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Connor McDavid is great, but he can’t do it all for the Oilers

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At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers had the second best odds to win the Stanley Cup. Even with the NHL’s reigning MVP and scoring champion and even after a wildly successful season that saw them come within a single game of the Western Conference Finals it still seemed to be a little too much, a little too fast.

First, for as good as the Oilers were last season a lot of it was dependent on Connor McDavid putting the team on his back and carrying them as far as he could. They also played Cam Talbot a ridiculous number of games and still don’t have anybody behind him that can be counted on to give him any kind of a consistent break. Add those two factors to a team that still doesn’t have a lot of depth and there are some reasons to maybe want to pump the brakes on the Stanley Cup talk.

It is still early in the season, but so far we are starting to see that play out on the ice.

After their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday the Oilers are now just 2-5-0 on the season and have the second-worst record in the Western Conference.

McDavid is doing what McDavid always does.

He is in year three of his career and is still a human highlight reel every single time he touches the ice. His speed is unmatched. His creativity is off the charts. He is, at times, an unstoppable force and is once again the single biggest factor driving the Oilers offense.

Right now he is the only factor driving the Oilers’ offense.

With eight points so far this season that means he has either scored or assisted on more than 57 percent of the team’s goals.

He has been on the ice for nine of them, which is more than 65 percent.

Through the first seven games of the season the Oilers have scored only five goals this season when McDavid has not been on the ice. That is not a trend that can continue if the Oilers are going to have any hopes of getting out of this early season slump, let alone competing for a Stanley Cup. There is no one single player in the NHL that can make that much of a consistent impact without some secondary help.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup runs were not just about superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. They were also about the complementary players and secondary scoring options that could step up and fill the back of the net when the top tier guys had their inevitable stretches where they would get shut down (and there always comes a time when the top players get shut down for a stretch. Sometimes in the playoffs, too).

Right now the Oilers do not have those secondary options, and if the offense is not coming from Connor McDavid, it is not coming from anybody.

To be fair, they have only had Leon Draisaitl, their second-most important offensive player, for only three games this season. But even a return from him is not a guarantee to be enough based on the makeup of the rest of the roster.

Over the summer the Oilers traded their third-leading scorer (Jordan Eberle) straight up for Ryan Strome, a player that has never had the single-season output that Eberle had a year ago in what was widely considered a down year for him. Strome has two points in seven games.

A year ago the Oilers had big — and mostly unexpected — seasons from players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu as they combined to score 43 goals, each of them setting new career highs. Together, they had a combined shooting percentage of 14.5 percent, a nearly five percent increase over their career averages. That increase in shooting percentage was probably worth an additional 10-12 goals between the two.

There is no guarantee they can duplicate that success.

The Oilers are probably not as bad as their early season record indicates, especially when Draisaitl is back. Even so, McDavid is still going to need more help than he is getting from his teammates if the Oilers are going to do anything close to what was expected from them at the start of the season. Whether or not they have the roster around him to do that remains to be seen.

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.

Immediate jump unlikely to be best for Kotkaniemi, Habs

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The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t ask “can Jesperi Kotkaniemi jump straight from the 2018 NHL Draft to the main roster?” Instead, they’re better off wondering if he should.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said that the 18-year-old will get a chance to impress in training camp after performing well at development camp, according to NHL.com’s Sean Farrell.

“He got better every day, so we’re going in with an open mind,” Bergevin said. “I don’t know, but just the fact that he’s signed and he’s coming to camp and he’s closer to the NHL. Where he’s going to be Oct. 1, I can’t tell you, but we see a lot of potential and growth in this young man.”

That’s fair, and the Canadiens would be justified in giving the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft the nine-game audition before sending him to Finland or the AHL instead of burning the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level contract.

Cautionary tale

But, big picture, this is probably one of those situations where both sides would be better off if Kotkaniemi dips his toes in the water rather than diving right in. If Montreal needs a quick example of a player whose rookie deal hasn’t been used in an optimal way, they might want to consider Jesse Puljujärvi, who went fourth overall in 2016.

Puljujärvi only played in 28 games in 2016-17, making a minimal impact while pushing himself that much closer to ending his rookie deal. Things didn’t get that much better last season, as he only generated 20 points in 65 games. A breakthrough is quite possible in 2018-19, but the downside would be that the Oilers would then need to give him a raise, and would only really enjoy one high-value season from his entry-level contracts.

That’s the sort of poor asset management Montreal should be concerned about, especially if they’re being realistic about their chances next season.

Tension in the air

Now, it’s plausible – maybe probable – that things could go a little better in 2018-19. For the most obvious example, the Habs could conceivably be viable if Carey Price returns to elite form (and good health).

In all honesty, the Lightning and Maple Leafs seem slated to be light years ahead of Montreal. The Panthers and especially the Bruins head into the season with higher hopes, too. The Habs run the risk of falling short of the postseason even if they improve considerably, so why not just push Kotkaniemi’s contract back a year instead of possibly wasting it?

The Finnish forward only turned 18 on July 6, so you’d expect him to be a bit less polished compared to an older prospect like, say, Brady Tkachuk. The worst-case scenario might be if Kotkaniemi plays well enough to hit double digits in games played, yet generally struggles and ends up stunting his growth while wasting a year of that ELC.

It might not be the healthiest environment for Kotkaniemi to debut, either.

Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien must be at least a touch concerned about job security, and the atmosphere has a chance to be pretty toxic. Critics blast Julien for how he handles young players at the best of times, but how ugly might the scene be if fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be replaced?

Montreal seems pretty locked-in to its forward group this season, too, and that’s possibly accurate even if they actually pull the trigger on a Max Pacioretty trade. The return could be pretty modest if Kotkaniemi’s is merely a minor upgrade over a replacement-level player.

