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Oilers continue rare boring summer with Strome signing

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The name Ryan Strome must elicit some awkward feelings for Edmonton Oilers fans. After all, you’d need to risk an upper-body injury trying to deny that the Oilers lost in the Strome – Jordan Eberle trade.

Losing that trade prompts faint praise, then, for the Oilers’ current off-season plan of … “Don’t mess anything else up.”

That’s not what they’ve really said publicly, but so far, that’s how they’re operating. While it’s fun – especially from a writing/lampooning perspective – to rubberneck at bad moves and dysfunction (let us again thank Marc Bergevin and the Senators), recent history states that Edmonton’s better off boring.

And that’s exactly what re-signing Strome is. It’s boring, and it’s probably the right move, and you’re probably yawning with me on this one.

The team announced that it’s a two-year deal, with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reporting that the cap hit will come in at $3.1 million per season. That’s not a great value, but it’s not going to break the Oilers, either. Leave that to trading the pick that became Mathew Barzal for a marginal defenseman, moving Taylor Hall one-for-one for Adam Larsson, and the Milan Lucic albatross contract, instead.

Cap Friendly puts Edmonton’s cap space at just less than $5M, with RFA Darnell Nurse likely to command most of that remaining cash.

The Oilers mainly stayed out of the fray this summer, merely handing speedy winger Tobias Rieder a reasonable one-year, $2M deal. Unless they can bribe a rebuilding team to house bad contracts like Lucic’s $6M per season through 2022-23, GM Peter Chiarelli is most likely going to be limited to trying to target savvy bargains in free agency. Considering how things have gone for him in recent trades, such limitations could very well be a blessing in disguise.

A boring blessing, but a blessing.

During the last three seasons, Strome’s developed into a fairly steady 30-ish point producer, showing some versatility and adequate possession skills. The Oilers could do better and worse with $3.1M per season.

Again, a shoulder shrug seems more palatable than Edmonton’s painful tradition of face-palms.

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis summed things up well regarding Strome back in April: Edmonton management is better off seeing the good side of Strome, rather than placing too much focus on how he’s not Jordan Eberle.

If you can convince yourself to not attach him to Eberle, it becomes a lot easier to accept Strome for what he is. He’s a solid, two-way player who can play in a variety of situations. He can centre your third line and be responsible, he can produce some offence in a top-six role, he can play both centre and wing, and he can be useful on the power play and penalty kill. He isn’t spectacular, but he’s a versatile depth player with upside, and there’s certainly value to that.

For all the frustrations in Edmonton, the Oilers still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They might stumble upon solutions merely if they stop messing things up.

Strome isn’t great, and you can quibble about him being good versus mediocre. It’s a small victory, but not exasperating the mistake with more mistakes is better than the alternative.

More exciting calls to come

Here’s a take for you: the Oilers put themselves in that bind during the 2017 summer by not trying harder to extend Draisaitl before his breakout 2016-17 season. Maybe a lack of contract year motivation would have meant a slightly less dominant Draisaitl that year, but smart teams lock up core players earlier rather than later.

It’s a consideration that could be particularly important for the Oilers when it comes to Jesse Puljujarvi.

After this past season, the Columbus Blue Jackets look shrewd (rather than bold) for taking Pierre-Luc Dubois as the third pick of the 2016 NHL Draft over Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi’s been moving in and out of the NHL early in his career, generating 12 goals and 20 points in 65 games with the Oilers in 2017-18.

That’s a letdown, yet it may also be an opportunity for the Oilers to save money, for once.

If Edmonton expects Puljujarvi to make huge strides going forward, they’d be better off trying to sign him to a team-friendly contract this summer, rather than waiting to see what happens. Ideally, Edmonton would either save money with a “bridge” contract or keep his cap hit at a reasonable clip by handing out the sort of term that looks brilliant in retrospect.

Determining that the Finn can take big steps forward instead of floundering like, say, Nail Yakupov, comes down to the judgment of Edmonton’s staff. That’s the scary part, but they either need to start getting these things right or step aside for someone who can.

