Tyler Ennis

Draisaitl picks his all-time Oilers team, talks life without hockey

Oilers star (and NHL points leader) Leon Draisaitl answered several fan questions with Dave Amber for “Hockey at Home.”

Here are some of the subjects Draisaitl covered:

Draisaitl picks his all-time Oilers, talks running line without Connor McDavid

The more nuts-and-bolts hockey stuff was pretty straightforward.

Take, for instance, Draisaitl’s all-time Oilers picks. While he didn’t directly say he’d make such a team, Draisaitl admitted it would be fun to line up with Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. His goalie choice was obvious (Grant Fuhr), but it was amusing to see him try to pick a second defenseman after Paul Coffey.

Draisaitl also discussed how well things have been going during the latest attempt to move him away from McDavid. That has indeed been going well, as Draisaitl is finding nice chemistry with Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Ennis, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also been in that mix.

Pondering life without hockey

That more nitty-gritty hockey stuff aside, some of the best fun comes later in the interview.

When a young fan asked Draisaitl what he would do if he wasn’t a hockey player, Draisaitl struggled. He thought that, if he wasn’t an NHL player, Draisaitl would still be involved in the game somehow.

Then, after taking some time to reflect, he stumbled upon a Plan B or C … um, soccer player? Amusingly, Draisaitl explained that he gave up hockey for a year when he was eight or nine to focus on soccer.

Thankfully for Draisaitl and the Oilers, that didn’t stick. Perhaps Draisaitl should have followed that up with “Hey, kids, maybe don’t plan your life as hockey or nothing,” but this remains a fun interview.

And not just because of this fan’s hat:

fan Oilers Leon Draisaitl Hockey at Home

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Senators

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Ottawa Senators.

Sharks’ staggering disappointments become big, positive surprises for Senators

The fallout of the Erik Karlsson trade remains hard to believe.

Sure, many of us expected the Sharks to eventually suffer with an aging group starring Karlsson and Brent Burns. But for that to happen in such a dramatic way in 2019-20? Few of us saw that coming.

So, remarkably, the Senators have almost as good of a chance to find the next face of their franchise with the Sharks’ 2020 first-round pick as Ottawa does with its own selection. Pretty mind-blowing stuff.

Senators resist the urge to buy high — so far

There were real fears that the Senators wouldn’t be able to resist the siren call with Jean-Gabriel Pageau‘s explosive contract year.

We see it plenty of times in the NHL. Whether it’s a contender or a team just trying to save face, a GM gets convinced to ignore red flags and sign a cap-clogging contract extension. Luckily, the Senators shook off such self-destructive instincts.

Now, one can wonder how much the Pageau trade has to do with, erm, “budgetary constraints.” But the result is what matters. Instead of possibly paying a good player too much money — one who, at 27, might be in decline by the time the Senators really can compete — Ottawa landed a bushel of quality picks from the Islanders.

Disappointments around the margins by Senators management

Trading away Pageau was a pretty progressive move, but beyond that, I wonder if GM Pierre Dorion left opportunities on the table.

Look, Anthony Duclair ended up being a great story this season, making an All-Star appearance. As someone who believed that Duclair could be a helpful player for some NHL team, it was nice to see that play out.

Frankly, I believe the Senators would have been wiser to try to sell high with a Duclair trade much like they did with Pageau. Sure, savvy teams likely saw through Duclair’s strong offensive numbers and noted that his defensive shortcomings push him closer to neutral …

Senators disappointments surprises GAR
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

… but someone probably would have coughed up a decent set of assets for a speedy, 24-year-old winger with just a $1.65M cap hit. Right?

Such moves aren’t the end of the world, especially if the Senators don’t go too wild with Duclair’s next contract. Making bigger calls with Karlsson and Pageau move the needle much more.

I do wonder if the Senators missed out on the margins, though, and have for a while.

Selling Tyler Ennis, Vladislav Namestnikov, and to a lesser extent Dylan DeMelo is pretty smart. Most of those assets merely making up for acquiring Namestnikov and Mike Reilly? A little bit curious for a team that’s in an obvious rebuild.

Ottawa’s season wasn’t pretty, but wasn’t the disaster many expected

Yes, the Senators ended up almost where we expected: near the bottom. Maybe credit first-year head coach D.J. Smith for keeping them hungry.

