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Connor McDavid betting favorite to win MVP, even though he’s still on Oilers

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Connor McDavid was the best player in the NHL during the 2017-18 season.

He won the scoring title for the second year in a row (the first player in more than 15 years to win it in consecutive years), he topped the 100-point mark for the second year in a row, he was voted by his peers in the league as the most outstanding player for the second year in a row, and had he played on a team that was anything other than a raging season-long dumpster fire he probably would have been a lock to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP for the second year in a row.

At the very least he would have a finalist.

But because he did play on a team that was a raging season-long dumpster fire, we were treated to another season-long debate on what value means and he ended up finishing fifth in the MVP voting behind Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Claude Giroux.

Even though the Oilers are bringing back largely the same roster that finished with the fourth worst record in the Western Conference and was nearly 20 points out of a playoff spot, McDavid is set to enter the 2018-19 season as the odds-on favorite to win the MVP award this upcoming season.

The folks at Bovada issued some preseason MVP betting odds on Thursday, and McDavid at 10/3 was at the top of the list.

As long as he stays healthy he is probably going to be the best player in the league once again and, quite honestly, the only thing that can probably stop him from winning the MVP is if the Oilers stink again.

Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is second at 13/2, while Toronto Maple Leafs teammates Auston Matthews and John Tavares and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin round out the top-five, each at 10-1.

The reigning MVP winner, New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall, has the sixth best odds at 15/1.

Here is the complete list that Bovada released on Thursday:

Connor McDavid — 10/3
Sidney Crosby — 13/2
Auston Matthews — 10/1
Alexander Ovechkin — 10/1
John Tavares — 10/1
Taylor Hall — 15/1
Nikita Kucherov –15/1
Nathan MacKinnon — 15/1
Mark Scheifele — 15/1
Anze Kopitar — 18/1
Evgeni Malkin — 18/1
Patrick Kane — 20/1
Claude Giroux — 25/1
Brad Marchand — 25/1
Steven Stamkos — 25/1
Vladimir Tarasenko — 25/1
Jack Eichel — 33/1
Jamie Benn — 40/1
Patrik Laine — 40/1
Nicklas Backstrom — 50/1
Filip Forsberg — 50/1
Johnny Gaudreau — 50/1
Ilya Kovalchuk — 50/1
Evgeny Kuznetsov — 50/1
Artemi Panarin — 50/1
Tyler Seguin — 50/1
Blake Wheeler — 50/1
Logan Couture — 66/1
Phil Kessel — 75/1
Joe Pavelski — 75/1
Aleksander Barkov — 100/1
Jonathan Marchessault — 100/1
David Pastrnak — 100/1
Alexander Radulov — 100/1

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.

Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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2018-19 NHL on NBC Schedule Features Most Games Since NBC Sports Acquired Rights Prior to 2005-06 Season

New “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBCSN to Showcase Its Most Diverse Exclusive Schedule to Date and NHL’s Rising Stars 

2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Features Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1 on NBC from Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

NBC Sports Presents 2019 NHL All-Star Game from San Jose, Calif., Live in Primetime on Broadcast Television for First Time Since 1997 

NBC Sports is scheduled to present 109 NHL regular-season games during the 2018-19 season – its most since acquiring NHL rights prior to the 2005-06 season. Coverage begins Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, when Alex Ovechkin and the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals raise their championship banner to the rafters and host the Boston Bruins. All games will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app to authenticated users via TV Everywhere.

NBC Sports’ 2018-19 NHL schedule is highlighted by the debut of “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBCSN, which will showcase the network’s most diverse schedule since it acquired NHL rights prior to the 2005-06 season, as well as NHL’s current and rising stars. Highlights of NBC Sports’ “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule on NBCSN include: 

  • Doubleheaders – 17 of 25 “Wednesday Night Hockey” showcases on NBCSN will be doubleheaders, the most in the network’s history, with a nearly equal balance of Eastern and Western Conference teams;
  • Diverse schedule – “Wednesday Night Hockey” will feature NBCSN’s widest variety of teams to date on Wednesday nights, including multiple appearances by Tampa Bay, Colorado, Toronto, Vegas, Edmonton, Nashville, and Winnipeg. The defending champion Washington Capitals lead all teams with eight “Wednesday Night Hockey” appearances;
  • Earlier start times – While some games will begin at 8 p.m. ET, the majority of “Wednesday Night Hockey” games and doubleheaders will begin at either 7 p.m. ET or 7:30 p.m. ET. On many occasions, coverage of the second game of “Wednesday Night Hockey” doubleheaders begins at 9:30 p.m. ET, earlier than past years. 

