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Oilers continue rare boring summer with Strome signing

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The name Ryan Strome must elicit some awkward feelings for Edmonton Oilers fans. After all, you’d need to risk an upper-body injury trying to deny that the Oilers lost in the Strome – Jordan Eberle trade.

Losing that trade prompts faint praise, then, for the Oilers’ current off-season plan of … “Don’t mess anything else up.”

That’s not what they’ve really said publicly, but so far, that’s how they’re operating. While it’s fun – especially from a writing/lampooning perspective – to rubberneck at bad moves and dysfunction (let us again thank Marc Bergevin and the Senators), recent history states that Edmonton’s better off boring.

And that’s exactly what re-signing Strome is. It’s boring, and it’s probably the right move, and you’re probably yawning with me on this one.

The team announced that it’s a two-year deal, with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reporting that the cap hit will come in at $3.1 million per season. That’s not a great value, but it’s not going to break the Oilers, either. Leave that to trading the pick that became Mathew Barzal for a marginal defenseman, moving Taylor Hall one-for-one for Adam Larsson, and the Milan Lucic albatross contract, instead.

Cap Friendly puts Edmonton’s cap space at just less than $5M, with RFA Darnell Nurse likely to command most of that remaining cash.

The Oilers mainly stayed out of the fray this summer, merely handing speedy winger Tobias Rieder a reasonable one-year, $2M deal. Unless they can bribe a rebuilding team to house bad contracts like Lucic’s $6M per season through 2022-23, GM Peter Chiarelli is most likely going to be limited to trying to target savvy bargains in free agency. Considering how things have gone for him in recent trades, such limitations could very well be a blessing in disguise.

A boring blessing, but a blessing.

During the last three seasons, Strome’s developed into a fairly steady 30-ish point producer, showing some versatility and adequate possession skills. The Oilers could do better and worse with $3.1M per season.

Again, a shoulder shrug seems more palatable than Edmonton’s painful tradition of face-palms.

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis summed things up well regarding Strome back in April: Edmonton management is better off seeing the good side of Strome, rather than placing too much focus on how he’s not Jordan Eberle.

If you can convince yourself to not attach him to Eberle, it becomes a lot easier to accept Strome for what he is. He’s a solid, two-way player who can play in a variety of situations. He can centre your third line and be responsible, he can produce some offence in a top-six role, he can play both centre and wing, and he can be useful on the power play and penalty kill. He isn’t spectacular, but he’s a versatile depth player with upside, and there’s certainly value to that.

For all the frustrations in Edmonton, the Oilers still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They might stumble upon solutions merely if they stop messing things up.

Strome isn’t great, and you can quibble about him being good versus mediocre. It’s a small victory, but not exasperating the mistake with more mistakes is better than the alternative.

More exciting calls to come

Here’s a take for you: the Oilers put themselves in that bind during the 2017 summer by not trying harder to extend Draisaitl before his breakout 2016-17 season. Maybe a lack of contract year motivation would have meant a slightly less dominant Draisaitl that year, but smart teams lock up core players earlier rather than later.

It’s a consideration that could be particularly important for the Oilers when it comes to Jesse Puljujarvi.

After this past season, the Columbus Blue Jackets look shrewd (rather than bold) for taking Pierre-Luc Dubois as the third pick of the 2016 NHL Draft over Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi’s been moving in and out of the NHL early in his career, generating 12 goals and 20 points in 65 games with the Oilers in 2017-18.

That’s a letdown, yet it may also be an opportunity for the Oilers to save money, for once.

If Edmonton expects Puljujarvi to make huge strides going forward, they’d be better off trying to sign him to a team-friendly contract this summer, rather than waiting to see what happens. Ideally, Edmonton would either save money with a “bridge” contract or keep his cap hit at a reasonable clip by handing out the sort of term that looks brilliant in retrospect.

Determining that the Finn can take big steps forward instead of floundering like, say, Nail Yakupov, comes down to the judgment of Edmonton’s staff. That’s the scary part, but they either need to start getting these things right or step aside for someone who can.

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Theoretically, more decisions could be coming for the Oilers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never seems far from trade rumors, though it’s a relief for Edmonton anytime they abstain at this point. With Cam Talbot‘s contract expiring after 2018-19, the Oilers must eventually figure out if his past season was an aberration or if they eventually need to find a new goalie.

So, yes, there are some deeper questions on the horizon for Edmonton, which opens the door for them to sink or swim.

History teaches us that they might be better off treading water, so it’s probably for the best that they’re just floating along 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.

Islanders sign Brock Nelson to six-year contract

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After a stunning 2018-19 NHL season that saw them reach Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Islanders have some big work ahead of them this summer as they not only work to add some firepower to their lineup, but also keep some of their most important players in place.

Forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson — three of the team’s top-five scorers this season — as well as Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner are all eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. That is a lot of big names to keep while also maintaining enough flexibility under the salary cap to build around them.

On Thursday, they made sure at least one of those players will remain with the team when they announced a six-year contract extension for Nelson.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Islanders, but it is reportedly worth $6 million per season according to The Athletic’s Arthur Staple.

