The Edmonton Oilers have been sending a lot of mixed signals before and after the firing of Peter Chiarelli, but it’s difficult not to make this read from Bob Nicholson’s press conference on Wednesday: “We still don’t get it. We still don’t know what we’re doing.”
Of course, that’s not what Nicholson said while addressing the media.
No quick fix
On one hand, it’s promising that Nicholson emphasized that the team doesn’t want to make the type of panic moves that many (PHT included) feared that Chiarelli might make at the trade deadline with his job on the line.
“We’re not going to trade away any of our assets for a quick fix,” Nicholson said. “We’ll make some trades at the deadline, if they’re the right trades to get us in the playoffs, but not giving away the future.”
Hey, that’s good. Nicholson later stated that he wants prospects to be developed until they’re “over-ripe.” There are pitfalls to waiting too long to develop young players, yet when you realize how many times Edmonton’s bungled rookie contracts and otherwise struggled to bring talent along, the slow-and-steady approach sure beats one step forward, two steps back.
But, again, there’s this tug-of-war between acknowledging reality, while also emphasizing that this front office sees things differently than many others in the hockey world.
While high-end organizations tend to weather storms and stick with plans, the Oilers often feel all over the place. After all, Nicholson himself indicated that the Oilers would allow Chiarelli to sink or swim based on whether or not Edmonton made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then he reversed course and fired Chiarelli soon after stating his preferences.
While Nicholson doesn’t seem to have his finger on the pulse of the actual problem, it’s at least a small victory that he recognizes that something’s wrong.
” … There’s something in the water here that’s not right,” Nicholson said. “And we got to get that figured out …”
Yet, moments later, Nicholson railed on about finding “chemistry” and “character” in the locker room, not exactly taking a much more scientific approach than Chiarelli, who hammered the old-school hockey term “heavy” 23 times during his introductory news conference.
Look, it’s great to have strong chemistry and hearty, gregarious folks in your locker room, but it would have been far more promising if Nicholson lamented, say, the lack of skill around Connor McDavid and a select few other useful players.
Don’t ask the old boys’ club about the old boys’ club
Then again, how much can anyone cope when exact problems are placed under a magnifying glass?
Nicholson bristled at the (very reasonable) criticisms of the Oilers organization being an “old boys’ club,” one that’s still dominated by relics from their past glories in the ’80s. While Nicholson said that such talk is “not true at all,” the bottom line is that Keith and Wayne Gretzky are both prominent in the organization – with Keith serving as interim GM – and maybe most troublingly, Kevin Lowe remains a high-ranking figure. Lowe’s titles have changed over the years since becoming GM in 2000, but either way, it doesn’t exactly send a message of front office accountability when failed executives merely seem to be shuffled off to different positions.
It says a lot that Craig MacTavish remains with the Oilers, while they also employ Scott Howson, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire as Blue Jackets GM.
Chiarelli’s history shows that he’s had a terrible knack for trading away high-end talent for dubious returns, with mistakes stretching back to giving up the likes of Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler during his Bruins days. So Chiarelli wasn’t just a scapegoat; he made some big, forehead-slapping blunders. The punchlines were justified over the years.
Yet he’s not the only problem in Edmonton, and what evidence is there that this team is really learning from its mistakes? Do they even think they’re making any mistakes?
On one hand, it was nice that Nicholson said:
- This isn’t a rebuild. (Oilers fans can’t be expected to endure another stitled reboot.)
- That there are some good elements to this team. That’s not untrue.
But it would have been nice if Nicholson mixed in:
- That the Oilers fundamentally failed to embrace both Connor McDavid and the larger trends in the NHL by emphasizing speed and skill. It was frustrating not to hear much of that, but a lot about the “real good” elements of the team and front office. (Warning: do not take a shot every time Nicholson says “real good.” If you do, you will not feel real good.)
