Brandon Manning

Getty Images

Can Oilers’ McDavid and Draisaitl keep up league-leading pace?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As seemingly stabilized as the San Jose Sharks seem, they drew an unenviable task for Tuesday’s game on NBCSN: contain the league’s most dynamic duo at their most dynamic.

When you look at the NHL’s scoring stats, it’s not even close: Leon Draisaitl (43 points) and Connor McDavid (40) tower over everyone else. Only three other players have even crossed thirty yet: still-remarkably-hot defenseman John Carlson (34), and the league’s other dynamic duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (both at 32).

Let’s dig into the ridiculous runs for both players.

McDavid soaring

We very well might be witnessing the hottest stretch of McDavid’s career.

While Draisaitl leads the NHL in points, McDavid’s on an especially torrid stretch lately. In an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, he collected three assists, but before that, he generated a hat trick and three assists. Yes, that’s nine points in two games.

McDavid truly feels like a cheat code. If you’ve ever created a player in a sports video game and then felt guilty about how no one could ever be that good, well, McDavid is here to clear your conscience.

During these healthy non-rookie seasons, McDavid’s points have climbed each season: from 100 to 108 to 116 last season, with 41 goals in each of 2017-18 and 2018-19. McDavid’s 40 points in 22 games would translate to about 149 points over 82 contests, so what might cool him off?

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Injuries would be the most obvious worry, but aside from that freakish injury suffered against now-teammate Brandon Manning (that never stops amusing me, sorry), McDavid’s been sturdy, missing only four games since 2016-17.

A nearly two-point-per-game pace is asking a lot in the clutch-and-grabby NHL, and there are signs that McDavid’s playing a bit above even his standards. His shooting percentage this season (18.4) is higher than his career average (15). Most importantly for a playmaker like McDavid, his on-ice shooting percentage (16.9) is considerably higher than his career average (11.4).

While McDavid’s current pace is close to 150 points, safer bets might range from 120 (scoring at his career pace of 1.33 ppg over the remaining 60 games) to 130 (at last season’s 1.49 ppg pace) if McDavid can stay healthy. If anyone can keep his percentages this high over 82 games, it’s McDavid, though, so it will be fun to see where he finishes.

Because it’s fun to gawk, take a look at McDavid’s absurd heat map via Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy:

Will Draisaitl dry up?

Leon Draisaitl is an even more fascinating example because of just how red-hot he’s been for a while now.

Last season seemed like it would present Draisaitl’s peak: 50 goals, 105 points, with a 21.6 shooting percentage. So far in 2019-20, he’s even hotter: 16 goals (15 of which, impressively, come at full strength), and 27 assists for a blistering 43 points in 22 games. His 2019-20 shooting percentage is even higher than last season, as he’s connecting at a ridiculous 22.5 percent.

Draisaitl’s on-ice shooting percentage (18.8) blows away his career average of 10.4, and also towers over last season’s touch-to-match 12.4 percent.

So … it’s especially clear that Draisaitl will cool down, but it’s also extremely difficult to say how much. After all, he’s been producing at this torrid pace now for 104 games between 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Either way, they’re lethal

It’s also worth mentioning that McDavid is 22 and Draisaitl is 24. Sometimes in sports, people fall into the trap of assuming that a young player will one day meet some imaginary standard of potential, but it’s easier to argue for someone improving when they’ve already produced results.

While it’s fair to ask bigger picture questions about keeping them together or trying to find better depth, it’s hard to argue with the synergy they’re forming right now.

Again, I expect them to cool off a bit, but they might still be the best one-two punch in the league even if the puck luck dries up. Consider that they’re the top two players in connecting on passes to the slot according to The Point Hockey, and that they’re dominant in expected goals, via Sean Tierney:

***

Maybe a cold streak is coming, but with any luck, fans on NBCSN will get to see what makes Draisaitl and McDavid so special. It should be a delight to watch — unless you’re cheering for/playing for the Sharks.

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.

Oilers not happy with Hertl’s hit on McDavid

5 Comments

Even in late 2019, it’s a little bit odd to see Brandon Manning stand up for Connor McDavid. You know, after that.

The two have been Edmonton Oilers teammates for a while now, and Manning did just that on Tuesday, dropping the gloves with Barclay Goodrow of the San Jose Sharks after Tomas Hertl delivered a controversial neutral zone hit on McDavid.

