Can coaching change get Oilers on right path to playoffs, trade deadline?

Can coaching change get Oilers on right path to playoffs, trade deadline?
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Just about every signal indicated that Ken Holland didn’t want to do this. But increasingly desperate times call for even more desperate measures. So, Dave Tippett’s run as Oilers head coach is over, leaving Jay Woodcroft to step up from the team’s AHL affiliate.

Whether you glance long or short-term, things look awfully grim for the Edmonton Oilers right now.

That said, it’s wise not to panic. Just look at the Oilers’ rivals in Calgary, and you can see how drastically fortunes can rise and fall. It never hurts to remember “Hey, at least we still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.”

You can also consider the extremes of the Oilers’ season, and … actually, let Ken Holland take that one:


Uh, right. Great time to get people thinking about toilets.

So, can Jay Woodcroft, Ken Holland, and the Oilers clean up their messes? Or did Edmonton already flush its future away?

Let’s try to sniff out a situation that really stinks.

Possible impact of Oilers coaching change from Tippett to Woodcroft

Ken Holland is a Hockey Hall of Famer. He might also end up in the Faint Praise Hall of Fame by comparing Jay Woodcroft to, um, Jeff Blashill?

Truly, this is one of the funniest comparisons I’ve seen in a while. It really hammers home the feeling that Ken Holland is out to lunch.

If you’re comparing Jay Woodcroft to promoted AHL coaches, wouldn’t you want to bring up Jon Cooper? Along with being the longest-tenured coach in the NHL and one of its brightest minds, Cooper also succeeded in the AHL.

If that’s too lofty, Dallas Eakins inspires more hope than Jeff Blashill.

But maybe Ken Holland’s just trying to keep already-low expectations down? You can only take so much from the Bakersfield Condors’ four seasons under Woodcroft, particularly because they never advanced beyond the second round.

Youth movement, system tweaks?

Yet, beyond Ken Holland’s comical comparison, there are some reasons to hope that Woodcroft can unlock some minor quick fixes for the Oilers.

For one thing, Woodcroft doesn’t seem to have some strange blood oath going with Mike Smith, which may differentiate him from Tippett. While you don’t want to ask for too much from 23-year-old Stuart Skinner, Tippett’s default setting was asking for too much from a banged-up Mike Smith who is almost 40.

Generally, promoting an AHL head coach translates to better opportunities for young players. That could be a boon for Skinner, rising defenseman Evan Bouchard, and others.

Twitter user @bcurlock shared fascinating insight on how Woodcroft’s systems may differ from Tippett, and how those tweaks may affect Draisaitl and McDavid:

That thread also notes Woodcroft being amenable to analytics, which sounds promising after the “Corski and Fenski” era under Tippett.

As of Thursday, playoff projection models spit out a wide array of odds for the Oilers. Some hover around 40-percent, others closer to 60.

Overall, though, the point is clear. While the Oilers probably should’ve changed from Tippett sooner, there’s still time for Woodcroft to help turn things around.

At least in terms of salvaging a playoff spot this season.

Holland has Oilers mired in a salary cap mess, complicating trade deadline picture

But what about the long-term future of the Oilers? That’s when things get dire, at least if “at least we still have Draisaitl and McDavid” only calms so many nerves.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the darker elements to sticking with a Ken Holland or Marc Bergevin for too long. As the years progress, they make more and more long-term bets, and sometimes the moves are short-sided.

So, even if a new GM comes in, they’re saddled with the mistakes of the past. It’s a sobering reality for an Oilers team that keeps plunging deeper and deeper into salary cap hell.

[Some might say it prompted them to sell a piece of their souls]

Cap Friendly estimates the Oilers’ 2022-23 spending at about $74.36 million with just 14 roster spots covered. If the salary cap remains the same — and it’s unlikely to climb that much — they’d only have about $7M in cap space. Even if you assume Oscar Klefbom ($4.167M) and others go to LTIR, that’s a dire situation.

With Darnell Nurse‘s contract extension kicking in at $9.5M per year, the Oilers are committing $23.4M to Nurse, Bouchard, Duncan Keith, Tyson Barrie, and Cody Ceci next season. There’s waste among the forward group, too, particularly with Zack Kassian carrying a $3.25M cap hit through 2023-24.

All of this bloat leaves the Oilers with less room to operate at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, and possibly also in free agency. On Thursday, Ken Holland reiterated the idea that the Oilers might not do much at the trade deadline.

On one hand, gambling on rentals would show that the Oilers realize that you only get so many swings at the fence with Draisaitl and McDavid in their primes.

Yet, things are so clogged up, it’s fair to wonder if the Oilers might focus on a different trading method: bribing rebuilders to take on problem contracts.

How much would it cost to bribe the Coyotes to absorb contracts like those of Barrie, Ceci, and Kassian? Most likely, Holland wouldn’t want to admit defeat with such deals, but a new GM may explore such avenues.

Holland appears short on answers

Long-term, it’s difficult to believe that Ken Holland has the vision to lead the Oilers out of this mess. Unspool this thread once again, and you’ll see a GM who whiffs time and time again at gauging the value of supporting cast members.

Recent NHL hires hint at once-dusty teams at least gesturing at progress. The Canadiens are trying to learn something from the Panthers, and the Canucks are moving away from the “200 Hockey Men” model.

Even the brightest and freshest hockey minds would struggle to clean up the mess the Oilers have on their hands. But it sure doesn’t look like Ken Holland is the hockey person with the right answers.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

flyers trade
Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

— Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

— Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

“We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

“Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.

Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS — No team in over 25 years has been more dominant than the Vegas Golden Knights through the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final.

They have outscored the Florida Panthers by eight goals, including a 7-2 victory in Game 2 that put the Knights two wins from the first championship in the franchise’s short six-year history.

It will take a rare rally for the Panthers to come back as the series shifts to Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. Teams that took a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era, but the Panthers opened the playoffs by storming back from 3-1 down to beat the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

Florida will have to significantly up its level of play to beat a Vegas team that won by three goals on Saturday and then five in this game. The last team to win the first two games of a Cup Final by more than eight combined goals was the 1996 Colorado Avalanche – who outscored the Panthers by nine.

“I think our depth has been a strength all year,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It is the biggest reason we are still here, why we beat Winnipeg, Edmonton, Dallas. I just feel that we have the best team from player one through 20.”

Jonathan Marchessault scored twice for the Knights and started an early blitz that chased Sergei Bobrovsky, the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie.

Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all of them coming after the first round. The only player with more following the opening round was Pavel Bure, who scored 13 for Vancouver in 1994.

“They want to set the tone with being undisciplined like Game 1 and we set the tone back,” Marchessault said. “It was scoring that first goal there. But we’re still pretty far from our goal here.”

Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

It was too much for Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, carried Florida through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, he had won 11 of his past 12 starts with a 1.95 goals-against average and .942 save percentage during that stretch. But he’s given up eight goals in 87 minutes against Vegas, compiling a 5.52 GAA and .826 save percentage in the series.

“We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Knights. Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

“He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

A group of four fans behind one of the nets wore sweaters that spelled out his last name, and Hill has often received the loudest cheers from Knights fans, reminiscent of when Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Vegas in its first three seasons.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hill said. “I’m just enjoying it, cherishing every day. It’s been awesome to be part of the journey with this team.”

The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

“We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

“I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.