Andrej Sekera

It’s Edmonton Oilers Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

2018-19
35-38-9, 79 points (7th in Pacific Division, 14th in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Mike Smith
Markus Granlund
Tomas Jurco
Josh Archbald
James Neal

OUT:
Andrej Sekera
Ty Rattie
Milan Lucic
Tobias Rieder
Anthony Stolarz
Al Montoya

RE-SIGNED:
Alex Chiasson
Jujhar Khaira

2018-19 Season Summary

The Edmonton Oilers have the best player in the game in Connor McDavid, but that hasn’t guaranteed them any kind of success. Over the last four years, the Oilers have made the postseason just once and that was in 2016-17.

The Oilers opened last season with a loss to the New Jersey Devils in Gothenburg, Sweden. Edmonton got off to a solid start, as they went 8-3-1 in the first 12 games of the season. Unfortunately for them, things fell apart in November. They dropped six of seven games between Nov. 5-18 and they had just three victories over the last 12 games of the month. That string off poor performances led to head coach Todd McLellan being fired on Nov. 20. He was replaced by veteran bench boss Ken Hitchcock.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

December got off to a much better start. They had a 6-1-1 record in the first eight games of the month. The excitement in Edmonton didn’t last very long, as they ended up dropping the last six games before the start of the new year.

As you’d expect, the high-end players on the roster were pulling their weight, but the supporting cast ended up getting called out by Hitchcock.

“I thought those guys that we go to every game played their hearts out,” Hitchcock said after a 4-3 loss to the Jets, per NHL.com. “McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins played their hearts out, and we need more support for those players. The cavalry isn’t coming for those players. We need the bottom end of our team to start playing better if we expect to get to the next level. We’re covering our own weight at the top, but we need better play from the bottom end of our group.”

The struggles carried into the new year and the Oilers ended up letting go of general manager Peter Chiarelli. In the end, the Oilers finished second from the bottom in the conference. Only the Los Angeles Kings finished below them in the standings.

Changes were made in the offseason. Ken Holland left Detroit to take the GM opening and he hired Dave Tippett as his first head coach. Both men have a ton of experience but rebuilding the Oilers into a championship contender won’t be easy.

“The goal is to build the Edmonton Oilers into a playoff team and a legitimate Cup contender,” said Holland via NHL.com. “Certainly there are pieces there, but you have to be deeper. Those teams that go on those long playoff runs, they’re deep and you have to have depth in your organization and on your farm team. You can’t just be relying on five or six guys over 82 games; as great as they are, they’re just not going to make it.”

Some changes were made during the summer. They signed Mike Smith, traded for James Neal and added some depth pieces up front. There’s still plenty of work for Holland to do to get the Oilers to where they want to be. It may take some time for them to get there, but new management and a new head coach gives the fan base a new sense of hope.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Dallas Stars questions: goaltending, aging, and new faces

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

Let’s run through three questions for the Dallas Stars heading into 2019-20 …

1. How will the new guys fit in?

During the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we saw how formidable the Stars could be when Mats Zuccarello helped their second line chip in a bit more offensively, supplementing Jamie BennTyler Seguin, and allowing Ben Bishop to do the rest.

They waved goodbye to Zuccarello during the offseason, but hope to boast an improved offense after making a hefty investment in Joe Pavelski.

Along with Pavelski, the Stars also took some interesting reclamation projects in Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera. If those two deliver above their (newly modest) levels of play, then things could really pick up for a Stars team that looks to be competitive in the Central Division.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | X-Factor | Under Pressure]

2. Will the Stars get elite goaltending again?

Last season, you might have expected slightly above average work from the tandem of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. Instead, the Stars enjoyed the second-best even-strength save percentage last season, and Bishop managed the difficult task of carrying that outstanding work into the playoffs.

As stingy as Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s defensive system was in 2018-19, it’s tough to imagine Bishop and Khudobin pulling that off again.

Bishop only played 46 regular season games last season, and was limited to 53 in 2017-18, so we’ve already seen how much the big goalie can be hindered by health. Bishop – Khudobin is a veteran goalie combo, opening the door to a decline related to aging, not just injuries.

Beyond all of that, goalies are just flat-out difficult to predict from year to year. It’s the most important position in the sport, yet also a very tough one to forecast, so relying too much on your netminders is very risky.

3. Can the Stars avoid being hit too hard by the aging curve?

Young talent supplies some of the Stars’ excitement, as John Klingberg (26), Miro Heiskanen (20), and Roope Hintz (22) are all key contributors. At 27, Tyler Seguin is in the meat of his prime, too.

The Stars are still slated to tussle with Father Time in a big way in 2019-20, however.