You can watch Hertl’s hit, McDavid’s reaction, and the ensuing fight in the video above this post’s headline.

The early signs are that McDavid avoided an injury (at least one significant enough to make him miss immediate action), as he finished the game. McDavid logged four third-period shifts after that incident in the second period, so that’s a decent sign that the Oilers my have avoided the bullet of a lower-body injury.

Then again, he seemingly left in a hurry after the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3, so we’ll see.

What do you think of Hertl’s hit, though? For what it’s worth, Hertl received a minor penalty for interference on the play.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

Ho-Sang, DeSmith, Sprong headline waiver wire

3 Comments

Monday was a busy day on the NHL’s waiver wire as the league’s 31 teams work to fill out their opening night rosters and get salary cap compliant before Tuesday’s 5 p.m. ET deadline.

There were some notable names to hit the waiver wire, including New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, Anaheim Ducks forward Daniel Sprong, and Washington Capitals defender Christian Djoos.

A lot of these players, even the bigger names, will ultimately clear waivers as teams do not want to add another contract to their roster without subtracting another one. Because of that, it opens the door for many of these players to be traded once — or if — they do clear.

Ho-Sang is probably the most notable player on the list simply because he still has so much potential and is such an intriguing talent. It has not worked for him in New York, but that does not mean it can’t or won’t someplace else.

The Penguins’ decision to put DeSmith on waivers means they are going to start the season with Tristan Jarry as the top backup to Matt Murray, a move that is largely (if not entirely) based on salary cap savings. DeSmith is starting a three-year contract that pays him over $1.5 million per season, while Jarry is still on his entry-level deal.

Sprong is a big talent but has yet to to take advantage of any of his opportunities in Pittsburgh or Anaheim, but he is young enough and skilled enough that you have to think someone else tries to see if they can help him reach his potential.

Here is the complete list:

Daniel Sprong, Anaheim Ducks
Sam Carrick, Anaheim Ducks
Peter Cehlarik, Boston Bruins
Casey Nelson, Buffalo Sabres
Curtis Lazar, Buffalo Sabres
Scott Wilson, Buffalo Sabres
Remi Elie, Buffalo Sabres
Alan Quine, Calgary Flames
Anton Forsberg, Carolina Hurricanes
Gustav Forsling, Carolina Hurricanes
Clark Bishop, Carolina Hurricanes
Carl Dahlstrom, Chicago Blackhawks
Marko Dano, Columbus Blue Jackets
Brandon Manning, Edmonton Oilers
Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers
J.T. Brown, Minnesota Wild
Steven Santini, Nashville Predators
Miikka Salomaki, Nashville Predators
Matt Tennyson, New Jersey Devils
Josh Ho-Sang, New York Islanders
Thomas Hickey, New York Islanders
Tanner Fritz, New York Islanders
Cristoval Nieves, New York Rangers
Casey DeSmith, Pittsburgh Penguins
Luke Schenn, Tampa Bay Lightning
Kevin Gravel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Garrett Wilson, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nicolas Petan, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kenneth Agostino, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nicolay Goldobin, Vancouver Canucks
Alex Biega, Vancouver Canucks
Sven Baertschi, Vancouver Canucks
Nelson Nogier, Winnipeg Jets
JC Lipon, Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie, Winnipeg Jets
Christian Djoos, Washington Capitals
Michael Sgarbossa, Washington Capitals
Liam O’Brien, Washington Capitals

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.

Looking at Oilers’ future after firing Chiarelli

8 Comments

A “be careful what you wish for” scenario emerged late on Tuesday night, as the Edmonton Oilers finally fired Peter Chiarelli as GM.

The following morning, Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson addressed the future, mixing the reassuring (not wanting to blow everything up) with uncomfortable feelings of “same old, same old.” For many who’ve seen this movie before, there’s legitimate concern about sad history repeating itself.

So, what should the Oilers do? Let’s consider the good, the bad, and the Puljujarvi.

First, a quick summary of their cap situation

Thanks to the always-handy Cap Friendly, we know that: the Oilers are basically right up against the ceiling in 2018-19, and are slated to devote about $73M to 15 skaters next season. Yeah, that’s not great.

The most prominent pending free agent is goalie Cam Talbot, who’s almost certain to be gone after the Oilers signed Mikko Koskinen to that baffling extension.

Fresh voices

Keith Gretzky is serving as interim GM, while Ken Hitchcock’s been given very little indication that he’ll be coach beyond next season.