The “could have been worse” theme continues because, unlike some other teams that avoided total humiliation, the Senators didn’t ride on sheer luck. Their goalies were a bit below average, as was their shooting luck. Ottawa’s special teams were putrid, likely the most obvious sign of a glaring lack of talent.

Senators surprises disappointments xG
Visualization by Charting Hockey; data via Evolving Hockey

Falling a bit below average by various metrics? Not so bad.

No doubt about it, you’re grading on a curve when it comes to the Senators. When you adjust your expectations, you’d say Ottawa passed many of its tests. The question is, can the Senators graduate from the more remedial parts of this rebuild, or are these small surprises setting the stage for devastating disappointments?

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Ottawa Senators.

2019-20 Ottawa Senators

Record: 25-34-12 (62 points in 71 games), second-worst in the East and in the NHL.
Leading Scorer: Brady Tkachuk – 44 points (21 goals and 23 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

Heading into 2019-20, the question wasn’t if the Senators would be good or bad. It was how bad? Would the season be an eternal slog mixed with more groan-worthy headlines regarding owner Eugene Melnyk?

The answers: pretty bad, but maybe could have been worse, and … sure, there were bad Melnyk moments, yet 2019-20 wasn’t as drama-loaded as previous seasons.

Instead of the Senators being the kings of the cellar, the Red Wings were the ones who stunk up the joint quite royally. Sure, Ottawa sits second-worst in both the East and the NHL. They still showed some fight here and there, as the Sharks (63 points in 70 games) and Kings (64 in 70) weren’t that far ahead of the Sens.

Maybe most importantly, they didn’t overreact to, say, Jean-Gabriel Pageau playing over his head. As much as trading Pageau might have stung, Ottawa made the right decision.

With the Senators, you can’t always assume that they’ll make the correct judgments. As a franchise-altering 2020 NHL Draft looms, they’ll need to pair wise choices with lottery luck to make the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Senators

Let’s be honest. It’s probably that the Sharks ended up almost as bad as the Senators.

It’s not yet clear how the 2020 NHL Draft’s lottery will work, but under the old parameters, the Senators hold the second and third-highest odds to land the top pick. Both of those picks have more than one-in-three odds of at least landing in the top three, according to Tankathon.

So, yeah, the biggest highlight or lowlight will probably boil down to whether or not Senators fans see their team’s logo on those prime real estate picks. That doesn’t mean that it’s a disaster if they don’t get the chance to pick Alexis Lafreniere, but the future would look far more promising if they did.

For a more immediate highlight, you won’t beat Bobby Ryan netting a hat trick in his return from dealing with alcohol issues.

MORE ON THE SENATORS:

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.

Long-term outlook for Edmonton Oilers: Free agents, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Edmonton Oilers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Is there an NHL team that boasts a better duo than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? What if you weigh the future, being that McDavid is 23 and Draisaitl is 24?

Of course, the Oilers pay for the luxury of a duo that carries them to competence.

Now, I’d argue that McDavid + Draisaitl is a combo worth $21M (honestly, McDavid’s probably worth nearly that much alone). Even so, the combo eats up about 25 percent of this season’s $81.5M cap ceiling. Thanks to the COVID-19 pause, it will be a chore to maintain that level, let alone bump it to $82M or higher.

When you begin paying your stars like actual stars, every mistake cuts that much deeper.

About $14.2M of the Oilers’ space will be eaten up by James Neal, retaining some of Milan Lucic‘s salary, Zack Kassian‘s extension, and the questionable Mikko Koskinen extension. Add in dead money like the Andrej Sekera buyout and the margin of error gets even smaller.

Could that force the Oilers to wave goodbye to, say, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after 2020-21? Rather than landing a big fish in free agency, will Edmonton be stuck searching the bargain bin year after year?

There’s at least an opening to put together a more efficient defense.

Oscar Klefbom‘s had some stumbles, but he’s worthwhile as either a key defenseman or a trade chip at a reasonable $4.167M through 2022-23. Darnell Nurse received a bridge contract to keep him in the fold. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and/or Philp Broberg could help out with cheap deals through at least 2021-22.

