Justin Schultz

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Same old questions remain for 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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers.

1. Who will help Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Our Joey Alfieri already touched on this when he looked at the Oilers’ depth scorers being under pressure to produce more, but this really is the single biggest question facing the Oilers this season. Just as it was last year. And the year before. And the year before that.

Unless James Neal finds a time machine and goes back to his age 26 or 27 seasons, or the team figures out a way to salvage the development of Jesse Puljujarvi before it sends him away for some magic beans it’s hard to see where this improvement comes from.

How top-heavy has the Oilers’ lineup been over the past two years? Some numbers for you.

  • With McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have outscored teams by an 88-67 (plus-21) margin and controlled more than 52 percent of the shot attemepts.
  • With only ONE of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 136-115 (minus-21) and controlled only 49 percent of the shot attempts.
  • With NEITHER of them on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 151-106 (minus-45) and controlled just 48 percent of the shot attempts.

When their top two players are not on the ice the Oilers are playing at the level of an early 1990s expansion team.

It is appalling to have what might be the best offensive duo in the league and still be so far away from the playoffs.

Does acquiring James Neal in a swap of bad salaries (in what should be an upgrade) and signing some cheap, reclamation project free agents do enough to help move the needle closer to the playoffs?

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

2. How will they stop teams?

Here is a set of numbers for you to ponder: 25, 25, 8, 28, 30, 30, 19, 23, 28, 30, 22, 26, 16

What are those numbers representing? They are where the Oilers have ranked in goals against (starting with this past season on the left and moving backwards) dating back to the start of the 2006-07 season. Average finish: 24th. The one outlier (the eighth place year) was when Cam Talbot pretty much stood on his head in net and was eventually run into the ground due to a ridiculous workload.

The Oilers are bringing back mostly the same cast of characters on defense that haven’t been good enough, and barring an unexpected miracle they don’t really have a goalie that should be a serious threat to steal games. Mikko Koskinen‘s contract looks to be a mess, while Mike Smith is coming off the worst season of his career and is entering his age 37 season.

This all seems like a tough recipe to make work.

Dave Tippett has a reputation for being a defensive coach (a reputation he doesn’t really seem to like) and is very respected around the league, but how much of an impact can a coach make with a thin defense and two massive question marks in goal? Even if McDavid and Draisaitl repeat their magic and they find some respectable second-line scoring can they actually stop enough teams for any of it to matter?

3. What changes will Ken Holland make?

Holland has two cornerstone players that are already among the best in the league and haven’t even hit their peak years in the NHL yet. It is a great starting point. That is the good news. The bad news is that even though he has McDavid and Draisaitl to start building around he still has what might be the most daunting rebuilding job of any general manager in the NHL. Not only because he has a ton of holes to plug, but because he has to deal with the pressure that is not wasting anymore of McDavid’s best years in the league.

In the past, the Oilers have tried to shake things up by dealing players that were once considered part of the core (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz). They not only failed to capitalize on those trades, but they have quickly run out of such players to deal.

Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be next? Oscar Klefbom? It seems to only be a matter of time until Puljujarvi gets moved.

No matter who it is, he is going to have to make significant changes to get this team out of its current situation.

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

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.

Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

***

Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: 10 offseason lessons; Mike Smith has something to prove

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• How can the Blue Jackets get their hands on Golden Knights forward Nikita Gusev? (The Cannon)

• Here’s an in-depth look at what the Bruins are getting in Brett Ritchie. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• Why was the Canadiens power play so bad during the regular season? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Hurricanes have made some changes to their scouting staff. (News & Observer)

• The Panthers need Aaron Ekblad to emerge as one of the best defenders in the NHL. (The Rat Trick)

Justin Schultz presents an interesting dilemma for the Pittsburgh Penguins, per Adam Gretz. (Pensburgh)

• Steve Yzerman’s Tampa Bay condo is on the market. It can be yours for a cool $1.695 million dollars. (Detroit News)

• Don’t be surprised if the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres end up being perfect trade partners. (Die by the Blade)

• 10 lessons we learned this offseason. (ESPN)

• The Kings didn’t make any significant moves this offseason, so don’t be surprised if they take a patient approach. (The Hockey News)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team to invest anything into prospect Justin Brazeau, and he wants to reward them. (Sportsnet)

• Here are the Blues top 10 moments from the 2018-19 season. (Bleedin Blue)

• Could Victor Soderstrom break camp with the Arizona Coyotes? (Five for Howling)

Mike Smith has a lot to prove now that he’s with the Edmonton Oilers. (Oilers Nation)

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.