Maybe that’s a good thing. This team needs fresh voices, not situations like the front office being littered with relics from the failed past, like Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish.

Nicholson said that the Oilers will take their time when it comes to such future moves, so here’s hoping they get with the program. After years of attempting “heavy” hockey and getting humiliated in trades, how about being forward-thinking, whether that means playing to Connor McDavid‘s speedy strengths, or finding a savvy GM who will sell-high, buy-low, and actually be ahead of the curve for once? Just a thought.

Assessing the good

As The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis aptly mentions, the Oilers do have a lot going for them. Willis mentions:

So, that list includes two stud centers, one nice forward in RNH, and Klefbom, a 25-year-old defenseman who’s been very effective when healthy.

Let’s consider a few other intriguing players who could provide the Oilers with cheap, useful production in the not-too-distant future. If you’re noticing an omission, that’s because a certain Finn is getting his own little section in this piece.

  • Kailer Yamamoto, the 22nd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. A promising, smaller forward, even if he’s struggled at the top level this season.
  • Evan Bouchard, the 10th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, could be a building block defenseman for a team that needs help at that position.

Your mileage will vary on other players, but you could do worse than to start with that mix of proven talent and decent prospects.

Now to what they need to get right, starting with another young player whose future is pivotal for Edmonton, whether he sticks with the Oilers or not:

The Jesse Question

Considering the Oilers’ history of bold moves, it’s tempting to just rubber stamp the word “DON’T” on any talk about trading away Jesse Puljujarvi, the troubled fourth overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

But, as Sean “Down Goes Brown” McIndoe detailed in-depth recently for The Athletic (sub required), sometimes it actually is smart to move a Puljujarvi-type. The key can be filed under “easier said than done,” as it’s all about getting the right trade, if Edmonton chooses to do that.

And, as McIndoe notes, there is some risk in waiting too long.

If your trade bait doesn’t happen to have met expectations, timing is key. Move a guy too soon, and you risk seeing him turn into an Andrew Ladd or Rick Vaive, and you could be left with regrets. But wait too long and he’ll be Andrei Zyuzin or Stanislav Chistov, and you won’t get much of anything in return.

The Oilers have their own painful history when it comes to arguably waiting too long to move on from Nail Yakupov. Could they have gotten more than the weak deal from the St. Louis Blues if they punted sooner?

Look, there are times when I’d trot out advice that should seem obvious, but isn’t. The Oilers have been burned badly not just in trading away skill, but selling low on ice-cold players who were likely to rebound.

Puljujarvi is a little different because it’s difficult to separate his struggles from the Oilers’ own miscues, and to gauge what his ceiling might be. Few can credibly say they know for sure what kind of player he’ll become, but it’s crucial for the Oilers to get this situation right.

Net questions haven’t stopped

It would be irritating but acceptable if the Oilers merely overpaid a bit for Mikko Koskinen, if he was more of a sure thing.

Handing a three-year extension at $4.5M per year gets more reckless when you consider Koskinen’s unsightly combination of unprovenness (just 32 NHL games) and age (he’ll be 31 when the extension kicks in). His .910 save percentage this season doesn’t exactly kick down doors, either, even if Koskinen’s been respectable enough.

That previous paragraph is a procession of bummers, but the Oilers can at least do their best to put themselves in a position to succeed. It’s perfectly plausible that Koskinen could end up a great bet – he’s had his moments, and also goalies are extremely unpredictable – yet Edmonton would be wise to arm themselves with Plans B and on.

Keep an eye on prospects, in the draft and otherwise. Try to identify a free agent bargain, even if you’re unlikely to hit a grand slam like the Islanders managed with Robin Lehner.

Messing up with goalies can sometimes be luck of the draw, but Edmonton should look at, say, the Blues with Jake Allen and realize that contingency plans are crucial.

Shedding dead weight

Let’s be honest: barring a trip to the LTIR, it’s unlikely that the Oilers will get relief from Milan Lucic‘s $6M cap hit anytime soon. (Question: does Lucic have any rashes?)

Keith Gretzky or the Oilers’ next GM should do everything in their power to find creative ways to get rid of any bad contracts other teams might take off their hand, even if it means giving up a little bit of a bribe in return.

Would someone take Kris Russell (31, $4M through 2020-21) or Andrej Sekera (badly injured, $5.5M through 2021-22) off their hands? Maybe a rebuilding team would throw away Brandon Manning‘s $2.25M next season to try to reach the floor?

