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Oilers risk repeating terrible trade history with Lucic

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NHL teams should stick to certain unwritten rules.

Don’t let the Washington Capitals’ power play send a pass to Alex Ovechkin in “his office.” Maybe skip blocking Zdeno Chara‘s slapper in an exhibition game. Avoid smelling Brad Marchand‘s breath. Giving a goalie a “snow shower” is just rude.

At this point, the Edmonton Oilers might just want to institute a “Don’t let Peter Chiarelli make a trade” rule. At least not any tide-turning trades.

There are plenty of rumblings about the Oilers possibly trading Milan Lucic after his first two rough years in Edmonton, with some back-and-forth about whether Lucic requested such a trade or not. Even the biggest Oilers apologist who admit that Lucic’s contract (a signing bonus-heavy deal that includes a $6 million cap hit through 2022-23) is … bad. The problem is that any reasonable hockey person knows that. Even some of the unreasonable ones probably get that message.

With that wide notion noted, it’s unavoidable to point out the elephant in the room: is there any reason to believe that the Oilers would win a trade involving Lucic?

The Ten Percent Rule

There are serious worries that the Oilers aren’t learning lessons from their mistakes, so allow me to suggest an amended rule: Chiarelli should never trade a forward coming off of a season with less than a 10-percent shooting percentage. It would apply a magic wand to some of the franchise’s most jarring (or funny, if you’re not an Oilers fan) mistakes. Consider that:

  • After generating at least a 10.4 shooting percentage for his first four seasons, Taylor Hall dipped below double digits during his last two campaigns in Edmonton. Despite icy puck luck (9.1 percent) in 2015-16, Hall still scored 26 goals and 65 points. Lucic scored six fewer goals in 2015-16 (20 in 81 games) with the Kings despite a 16.1 shooting percentage. As much as the Hall – Adam Larsson trade was about improving Edmonton’s defense, there was also the side argument that the Oilers were opening up money to sign Lucic.

Oops.

  • That Jordan Eberle trade is frequently cited, and rightfully so.

Eberle consistently put up robust shooting percentages with the Oilers … except during his final season, when he scored 20 goals via 208 shots on goal (9.6 percent). The right-handed shooter rebounded to his typical form with the Islanders while Ryan Strome predictably produced middling results for Edmonton.

Part of the argument for trading Eberle was saving on the cap, but Edmonton ended up with a ton of wasted space during the disastrous 2017-18 season, only highlighting a point:

Sometimes it’s not about if you trade a player, but when.

The Oilers could have given Eberle some time to get his game (and shooting percentage) back on track, almost certainly opening the door for a better return than Strome.

Cruelly, Chiarelli could learn something from Garth Snow, the former Islanders GM who swindled him on the Eberle deal (and most dramatically, sending Edmonton Griffin Reinhart for the picks that would become Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier).

One of Snow’s last great moves was sending Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a set of futures that included Calgary’s 2018 first-round pick.

As you may recall, Hamonic was rumored to want a trade for family/personal reasons dating back to 2015, but he stuck with the Islanders longer than some expected. Snow traded Hamonic when the time was right for the Islanders, and he received a return that looked great then and now resembles a robbery.

Lucic’s stock couldn’t be much lower considering his tough start with Edmonton, particularly scoring a pathetic 10 goals on 147 SOG (6.8 shooting percentage) over a full 2017-18 season. Before that, Lucic consistently shot at a rate that was about as efficient as Eberle’s before he was traded. Lucic scored between 18-24 goals during the four seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17, never seeing his shooting percentage dip below 12.8 percent for a full campaign.

So, the Oilers could experience the worst of both worlds if they trade Lucic this summer. After buying high after he rode high percentages, they might trade him when his value is at its absolute lowest.

Now, it’s fair to remark that the Oilers should at least poke around to try to get rid of an absolutely horrid contract. They might just find someone to dupe.

(Hey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are probably still snickering about the trade that netted them useful assets for Dion Phaneuf, and they somehow managed to do it without retaining salary.)

Don’t sell low, again

If the only way to move Lucic is to take on a different mistake (see: the exchange of problems that was the trade that got Phaneuf out of Ottawa), then the Oilers owe it to themselves to mitigate the damage. Whether it comes down to pairing him with Connor McDavid, lining him up with Leon Draisaitl, or trying to find advantageous matchups lower in the lineup, Edmonton can pump up Lucic’s value.

The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow provided some interesting insight (sub required) on how the Oilers might be misusing Lucic, for one thing, but Edmonton may just enjoy better results from Lucic getting more bounces in 2018-19.

An NHL GM can make his team marinate in a mistake by “doubling down,” such as exasperating a bad trade with a foolish contract extension. That said, an executive can also blunder by flipping from that stubborn script: you can overreact to a mistake. Such a risk gets scarier if the organization diagnoses the symptoms, but not the cause for disorders of the roster.

When in doubt, the Oilers must ask a painful question: “Do we really expect Chia to get it right this time?”

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.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

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Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

***

Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

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.

***

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.