***

Theoretically, more decisions could be coming for the Oilers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never seems far from trade rumors, though it’s a relief for Edmonton anytime they abstain at this point. With Cam Talbot‘s contract expiring after 2018-19, the Oilers must eventually figure out if his past season was an aberration or if they eventually need to find a new goalie.

So, yes, there are some deeper questions on the horizon for Edmonton, which opens the door for them to sink or swim.

History teaches us that they might be better off treading water, so it’s probably for the best that they’re just floating along this summer.

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.

Kane leads U.S. into semis, Canada knocks out Russia

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals to lift the United States to a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the ice hockey world championship on Thursday while Canada beat Russia 5-4 in overtime.

Switzerland pulled off a surprise by eliminating Finland 3-2 and defending champion Sweden edged out Latvia 3-2.

Kane claimed the third-period winner to take the outright lead in the scoring table on 19 points, a U.S. record, with eight goals and 11 assists and set up a semifinal against Sweden on Saturday.

”It’s my job to produce,” Kane said. ”It’s always nice to contribute offensively.”

The U.S. is looking for its first medal since picking up bronze in 2015.

”We came here to put ourselves in a position to try to win the gold,” Kane said. “We’re on the right path.”

The U.S. took control with a couple of goals in the span of 1:43 midway through the first period in Herning.

Kane beat goaltender Pavel Francouz from the right circle before Nick Bonino fed Cam Atkinson in front of the net to stretch the lead with a backhand shot.

The Czechs hit back in the second period. Michal Repik reduced the advantage on a slap shot and Martin Necas netted the tying goal on a power play.

”It’s a pity,” Czech forward Tomas Plekanec said. ”We created enough chances to win.”

In Copenhagen, Ryan O'Reilly scored 4:57 into overtime to knock out Russia while captain Connor McDavid had three assists, including on the winning goal.

Hunting its third title in four years, Canada will face Switzerland in the semis.

”Canada are a great team, they always are,” defenseman Roman Josi said after his Switzerland team beat Finland for the first time since 1972.

Defenseman Colton Parayko blasted a slap shot past goaltender Igor Shestyorkin on a power play to give Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the advantage on another power play.

But Alexander Barabanov and Ilya Mikheyev scored in the second period to tie the game.

Kyle Turris made it 3-2 to Canada in the third before Sergei Andronov leveled. Pierre-Luc Dubois put Canada ahead again but Russia answered with a goal from Artyom Anisimov.

Finland looked to be heading for victory after Markus Nutivaara‘s first-period goal, but Switzerland rallied with goals from Enzo Corvi, Joel Vermin and Gregory Hofmann in less than four minutes midway through the second.

”We didn’t start the way we wanted but we reacted in the second period and played very well from then on,” Josi said.

Mikko Rantanen cut the deficit to one goal in the third period.

”This wasn’t what we were looking for,” Finland captain Mikael Granlund said. ”They had the momentum in the second period and we were not able to turn it around.”

Sweden, which won all seven of its preliminary round games, beat Latvia thanks to goals from Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Teodors Blugers and Rudolfs Balcers replied.

US upsets Canada, Russia blanks France to begin worlds

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Cam Atkinson scored the winner for the United States to prevail over Canada 5-4 after a penalty shootout in their opening game at the world ice hockey championship on Friday.

Also, Olympic champion Russia thrashed France 7-0.

Dylan Larkin scored twice for the United States to hand Canada a bitter start to its quest for a third world title in four years.

”Hopefully, we’ll get better as the tournament goes on,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane, playing his first worlds in 10 years, said. ”We can play better than that.”

At 4-3 down, Canada captain Connor McDavid found defenseman Colton Parayko between the circles to equalize with 9:12 remaining in regulation.

In overtime, both teams wasted a power play, and the Group B game in Herning was decided in the shootout.

Canada blew an early 2-0 lead. Pierre-Luc Dubois didn’t waste time and swept the puck high past goalie Keith Kinkaid 47 seconds into the first period.

