Getty

Are you ready for the Oilers to win another draft lottery? It could happen

20 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

There has been no greater disappointment in the NHL this season than the pathetic showing put forward by the Edmonton Oilers organization. It has been a collective effort from everybody involved, from the general manager that seems to thinks he is building a team in 2002, to the coach that has not figured out how to fix his team’s garbage special teams, to the owner that put all of these people in power, to the players on the ice.

They all own it.

This is a team that entered the season with the second-best odds to win the Stanley Cup. it is now positioned near the bottom of the standings and already has virtually no chance to make the playoffs with still a quarter of the season left to be played.

They may have been a little overrated at the start of the year, but there was almost nobody that saw this sort of season coming.

Following their loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday afternoon, their sixth loss in a row and eighth in the past 10 games, the Oilers now find themselves with the third-worst record in the NHL and are only six points ahead of the Coyotes when it comes to having the worst record in the league.

For a team that has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of its lineup it is an inexcusable waste of young talent. In the case of McDavid, it is a waste of MVP talent. Generational talent.

Only three teams in the history of the league has ever missed the playoffs with the reigning league MVP on its roster.

The Edmonton Oilers are not only going to do join them, they are going to miss the playoffs by miles.

With an MVP that has a cap hit of less than a million dollars in a salary cap league.

[Related: Connor McDavid could author one of the NHL’s greatest wasted seasons]

What this raging dumpster fire of a season has done is put the Oilers in a great position to do the only type of winning they’ve become accustomed to over the past decade — the NHL Draft Lottery.

Entering play on Sunday the Oilers would have the third-best odds to land the No. 1 overall pick with a 10.5 percent chance winning. That would give them the opportunity to select Swedish phenom defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, a prospect that is pretty much the exact player they need.

Those odds are … somewhat favorable, and high enough to probably drive hockey fans that are tired of watching the Oilers waste these picks insane.

Let’s revisit this history, just in case you’ve forgotten:

Between 2010 and 2015 the Oilers picked first overall four times in six years, landing picks that brought them Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and McDavid. That includes a run between 2010 and 2012 where they picked first overall three consecutive years. In the years between 2012 and 2015 they picked seventh (Darnel Nurse) and third (Draisaitl). Four No. 1 picks in six years is a run unlike anything we had ever seen in the history of the NHL draft.

And they didn’t always need to finish with the worst record to get there. It was the perfect combination of being a lousy organization and getting some fantastic luck.

When they won the draft lottery in 2010 to get Hall the Oilers won it with the worst record in the league.

The next season (the Nugent-Hopkins pick) the Oilers again finished with the worst record in the league and were able to maintain that pick when the New Jersey Devils won the lottery and moved up four spots from No. 8 to No. 4 (this was when winning the draft lottery meant you could only move up four spots). The Devils winning that draft lottery would turn out to be significant for the Oilers down the line because the Devils used that pick to select defenseman Adam Larsson. In the summer of 2016 the Oilers traded Hall to the Devils in a one-for-one swap for … Adam Larsson.

The next year they won the draft lottery to move up from the second spot to the top pick where they selected Nail Yakupov.

In 2015, they finished with the third-worst record and won the Connor McDavid lottery.

So, in other words, it’s happened before. There is nothing stopping it from happening again.

The closest we ever came to a draft pick run like the Oilers have had was when the Quebec Nordiques picked first overall three years in a row between 1989 and 1991. That was before the draft lottery was put into place and the team with the worst record just simply picked first.

Even though none of the players the Nordiques picked first overall (Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Eric Lindros) won a championship with the team, those picks helped set the stage for what would become two Stanley Cup winning teams. Sundin was eventually traded for Wendel Clark, who was later traded for Claude Lemieux. Nolan was traded for Sandis Ozolinsh, one of the most productive defensemen in the league and a member of the 1996 Stanley Cup championship team. The Eric Lindros trade … well … that trade turned out to be historic.

The expansion Ottawa Senators had a run of three No. 1 overall picks in four years between 1993 and 1996 when they picked Alexandre Daigle, Bryan Berard and Chris Phillips. Daigle turned out to be a bust and Berard was traded (for a package that included Wade Redden, a long-time staple on the Senators’ blue line), but Phillips played more than 1,100 games in Ottawa over 17 seasons. Starting in 1996, the year of the third and final No. 1 pick, the Senators went on an 11-year run where they made the playoffs every year (with Redden and Phillips playing significant roles). It never resulted in a championship, but they made the Conference Finals twice and the Stanley Cup Final once.