- At this point, it would be refreshing for the Oilers to explicitly state a greater interest in analytics, rather than merely saying that this isn’t an old boys’ club, and that they’ll listen to other voices. Maybe there’s a soft subtext there, but in desperate times, sometime you want people like Nicholson to flat-out state “we’re going to get fancy with our stats.”
Nicholson’s press conference wasn’t all doom and gloom, but only a few comments inspire confidence that this organization is learning from its mistakes. After all, things were messy long before Chiarelli became GM, and there’s an unsightly mess to clean up now that he’s gone.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering: yes, people are running with that “something’s in the water” line.
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Disparate divisional trends and a strong bounce-back pattern seem to be riding with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights are the -130 home favorite on the NHL odds with the Nashville Predators coming back at +105, while there is a 6.0-goal total for their matchup on Wednesday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
The second-year Golden Knights, who are 9-4 in their last 13 regular-season home games against the Central Division, will be looking to avoid their first back-to-back home defeats to teams from the other half of the Western Conference after losing 4-2 against the Minnesota Wild on Monday. The Predators are 0-5 in their last five road games against Pacific Division teams, but prior to that had won six in row dating to January 2018.
The Predators are 29-18-4 this season, including a 13-9-4 road record, but are just 2-4 over their last six games according to the OddsShark NHL Database with one of the victories being a 4-1 win on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, whom they have long dominated.
Only two goals have been scored in the first periods of the last four Predators-Golden Knights contests, so it is not out of the realm that Nashville’s top scoring threats such as center Ryan Johansen and right wing Viktor Arvidsson will have to be patient to wait for opportunities. Another challenge for Nashville is that its power play, converting at a 13.3 percent clip, is 29th in the 31-team NHL whereas the Golden Knights’ penalty kill is fifth (83.8 per cent).
The Predators are among the NHL teams moving toward a true two-goalie system. Pekka Rinne handled their most recent game but has had a below-par month, going 3-3-1 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Juuse Saros is 3-2 with a 1.58 average and .947 save percentage.
The Golden Knights are also 29-18-4, but are 16-5-3 at T-Mobile Arena. While Vegas has been in win-one, lose-one mode with a 3-3 record across its last six games, some positive signs are that they haven’t dropped two in a row, or allowed more than four goals in any of the losses.
The Golden Knights, whose leading scorers are right wing Alex Tuch and left wing Jonathan Marchessault, roll four lines with speed and often create an edge in offensive zone pressure and shot attempts. Whether that lends itself to scoring a lot of goals can depend on the quality and the form of the opposing goalie. The Golden Knights will have an 18th-ranked power play (18.5 percent) facing Nashville’s 16th-ranked penalty kill (79.9 percent).
Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is 5-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in eight games so far in January.
The total has gone OVER in eight of Nashville’s last 10 road games at sports betting sites. The total has gone UNDER in four of Vegas’ last seven games as a home favorite.
For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Nev.
By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)
Barry Trotz didn’t scan the rafters for the banner.
Back in Washington, he never once looked up for the championship flag hanging high above the home ice of the Capitals. Yet when he turned around for the national anthem, Trotz said he saw the big white letters standing out on the red banner: ”STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS 2018” around the Capitals logo.
When the anthem was over, he turned back to the visitors’ bench and got back to work on trying to earn some more banners to hang – in New York.
After delivering the Capitals’ first championship in franchise history, Trotz is well on his way to changing the culture in his first season as Islanders coach and bringing that proud organization back to prominence. By implementing the same discipline off the ice and structure on the ice he did in Washington, Trotz has the Islanders in first place in their division past the halfway mark of the NHL season for just the second time in the past 28 years.
”It feels very similar to the first year (in Washington),” Trotz said. ”We were building something. We started with the structure and trying to make every moment count, the accountability, how we play, professionalism – all those things that make a pro athlete on and off the ice. We try to involve that with our organization as we did here. They’ve carried it on to the Stanley Cup, and we’re in the infancy stages.”