Ryan O'Reilly doubled the lead with 7:37 left in the period, then Andres Lee pulled one back for the U.S. with a wristed shot.

Larkin tied the score 43 seconds into the second, knocking in a backhand pass from Chris Kreider.

”We had a sloppy first period but Keith was unbelievable tonight,” Larkin said. ”We’re gonna need him through the tournament to play like that.”

Kinkaid made 40 saves as Canada outshot the U.S. 44-25.

”After the first, we settled in and it was nice to get tied up and to get a lead. And he did the rest,” Larkin said.

Midway through the second, forward Johnny Gaudreau scored after Kane fed him a cross to put the U.S. 3-2 ahead.

Anthony Beauvillier answered for Canada on a rebound.

Larkin added his second 3:27 into the final period for the 4-3 lead.

In Copenhagen, Kirill Kaprizov, Pavel Buchnevich and Evgenii Dadonov struck goals midway through the opening period to put Russia in command of their Group A game. Kaprizov added his second in the middle period.

Later Friday, defending champion Sweden played Belarus, and Olympic runner-up Germany faced host Denmark.

Habs have interesting decision to make with third overall pick

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The 2017-18 season was a huge disappointment for the Montreal Canadiens, but they finally got some positive news on Saturday night, as they jumped up one spot in the draft. In June, GM Marc Bergevin will have an interesting decision to make with the third overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft.

Not winning the lottery after being one of the final three teams in the hunt for the top pick must have been deflating for the Habs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ll have the opportunity to come away with a talented teenager. Rasmus Dahlin playing on a pairing with Shea Weber would have been nice, but that’s not going to happen.

So, now that Dahlin is out of the picture, where should the Canadiens go with their pick?

For a team like Montreal, trading the selection should almost be out of the question. Of course, they can always listen to offers from rival general managers, but unless there is a can’t-miss deal on the table, they need to hold on to the pick. As tempting as it might be to get immediate help in the form of a proven NHLer, teams have to consider the value of “cheap” entry-level contracts on their roster.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The consensus top four players available in the upcoming draft are: Dahlin, Russian right winger Andre Svechnikov, Czech right winger Filip Zadina and Boston University left winger Brady Tkachuk.

Getting a talented winger isn’t a problem, but it doesn’t solve one of the Canadiens’ two biggest needs. First, they have two major holes down the middle. They don’t have a legitimate first or second line center on their roster. They drafted Ryan Poehling in the first round last year, but he’ll be heading back to St. Cloud State next season. When it comes to centers, Finnish prospect Jesperi Kontkaniemi is considered by many to be the best one available. Even though he’s been pegged as a top 10 pick by many, no one seems to have him as a top three selection.

Both Svechnikov and Zadina have shown an ability to find the back of the net. This season, Svechnikov scored 40 goals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts of the OHL, while Zadina 44 goals in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads. Tkachuk’s offensive numbers don’t stand out as much (eight goals in 40 games), but he’s a big power forward that has a good combination of size and skill. You know Bergevin will appreciate those attributes.

The other pressing need is a left-handed defenseman. Finding someone talented enough to play top-pairing minutes with Weber has been a problem. Again, there’s no one in the system that can fill that void right away.

There’s a plethora of young defensemen like Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson and Adam Boqvist worthy of being selected in the top 10. Of those four blue liners, only Hughes shoots left.

But finding a true number one center has been a 30-year problem for this organization. Should they stick to taking the best player available, or should they reach a little for a potential top-line center with size? Many people would suggest simply taking the best player and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there are examples of teams going against the grain to select a position of need.

The most recent example near the top of the draft occurred two summers ago, when the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had the third pick, selected center Pierre-Luc Dubois over winger Jesse Puljujarvi. Leading up to the 2016 draft, almost every draft expert had Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi as their top three selections. The fact that the Jackets opted for Dubois was a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t an “off-the-board” selection because Dubois was still considered to be a high-end prospect, but very few people envisioned him going in the top three. Fast-forward two years an that selection has worked out pretty well for Columbus.

With Kotkaniemi making a push up most draft boards, it’ll be interesting to see how much he pops up on the Canadiens’ radar. He had a solid year at the Finnish league as a teenager, as he racked up 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games. In his latest mock draft, TSN scout Craig Button said that Kotkaniemi “plays the game in a similar fashion to Anze Kopitar and to Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.”

If the young Finn comes anywhere close to being Kopitar or Toews, it won’t matter how good the other draft-eligible players turn out to be.

Now, the Canadiens just have to decide whether or not that’s the direction they want to go in with this pick that they absolutely can’t afford to miss on.

A lot of front-office jobs are depending on it.

MORE: Buffalo Sabres to select No. 1 overall after winning 2018 NHL Draft Lottery

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.

How should Columbus feel about its season?

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are a team with a relatively young core. Even though Columbus was an “underdog” in its first-round series against the Capitals, Columbus has to be disappointed with the way things ended, and there’s a few reasons for that.

The Jackets caught the league by storm last season, as they went from a 76-point season in 2015-16 to a 108-point season in 2016-17. John Tortorella’s team went from being 15th in East to third in the Metropolitan Division, but they eventually lost to Pittsburgh in five games last spring. At the time, that outcome was widely accepted as being successful (by people outside the organization) because of the quick turnaround from one year to the next. This year’s playoff loss is a different story.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Before we dive into what went wrong during the postseason, let’s take a look at the 82 games of the regular season first.

Columbus won eight of 12 games in October. They followed that up by dropping four games in a row early in November, but they responded by rattling off six consecutive wins. Even though they got off to a good start, Tortorella made it clear that their stars weren’t playing well. A lot of their early-season success came from Sergei Bobrovsky‘s stellar play.

Their play fell apart in the middle of the year, but even though it looked like they were in trouble, they managed to get their season back on the rails.

Artemi Panarin eventually got comfortable and he became the offensive catalyst the Blue Jackets expected him to be. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who’s still just a teenager, also grew up quite a bit during the season. He looked more confident down the stretch. It took some time, but Cam Atkinson also picked up his play in the second half of the year. Combine all that with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and company on defense and Bobrovsky, and you have a team that ended up finishing in a Wild Card spot. For whatever reason, it simply didn’t end up working out in the postseason.

Things were looking good early on, especially because they found a way to win Games 1 and 2 in Washington. Going back home with a 2-0 lead should have resulted in the Jackets eventually punching their ticket to the second round. Instead, they’ll be hitting the golf course earlier than they wanted to.

That’s not to say that the Blue Jackets totally fell apart. Four of the six games against Washington ended in overtime. In Game 5, they completely dominated the Capitals, outshooting them 16-1 over the final 20 minutes of regulation. Unfortunately for them, they ended up losing in overtime on a perfect deflection from Nicklas Backstrom. Washington ended up taking a 3-2 lead in the series and they never looked back.

“We learned a lot about ourselves, but I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m tired of learning,” Nick Foligno said after being eliminated, per beat reporter Steve Gorten. I want to continue to get better, and continue to move on. I hope we understand that now’s the time for this team.

“We had a real good opportunity being up 2-0 and didn’t make the most of it. That’s how fine it is to win. It’s hard in the postseason to close out things. I hope guys understand and realize the window you have to win. This is a hell of a team. Now’s the time to start winning.”

The quote above says it all. They may have put together back-to-back solid campaigns, but they’re a team that has legitimate expectations when it comes to making a run. As well as they’ve played at different times over the last two years, it doesn’t mean much if they don’t take the next step when it counts.

The Blue Jackets aren’t just a good story anymore, they’re a team that people expect to see in the playoffs every year. But simply getting into the postseason isn’t good enough by the fans’ standards or the team’s standards.

There’s some solid building blocks in place, now it’s just about gaining the confidence necessary to overcome adversity in the playoffs. The next two or three seasons should be interesting for this organization. Still, you can’t help but feel that they didn’t take a step forward in 2017-18.

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.