Jamie Benn is slowing at 30. It’s surprising that Joe Pavelski is 35, and Alexander Radulov is 33, yet maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly look their ages. Bishop is 32, and Khudobin is 33. Corey Perry seems like a very old 34, and a reminder of how steep an age-related decline can be.

If enough Stars veterans hit the aging curve in a bad way this season, things could go sideways. Some teams like the Bruins get a little bit lucky when it comes to avoiding these drop-offs, in part because they’re able to shift some of the burden to younger players, and the Stars could pull that off too. Other teams aren’t so lucky, and the Stars haven’t even enjoyed the same peak years as the Kings, Ducks, or Blackhawks.

There are a lot of variables going on with the Stars (and other NHL teams), but the potential results of aging could be huge.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

It’s Dallas Stars Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

2018-19
43-32-7, 93 points (4th in the Central Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in Round 2

IN
Joe Pavelski
Corey Perry
Andrej Sekera

OUT
Mats Zuccarello
Jason Spezza
Valeri Nichushkin
Tyler Pitlick
Ben Lovejoy
Brett Ritchie

RE-SIGNED 
Esa Lindell
Jason Dickinson
Mattias Janmark
Roman Polak

2018-19 Season Review

By almost any measure, Jim Montgomery’s debut season as Stars head coach was a big success.

In other words, it wasn’t blanking horse-blank.

After missing the playoffs for two straight years despite GM Jim Nill’s frequent tendency to “win” offseasons, and going through a failed experiment with bringing back Ken Hitchcock, it was Montgomery who finally righted the ship.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that his goalies performed at an elite level — although you could call that a symbiotic relationship, as Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made the saves, while Montgomery’s system made life easier for both veteran goalies.

Either way, Bishop’s work was especially remarkable in 2018-19. Bishop generated a tremendous .934 save percentage during the regular season, then nearly matched it with a .933 mark in the postseason. While the Stars fell short against the Blues in a tight Game 7 that went beyond regulation, Bishop was stellar, making 52 saves to keep Dallas in the running.

Despite CEO Jim Lites’ comments, the Stars’ dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were mostly dominant this season and into the playoffs, often with Alex Radulov. Yet, it was an injection of depth that took Dallas to another level during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mats Zuccarello was a dangerous playmaker once he was finally healthy, and Roope Hintz‘s bulldozer style portended good things for the future.

[MORE: X-Factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

As much of a bummer as it must be to let Zuccarello go, the Stars seem poised to make up that difference (and more) by snagging Joe Pavelski from the Sharks. If Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera work out as reclamation projects, then even better.

It will be a lot to ask Bishop and Khudobin to match last season’s brilliance, but perhaps a rising defense will prop them up if they stumble? John Klingberg continues to be a dark horse Norris candidate, who will hopefully play more than 64 games in the 2019-20 regular season, while Miro Heiskanen aims to build off of a brilliant rookie season.

Expectations are only going to rise in Dallas, and Lites can only get away with admonishing his top players so many times, so there’s always the risk that things fall. Bishop and/or Khudobin could struggle mightily, and injuries are a frequent headache for Bishop especially. New players might not jell with the Stars, as both Pavelski and Perry are playing on new teams for the first time in their lengthy careers.

Overall, though, there’s a lot to be optimistic about, especially since we’re really not that far removed from Lites ruthlessly (and foolishly) roasting his best players.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Central Division arms race only intensifying

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It’s the National Hockey League’s version of an arms race, a Cold War of sorts.

The developing and cultivating of assets has been rampant in the Central Division over the past few seasons, if not several more before that. Powerhouses have arisen, some likely — Nashville, for instance, and Winnipeg, too, with their drafting.

Others have forged different paths. The St. Louis Blues tricked the world in January when they sat in last place in the NHL, only to hoist the Stanley Cup in the middle of June in one of sports most remarkable comeback stories.

From Manitoba down through Texas, the Central has become and remained hockey’s toughest division, one where aggressiveness in the trade market, in the scouting department and on the draft floor has paid off in dividends for those who have been patient to allow their teams to blossom. And those who have been able to unload and reload, too, have found success.

Four of the past 10 Cup champs have come from the division, and while the Blackhawks have won three of those, others have come close, including the Predators who reached the Cup final in 2017.

The paths have been many, and it’s resulted in a division full of legitimate playoff contenders, if not Stanley Cup ones as well.

It’s a proper standoff.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the Central Division waters, shall we?

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

On the rise

Dallas Stars: They have grown one of the best defenses in the league, command one of the best goalies in the NHL and added a lethal scoring threat in Joe Pavelski this summer, took a cheap and calculated risk on Corey Perry and took a chance on the oft-injured Andrej Sekera.

