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Oilers missing playoffs would be spectacular failure

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The Edmonton Oilers have had a lot of bad seasons over the past 12 years, but this one has to be the most frustrating, most disappointing, and quite frankly, the biggest failure out of them all.

Entering 2017-18 as one of the top favorites to win the Stanley Cup, it’s probably not too soon to close the book on their season.

After getting blown out for the second game in a row this weekend, dropping a 4-1 decision in Chicago, the Oilers remain in 13th place in the Western Conference and are eight points out of a playoff spot with 39 games remaining ahead of them. It is almost impossible to imagine them making up that much ground — and jumping over five teams — in that amount of time.

With the final wild card team in the West currently on a 94-point pace, the Oilers would need to collect 56 points the rest of the way to pass that. That would be a 118-point pace over 82 games, meaning the Oilers would need to pretty much be the best team in hockey the rest of the way just to get the second wild card spot.

After losing seven out of their past eight games, a stretch that has seen them be outscored 28-10 (including 20-4 in the past five games), it is almost impossible to see it happening.

It is a stunning fall in such a short amount of time for a team that was one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and has the league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the league’s best player!) in Connor McDavid on its roster.

It is that second point that makes this season such a failure for the Oilers.

Keep in mind that in the post-Original Six era there have only been three teams that have had the reigning league MVP on their roster have missed the playoffs. The 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens (Carey Price), the 2011-12 Anaheim Ducks (Corey Perry) and the 2002-03 Canadiens (Jose Theodore).

In the case of the two Canadiens teams it’s at least somewhat understandable given who the MVPs were and how those teams won. Both teams were largely dependent on the success of the two goalies, while Price missed all but 11 games following his MVP season due to injury. Theodore simply experienced a massive regression and was not able to put the team on his back the way he did in his MVP season.

But this Oilers team? With Connor McDavid?

There is no excuse for this.

McDavid is a generational talent, and even worse for the Oilers, is still on his entry level contract this season. That means they are still getting one of the biggest steals in the league against the salary cap and they have surrounded him with … this.

Their special teams are a mess. The goaltending has failed them as Cam Talbot has been run into the ground the past two years with no solid backup behind him. They still have no scoring depth beyond McDavid’s line. At some point if the season continues on this path you have to imagine that a coaching change will be considered. That is always the first move that gets made when a seemingly talented team with sky high expectations underachieves.

The issue here is still with construction of the roster and what seems to be a desire to build a heavy, physical hockey team in a league that is now all about speed, skating and skill.

It is about the way the team has squandered talented players like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in trades by selling them off in one-for-one deals that did not bring back anything close to equal value. Heaven help Oilers fans when the same thing inevitably happens with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Given Peter Chiarelli’s track record with trades you can almost guarantee that it will.

With McDavid just starting to enter his prime years and still dirt cheap, this should have been a season where the Oilers were set to take another big step forward. That’s what you do with a superstar that still takes up almost none of your salary cap space.

In year three with Sidney Crosby the Pittsburgh Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Final, one year away from winning it. In year three with Patrick Kane the Chicago Blackhawks actually won the Stanley Cup. In year three with Alex Ovechkin the Washington Capitals were division champions and barreling toward being one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. In year three with Steven Stamkos the Tampa Bay Lightning were in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now the Oilers are not only on their way to missing the playoffs for the second time in three years with McDavid, they are set to head into next season with already more than $60 million in salary cap space committed to just 13 players. And it’s not the big contracts to McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that are causing that cap crunch. You have to keep them and you have to pay them.

It is the $6 million to a Milan Lucic here and the $4 million to a Kris Russell there that eats it up fast.

That is what is going to make it awfully difficult to build any sort of depth around McDavid.

The biggest question out of all of this: Do you trust the current management team to figure out a way to make it work?

They were not able to do it when the best player in the league was costing them peanuts against the salary cap.

It is hard to see how they can do it when he is making his market value.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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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.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


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

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

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.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

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.