PHT Time Machine: When RFA offer sheets actually happened

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Throughout the offseason we will be taking an occasional look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back at the history of restricted free agent offer sheets and some of the wild signings and situations that have unfolded because of them.

There is probably no greater time-waster in the NHL offseason than discussing the possibility of a restricted free agent offer sheet. Every year we look at the names that are out there, and every year we discuss the possibility of a young player signing a massive contract and wondering whether it will be matched, and every year nothing ever comes of it.

There are a number of theories as to why it never happens, ranging from the more nefarious ones like GM’s wanting to keep the cost of young players down or having some sort of “unwritten agreement” among them to not poach other team’s players, to a far more reasonable one: It’s really difficult to find a perfect match where such a signing can actually happen.

Not only does a team need to have the salary cap space and the appropriate draft pick assets, but the player in question has to actually WANT to sign with the team offering the contract, and the team owning that player’s rights has to be unwilling (or unable) to match it.

That is tough to find.

We do not know how many offers actually get made, but we do know in the history of restricted free agency there have only been 35 offer sheets actually signed, and only eight in the salary cap era.

Only 13 of those offer sheets were not matched and saw a player actually change teams.

We have not seen an offer sheet signed since the Calgary Flames tried to get Ryan O'Reilly away from the Colorado Avalanche during the 2012-13 season (it was ultimately matched by the Avalanche).

This offseason, of course, is no different when it comes to the speculation, and the player that is getting the most attention is Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner due to the team’s salary cap crunch and Marner’s reported contract demands.

Will it actually happen? History says no, but a lot of the circumstances are in place for it to at least be on the table. Speaking of history, let’s take a look back at some of the more noteworthy offer sheets in NHL history.

Hurricanes sign Sergei Fedorov

This might be the wildest offer sheet situation the league has ever seen.

During the 1997-98 season the Carolina Hurricanes were in their first year of existence after relocating from Hartford. They were losing money after the move, they were in last place in their division, and the organization had missed the playoffs in each of its final five seasons as the Whalers.

Fedorov, still fairly close to the height of his powers as an NHL superstar, was involved in an ugly contract dispute with the Detroit Red Wings and by mid-February had still not signed a contract. During the Olympic break that season (the first year NHL players participated in the Olympics) the Hurricanes, led by now Hall of Fame general manager Jim Rutherford, decided to pounce and signed Fedorov to a massive six year, $38 million contract that included a $14 million signing bonus for him to play in the final 25 games of the season, and more than $12 million in bonuses over the next four years.

It would have made him one of the highest paid players in the league.

An excerpt from a Feb. 21, 1998 Associated Press story on the signing.

Rutherford later added in the story, “This is a player in a special situation who rolled the dice, he held out, he’s a world-class player and probably one of the top-five players in the world right now. He deserves to make more money. This is part of the building blocks to being in a new market … and having a franchise player.”

The Red Wings ultimately matched the offer and Fedorov not only ended up making a ton of money to play in only a quarter of the season, he played a massive part in the team winning its second straight Stanley Cup.

But it wasn’t just the fact that a last place team in a new market made the bold move to sign a superstar to a massive offer sheet that made this so intriguing. The underlying storyline here was also the fact the owners of the teams (Peter Karmanos with the Hurricanes and Mike Ilitch with the Red Wings) had a long history of being rivals in pretty much every walk of life.

Karmanos initially tried to move the Whalers to suburban Detroit after purchasing the team in 1994 (they would have played at The Palace Of Auburn Hills) something that obviously did not sit well with the Red Wings, while the two men had extensive business operations in the Detroit area (Ilitch with Little Caesars; Karmonas with a computer software company).

They were also active players in Detroit’s amateur hockey scene that resulted in Ilitch evicting Karmanos’ major junior team out of Joe Louis arena.

So … yeah. These two guys had major beef for a long time, and adding a restricted free agent offer sheet for one of the league’s best players certainly didn’t calm things down.

At least they never tried to fight in a barn, something that nearly happened in our next situation.

The Oilers’ wild summer of 2007

Knowing what we know now about how slow the RFA market typically is, it is completely absurd to look back now and remember that the Edmonton Oilers, under the direction of Kevin Lowe, signed two offer sheets in the same summer.

It all began on July 6, 2007, when he attempted to sign Thomas Vanek to a seven-year, $50 million contract in an effort to pry him away from the Buffalo Sabres. At the time Vanek was one of the league’s best young goal-scorers and was coming off of a 43-goal season. Even though he had played just two years in the league, he had already scored 68 goals and was an emerging star.