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The Habs already made a divisive choice in selecting Kotkaniemi after lucking into the third pick in 2018. Many believe that Montreal aimed at need first and foremost, with the expectation being that Kotkaniemi will develop into the first-line center, a piece that’s eluded Montreal for ages. The pressure’s eventually going to be pretty fierce for the prospect to deliver, so the Canadiens would be wise to wait until he’s truly ready.

And, again, the decision need not be based on altruism alone. Instead, by doing what’s most likely best for Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens stand a better chance to take advantage of his cheap contract when they’d ideally be better prepared to contend.

There are worse problems to have, yet Montreal really needs to start getting these decisions right if they want to turn things around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dominic Moore’s Smashfest charity Ping-Pong event a ‘labor of love’

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Dominic Moore’s NHL career has allowed to him to play for nine different teams, including two stints with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 897 games under his belt since breaking into the league in 2003-04. His long playing career has also allowed him to share his love of Ping-Pong with many fellow players inside various dressing rooms.

Given his travels around the league, you could probably play a “Six Degrees of Separation” game with Moore. For example: When the 37-year-old was in his first full NHL season in 2005-06, his usual Ping-Pong partner was veteran Michael Nylander. Last season while with the Maple Leafs, the teammate who he found himself playing against on a regular basis was William Nylander, Michael’s son.

“It’s kind of a hilarious turn of events there,” Moore told Pro Hockey Talk this week.

On Aug. 1, he will be hosting the seventh annual Smashfest Ping-Pong tournament featuring around 25 current and former NHL players. (According to Moore, Patrick Eaves, the three-time defending champion, is well enough to participate after missing most of the 2017-18 season with post-viral syndrome.)

In the six years Moore has put on the event, he’s been able to raise $665,000 for concussion and rare cancer research. Smashfest 1, back in 2012, raised $20,000. Now in a few years he’ll hit the $1 million mark, which wasn’t even on the radar when things were getting going.

“Never thought about that, honestly. Obviously we wanted to raise as much as we could every year,” Moore said. “Last year we got up to $165,000. I was really hoping we’d be able to hit $1 million this year — I was a bit maybe ambitious with that. I doubt we’re going to get there, but once we got close it certainly became a goal to try and hit.”

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Some of the money that’s raised goes toward rare cancer research benefitting the Broad (pronounced Brode) Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moore wanted to ensure that the donated funds would make an impact.

“Especially with cancer research, it seems like it’s easy for money to become a drop in the bucket because it takes so much money to do the research,” he said. “And obviously in the cancer space there’s a lot of money that’s put into this research. But for rare cancers, because of the fact that there isn’t a lot of funds behind it, I felt like it was so important to spend our money wisely.”

What the Broad Institute does as part of a special project with Moore is solicit tissue samples from patients around the country suffering from rare forms of cancer. With proprietary technology, they’re able to turn one sample into hundreds and then multiply the tissue for additional testing.

“The premise of it, you’re trying to get tissue directly from patients because what happens with rare cancers is someone will go into a hospital in San Francisco, they have their surgery, that tissue stays in the hospital, they’re the only one on the west coast that has this particular cancer, there’s no money to fund it, nothing gets done with that tissue, but it sits as a commodity in that hospital’s fridge and nothing ever happens with it,” Moore said. “Or maybe they do do some research on it but it’s just an isolated piece of data that has no value. 

“So the whole premise of our project with The Broad is that wherever these patients are around the country we get the word out to them that they can and should send their tissue to the Broad Institute. The Broad actually jumped through a bunch of logistical things to try and make this happen so they made a whole kit, and shipping cancer tissue and keeping it alive as you ship it and making it easy for patients to do that, it sounds easy — just ship the tissue — but it’s not.”

The Broad Institute is also making all of its data available to those who want to use it in order to advance the research.

“The open source nature of it too is something that we’re really proud of,” said Moore.

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The idea for Smashfest originated in 2011 with Moore wanting to use Ping-Pong as a way to raise money and also showcase player personalities. He’s always loved the game, going back to his childhood. Growing up he heard stories about the 1980s Edmonton Oilers competing in intense games that would last until minutes before puck drop. When he reached the NHL, it became a regular activity with his teammates, wherever he went.

“I think it’s just that it’s conducive to you put a table in the middle of the locker room and it’s something fun and competitive that the guys can do,” said Moore, who’s currently an unrestricted free agent and would like to continue playing. “It can help them warm up. It just seems like it fits. I had the idea. This is the perfect thing for a charity event. I loved it, I loved playing. Marty St. Louis and I played a lot in Tampa together. That was around the time I was finally like I’ve got to get off my butt and try and make this happen.”

From the start, Moore wanted Smashfest to be different than a charity golf tournament. He wanted it to be fun, quirky and unique. With help from the NHLPA, gather a bunch of hockey players and fans at a Toronto brewery in the middle of summer for a Ping-Pong tournament. Sounds like the makings of an interesting night, right? He had no idea how it would go over, but from the very first event it was clear there was traction and it would be a success.

“It’s been a labor of love. It’s something that the team that works on it has worked incredibly passionately on and spends a lot of time on,” he said. “For me personally, it’s something I enjoy working on. I do put a lot of time into trying to grow it. We’ve got some great partners and sponsors and friends of the event that all kind of work together to make it what it is. 

“That’s what’s allowed it to grow, as well as the unique nature of the event in terms of showcasing the players in a totally fun way. I think that’s just been the recipe that’s made it grow to the way it is and hopefully we can continue that. I’d love to continue to make it bigger and better.”

Smashfest 7 will take place Aug. 1 at Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.