“With the impressive growth of fan interest in non-traditional NHL markets combined with the emergence of a number of rising stars, we felt the time was right to broaden our Wednesday night schedule and evolve the brand,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “Fans will still see plenty of games between traditional powers, but our new approach to Wednesday nights – including a record number of doubleheaders – allows us to show more rising stars and more Western Conference and Canadian teams than ever before.”

Following are highlights of NBC Sports’ 2018-19 NHL regular-season schedule:

  • The season opens with a “Wednesday Night Hockey” doubleheader on Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals host the Boston Bruins, followed by the Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m. ET;
  • NBC Sports will present the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks from iconic Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 1, 2019, at 1 p.m. ET on NBC;
  • NBC Sports will present exclusive primetime coverage of the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC;
  • NBC will present coverage of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., home of the San Jose Sharks, on Jan. 25-26, highlighted by live coverage of the All-Star Game on Saturday, Jan. 26, in primetime on NBC, the first time the All-Star Game will be televised live on a broadcast network since 1997;
  • NBC Sports will present 13 NHL games on NBC, beginning with the 2018 Discover Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday, Nov, 23, when the Philadelphia Flyers host the New York Rangers;
  • 67 of 110 scheduled regular-season games on NBC and NBCSN – more than 60% – will feature at least one Western Conference team.

NHL WINTER CLASSIC AND NHL STADIUM SERIES

On Jan. 1, the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will feature the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks from Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Ind., on NBC. The NHL Winter Classic has produced the five most-watched regular-season games in NHL history. The 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series will feature the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 23 in primetime on NBC at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY

NBCSN’s exclusive “Wednesday Night Hockey” coverage will feature the NHL’s established stars and young phenoms, and NBC Sports’ most diverse schedule to date. In addition, many “Wednesday Night Hockey” games and doubleheaders will feature earlier start times (7-7:30 p.m. ET). In many cases, Eastern Conference teams will be featured in the first game of the doubleheader, followed by a Western Conference matchup in the nightcap. Notable games on the “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule include:

  • October 10 – A 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals;
  • October 24 – Two of the best young stars in the NHL will clash when Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets;
  • January 23 – Ovechkin and the Capitals host Matthews and the Maple Leafs, followed by a battle out west between P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators vs. Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights;
  • February 13 – Three-time Stanley Cup champion Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton’s only visit to Pittsburgh;
  • March 20 – A rematch of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, as Ovechkin and the Capitals host Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NBCSN 2018-19 NHL “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule (subject to change):

Date Away Home Time (ET)
October 3* Boston Washington 7:30 p.m.
Anaheim San Jose 10:30 p.m.
October 10 Vegas Washington 8 p.m.
October 17 N.Y. Rangers Washington 7 p.m.
Boston Calgary 9:30 p.m.
October 24 Toronto Winnipeg 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay Colorado 9:30 p.m.
November 7 Pittsburgh Washington 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Colorado 10 p.m.
November 14 St. Louis Chicago 8 p.m.
Anaheim Vegas 10:30 p.m.
November 28 St. Louis Detroit 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh Colorado 9:30 p.m.
December 5 Edmonton St. Louis 8 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim 10:30 p.m.
December 12 Pittsburgh Chicago 8 p.m.
December 19 Pittsburgh Washington 8 p.m.
January 2 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
San Jose Colorado 9:30 p.m.
January 9 Nashville Chicago 8 p.m.
January 16 Boston Philadelphia 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Arizona 10 p.m.
January 23 Washington Toronto 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Vegas 10 p.m.
January 30 Tampa Bay Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
February 6 Boston N.Y. Rangers 8 p.m.
February 13 Edmonton Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
February 20 Chicago Detroit 7:30 p.m.
Boston Vegas 10 p.m.
February 27 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 6 Washington Philadelphia 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 13 Chicago Toronto 7 p.m.
New Jersey Edmonton 9:30 p.m.
March 20 Tampa Bay Washington 7:30 p.m.
Winnipeg Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 27 N.Y. Rangers Boston 7:30 p.m.
Vegas Colorado 10 p.m.
April 3 St. Louis Chicago 8 p.m.
Calgary Anaheim 10:30 p.m.

