against the St. Louis Blues on May 2. Subban (embellishment) and Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson (roughing) received offsetting minor penalties on the play.

Here’s video of the play that left the Nashville Predators defenseman a little lighter in the wallet: