Mikko Koskinen

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Which NHL GM has toughest job this summer?

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Every general manager has an extremely difficult job when trying to assemble a championship contending team.

No matter the sport it is a daunting task that requires vision, a plan, an ability to actually perform that plan, having the right people around you, and an understanding of not just where the league and their own team is today, but where all of that is headed in future seasons. It requires great scouting, an eye for talent, asset management, a lot of luck, and countless other factors to get their team to a championship level.

Even when all of those things work together in near perfect unison they are still more likely to fall short of their ultimate goal (a championship) than they are to achieve it.

With the NHL offseason officially underway, the league’s 31 general managers are beginning the process of putting their vision into practice, and while they all have a difficult job in front of them not all of their jobs are created equal. Some of them have significantly taller mountains to scale over the next couple of months. Some out of their own creation, and others out of the circumstances and hands they have been dealt.

These general managers are part of that group and have what will almost certainly be the toughest offseason jobs ahead of them.

Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers

It is a testament to how bad and completely incompetent the previous front office was that Holland is walking into a situation where he has two of the NHL’s top-four scorers from this past season (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), both still not even in the prime of their careers yet and signed to long-term contracts, and your first reaction to his situation is, “wow, this team seems like it is light years away from contending.”

The Oilers have missed the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons, including three of the first four years of McDavid’s career, having completely wasted what might be some of the best and most dominant hockey he ever plays (at least offensively).

They are a team that plays at the level of an early 1990s expansion team when their two-headed monster of McDavid and Draisaitl is not on the ice, they need an overhaul on defense, a ton of depth at forward, and a goalie. And Holland is likely going to have less than $10 million in salary cap space to start with.

What his roster lacks in talent it makes up for in bad contracts that are sinking the organization’s ability to build around its two superstars at the top.

Milan Lucic‘s contract is, for all intents and purposes, buyout proof and trading him will require Holland to take on a similarly bad contract in return or give up a far more valuable asset to entice a team to take the remaining $6 million per year cap hit (for four more years!) for a player that has just 54 points over the past two seasons (161 games) with only 43 of them coming at even-strength.

His returning starting goalie, Mikko Koskinen, will be 31 years old on opening night and has just 59 games of NHL experience with a .904 save percentage. He is also signed for three more seasons at $4.5 million per season, a rather lousy house-warming gift from the previous regime on their way out the door.

He has eight defenders under contract for close to $27 million under the cap for this season and doesn’t have a No. 1 or anything close to a top-tier puck-mover among them.

At least three of them (Andrej Sekara, Kris Russell, and Brandon Manning) are legitimate buyout candidates this summer.

There are only a handful of teams with less cap space than the Oilers entering the offseason, and it is not because of the contracts they are paying McDavid, Draisaitl, or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the top.

It is because of the $17 million(!) that is going to Lucic, Russell, Manning, and Koskinen.

Other than that, things are pretty good.

If Holland manages to turn this situation into something positive within two years they should build him a statue.

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs

Dubas’ situation is pretty much the exact opposite of Holland’s because his team is actually … good.

Really good.

Really, really, really good.

Championship contending good.

The problem Dubas and the Maple Leafs are going to run into is the same one they have run into in previous years. That “problem” is that it is a lot easier to go from being a “bad” team to a “good” team than it is to go from being a “good” team to a championship team. Having lost in the first-round of the playoffs three years in a row, including to a divisional rival in Boston in each of the past two seasons, kind of illustrates that. The Maple Leafs can score, they can win a lot of games in the regular season, but there is still a hurdle they have to get over because for as good as they have become, this group still does not have a finish higher than third place in its own division or a playoff series win.

But that is all narrative. When it comes to the actual team building Dubas’ challenge is going to be finding a way to get a contract done with Mitch Marner, one of his team’s best and most important players.

The Maple Leafs certainly do not want to go through a replay of last year’s William Nylander restricted free agency saga, and there is always that (please try not to laugh at the ridiculous suggestion) possibility of an offer sheet from another team (hey, one of these years it could happen again).

Finding the salary cap room for Marner is going to be a challenge as the Maple Leafs are already paying Nylander, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares huge money at the top of the lineup. As I wrote a few months ago, this is not a problem. The Maple Leafs can (and most likely will) compete for a championship with a significant chunk of their salary cap allotment going to the quartet of Matthews, Tavares, Marner, and Nylander.

Before they can get there they have to shed some contracts, specifically the ones belonging to Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev. The top-four might also cost them a couple of other depth players around the edges, but it is a heck of a lot easier to find another Conor Brown or Kasperi Kapanen than it is to find another Mitch Marner or William Nylander.

Along with that, he is also set to lose a little bit off of his blue line with the pending free agencies of Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey, while also dealing with the elephant in the room that is the highly paid head coach whose recent resume hasn’t matched his reputation.

Add in the fact this is all playing out in a hockey market where all reason and logic gets thrown out the window and he not only has a difficult task ahead of him, he is going to be under a constant microscope to get it done.