Sometimes an incumbent GM won’t admit past mistakes, which means bad contracts rot on their rosters for too long. With Chiarelli gone, the Oilers could at least make greater efforts to shake that Etch-a-Sketch. We’ve seen a ton of examples of seemingly untradeable contracts being moved, so it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Bargain hunting

If there’s an area where Chiarelli was passable, it was occasionally targeting some quality, cheap scorers.

To varying degrees, players like Alex Chiasson, Tobias Rieder, and Ty Rattie have served their purpose, at least for stretches. Even if the Oilers alleviate some cap concerns, chances are, they’ll need to be wizards of the bargain bin. On the bright side, McDavid is the sort of guy who should fatten the bank accounts of the Chiassons of the world, so that’s a workable aspect of this team.

One of those “fresh voices” might be especially adept at gauging who might be a diamond in the rough.

Pulling a reverse-Chiarelli

That brings up another point: maybe the Oilers can do to other teams what savvier GMs constantly did to Chia?

By that I mean: a) trading for players who are slumping, but are almost certain to get it together and/or b) determining supposed “lack of character” guys who can help them win.

It’s not just the Oilers who’ve done this with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. The Hurricanes traded Jeff Skinner after a cold shooting season. Dougie Hamilton may once again be an underappreciated asset.

Buying low on a talented player won’t necessarily be easy for the Oilers, considering their cap predicament, so this advice may be more pertinent if they can shed some of the Russells and Mannings. But if the opportunity arises, the Oilers could really start to turn things around.

***

Again, this isn’t the easiest situation. Chiarelli (and others?) really made a mess of this situation after getting the Lottery Ticket on Skates that Connor McDavid is.

Yet, even considering the cavalcade of mistakes this franchise has made, they’re not that far from being a more balanced and competent team.

It might be awkward to ask powerful front office executives to change the way they do business, but winning is worth more than a few ruffled feathers.

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.

Oilers finally fire GM Chiarelli: report

26 Comments

(UPDATE: It’s now official. No replacement has been named with Keith Gretzky taking over in an interim basis.)

It is done.

It would appear that a loss to the last place Detroit Red Wings was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And man, that camel was a stubborn such and such.

The Oilers reportedly fired general manager Peter Chiarelli late Tuesday after another miserable outing in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday, a move that the club is expected to formally announce on Wednesday.

The move, of course, was a long-time coming.

Chiarelli had failed to move the team forward, and in the eyes of many Oilers fans, only moved the team in the opposite direction.

The Oilers went from being a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final to one of the most disappointing teams in 2017-18. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Surely, a team sporting the best player in hockey couldn’t be held down for too long.

Tuesday’s loss, Edmonton’s third straight and perhaps most embarrassing of the season, was proof even McJesus can’t save this bunch alone.

The Oilers own a 23-24-3 record, shockingly just three points out of a playoff spot and yet still likely insurmountable.

In his wake, a litany disastrous moves that may take a while to make right after Chiarelli’s three-and-a-half years in northern Alberta.

We’re reminded of Milan Lucic’s contract, that Griffin Reinhart deal and others that saw good players — Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle — leave with less than adequate players coming to replace them.

More recently, the trade of Drake Caggulia for Brandon Manning, and the very recent three-year, $13.5 million deal for Mikko Koskinen, one based on less than 40 NHL games, a career .905 save percentage, and equipped with a limited no-trade clause just so Chiarelli’s legacy will live on in Edmonton all the longer.

Yeah, there’s a mess on a few aisles that need a major cleanup.

But by who? What the future holds is anyone’s guess at the moment.

In the interim, Sportsnet’s John Shannon said a member of the Gretzky family will take the reins in some fashion.

Keith Gretzky will assume many of Chiarelli’s duties in the next few weeks, with Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson being more involved until they find a new GM.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ken Hitchcock, who just took over as head coach earlier this season after the team fired Todd McLellan, take over the post at some point. He appears to want to stay in Edmonton.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see some recycling, either. That’s kind of par for the course in Edmonton, re-using old parts hoping they work like new again. Canning a GM mid-season isn’t common.

That would be a shame, however.

Edmonton deserves a clean slate, from top to bottom. This isn’t going to be the first “rebuild.” It’s not the second or third either.

Connor McDavid deserves a better fate.

Oilers fans deserve a better team. God knows they’ve been starving for one for a long while.


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