NBC SPORTS PRESENTS 2019 NHL ALL-STAR GAME LIVE IN PRIMETIME ON BROADCAST TELEVISION FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1997 

NBC and NBCSN will present extensive coverage of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., home of the San Jose Sharks, highlighted by the NHL All-Star Game in primetime on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 26, marking the first time the NHL All-Star Game will be shown in primetime on broadcast television since 1997. NHL All-Star will take place January 25-26, 2019, and will include the NHL All-Star Skills Competition™ on Friday, Jan. 25, on NBCSN. Last year’s NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., was the third consecutive All-Star Game to feature the popular 3-on-3 tournament style format.

NHL ON NBC

NHL on NBC coverage begins on Friday, Nov. 23, at 1 p.m. ET, with the 2018 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown featuring the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, marking the first of 13 games scheduled to air on NBC during the regular season. Beginning on Jan. 20, and continuing through the end of the regular season, NBC will present the NHL Game of the Week, generally occurring on Sunday afternoons. Following is the 2018-19 NHL on NBC regular season schedule:

Date Away Home Time (ET)
Fri., Nov. 23# N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia 1 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 1* Boston Chicago 1 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 20 Washington Chicago 12:30 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Minnesota Chicago 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 3 Boston Washington 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 10 St. Louis Nashville 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 St. Louis Minnesota 3 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 23^ Pittsburgh Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Sun., March 3 Washington N.Y. Rangers 12:30 p.m.
Sun., March 24 Philadelphia Washington 12:30 p.m.
Sun., March 31 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia 12:30 p.m.

#2018 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown; *2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic; ^2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series

NHL ON NBCSN

NBCSN will televise at least 96 NHL regular-season games this season, including the Opening Night doubleheader, 40 “Wednesday Night Hockey” games, and 21 doubleheaders, as well as NHL All-Star coverage from San Jose, Calif. In addition, NBC Sports has left the majority of the final week of the regular season on NBCSN open to allow for the biggest games with playoff implications to be added to the schedule.

NHL LIVE AND NHL OVERTIME

NHL Live and NHL Overtime, NBC Sports’ live pre- and post-game show with highlights and analysis of NHL matchups, will air before and after most games on NBCSN. A 60-minute edition of NHL Live will air prior to most games, while NHL Overtime will air immediately following most games.

STREAMING COVERAGE ON NBCSPORTS.COM AND THE NBC SPORTS APP

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming platforms for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value for their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. 

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TVs, Xbox, and Chromecast.

NBC Sports Group 2018-19 NHL regular-season schedule (subject to change):