The 27-year-old Nelson is coming off of a career-year that saw him score 25 goals (second best on the team) and finish with 53 total points (third on the team).

Originally a first-round pick (No. 30 overall) by the Islanders in 2010, Nelson’s career has been about as steady and consistent as a player can be. He has missed just 12 games since entering the NHL during the 2013-14 season (with 10 of those coming during his rookie season) and has been a lock for at least 20 goals and 40 points every season. You know he is going to be in the lineup and you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get from him offensively.

Is that level of production worth $6 million per year? It might be pushing it and it might be a slight overpay from a team standpoint, but the Islanders didn’t really have many other options here. If they had let Nelson walk they would have needed someone to replace him and there weren’t many (if any) realistic options on the free agent market that are going to outperform Nelson for a better price, and they only have five draft picks in their 2019 class to use as trade chips.

With Nelson’s contract now completed, the Islanders have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season at a total salary cap hit of $53.7 million. Assuming an $83 million salary cap that still leaves them with more than $29 million in cap space to fill out the remainder of their roster.

That should be more than enough to re-sign Lee, Eberle and Lehner if they choose, while also working out new deals for restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle.

Mathew Barzal, who has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract, will also be eligible to sign a new contract on July 1.

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.

 

Backes ready to face former team in Stanley Cup Final

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The friendships that David Backes still has with members of the St. Louis Blues — three years after he left to sign with the Boston Bruins — will be on hold for the next few weeks as the 35-year-old forward seeks his first Stanley Cup title.

“It would have been fine to make the Final in different years and then you could have each had a shot at it, maybe, but now it’s all about what’s in this room,” Backes said. “One of my best friends [Alex Pietrangelo] is on that team, he’s the captain of their team. I told him I love him now, I’m going to love him afterwards, but I’m going to hate him for the next three weeks here. I think that’s a mutual decision.”

Backes has played with a number of current Blues players, so there is some familiarity, but as he said on Wednesday, he doesn’t necessarily own the “secret sauce” that will figure them out over the course of a seven-game series.

While most of the focus during the NHL conference finals was on the potential of Joe Thornton facing off against the team that drafted him in the Cup Final, the Backes vs. Blues storyline mostly flew under-the-radar, except in the veteran forward’s house. He tried not to think about the possibility, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the television as the Western Conference Final played out.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now that the matchup is set, it’s a simple situation.

“There’s going to be heightened emotions,” said Backes, who captained the Blues from 2011-2016. “It’s a binary decision now: It’s us or them. There’s no third party. No ties, none of that stuff. One of us is going to win the Cup. Either the St. Louis Blues or the Boston Bruins.”

After 10 seasons and 928 games in St. Louis, Backes signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins in free agency in 2016. But in those three seasons since his production and ice time have dwindled as he’s battled through injuries. This past season, he found himself a healthy scratch on multiple occasions and sought out a new role within Bruce Cassidy’s lineup.

Backes has sat for six games this postseason, but has played the entirety of the Bruins’ current seven-game winning streak. He’s scored twice, including the Game 6 goal that sealed their Round 2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and added two assists over that stretch.

“Where he is at this stage of his career — and anybody’s, really — but particularly him who’s been through it, he doesn’t know when he’s going to get another kick at the cat here,” Cassidy said. “I think that’ll be the biggest motivating factor for him, get his name on the Stanley Cup.”

Backes will get that opportunity in the storyline-filled matchup.

“I didn’t make it [to the Cup Final] in my 10 years there or my first two years here, and my first opportunity in Year 13 in the league is their next opportunity after the ’70s,” he said.

“The stars have aligned for this to be one heck of an event. We’re just going to embrace it and throw what we have out there in every shift and every moment of every game. I love this group. I wouldn’t want to be in the Finals with any other group.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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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.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better special teams?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

BOSTON BRUINS

On paper, this one is hardly a comparison at all.

The Bruins are setting the pace in these playoffs with a 34 percent success rate with the man-advantage, including a whopping 41.7 percent chance to score on the power play on the road.

In 17 postseason games, they have 17 power play goals, five more than the Blues in 12 fewer power-play opportunities. Brad Marchand leads the way with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) with the man-advantage. Patrice Bergeron has been an assassin with six power-play goals. David Pastrnak has seven points, including two goals.

On the kill, the Bruins are running at 86.3 percent, tops among the remaining two clubs and fourth overall. They’ve been shorthanded 51 times, second most this postseason behind the San Jose Sharks.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

This series could come down to how disciplined the Blues can play.

The best way to stop the best power play in the NHL is to not give it any fuel to spark a fire. The Blues have been shorthanded 41 times in the playoffs, which is a relatively low number given how far they’ve come. That will have extra significance given that their penalty kill is 11th among the 16 playoff teams at 78 percent.

On the power play, the Blues are operating at 19.4 percent, including just 9.7 percent on the road. That’s an ugly stat you don’t want to see when you’re beginning the Stanley Cup Final sans home-ice advantage.

Five of Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goals (and seven of his 13 points) have come on the power play, which leads the Blues. That’s something the Bruins will have to contend with.

