2010-2011 NHL season preview: Edmonton Oilers

GYI0061784200-hall-macmillan-getty.jpgLast season: (27-47-8, 62 points, 5th in Northwest Division,15th in Western Conference) The Oilers were, hands down, the worst team in the league last year. At no point did they exhibit any hope for their fans and the moment in November when Nikolai Khabibulin went down with a back injury was the moment when the team essentially mailed it in for the year. Yes, even in late November.

Head coach: World-class nice guy Tom Renney takes over. Last season, Renney was an assistant to Pat Quinn on the Oilers bench and he’ll try to bring his easier demeanor to a team that figures to be very young and learning to grow in the NHL. Renney doesn’t have a world of pressure on him but should the play of the Oilers’ three potential starters under 20 suffer, he’ll hear it loudly from the fans.

Key departures: F Ethan Moreau, F Patrick O’Sullivan, D Sheldon Souray. Yes, I know Souray is still a part of the team, technically, but he’s not going to play a game for them this season after being sent home by the team. He’ll be an ex-Oiler soon enough. After being put on waivers by the Oilers and unclaimed he’s either headed for Oklahoma City in the AHL or potentially picked up on re-entry waivers at half the price by another team.

Key arrivals: F Colin Fraser, D Kurtis Foster, F Taylor Hall, F Magnus Paajarvi, F Jordan Eberle. If you didn’t think the Oilers’ three rookie arrivals wouldn’t be included here you’re crazy. They’re the three most-exciting forwards to land in Edmonton since guys named Gretzky, Messier, and Kurri. Lofty talk, I know, but times have been tough of late in Edmonton. Even their 2006 Stanley Cup finals team wasn’t a very good one. Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle give the Oilers faithful something they haven’t had in years though: Hope.

Under pressure: For a team coming in with low expectations and full knowledge that they’re going to be very young there isn’t one person on the ice with pressure to get things done.  Renney is new to his job so there’s not too much pressure for him. So who’s left? GM Steve Tambellini. He’s the guy that signed Nikolai Khabibulin to an egregiously long, 35+ contract that stays on the cap no matter what, assembled a team without much of a defense, and he’s the guy that’s going to take the heat should anything go wrong with the Oilers otherwise.

nikolaikhabibulin4.jpgProtecting the house: Goaltending is a situation always worth watching with any team, but in Edmonton it’s a special brand of mess. Khabibulin is healthy and he’s back playing. His drunk driving conviction is being appealed and while that’s going on, he doesn’t have to spend his 30 days in jail in Arizona. Due process is fun that way. If he’s healthy and he doesn’t have to go to jail during the season, he gives the Oilers stability in an area that otherwise is a mess. Either Jeff Deslauriers or Devan Dubnyk will back him up and in emergency starting duty last year, neither of them did well to keep the puck out of the net as the Oilers allowed the most goals in the NHL. Failing those two players getting it done, former NHL starter Martin Gerber is waiting in the wings as well in Oklahoma City. What was a major black hole for Edmonton before is suddenly somewhat of a strength.

Fear not, however, because a big reason why the Oilers will have a rough season is their defense. With Souray out of the picture, the team’s best blue liner is likely either Tom Gilbert or Ryan Whitney. They’re both solid guys offensively, but they suffer at controlling the other team’s top forwards. Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer, and Kurtis Foster round out the top six. Foster’s booming shot will soften the loss of Souray and Vandermeer is the one defenseman who prides his game on stopping the opponents. Any chance he can play 45 minutes a game?

Top line we’d like to see: It’s too easy to pick Hall-Eberle-Paajarvi as the top line we’d like to see. Instead, it’s the Oilers other top line of Dustin Penner-Sam Gagner-Ales Hemsky that we’d like to see do well in Edmonton. Penner had a breakout year last season for the Oilers, scoring 32 goals. Gagner is poised to have a big season eventually and Hemsky missed most of last year with injury. By all accounts, Hemsky has returned stronger and faster than he was before which means great things for an offense that sputtered horribly last year. Getting Gagner to break out would be a huge boost for the team. While the rookies will have their moments of greatness, if the Oilers are to be strong this year, these three veterans are going to need to step up.