No matter what he does this offseason he has a playoff team on the ice this season.

Simply being a playoff team is no longer enough in Toronto.

Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets

He put together the most successful season in Blue Jackets history by not only getting them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third year in a row (first time the franchise has ever done that), but by putting together a team that shocked the hockey world by sweeping one of the best teams of the modern era (the Tampa Bay Lightning) in Round 1 for the team’s first-ever playoff series win.

He did that by betting big on keeping his own pending free agents (Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) but by acquiring several more at the trade deadline in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

It gave Blue Jackets fans their first taste of postseason success and built a ton of excitement around the team.

Now he is facing the possibility of losing all of Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene, and Dzingel in free agency, while having only two draft picks (a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick) this year and only five draft pick in the 2020 class.

Do we really need to go any further as to what his challenge here is?

Panarin and Bobrovsky have seemingly had one foot out the door all season and their departures just seem to be a matter of where they go and not if they go, and there is little doubt that Duchene is going to test the open market for his one last shot at another big contract (Nashville seems like a perfect fit for him, right?).

The Blue Jackets will still a decent core coming back with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson, and the constantly improving Pierre-Luc Dubois, but Panarin and Bobrovsky are not players that you just easily replace. They have been impact players and significant pieces of what has been a consistent playoff team the past few years. Bobrovsky in particular is going to be a huge loss because he is not only a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and one of the best regular season goalies of his era, but they do not really have any kind of an internal option that is a sure thing and limited options outside the organization.

Kekalainen did an outstanding job to raise the bar and set a new level of expectation in Columbus this season, but he also left himself in a situation where it is going to be extremely difficult to reach it (or exceed it) this upcoming season.

Jason Botterill, Buffalo Sabres

This seems like a make-or-break year for Botterill in Buffalo.

The Sabres are basically Edmonton-east right now given their consistent lack of success, inability to build around a young franchise player (Jack Eichel), and complete lack of depth.

Also like the Oilers: They recently traded an eventual major award winner (2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly) for some magic beans. The situation in Buffalo is so bleak right now that probably overpaying winger Jeff Skinner is seen as a win for the organization, and I don’t really mean that to be as critical as it sounds because I do like it. If you are going to “overpay” someone under the cap, you are better off making sure it is a player that might score 40 goals for you and seems to have developed some chemistry with your best player.

But after the Eichel-Skinner duo, and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, this is a roster that just … well … who in the hell excites you here?

The Sabres are in a division with three powerhouse teams at the top, a team a Florida that is already ahead of them with a better core, more salary cap space to work with, and is probably going to be a destination for top free agents (Panarin and Bobrovsky) this summer.

Oh, and there is also Montreal that missed the playoffs this past year by just two points.

This is, at best, the fifth best team in its own division after years and years and years of rebuilding and entering year three with his finger on the button (and with a new coach) there has to be immense pressure for Botterill to make something out of this mess. He has to do a lot, and he has to do it quickly.

More NHL offseason
Lessons NHL teams should (and should not) learn from the 2019 St. Louis Blues
Capitals trade Matt Niskanen to Flyers for Radko Gudas
Islanders re-sign Jordan Eberle
Binnington’s next contract challenge for Blues
Bruins could look different next season

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.

Oilers’ season captured in second-period meltdown

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If there ever was a seven-minute stretch that perfectly summed up the Edmonton Oilers’ 2018-19 season, it happened on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.

Leading 2-0 nothing in the second period, and with a goal already in the bank by Milan Lucic — the $6 million man’s sixth of the season — the Oilers reverted to their true colors in a span of 7:08.

A promising looking contest, one day after Connor McDavid declared that he was “really, really” frustrated with how this season has gone in Edmonton, the Oilers forgot how to play hockey and Mikko Koskinen forgot how to stop pucks and the walls came crashing in. Again.

The result was four-straight goals from the Avalanche in an epic collapse for Edmonton, even by their own lowly standards.

Nathan MacKinnon walked through three Oilers who were just standing still for the 2-1 goal. The tying goal came when Koskinen, who was handed a silly contract extension earlier this season, whiffed on what should have been a routine save on Tyson Barrie.

Alex Kerfoot scored the go-ahead goal after he was left unmarked in front of Koskinen. The insurance marker came on a backhand from the high slot off the stick of Colin Wilson, another puck that needed to be stopped.

And then there was the defeated skate by 100-plus point man McDavid back to the Edmonton bench. It’s ugly in northern Alberta, and who knows how the Oilers — a cash-strapped team when it comes to the salary cap — get out of this mess. Two 100-point players (Leon Draisaitl being the other) and the Edmonton Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the second straight season with the best player in the world in their lineup.

If nothing else, it’s a shame for hockey fans who want to see McDavid’s talents while he chases down a Stanley Cup.

Instead, they’re left with efforts like Tuesday night. As McDavid said on Monday, “It’s just not good enough.”