What’s so maddening about the Oilers, even as a completely neutral observer, is how they have completely wasted this draft pick bounty.

It’s certainly possible they could come back next season and be decent. When you have Connor McDavid that chance always exists. But he can’t do it alone, and we have to trust an organization that has made the playoffs three times in 16 years (and only once in 12 years) can figure out what the hell it is doing.

Especially when it has a proven track record of, again, wasting the talent it has been lucky enough to get.

Yakupov simply did not work out, not really anything anybody can do about that. Arguing that he was a bad pick would be 20/20 hindsight. Sometimes picks just don’t work out and there weren’t many people arguing against his selection at the time.

But after that it’s a story of waste.

Hall, one of the best left wingers in the league and a player that has a pretty compelling MVP argument this season (he won’t win, but there is an argument to be made), was traded for an okay-but-nothing-special defenseman.

Don’t be shocked if Nugent-Hopkins, another talented and productive player that probably gets underrated because he’s been stuck on a lousy team for his entire career, gets moved in a similar deal in the next year or two.

They traded another of their top forwards, Jordan Eberle, for a lesser player in Ryan Strome that will not ever come close to matching Eberle’s production.

They signed Milan Lucic and Kris Russell for a combined $10 million per season for at least the next … four years?!

They managed to get one playoff appearance out of McDavid’s entry level contract, and as I said a couple months ago, the front office that could not build a competitive team around him making the league minimum now has to figure out a way to build a competitive team around him while he is making $12 million per year (with Leon Draisaitl riding shotgun making $8 million per year).

At this point their reward for all of this incompetence could be anything from an 8.5 percent chance (fifth worst record) to an 18 percent chance (if they should happen to collapse enough to finish with the worst record — and I’m not betting against that) to land one of the best defense prospects to enter the NHL in years. Those odds are way too high. Those odds are too much in their favor. They do not deserve odds that high.

If their is some sort of just and loving draft lottery deity floating around in the hockey world it will not allow this to happen. It can not happen.

For the sake of Rasmus Dahlin’s career.

For the sake of hockey fans outside of Edmonton.

Heck, just for my own personal sanity, the Edmonton freaking Oilers can not be rewarded with another top draft pick. Especially one that could be this good at a position where they have a desperate need.

Somebody else — literally, anybody else — needs to get the chance to make something out of Rasmus Dahlin.

Anybody but the Edmonton Oilers.

————

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.

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Getty
2 Comments

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

Getty
Leave a comment

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.

Donato gets two-year, $3.8 million extension from Wild

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Donato took advantage of a bigger opportunity with the Minnesota Wild and earned himself a raise on Tuesday.

The Wild announced that they have extended the 23-year-old Donato with a two-year, $3.8 million contract. That $1.9 million annual salary will be a bump from the $925,000 he made during the 2018-19 NHL season.

Following a February trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins, Donato saw his ice time rise over three minutes under Bruce Boudreau and that resulted in four goals and 16 points in 22 games with Minnesota. Unable to carve out his own role in Boston, Donato struggled offensively with six goals and nine points in 34 games before moving.

“I definitely learned the business side of it, for sure,” Donato said in April. “One thing I learned, in Boston and here, it’s a game of ups and downs. More than college, more than any level, there’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s been an emotional roller coaster the whole year, but definitely over the last couple months it’s settled down quite a bit.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Donato, who was a restricted free agent and will remain one when his contract expires after the 2020-21 season, continued his production in the American Hockey League’s notching 11 points in 14 games between the end of the Iowa Wild’s regular season and the Calder Cup playoffs.

“It’s all about opportunity in this league,” Donato said. “If I can get myself into scoring positions playing with the high-end veteran players we have here, that have been known to find guys in scoring positions, then I’m a guy that can bury it.”

The Wild have high hopes for next season as they expect to be a playoff team coming out of what will be a very, very competitive Central Division. General manager Paul Fenton added Ryan Hartman and Mats Zuccarello to boost the team’s offense which finished fourth-worst in the NHL in goals per game (2.56). Donato will be expected to be a key contributor.

————

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.