Quirky stat: St. Louis has allowed three shorthanded goals against in these playoffs, most among the 16 playoff teams.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins. Is there even a doubt? Boston’s power play is as lethal as they come. Assuming it stays hot, Boston has the edge by a mile.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better forwards?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

One of the best lines in hockey against a team that has made it a mission to shut down the opposition’s best. It makes for quite the chess match over the coming couple of weeks.

So, which of these two teams has a better group of forwards? Let’s take a look.

CENTERS

The votes for the Selke Trophy have already come in, but we’re about to watch two candidates for this year’s award go head-to-head in what should be a colossal battle between the top two-way centers in the game.

Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O'Reilly is the type of mouthwatering matchup you don’t always get to see in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both have been instrumental to their team’s success so far, and both are coming off big games to close out their respective series.

Bergeron makes up one-third of the best line in hockey at the moment. He, along with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, has steered the Bruins to where they are, offensively. Bergeron has eight goals and 13 points, including a two-goal, one-assist effort in Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes to earn the series sweep in the Eastern Conference Final. Bergeron is 59.3 percent in faceoffs this postseason. Bergeron is third among centers with a 56.24 CF% — an elite number.

Having an old faithful in David Krejci certainly helps in the second-line spot. Krejci’s experience will play a big role for Boston, and the 33-year-old is producing, coming into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on a six-game point streak and 14 points in 17 games so far.

Then comes Boston’s depth centers in Charlie Coyle (12 points) and Sean Kuraly (five points). Coyle’s addition to the Bruins didn’t pan out right away in Boston but he’s been exactly what the Bruins needed down the middle in the playoffs. Kuraly’s just been a pleasant surprise, with the fourth-liner chipping in nearly 16 minutes a night.

O’Reilly’s coming off a three-assist outing in Game 6 to finish off the San Jose Sharks and is average 21:26 per game, which is tops among Blues forwards. He trails Bergeron significantly in the faceoff circle (48.7 percent) and possession (48.45 CF%).

Brayden Schenn scored his first goal since Game 5 of Round 1 against Winnipeg in their final game of the series against San Jose. He’s been a hard-nosed player in these playoffs but his production could use a bump. Tyler Bozak has two game-winning goals and 10 points and Oskar Sundqvist, like Kuraly, has been deployed often in his fourth-line role.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins. It’s hard to bet against a spine of a team that includes Bergeron and Krejci in the playoffs. The experience factor is massive, and so too is the play. Coyle has been solid in his third-line role and Kuraly has been one of the surprises of the playoffs. St. Louis is closer than some might give them credit for, but Boston has perhaps the best center in the game.

WINGERS

Is the Vladimir Tarasenko production we saw in the Western Conference Final the real deal?

It matters when comparing each team’s two top-line wingers.

Both Marchand and Pastrnak have put up some incredible numbers in this postseason. When they’re producing, Boston is winning. Marchand has 18 points in 17 games and Pastrnak 15 in the same span. Both have combined for four game-winning goals. For the most part, we know what we’re getting from those two.

Jaden Schwartz has been one of the best goal scorers in these playoffs with 12 (that’s one more than he scored in 69 regular-season games), including a hat trick in a 5-0 shutout in Game 5 against the Sharks. Schwartz has come up big throughout the postseason. Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko terrorized the Sharks in the WCF, with Tarasenko’s six-game point streak helping lead the charge. As long as the latter doesn’t pull off a disappearing act, they could throw quite the wrench into this series.

St. Louis’ depth in these playoffs has been one of its glowing attributes. Sammy Blais has carved out a top-six role opposite David Perron. Patrick Maroon has been the hometown hero and has played well, as too has Robert Thomas. And Alex Steen has embraced his place on the fourth line with great results.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The same can be said about the Bruins, of course. Marcus Johansson has quietly had a solid postseason and with teams focusing much time and effort stopping the top line, he’s been able to provide several key moments for the Bruins, including the series-clinching goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a goal in their Game 6 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. David Backes won’t be short of motivation against his old team. The Bruins have turned to him when the chips were stacking against them and he’s been a game-changer at times.

ADVANTAGE: Blues. The depth down the wings in St. Louis is very good. That’s not to say Boston’s isn’t, but there’s a bit bigger of a drop off once you get past their dominating top line. The Blues are where they are because of contributions up and down the lineup.

OVERALL

At this stage, both teams have made it here on merit. There’s no luck involved with reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have their set of strengths up front. Both top lines are playing at a high level at the moment. Both teams have considerable depth they can lean on.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins (by a hair). No team in the East has been able to contain Boston’s top line, which will win games on its own. If the Blues become the first, they will hoist their first Stanley Cup. If not, like teams before them, it may not matter what the other nine guys on the bench can do.

That said, the Blues were able to contain Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. They were able to contain Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. And they were able to be effective against Logan Couture and Co.

It’s tough to bet against Boston. Then again, it’s tough to think the Blues can’t handle it. Boston gets the edge based on experience, but the Blues are right there.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better special teams?
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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