The Sabres immediately matched the offer.

So Lowe set his sights elsewhere and three weeks later targeted the reigning Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, signing Dustin Penner to five-year, $21.5 million offer sheet.

Prior to the signing then-Ducks general manager Brian Burke had said he would match any offer sheet that Penner was signed to, but he probably was not anticipating that sort of offer. Even though Penner was coming off of a 29-goal season for the Ducks, he had still only played 101 games in the NHL and had just 33 total goals (less than half of what Vanek had scored at the same point in their careers).

The offer infuriated Burke and resulted in him publicly blasting Lowe in the media the next day.

Along with calling the contract “gutless,” Burke also added that “Edmonton has offered a mostly inflated salary for a player, and I think it’s an act of desperation for a general manager who is fighting to keep his job.”

The feud between the two executives reached a point to where Burke wanted to rent a barn in Lake Placid so they could physically fight.

The Ducks refused to match the offer and in return received the Oilers’ first, second, and third round draft picks the following year.

From there, a lot of things happened.

  • The first-round pick Anaheim received ended up being the No. 12 pick in the draft. Anaheim then traded that pick for the No. 17 and 28 picks in 2008. They then used the No. 17 pick to select Jake Gardiner, who would eventually be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs (along with Joffrey Lupul) in exchange for Francois Beauchemin.  The No. 28 pick was traded for two second-round picks.
  • The second-round pick Anaheim received from Edmonton was used to select Justin Schultz, who ended up never signing with the Ducks and once he became a free agent signed with … the Edmonton Oilers.

Penner was mostly okay with the Oilers, but probably wasn’t worth the assets they gave up to get him.

Flyers go all in for Shea Weber

Ah, yes, the Paul Holmgren era Philadelphia Flyers.

If there was a blockbuster to be made this team was going to do it. One year after overhauling his entire roster by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter so he could throw a bank vault at Ilya Bryzgalov, Paul Holmgren made what was perhaps his boldest move yet when he signed defenseman Shea Weber to a massive 14-year offer sheet that was worth $110 million.

[Related: Paul Holmgren’s year of crazy Flyers blockbusters]

The Predators were pretty vulnerable at the time because this was the same summer they had lost Ryan Suter in free agency to the Minnesota Wild, which came just a couple of years after losing Dan Hamhuis. The team was built around its defense and two of its three most important players were already gone. Losing Weber at that time would have been absolutely crushing.

The Predators decided to pass at the opportunity to collect four first-round draft picks from the Flyers and matched the offer.

They eventually traded Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban, and then traded Subban this summer to the Devils for … well … a lot of salary cap space.

Scott Stevens had an extensive — and important — history with offer sheets

One of the first significant offer sheets came when the St. Louis Blues signed Scott Stevens to a four-year, $5.1 million contract to pry him away from the Washington Capitals on July 16, 1990.

The Capitals declined to match the offer and ultimately received five first-round draft picks in return, with two of them turning into Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt, two players that would go on to be long-time staples on the Capitals’ blue line.

Stevens would only play one season with the Blues before he was on the move again in the summer of 1991 in one of the more controversial rulings in league history.

It was then that the Blues signed restricted free agent Brendan Shanahan away from the New Jersey Devils. Because the Blues were sending all of their first-round picks to the Capitals for signing Stevens, they had to agree to other compensation to get Shanahan. There was a disagreement on what that compensation should be.

The Blues offered goalie Curtis Joseph, forward Rod Brind’Amour, and two draft picks.

The Devils wanted Stevens.

An arbitrator decided that Stevens was the appropriate compensation and awarded him to the Devils in a decision that infuriated the Blues and other high-profile players around the league, including The Great One.

Blues superstar Brett Hull was not as calm or measured in his statements.

And more…

Wild times.

This was during a CBA fight between the players and league with the players trying to get greater free agent rights. So it is not hard to understand why the Blues (and other players around the league) were so angry about it.

Stevens initially refused to report to Devils camp. He eventually did and would go on to become one of the most important players in franchise history and was the backbone of three Stanley Cup winning teams.

But his RFA saga would not end with this.

In the summer of 1994 the Blues had attempted to re-acquire Stevens, again a restricted free agent, and signed him to a four-year, $17 million offer sheet.

The Devils would ultimately match it, but were convinced the Blues had tampered with Stevens and spoke to him before his Devils contract expired. The league then launched an investigation and NEARLY FIVE YEARS finally reached a settlement that would see the Blues send $1.4 million and a first-round draft pick to the Devils as compensation for tampering.