Modest to a fault and not eager to accept praise, Trotz considers the Islanders a ”work in progress.” But a lot of things are working:
They have won five in a row and 12 of 14. Their goalies lead the league with a .920 save percentage after ranking 28th last season. They have allowed the fewest goals a game in the league after being the worst in that category last season.
All this after point-a-game center John Tavares left in free agency to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders were expected to struggle, to say the least.
Instead, they’ve thrived.
”I think a lot of guys took it as a little bit of an insult when we were starting to get ranked to be the worst team in the league after he left,” fourth-line winger Matt Martin said. ”(Trotz) gets the best out of everybody. … He gives everybody the role and responsibilities, everyone’s playing similar minutes every night, getting a real good opportunity to play. As a player, when you’re getting those opportunities and you feel emotionally invested, you feel involved.”
It could take a while for the Islanders to become a perennial Cup contender like they were four decades ago. But the building blocks are being put in place under first-year general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz’s staff that includes longtime goaltending guru Mitch Korn.
Trotz’s former players aren’t the least bit surprised at the early success.
”If you ask him, I’m sure he’s not surprised either,” Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said. ”I actually think they’ve got really good players there. But he’s got that tendency to bring in a good system and to make sure you focus on the right things and he’s always pushing guys to get better.”
Reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal is on almost a point-a-game pace in his second season, captain Anders Lee is on the way to a 30-goal season, and Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are stopping the puck at some of the best rates of their careers. Lee said he believes one of the Islanders’ strengths is how someone different seems to step up every night, a result of Trotz balancing ice time and making them feel like a cohesive unit.
”He does a wonderful job of rolling with guys that are feeling it or lines that are doing well that night and giving them matchups and getting everyone involved,” Lee said. ”He has a really good sense of how the game is going, the flow of it, and he can make those quick decisions in-game that makes him so effective.”
Lamoriello knew what he was getting in Trotz, who’s fourth all-time in NHL coaching wins and had an impressive resume from Nashville and Washington even before winning the Cup. The Islanders lucked out in getting Trotz, who left the Capitals in a contract dispute in June days after the championship.
”There’s no question that Barry Trotz is one of the elite coaches over the past X number of years in the National Hockey League,” Lamoriello said. ”He came with a group that had a very sort of down year for a lot of different reasons last year. We added some unique people as far as what they bring as far as character as well as abilities. I think that everybody just has made a total commitment from ownership through management that we were going to do everything that was necessary to have success, and either people were going to be on board or they weren’t going to be.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik said it took some time a few years ago for the Capitals to understand why Trotz wanted some things, including the same set of rules for every player. The respect Trotz earned from Alex Ovechkin on down is growing with the Islanders.
”He’s been awesome,” winger Josh Bailey said. ”As a group, you’ve got to be able to trust your leadership, which is our staff and Barry’s the head of that for sure.”
After Trotz got his Cup ring earlier this season and before he coached his first game back in Washington, he told Islanders players he wants to have the same championship experience with them.
”It’s a day-to-day process,” Trotz said. ”You hear coaches use that, stay with the process. Just stay and keep growing as a team. And we don’t know where we’re going to end up.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)
Twenty-three years after Fox’s glowing puck made its debut, the NHL’s next big technological advancement will be on display this weekend during All-Star festivities.
NBC will showcase puck and player tracking as part of its broadcast of the skills competition Friday night and then as the centerpiece of a digital-only broadcast of the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament Saturday night. It’ll be the first chance for American hockey fans to get an up-close look at the system that could be in place as soon as next season.
With each player and puck fitted with a microchip, the amount of available information could be overwhelming. Look for everything from bubbles over players’ heads to skating and shot speed to ice time and even a small trail behind the puck as NBC takes tracking technology in hockey for a test drive.