If the payoff becomes more goals, a rejuvenated leader in Perry and a stout defenseman that Sekera can be, the Stars, who were a goal away from the Western Conference Final this past season, could be a major player in the division.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs have made their intentions clear. After an unlikely second-round appearance in this past year’s playoffs, the Avs have added the fourth-overall pick thanks to offloading Matt Duchene a couple seasons ago to the Ottawa Senators, who were horrible last season. They signed Joonas Donskoi in free agency, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, too, and pried Andre Burakovsky away from the Washington Capitals and Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs in an aggressive start to the offseason.

Colorado already has some of the best offensive weapons in the NHL with Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. It remains to be seen if their defense takes a hit with the loss of Tyson Barrie in the Kadri deal. But a young team got a good taste in the postseason this year and the additions made can only make the team better.

Still strong

Nashville Predators: The trade-off for adding Matt Duchene was shipping out P.K. Subban. It’s a steep price to pay, but one mitigated by having one of the best defensive cores in the NHL even without Subban’s services.

Duchene should add much-needed goal-scoring to the club, including on the power play where the Preds were abysmal last year (12.9%, 31st in the NHL). The Predators still ooze talent, and they’re a tough-as-nails team to play against, Subban or not. They’ll challenge once again for a third-successive division crown.

St. Louis Blues: The Stanley Cup champs found a way to make the best of the sum of their parts. It’s not that they didn’t have skill, but they also didn’t have a bona fide superstar, at least during the regular season.

But a rugged team that bands together seems to be a squad that can find success, despite whatever perceived lackings they have (see: Vegas, 2018). Jordan Binnington remains a question mark only because we need to see him play a full season at (or at least near) the level he produced after getting his first NHL start on Jan. 7. Ryan O'Reilly was exactly what the team needed and if Robby Fabbri can stay healthy, they could get a good shot of talent injected into the roster.

The Unknowns

Winnipeg Jets: Losing Jacob Trouba hurts. How much so remains to be seen, but taking a top-pairing defender off any team is going to expose a gap that can be exploited.

The Jets are going to get younger once again this season, especially on the back end where they’ve lost Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. Those aren’t losses that will hurt the team nearly as much, but its experience not on the roster anymore. The Jets will have competition for those spots and could still make a move on the back end (perhaps Jake Gardiner if they could make it work) that would improve that situation.

Signing Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor comes first, however. Andrew Copp, too, along with Neal Pionk, part of their return for Trouba. The Jets still need to sort out their second-line center issue. Who plays with Laine is a big question with no answer at the moment. The Jets aren’t the Stanley Cup contender they were two years ago, and they won’t be riding the same hype train they rode coming into the past season. They also won’t be terrible. They’re still a playoff team, but the ceiling is unknown at the moment.

Did they improve?

Chicago Blackhawks: They’ve made some moves, giving Alexander Nylander a second chance while acquiring Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to make their defense stouter. And they have a quality 1-2 punch in goal now with the addition of Robin Lehner, who is some of the best insurance you can have with Crawford’s injury proneness.

Will Dylan Strome continue to flourish as he did last season when he joined the team? Alex DeBrincat is a very good player and they still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Part of their backend is still fossilizing, however. And can Corey Crawford remain healthy? They signed Robin Lehner, so that could take some uncertainty away.

I’m inclined to think Chicago has gotten better and can compete for a playoff spot. I’m just not sure they’re on the same level as the teams above.

The struggle

Minnesota Wild: One wonders where this team is heading. Signing Mats Zuccarello is a good addition and taking a cheap chance on Ryan Hartman isn’t half bad.

But even with that, where is the goal scoring coming from? They traded away Mikael Granlund and Zuccarello has broken the 20-goal barrier just once in his career. Zach Parise isn’t the player he used to be. Eric Staal isn’t getting any younger. Ryan Suter can only play so many minutes a night and Devan Dubnyk took a step down last season, along with the rest of the team.


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

Q&A: Stars’ Tyler Seguin on Stanley Cup window, offseason motivation

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Tyler Seguin met Joe Pavelski for the first time this week as the two are in Lake Tahoe for the annual American Century Championship golf tournament. In a group together with T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, the Dallas Stars forward will have plenty of time to get to know his newest teammate a little better nearly two weeks after Pavelski signed a three-year deal to leave the San Jose Sharks.

As Pavelski went through the free agency interview period at the end of June, Seguin, along with Jamie Benn, reached out via text on behalf of the Stars to answer any questions about the organization and the Dallas area.

“You try to not make it too much recruiting,” Seguin told NBC Sports on Thursday. “It’s not always been my style, but I just touched base with him about this tournament and obviously said I heard you’re in Dallas, if you have any questions [let me know]. We talked a little bit. We’re ecstatic that he joined our team, he’s a huge addition for us. Looking forward to the season and getting things started.”

