Let’s fix the Edmonton Oilers

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You know things are bad for the Edmonton Oilers when even the media is questioning management.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector chides players for a “sense of entitlement” after last night’s embarrassing loss to the Sabres, yet he also critiques the team’s special teams gameplan. “For the first time ever,” the Taylor HallAdam Larsson trade bewilders the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples.

Even Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr believes that their PK is a mess.

By just about every measure, the Oilers are an absolute mess. And, yes, that PK is insanely ugly.

Is there any hope for them to turn things around? Yes, but they must admit this season is a lost cause, and big changes are needed.

Change in vision

There might come a point where it makes sense to trade one of the Oilers’ few remaining, arguably-not-quite-core assets in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In a vacuum, it would make sense to move him during a “sell-high” time, which could be this season if he heals up before the trade deadline expires.

Let’s be honest, though; would anyone in their right mind trust GM Peter Chiarelli to extract anywhere near optimal value for RNH, not to mention guys like Oscar Klefbom?

And really, it’s not just on Chiarelli. Todd McLellan deserves some blame for the team’s systemic struggles. Scroll through the Oilers’ last decade-or-so of drafting and you’ll see that the franchise rarely finds talent outside of the first round, a serious indictment of their scouting staff, not to mention their ability to develop. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish have their fingerprints all over these failures, too.

Management had a vision for what works in the NHL, but it looks ugly unless you’re wearing rose-colored glasses.

Liquidate

This season and coming summer both stand as opportunities to cut the fat.

It’s tough to imagine another team taking on Milan Lucic‘s odious deal and Kris Russell‘s contract, but let’s not forget that seemingly immovable deals have been traded away before. David Clarkson, Nathan Horton, Dave Bolland, and even Chris Pronger have received paychecks from teams willing to warehouse bad contracts for a price. Maybe Edmonton could bribe teams to take some mistakes off their hands?

Sometimes it’s not even that high of a price, but that’s why you need to find a GM who can … you know, at least break even in trades.

In the case of Patrick Maroon and maybe a few other expiring pieces, Chiarelli could even redeem himself a bit by getting decent returns.

Draft capital can help in multiple ways

The bright side of this disastrous season is that the Oilers are likely to get a healthy first-rounder for their troubles. As of this writing, Edmonton’s the sixth-worst team in the NHL, and games played could push them down a bit more.

We all know they enjoy inanely good luck in the lottery, so consider how this could help them out:

  • Landing a key prospect – This is the simplest path, and a reasonable one in that. With cap concerns looming, they may very well need another decent player on a rookie contract.
  • Packaging to get rid of a bad contract – That said, the Oilers might not want to wait out that development process. To embrace more of a “win now” mode, they could clear up space by combining that pick (and maybe more) with a contract they’d otherwise struggle to remove.
  • Landing a big fish – On a similar note, what if the pick could help them grab a key soon-to-be-free-agent defenseman? Imagine how much better the Oilers would look with someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Ryan Ellis, not to mention even bigger names in Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty. If their teams realize they’re going to lose those players, a high-end pick could get things moving.

Target goalies

Cam Talbot might get back on track, but either way, he’s already 30 and his $4.167 million cap hit expires after 2018-19. Again, the Oilers aren’t the greatest at learning from their mistakes, yet this season should send a blaring signal that they shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket.

The Oilers could consider a reclamation project in Petr Mrazek, echoing what the Wild accomplished with their former goalie Devan Dubnyk. They could see if Aaron Dell is the next Talbot: a backup capable of being something more.

We’ve seen plenty of instances where teams need two goalies, so Edmonton should be proactive, even if Talbot ends up ultimately being “the guy.”

They still have Connor

Before Oilers fans get too depressed, don’t forget there are still great pieces in place, including Connor McDavid, who’s somehow barely 21 years old. Believe it or not, locking him up for eight years at $12.5M per is actually an astounding bargain. In fact, it’s such a deal that they can probably relax about paying Draisaitl too much.

The Oilers have made their mistakes, but new management could change things in a hurry. Just look at how dim things looked for the Penguins during the ill-fated Mike Johnston era. They turned things around with a coaching change and some courageous trades, while the Maple Leafs are another example of a team “seeing the light” and enjoying significant returns.

It doesn’t seem like Chiarelli was really taking notes, but if he gets replaced, hopefully the next GM has been paying attention. Things can turn around quickly in the NHL, at least if you push the right buttons.

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.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

Terms of the deal were not released.

The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.