”Eventually it’ll go to possession time and more advanced (data), but right now it’s mainly focused on speed, shift time, distance traveled, mph on the shot and virtually connecting players on a goal,” NBC Sports producer Steve Greenberg said. ”We’re scratching the surface here, and what we’re able to display this weekend is not what we’re going to be able to display next year and in the future, but it’s going to be able to be a really good first look at what these chips are going to be able to give us.”
The NHL privately tested puck and player tracking in two regular-season games in Las Vegas earlier this month, but this will be the first time the data is available for public consumption. While other types of tracking technology were tested at previous All-Star games and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, this is something of a dry run for the radio frequency system the NHL has been working with developers to perfect.
Much like the glowing puck was criticized by purists, there’s the danger of overloading fans with too much, too fast. NBC will experiment with how much puck and player tracking data can and should fit onto a TV broadcast.
”It’s a balancing act,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said. ”Think about years ago when the yellow line came in for the first down in football. It’s now universal. There are going to be elements that’ll become universal in hockey telecasts based on what we learn over the next period of time.”
Kenny Albert, who will call the puck and player tracking-heavy telecast available on NBC Sports’ app and online, likens this to the kind of ball-tracking technology that has become ubiquitous in golf coverage. He was with Fox in the 1990s when the glowing puck was perhaps ahead of its time but thinks fans are ready for puck and player tracking on TV.
”We live in an age of information overload and people want stuff like ice time and the mph on a shot for example or how fast a player’s skating,” Albert said. ”I have two teenage daughters and I don’t think anybody in that generation now just sits there and watches TV. They want information, whether it’s looking at their phone, their iPad, their computer, and there’s so much information out there.”
Eventually, once the NHL implements player and puck tracking, fans will be able to take a deep dive into all the numbers and there will be an element of real-time sports gambling. But Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives have pointed out that the first goal was always to make it TV-ready.
”The most obvious thing that (viewers will) probably notice is just sort of the correlations tied to speed,” NHL senior vice president of business development David Lehanski said. ”It’s kind of the thing everybody talks about: how fast the game is, how fast the players are, how fast the puck moves.”
Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson missed the final three games before the break with a lower-body injury, but there’s somehow still a chance he takes part in All-Star Weekend in San Jose. Obviously, coach Peter DeBoer said, the organization would love to have Karlsson on the ice in its home arena, but not at the risk of making it worse.
”If there’s more damage to be done, no one in their right mind would play,” DeBoer said. ”So I think it’s pretty simple.”
Karlsson returned to California for tests, and defenseman Brenden Dillon said it’s a positive for the team to play it safe with the two-time Norris Trophy winner. Karlsson has fit in well with San Jose after an offseason trade from San Jose and gives the Sharks the look of a Stanley Cup contender with the deepest blue line in the league.
”He’s an unbelievable talent and a guy that’s fit in our locker room great too,” Dillon said. ”It’s something where collectively as a group we realized that it was going to be a little bit less whether that’s in minutes or situations … I think for everybody it’s kind of been a little bit less is more and understanding the kind of common goal. So far, so good.”
The defending champion Washington Capitals have lost six in a row for the first time since the disastrous 2013-14 season that led to the firing of general manager George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. After players-only meetings didn’t solve the problem, the latest gut punch was allowing a goal with 1 second left to cough up a two-goal, third-period lead to the Sharks on Tuesday in what turned into an overtime loss.
”I think it doesn’t matter how many meetings we have,” captain Alex Ovechkin said after his hat trick against San Jose wasn’t enough. ”It’s all about us and we know how to play hockey. We know when we play the right way we’re going to get success.”
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Buffalo Sabres get an early test in the second half of the season when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday in each team’s first game after the All-Star break.
LEADERS (through Tuesday)
Goals: Ovechkin, 36; Assists: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 56; Points: Kucherov, 78; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:41; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 27; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (N.Y. Islanders), 2.02; Save percentage: Lehner, .931.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).