Pavelski was one of three big additions by Stars general manager this offseason. Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera were also been brought in to add to depth up front and on the blue line.

Seguin said he is happy to have career shift-disturber Perry, who was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks in June, on his side. He’s also eager to have these additions help the Stars build off a strong year that saw them an overtime goal away from reaching the Western Conference Final.

“I think our team’s a competitor,” Seguin said. “I want people saying we’re a competitor. I want our expectations to be very high. I think we’ve always had excuses when it’s come to new coaches or a new staff. But there should be no more excuses. We had a good team last year and I think the Twitterverse said that we needed a couple more guys that could score goals, so we answered the Twitter bell as far as our acquisitions this year. You know, let’s go. We’re all-in, I’m all-in and looking forward to a great year.”

We caught up with Seguin this week to talk about his golf game, this past season in Dallas, the secret being out on Miro Heiskanen and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: How is your golf game these days?

SEGUIN: “Very average. I can play but I usually play around a 13, 14 handicap. I’m just out here for a good time, get to see people. It’s been exciting.”

PHT: How often do you get to go out during the season?

SEGUIN: “Actually more than you’d think. Living in Dallas, we’re members at a course out there, Dallas National. We see Tony Romo out there a bunch, played with him a couple of times. When we’re on the road we’ll probably play five, six times. But we’re only playing for fun, not too seriously.”

PHT: Your new teammate Joe Pavelski finished third in this tournament last year and 10th a few years ago. Is there someone on the Stars roster who could challenge him on the course?

SEGUIN: “Maybe Taylor Fedun could challenge him. Stephen Johns can hit a deep ball. Myself and Jamie Benn, we’ll go on a golf round and we might shoot an 80 or we might shoot a 92.”

PHT: Building off of this past season, what does it mean to you that Jim Nill goes out and adds someone like Joe Pavelski coming off a 38-goal year?

SEGUIN: “The thing is, especially with GMs, with teams you’re either going all-in and going for it or you’re kind of re-stocking. When you see a GM make moves like going to get a guy like Joe Pavelski he’s telling the whole team ‘Our window’s open, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.’ That’s our objective. That’s our goal. That’s the expectation. As a player on the team you get even more excited when you see these moves happening in the summer. You’re always working hard in the gym, but you’re even more dialed in now because you know they’re all-in so you want to be all-in and make sure you don’t let your teammates down.”

PHT: With the way last season went, the stuff with Jim Lites, the second half push, the heartbreaking end in Game 7, are you a player who turns the page and looks forward or do you keep pieces with you to serve as motivation going?

SEGUIN: “I think it changes based on the player. For me personally, it’s changed every year. A couple years ago it was not making the playoffs and I was thinking about games in November when we lost to a team like Carolina at the time that we should have won that game. There’s things throughout the year that stay in your mind. Obviously this year there was being in Game 7 double overtime and losing to St. Louis and being one shot away. You know, me being the guy that’s usually supposed to get that shot in and then seeing St. Louis go all the way and win it, those are motivation tactics in my head that I use all summer. 

“As far as the noise outside, whether it’s the stuff that happened to me earlier in the year, I kind of let that stuff go, kind of sticks and stones sort of thing. I play for my teammates.”

PHT: Jim Montgomery had a strong first year behind the bench. What about Jim and his style is different from other coaches you’ve had?

SEGUIN: “The way he’s approachable, his personality, the way he knows when to be buddy-buddy and knows when to be a bit more of a drill sergeant. He had some growing times during this year with all of us like we did, but I’m comfortable with not having any more coaches in Dallas, I’ve had three already. I’m hoping Jim’s going to stick around for at least the rest of my deal, which is eight more years. I’m looking forward to making some noise.”

PHT: Finally, Miro Heiskanen had a tremendous rookie season. How impressed were you with the way he was able to play at such a young age?

SEGUIN: “Honestly, he got to a point this year that’s never really happened with me and that was I stopped being surprised. I was continuously being surprised by him and at the end of the season you’d see something happen and you’d just say that’s Miro. Me personally, I would have liked to have hid him in Dallas a couple more years and not have everyone know how good of a player he is, but he’s so good that everyone knew. He’s going to be a heck of a player for many years with the Dallas Stars.”

You can watch Seguin, Pavelski, Oshie, and NBC’s Jeremy Roenick and Kathryn Tappen, along other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world participate in the American Century Championship golf tournament this weekend from Lake Tahoe. Coverage begins Friday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and continues Saturday and Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch a live stream here.

MORE: Joe Pavelski on free agency process, January return to San Jose

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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.