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

Oilers CEO apologizes for comments about Tobias Rieder

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If Bob Nicholson is to be believed, it’s Tobias Rieder’s fault the Edmonton Oilers aren’t in the playoffs at the moment.

Yes, a fourth-liner who is averaging 12:42 of ice time this season is the scapegoat for the disaster the Oilers have been this season.

The Oilers CEO said so.

Of course, Nicholson is wrong about that, and he’s since apologized and backtracked on the comments he made on at a season ticket holder event on Thursday, where he bashed Rieder and blamed him for the team’s failings.

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy reported that Nicholson said Rieder would not be re-signed by the team at the end of the season.

He went on to say that Rieder was wanted by other teams but chose Edmonton because he wanted to play with fellow German-born player in Leon Draisaitl, and if not with his compatriot, then he could play with Connor McDavid, where he’d score 15 or 16 goals and re-up with the club at higher price point than the $2 million he’s making on a one-year deal this season.

And then he said that if Rieder had 10 or 12 goals this season, “we’d probably be in the playoffs.”

*facepalm*

Rieder might be the last reason why the Oilers won’t sniff the postseason this year.

Peter Chiarelli is the name that Nicholson should have uttered (and he kind of, but not really, did). If you’re going to throw someone under the bus, at least throw the guilty party and not the innocent victim. And let’s not forget all of the draft duds and all the good players that were traded away.

What the Oilers really need is to throw a stick of dynamite into the country club that still runs the organization, clean up the mess and start fresh. Get rid of everybody from the long-gone glory years and stop trying to rekindle something that couldn’t catch a spark if it was rolling around in Death Valley.

Nicholson, himself, said that the insane contract handed out to Mikko Koskinen was a decision made by the organization, and all of those go through him before they’re made final.

As mentioned, Nicholson told TSN’s Darren Dreger that he apologized to Rieder, saying that he “stepped out of bounds.”

Apparently, Nicholson and Rieder laughed about it and will move on.

Who hasn’t moved on yet is Rieder’s agent Darren Ferris, who expressed his unhappiness to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug.

“I am totally astonished and disappointed that the president of an NHL team can make such a callous and reckless statement about a player,” Ferris said. “This is unacceptable.”

Ken Hitchcock, who was probably just as blindsided as Rieder was with the comments, defended his player follow Edmonton’s big win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“From our standpoint, you want to see a guy score and have success offensively because it makes him feel good,” Hitchcock said. “But if he’s not doing that, he helps us in a number of other areas, Hitch said of Rieder.

An already awkward situation is even more so given that Rieder has to play for an executive who doesn’t want him.


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

WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread heading into their game on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and if they have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erasing what is a seven-point gap (and jumping over four teams!) over the next 11 games it is going to have to begin with a win tonight.

Standing in their way will be a Vegas Golden Knights team that has won seven of its previous eight games and is pretty much locked in to the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. At this point it is simply a matter of whether or not they will have to play the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks in their first-round matchup.

The Oilers are led by Connor McDavid who enters the game riding an 11-game point streak, while also recording at least one point in 19 of his previous 20 games. That 20-game stretch for McDavid features 12 multi-point games, including seven in a row.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T Mobile Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10 p.m, ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tobias RiederLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella – Colby CaveJosh Currie

Defense

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting Goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Tomas NosekCody EakinAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Defense

Nate SchmidtDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbShea Theodore
Jon Merril – Colin Miller

Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban

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.

Oilers squander opportunity to gain ground in wildcard race

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When trying to make the playoffs, losing to a team that’s a loss away from elimination (and lost in embarrassing fashion the night before) is not the post-season recipe.

The Edmonton Oilers could have (and should have) climbed to within four points of the final wildcard in the Western Conference on Wednesday Night Hockey. Instead, they allowed the lowly New Jersey Devils (who would have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention with a loss) to walk over them in a 6-3 win on NBCSN

The Oilers trailed early, scored twice to take a 2-1 lead, and then proceeded to give up four unanswered.

Mikko Koskinen, who was given many dollars to stop pucks at this pivotal time of the year, was woeful, allowing four goals on 18 shots before he was yanked in favor of Anthony Stolarz.

NBCSN’s Ray Ferraro had the perfect four words for the goal that ended Koskinen’s night:

Despite the disaster on Tuesday, the Devils regrouped and found a way to snap their ugly seven-game losing streak.

The team needed a couple of their youngsters to show up — they make up something like half their team at the moment given all the injuries — and John Quenneville, who scored his first of the season, and Kevin Rooney, answered the call, both tallying for the Devils. Blake Coleman drove the final nail into the coffin when he scored to make it 6-3 shorthanded.

Cory Schneider stood tall, stopping 36 shots for his fifth win of the season.

There was one positive for the Oilers: Connor McDavid hit the 100-point mark for the third straight season.

Here’s the century-mark point:


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