Oh captain, my captain: The Oilers are without a captain for the time being. Last year’s captain Ethan Moreau is now in Columbus. Candidates for the position include Whitney, Penner, and the leader in the running for it, Shawn Horcoff. Horcoff has been there long enough, has the veteran grit the position calls for and he too could be poised for a bounce-back season now that he’s healthy again.

stevemacintyre1.jpgStreet fighting man: The obvious choice to pick here is Zack Sortini. He’s a massive beast of a forward and he’s not afraid of throwing down with anyone. He had 17 fighting majors last year for the Oilers to lead the team but if you’re looking for someone even more terrifying than Sortini, look no further than Steve MacIntyre, who returns to Edmonton after a year away in Florida. He’s a menacing old-school brand of goon. The poor-man’s fighter on this team is J-F Jacques. Given that he too is bouncing back from injury, perhaps it’s best he not drop the gloves with anyone.

Best-case scenario: Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi all end up finalists for the Calder Trophy. Hemsky has a huge comeback season while Penner continues to throw his weight around to be a 30+ goal scorer again. Gagner similarly has a big season while supporting forwards Andrew Cogliano, Horcoff, and Gilbert Brule have bigger-than-expected seasons while Khabibulin has a resurgent season in goal leading the Oilers to the eighth spot in the West.

Worst-case scenario: Khabibulin gets hurt again. The “big three” struggle under the weight of expectations while learning what it’s like to play in the NHL. The defense plays as suspect as they look and further expose the problems in goal. Renney does his best with what he’s got,  Tambellini fiddles while Edmonton burns and the Oilers head back to the draft lottery.

Keeping it real: This may be the most exciting team in the Northwest Division, but they’re not going to be a very good one. The defense is too poor to expect anything big and putting everything on Khabibulin to keep things steady is daunting at best. He’s 37, has a bad back and will likely be going to jail eventually. If he’s not distracted by everything that would be a bigger story. The Oilers won’t be a playoff team but they’ll be fun to watch while looking like a throwback to the glory days of the 1980s with the high-flying offense and inability to really play much defense.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Oilers are a definitive 1. They’re not going to win the Stanley Cup. There’s hope for the future though and this season will be the first step in the journey, and as first steps go, they’re always the toughest.

(Hall photo: Dale MacMillan – Getty Images)

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    Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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    NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

    In by far the most competitive and only back-and-forth game this series, the Lightning came out on top in the first overtime game of this Cup Final. Tampa trailed 2-0 and 3-2 before taking its first lead of the game when Alex Killorn scored 6:41 into the third period to make the score 4-3. Joe Pavelski tied things back up with 8:25 left in regulation, forcing each club’s first overtime game since their respective Conference Finals series-clinchers. Offseason signee Kevin Shattenkirk, playing on his fifth team and in his first Cup Final, then netted the winner, 6:34 into the extra session to move the Lightning one win from their second-ever Stanley Cup (2004).

    Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967- present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season, the Lightning tied the NHL regular-season record with 62 wins but lost four straight games to the Blue Jackets in the opening round for an early playoff exit. Over the last six years, no team has more playoff wins or Conference Finals appearances than Tampa, and now they’re one victory away from their first title in the Jon Cooper era.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    Pat Maroon, who the Lightning signed in the offseason, is the only player on the team who has won a Cup and he can become the third player in the expansion era (since 1967) to win a title in consecutive seasons with different teams after helping the Blues win their first-ever championship last year (Cory Stillman 2004 with Tampa and 2006 with Carolina … Claude Lemieux 1995 with New Jersey and 1996 with Colorado).

    Historically, a 3-1 series lead in the Cup Final has almost guaranteed an eventual Cup victory, with teams converting 33 times in 34 total tries. The only time a team blew a 3-1 lead in the Cup Final was in 1942, when Detroit lost to Toronto after leading the series 3-0.

    WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
    WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
    WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. ET
    TV: NBC
    ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
    LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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    The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

    The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

    Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

    Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

    2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
    Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
    Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

    ***

    SECOND ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
    Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
    Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

    ***

    NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
    Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

    Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
    Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
    Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
    Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
    Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
    Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
    St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

    Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
    Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
    Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
    Flames beat Jets (3-1)

    ***

    FIRST ROUND RESULTS

    EASTERN CONFERENCE
    Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
    Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
    Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
    Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

    WESTERN CONFERENCE
    Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
    Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
    Stars beat Flames (4-2)
    Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

    Trade: Rangers save money, Red Wings get second-rounder, Marc Staal

    Marc Staal trade Rangers Red Wings second-round pick
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    With the Marc Staal trade, both the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers gain benefits that make sense for where they are. The rebuilding Red Wings gain a 2021 second-round pick and a veteran in Marc Staal, while the Rangers save $5.7 million in cap space for 2020-21.

    (And, um, receive “future considerations.” Uh huh.)

    Red Wings receive: Marc Staal, 2021 second-round pick

    Rangers receive: $5.7M in cap space from trading Staal, “future considerations.”

    Rangers gain some serious cap flexibility, perhaps room for free agent splurge?

    With Cap Friendly estimating the Rangers at a bit more than $20M in space, they have some interesting flexibility.

    Now, that number can be a little misleading out of context. After all, it’s based on 14 roster spots being filled, so Rangers players will eat that up. That said, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers have more tricks up their sleeves, especially if they might want to move on from RFAs such as Ryan Strome and/or Anthony DeAngelo.

    Either way, moving on from that $5.7M gives the Rangers options.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    And it’s not as if the Rangers lack draft assets to continue rebuilding while also possibly flirting with another free agent splash after seeing Artemi Panarin become a Hart Trophy finalist in 2019-20.

    As you likely remember, the Rangers won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, almost certainly netting them Alexis Lafreniere. Even if Lafreniere hits the mark for various incentives, his entry-level contract will likely be a boon for the Rangers.

    By also trading Brady Skjei to the Hurricanes, the Rangers have two first-rounders for 2020. While the Rangers now lack second-rounders in 2020 and 2021, they enjoy quality (two first-rounders, two third-rounders) and quantity (three seventh-rounders) in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft.

    In other words … Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is still doing some strong work. (Even if there’s the occasional Jacob Trouba disappointment to go with a Panarin smash success.)

    Red Wings absorb final year of Staal deal to bolster rebuild

    Yes, you can sell the addition of Marc Staal. Granted, you’d be leaning heavily on “good in the room” and “veteran leadership”-type subjective viewpoints.

    “Marc Staal has been an exemplary hockey player, teammate, and person from the moment he joined the New York Rangers organization,” Rangers exec John Davidson said. “A consummate professional, Marc’s perseverance and dedication to the game made him such an integral part of our organization.”

    On the ice? Frankly, Staal’s been limited for quite some time, if not an active detriment to the Rangers’ success.

    One sneaky plus for the Red Wings is that Staal won’t actually cost them $5.7M. Considering the financial uncertainty of these times, and the Red Wings’ likely place as a lower-end team in 2020-21, that’s no small concern.

    Staal’s total salary for 2020-21 is $4.2M, and the Rangers likely already paid his $1M salary bonus. So the Red Wings pay $3.2M while filling up $5.7M of cap space.

    But, most of all, the Red Wings receive a second-round pick in 2021 for their troubles. As someone who’s called upon Steve Yzerman and Pierre Dorion to load up on picks by weaponizing cap space, the Marc Staal trade is a textbook example.

    (OK, squeezing out a first-rounder would have been even better, but still.)