If the Oilers fail to trade them away before their contracts run out, the $8M+ of Kris Russell and Adam Larsson goes off the books after 2020-21.

So, as time goes on, the Oilers could have a decent mix of value and youthfulness on defense. Of course, that’s if Holland makes the right moves, rather than believing too much in the likes of Mike Green.

Holland must answer: who’s going to help McDavid and Draisaitl? Will Andreas Athanasiou be part of the core? Oh yeah, and what about Jesse Puljujarvi?

Long-term needs for Oilers

Even in the optimistic situation where Koskinen persists as a 1A/1B platoon option, the Oilers still need answers in net. Mike Smith hasn’t been effective, and the pending UFA is 38. Koskinen is no spring chicken at 31.

The Oilers could enjoy a less clunky defense in the near future, but if Broberg, Nurse, and Bouchard have limited ceilings, Edmonton would still need a blue-chipper. Maybe two.

And it’s abundantly clear that the Oilers struggle to find help beyond McDavid and Draisaitl.

If there’s any area where Ken Holland can help the organization learn from sins of the past, it’s draft and development. Can they find talent beyond those high first-rounders, as the Oilers so rarely did before? Can they avoid botching development for the closest answers to the next Puljujarvi or Nail Yakupov?

Long-term strengths for Oilers

Because, the thing is, Edmonton still lucked into many key building blocks for a championship foundation.

If everything else is equal, McDavid + Draisaitl are topping most (if not all) other duos. RNH, Kailer Yamamoto, and other younger forwards can help out, just generally not enough.

And, again, help might be on its way on defense.

Through all this turmoil, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman still ranked the Oilers’ under-23 core group as the top one in the NHL back in September (sub required).

Chiarelli and even Holland dug quite a few holes for Edmonton with poor asset management, in trades and otherwise. Yet there’s still a lot to work with, and Holland could very well build a contender if he hits the right buttons.

Really, that’s what’s been frustrating about the McDavid era: you almost need to be creative to find ways to make it all not work. It’s frustrating that Taylor Hall hasn’t been there as McDavid and Draisaitl grew, but that mistake is in the past.

The Oilers can take that next step. They simply made the journey bumpier thanks to taking many wrong turns.

MORE ON THE OILERS

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers

Record: 37-25-9 (71 games), second in the Pacific Division
Leading Scorer: Leon Draisaitl 110 points (43 goals and 67 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Angus Redmond and a 2022 conditional seventh-round pick from Anaheim for Joel Persson.
• Traded a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Tyler Ennis.
• Acquired Mike Green from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick.
• Traded Sam Gagner, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings for Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner.

Season Overview: 

The Oilers are as top heavy as any team in the NHL. How top heavy? Well, the top two scorers in the league are on Edmonton’s roster. Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have combined to score over 200 points this season.

The Oilers have been rolling with these two guys for a while, but the new combination of general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett have helped take the team to another level.

There aren’t many teams that got off to a better start than Edmonton did this year. They won their first five games and seven of their first eight. Obviously, they couldn’t keep that pace up, but they managed to stay within striking distance of top spot in the division thanks to their offensive capabilities.

Not only do they have those two top threats, they’ve also received solid contributions from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Zack Kassian and James Neal. Also, calling Kailer Yamamoto up from the minors was a game-changer for them.

The 21-year-old had 26 games of NHL experience before this season (he had one goal and four assists during that stretch). He’s suited up in 27 games this year and he’s found a way to collect an impressive 26 points. This youngster has given the Oilers another dangerous weapon in their arsenal. Even though they’re ranked 18th in goals against in 2019-20, they can make up for their with the attack.

Did Edmonton have enough to go all the way? Probably not. But when you have multiple superstars like McDavid and Draisaitl on your roster and you find some interesting supporting pieces you just never know.

Highlight of the Season:

Ironically enough, the most memorable moment of the season for Edmonton probably wasn’t a spectacular goal or an incredible offensive outburst.

The highlight everyone will remember most was the battles between Kassian and Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk.

If the playoffs were to start today, the Oilers and Flames would go head-to-head in the first round. A seven-game series between these provincial rivals would’ve been must-see TV.

Hopefully we get to see that. For now, we’ll have to settle for this:

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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.