Date Away Home Network Time (ET)
Wed., Oct 3 Boston Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Anaheim San Jose NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Thur., Oct. 4 Nashville N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 9 San Jose Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 10 Vegas Washington NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 16 Arizona Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 17 N.Y. Rangers Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Boston Calgary NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 19 Minnesota Dallas NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 23 San Jose Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 24 Toronto Winnipeg NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 30 Vegas Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Thur., Nov. 1 Winnipeg Florida NBCSN 2 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 6 Edmonton Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 7 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Colorado NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 13 Tampa Bay Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 14 St. Louis Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Anaheim Vegas NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 20 Edmonton San Jose NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 21 Philadelphia Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 23 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBC 1 p.m.
Chicago Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 27 Vegas Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 28 St. Louis Detroit NBCSN 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 4 Toronto Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 5 Edmonton St. Louis NBCSN 8 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 11 Detroit Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 12 Pittsburgh Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 18 Nashville Chicago NBCSN 8:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 19 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN 8 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 21 Buffalo Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Thur., Dec. 27 Philadelphia Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 1 Boston Chicago NBC 1 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 2 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
San Jose Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 3 Chicago N.Y. Islanders NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 6 Chicago Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 8 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 9 Nashville Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 10 Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 14 Montreal Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 15 Los Angeles Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 16 Boston Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Arizona NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 17 Chicago N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 20 Washington Chicago NBC 12:30 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 21 St. Louis Los Angeles NBCSN 4 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 22 Detroit Edmonton NBCSN 9 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 23 Washington Toronto NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 28 Winnipeg Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 29 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 30 Tampa Bay Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers NBC 8 p.m.
Minnesota Chicago NBC 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 3 Boston Washington NBC 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 6 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 10 St. Louis Nashville NBC 12:30 p.m.
Toronto N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 11 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 12 Chicago Boston NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 13 Edmonton Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBC 12:30 p.m.
St. Louis Minnesota NBC 3 p.m.
Philadelphia Detroit NBCSN 6 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 18 Tampa Bay Columbus NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Boston San Jose NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 19 Toronto St. Louis NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 20 Chicago Detroit NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Boston Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Feb. 21 Los Angeles Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 23 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBC 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 24 St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 25 Los Angeles Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 26 Buffalo Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 27 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Feb. 28 Tampa Bay Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Sun., March 3 Washington N.Y. Rangers NBC 12:30 p.m.
Nashville Minnesota NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., March 5 Minnesota Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., March 6 Washington Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., March 7 Columbus Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Sun., March 10 Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Mon., March 11 San Jose Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., March 12 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 13 Chicago Toronto NBCSN 7 p.m.
New Jersey Edmonton NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sun., March 17 Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Edmonton Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., March 19 Washington New Jersey NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., March 20 Tampa Bay Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Winnipeg Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., March 24 Philadelphia Washington NBC 12:30 p.m.
Colorado Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Mon., March 25 Nashville Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., March 26 Carolina Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 27 N.Y. Rangers Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Vegas Colorado NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., March 31 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBC 12:30 p.m.
Boston Detroit NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., April 3 St. Louis Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Calgary Anaheim NBCSN 10:30 p.m.

*Some games will be blacked out in local markets and televised in those markets by a regional carrier.

————

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.

Three questions facing Edmonton Oilers

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers. 

For even more analysis of the Oilers, check out the rest of PHT’s offerings:

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a Breakthrough | Under Pressure]

1. How is general manager Peter Chiarelli going to manage the Oilers salary cap?

On Aug. 12 — today — the Oilers have just under $5 million in cap room to play with. They still need to pay Darnell Nurse, who will almost assuredly get a bridge deal, and they could still use a couple of improvements, which are unlikely to come given their financial situation. Of that nearly $5 million, $2.5 million of that is also reserved for Jesse Puljujarvi‘s ELC bonuses, if he hits them. That doesn’t leave a lot of money kicking around. Nurse is the last RFA the Oilers have to sign, and they can do so, but depending on the money involved, will have to move something out before the season starts.

Next season, they’re not trimming much off that cap either, and will have several new RFAs looking for raises, a starting goalie that could bounce back and demand a bigger chunk of change and further improvements to their roster.

2. Will Milan Lucic figure out how to play hockey again? 

It’s the $42 million question, isn’t it? Lucic, a bruising power forward who used to combine his massive size with the ability to produce points found a way to score just as a single goal in the final 46 games he played with the Oilers last season. That’s a whole lot of nothing for $6 million per season. Lucic played each and every game the Oilers were scheduled for in the regular season and produced just 34 points, his lowest total (not including the lockout season) since he played 50 games in 2009-10.

Lucic was a disaster last season, one illuminated by the fact that he still has five years to go on that deal. Chiarelli, who signed Lucic to the deal, reportedly has been trying to shop his once-coveted star. No team in their right mind wants that deal, and Lucic holds all the card with his no-movement clause, so the Oilers can only hope last season was the exception and not the rule going forward.