    Consider the Red Wings’ boatload of draft assets:

    • They pick fourth overall in 2020. Odds are high that their 2021 first-round pick will be a premium one, too.
    • Detroit owns three second-round picks in both 2020 and 2021 (so six second-rounders during the next two drafts).
    • But wait, there’s more: two third-round picks in each of the next two drafts.

    Being that Cap Friendly estimates the Red Wings’ cap space at about $27.375M, Yzerman would be wise to survey the landscape and replicate this Marc Staal trade. The Red Wings have been busy lately, also signing Sam Gagner and Robby Fabbri in recent moves.

    This continues a tumultuous off-season for the Staal family, as Eric Staal was traded to the Sabres for Marcus Johansson. Should Jordan Staal avoid putting his phone on silent for a while?

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Lightning vs. Stars: 3 keys to Game 5 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stanley Cup Final Game 5
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    The Tampa Bay Lightning will have a chance to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, Livestream) when they take on the Dallas Stars.

    Injuries will again be a big factor as Steven Stamkos is set to miss yet another game for the Lightning as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury.

    On the Dallas side, Roope Hintz, Blake Comeau, and Radek Faksa will all be unavailable, leaving a significant dent on a penalty killing unit that has already struggled in this series.

    The Stars need to put together another improbable run this postseason, and it has to start on Saturday night.

    Let’s take a look at three keys to the game to get you ready.

    [NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

    1. The Lightning power play vs. the Stars penalty kill

    You could also go back to the No. 1 key from Game 4 and say that the Stars have to remain disciplined, but that ship seems like it has already sailed in this series. Plus, with the way the Lightning are clicking on the power play right now they may not need many opportunities to change the game and get a big goal.

    The Lightning have scored on six of their 15 power play opportunities in this series and are coming off of a Game 4 performance where they found the back of the net three times, including on Kevin Shattenkirk‘s overtime winning goal.

    This group is just too good, too talented, and too precise to consistently slow down. Add in the fact that the Stars are without Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Roope Hintz (three regulars on the PK, with the former two being two of their most utilized players) and it becomes an even bigger challenge.

    That is a lot to replace.

    2. Goalies on the back-to-back

    Most teams do not like playing their goalies in both ends of a back-to-back during the regular season, and we even saw a lot of teams use their backups during this year’s postseason to help reduce the workload.

    But no coach is going to sit their starter in the Stanley Cup Final, especially in a potential elimination game.

    So you are going to see Andrei Vasilevskiy and Anton Khudobin again on Saturday even though both goalies played an entire overtime game just 24 hours earlier.

    Back-to-backs are always a lot for goalies, but when you consider the workload these two have taken on this postseason they have to be running on fumes at this point.

    That has to be especially true for Vasilevskiy as he has played every single minute for the Lightning since the postseason began in late July.

    Given the way this series has played out the Stars are going to need Khudobin to carry them again.

    3. Tampa Bay’s top line

    The trio of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Ondrej Palat has been dominant all postseason, and they are somehow getting stronger in the Stanley Cup Final.

    They have aleady combined for seven goals in the first four games of the series (four for Point, one each for Kucherov and Palat) while Kucherov has five assists.

    They have not only helped get the power play rolling again, but their 5-on-5 play has been equally dominant.

    Just take a look at the numbers this line is producing when all three are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play:

    • Total shot attempts: Tampa Bay 64, Dallas 26 (71.1 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
    • Shots on goal: Tampa Bay 31, Dallas 13 (70. 4 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
    • Expected goals: Tampa Bay 2.92, Dallas 1.06 (73.3 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)
    • Goals: Tampa Bay 4, Dallas 1 (80.0 percent in Tampa Bay’s favor)

    All of that in just 48 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.

    The Stars have no answer for them, and it hasn’t really mattered which defensive pairing they have tried to use as both Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg have been unable to slow them down. The Klingberg pairing has especially struggled, as the Stars have been outscored 2-0 and out-attempted 25-4 in the 20 minutes that pairing has played against the Kucherov line.

    (Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

    Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
    Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
    Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
    Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
    *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
    *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

    *if necessary

    Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.