Then-Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello was not satisfied with that resulted and wanted more.

Via the New York Times:

”I don’t look at something of this nature as a triumph,” Lamoriello said yesterday in a conference call after Commissioner Gary Bettman handed down his decision. ”It’s a detriment to the N.H.L. I don’t think the compensation could be severe enough. My request was five first-round picks, plus damages.”

And…

”In a process of negotiations, when they are ongoing and you are speaking, you can usually sense when there is something else involved,” Lamoriello said. ”I sensed that I was talking to myself. I just felt as though there was something funny in the way things transpired, the way things went. I was the sole person that could be negotiating, but I felt very strongly reading some of the articles that did come out of St. Louis and things I was hearing, that something happened. Where there was some smoke, I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any fire.”

Rangers try for Joe Sakic

In the summer of 1997 the New York Rangers were coming off of a conference Finals loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and had just lost their captain, Mark Messier, in free agency to the Vancouver Canucks.

Their response: To sign Joe Sakic, at the time one of the league’s best players, to a three-year, $21 million contract that had as much as $15 million in signing bonuses up front. The compensation would have been five first-round draft picks.

The Avalanche refused to let their cornerstone player get away and matched the offer. They would go on to remain one of the league’s powers and would win another Stanley Cup with Sakic in 2001. The Rangers, meanwhile, stumbled through a seven-year run of mediocrity where they attempted to acquire every aging superstar in the league. Nothing worked and the team was consistently an expensive flop until finally returning to the playoffs during the 2005-06 season.

For more stories from the PHT Time Machine, click here.

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.

Penguins trade Maatta to Blackhawks for Kahun, draft pick

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford made it clear that changes were coming to his team this offseason.

On Saturday evening he made his first one.

The Penguins announced that they have traded defender Olli Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is a trade that accomplishes quite a bit for both teams.

First, from the Pittsburgh side, it clears up a log-jam the team had on its blue line with as many as eight NHL defenders either under contract or under team control (Marcus Pettersson is a restricted free agent) for this season. That alone made it seem likely that someone was going to be on the move, and especially after the team’s defensive play regressed again this past season and had a particularly brutal playoff run against the New York Islanders. By trading Maatta, it not only clears a roster spot but also sheds more than $3 million in salary cap space given that Kahun is still on an entry-level contract and counts only $925,000 against the cap for the 2019-20 season.

It also gives them some much-needed youth at forward.

Even after Maatta’s departure the Penguins still have a lot of questions to deal with on defense, where Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson are still taking up more than $7 million in salary cap space over the next few seasons (not ideal!), while Justin Schultz is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will more players be on the move to address that position? Or does this just make it more likely the returning players take on bigger roles and are more set in the lineup? Based on what we have seen the past few seasons more changes are going to be needed.

The 23-year-old Kahun scored 13 goals and added 24 assists for the Blackhawks in 82 games this past season, his first full year in the NHL.

The addition of the draft pick also gives the Penguins six picks in this year’s draft: A first, a fourth, two fifths, and two sevenths.

As for Chicago, Maatta joins a defense that has needed an overhaul for a few years now and provides a fresher, younger face in the lineup. Even though Maatta has six years of NHL experience under his belt he will still only be 25 years old when the 2019-20 season begins. His career has gone through some extreme ups and downs. When he made his debut during the 2013-14 season he looked like a player that had legitimate top-pairing potential in the NHL could be on his way to becoming a cornerstone player in Pittsburgh. But in the years that followed he had to overcome cancer and an extensive list of injuries that sidetracked his career and led to some pretty significant regressions across the board. Injuries have still been an issue before him in recent seasons, but he seems to have understood his limitations and adjusted to the sort of game he has to play to make a positive impact.

He is not going to bring much speed to the Blackhawks’ blue line, and he tends to play a more conservative game when it comes to defending entries at the blue line, but he is a sound player in his own end and while he lacks top-end speed, is still very good with the puck on his stick. When he is at his best, he plays a clean, quiet game that will not get noticed (and there is nothing wrong with that; not everyone is going to be Erik Karlsson).

The problem is he is still prone to getting beat by faster forwards and when it happens it can at times look bad, which then leads to criticism.

He appeared in 60 games for the Penguins in 2018-19, scoring one goal and 14 total points. He averages around five goals and 25 total points over 82 games.

He has three years remaining on a contract that carries a salary cap hit of just over $4 million per season. He alone is not going to fix all of the Blackhawks’ shortcomings on defense, but he is not a bad addition, either.

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.