3. Can the Oilers resist the urge to rush their youth to the Show?

It’s something Edmonton has fallen victim to in the past. But with guys like Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear, two quality defensive prospects on the team that has been notoriously underserved at the position, there’s got to be that temptation to make things better immediately. And that would be a mistake. Bouchard, while he might be “NHL-ready,” could benefit from further seasoning in junior and perhaps even the American Hockey League. Bear is already playing big minutes and in big situations for the Bakersfield Condors and coming up to play a lesser role with the club would do unneeded stunting to his growth at the moment.

The same can be said for Kailer Yamamoto. He appears destined for the roster this season with no top-six help added thus far this summer. Ready or not, the benefits of playing one year of pro hockey in the American league seems much more beneficial rather than asking him to come in and try to keep up with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

The problem here, and it ties into the cap space problem, is that ready or not, it looks like the Oilers might have to tap into that youth too soon.


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

Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

On a team as bad as the Oilers were last season, building on a breakthrough is never an easy assignment.

Yet defenseman Darnell Nurse managed to be one of few players not named McDavid or Draisaitl that were consistent despite the unsteadiness around them.

Let’s take a little look at what Nurse did last season:

• Set a career high in goals
• Set a career high in assists
• Set a career high in points
• Led the Oilers in even-strength ice time per game
• Led the Oilers in penalty kill ice time per game
• Second on the Oilers in ice time per game
• Led the Oilers in shifts per game
• Led all Oilers defenseman in points

… and a deep breath.

[Looking back at ’17-18 | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Nurse took a big step in the right direction on a team that desperately needs to improve its rear guard. His average time-on-ice jumped over five minutes (22:15) from the previous season (he only played 44 games due to an ankle injury) and over two minutes from his rookie campaign in 2015-16 where he played 69 games.

Even more impressive, all 26 of his points last year came at even strength. Nurse’s point totals could increase if he eventually sees some power play time. He averaged little of that last season at just 29 seconds per game.

Nurse played tough minutes last year against the other team’s top lines and still came away with nearly a one point/60, a 51.11 CF% and a positive Rel CF%. During his rookie season, Nurse’s shot share was at 45.67, so he’s tightened up his game, even with the increase in minutes and quality of competition. He also lowered the number of shots against/60 by nearly two.

Furthermore, everyone is better with Connor McDavid on the ice, but without him, some of those numbers aren’t so great. Nurse isn’t immune to that decline, but he improved his CF% (48.09 to 49.74) and his GF% (40.54 to 46.25) without McDavid on the ice with him from 2016-17 to 2017-18, respectively.

Nurse still needs a contract for the upcoming season. He’s currently a restricted free agent on a team up against the cap and no money to pay him long-term at this point. Nurse, through his agent, has said he won’t sign long-term at the moment, opting to wait for more funds to open up to get a. paid more, and b. paid longer.

The Oilers certainly have some quality talent making its way up through the system in 2018 10th overall pick Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear, who impressed in an 18-game stint with the Oilers at the end of last season.

General manager Peter Chiarelli said last week that the team plans on signing Nurse before the season starts.

For a team that’s been starved for good defensemen for a long time, and needs to let some of their up-and-coming prospects marinate a little longer, that seems like a wise choice.


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

It’s Edmonton Oilers day at PHT

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

2017-18

36-40-6, 78 pts. (6th in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Tobias Rieder
Kyle Brodziak
Mikko Koskinen
Kevin Gravel

OUT:

Anton Slepyshev
Iiro Pakarinen
Eric Gryba
Yohann Auvitu
Laurent Brossoit

RE-SIGNED:

Ty Rattie
Ryan Strome
Drake Caggiula
Matt Benning

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

No team had quite the optimistic forecast for this past season quite like the Edmonton Oilers did.

And no team failed quite as hard as the Oilers did as they shouldered those lofty expectations.

Coming off a season where they took the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in the second round on the back of stellar playing from Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot, nearly everyone figured the Oilers had finally rid themselves of the disappointment that had plagued them for years.

McJesus had led the Edmontonians out of the darkness and into the promised land.

By Christmas this past year, however, things got turned around. The question went from how far they would go in the playoffs to if they’d make the playoffs at all. Much sooner than anyone predicted, the answer came as an emphatic ‘no.’

The team with arguably the best player on earth watched their miserable season come to a merciful end long before the final date on the regular-season calendar.

The Oilers came into the season perhaps the league’s most promising hockey club and left it as its most disappointing.

And it was all made worse for fans in the upper half of Alberta as they watched Taylor Hall guide his New Jersey Devils to said promise land while picking up the Hart Trophy along the way.

One slap in the face after another.

A new year means a new beginning for the Oilers, although the additions of Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak probably aren’t going to inspire notions of the team improving over the offseason.

Darnell Nurse still remains and a restricted free agent, with reports suggesting he isn’t looking to sign long-term right now given how tight the Oilers are to the salary cap. Nurse took a nice step in the right direction this year on the backend, setting new career highs in goals, assists and, of course, points, as he bounced back from an injury-plagued 2016-17 season.

Statistically speaking, McDavid had a wonderful year, posting his best season as a pro after eclipsing the 40-goal mark for the first time and putting up a league-leading 108 points despite the team around him.

What McDavid needs most are consistent linemates.

Postmedia’s Michael Traikos summed it up well last week:

McDavid’s linemates last year ranged from rookies learning the ropes (Kailer Yamamoto and Ty Rattie) to centremen-turned-wingers (Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) to whatever warm bodies Edmonton had lying around. No combination seemed to last more than a month. Nothing clicked.

Find McDavid some solid linemates, and you’ll likely have three players who become the league’s most potent trio on the scoresheet.

The Oilers will usher in the new season with a lineup that won’t look much different, so that won’t be an easy fix.

They will still have an underperforming Milan Lucic (despite general manager Peter Chiarelli’s attempts to trade the overpaid power forward). They still have the same defense that contributed to allowing the fifth most goals against last year. And they still have the same offense, that without McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, would have a missing ad on the side of a milk carton.

McDavid is going to have to work with what he has. The Oilers don’t have the cap room to change that, it appears. Talbot is going to need a better showing than his .908 last season, his worst on record in terms of save percentage, and a season that saw his goals saved above average (GSAA) go from 23.59 to -1.37.

The good news is that a swath of Edmonton’s youngsters took a step forward last season. Jesse Puljujarvi (Edmonton’s third overall pick in 2016), Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira all progressed, as did the aforementioned Nurse, and Andrej Sekera will be fully healthy to start the season on the blue line.

The hope is that the kids will play bigger roles this year, and they just might.

Prospect Pool

Kailer Yamamoto, RW, 19, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

Yamamoto could get a full-time gig with the Oilers this season and maybe he’s the guy that can gel with McDavid. Yamamoto put up another solid year in the Western Hockey League with 64 points in 40 games, a year shortened after playing nine games with the Oilers to start the season and his time with Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he earned a bronze medal. Yamamoto is quick, likes to dish the puck and can also find the back of the net. One of McDavid or Draisaitl is going to inherit him.

Evan Bouchard, D, 18, London Knights (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick 

A smooth-skating defenseman that can play all three phases of the game, rush the puck and score? This sounds exactly like what the Oilers blue line could use, and that’s what they got when they drafted Bouchard out of the Ontario Hockey League this past June. Bouchard had 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games with the Knights last season and had five more points in four playoff games. There are rumblings that he might not be automatic to return to junior, but there’s also an argument to be made not to rush the kid to the Show.

Ethan Bear, D, 21, Bakersfield Condors (AHL) – 2015 fifth-round pick

Bear played in 37 games in his first pro season in the American Hockey League. One part of that was due to injury, a concussion that hampered him and the Condors, who missed him in his absence. Bear put up six goals and 18 points last season as the Condor’s top defenseman and saw a lot of time on the blue line on the power play. The second part is that he got an 18-game stint with the Oilers at the end of the season and showed his worth with one goal and four points during that span. His prowess on the power play was also tapped into by the Oilers, who had him playing 1:50 per game with the man-advantage.


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