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Morrissey finally signs; is Nurse next?

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(UPDATE: Nurse has signed a two-year deal with the Oilers.)

One of the notable restricted free agents left to sign is now off that list.

The Winnipeg Jets got great value on Sunday, signing one of the league’s more underrated defenseman in Josh Morrissey to a two-year bridge deal with a $3.15 million annual value.

The signing ended a stalemate between both the club and Morrissey’s camp that surprisingly crept into training camp. Morrissey missed the first three days as preseason proceedings got underway in Winnipeg on Friday.

It’s likely the Jets were trying to get Morrissey to sign a long-term deal with the club at a cap-friendly price given the Jets are dangerously close to the $79.5 million ceiling.

Instead, Morrissey will bet on himself and the chance to get a big payday in 2020 when he will become an RFA once again, and the Jets will enjoy two more seasons of the 23-year-old at a bargain price. With the future of Jacob Trouba up in the air and with Dustin Byfuglien set to become an unrestricted free agent a after the 2020-21 season, Morrissey could be in line for a long-term deal worth more than double what he is making now.

[MORE: Despite their ascendance, Jets know nothing will come easy this season]

In the interim, the deal solidifies Winnipeg’s top pairing with Morrissey and Trouba in a big year for the Jets, who got to the Western Conference Final last season on the back of a 52-win, 114-point regular season.

With Morrissey’s deal done, it will be interesting to see if the ball gets rolling in Edmonton with another high-profile RFA in defenseman in Darnell Nurse.

With the news of Andrej Sekera being out indefinitely with a torn Achilles‘, it’s somewhat shocking that the Oilers haven’t got Nurse under contract given their thin depth on defense.

Talks there seem to be at an impasse with Nurse reportedly wanting $4 million. Perhaps Morrissey’s signing can kickstart negotiations again now that there’s a benchmark in place.

Toronto’s William Nylander also is in need of a new contract although, like Nurse, talks between general manager Kyle Dubas and the young Swede seem to be at a standstill.

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

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

Under Pressure: Cam Talbot

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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. 

We here at PHT have had goalies in this spot more times than not so far this month.

It comes with the territory. It’s the most important position on the ice and responsible, ultimately, for how many pucks end up counting against a given team.

Talbot is coming off a season where he wasn’t himself. A .908 save percentage was the worst of his career. He went from stopping over 22 goals above average to a negative number and faced the fourth most shots against of any starter in the NHL. The game he played as he helped lead the Oilers to the brink of the Western Conference Final in 2017 simply wasn’t around this past season.

Talbot’s responsible for his own game, but he was let down by others around him. He faced four more shots per/60 last season than he did before. In fact, Talbot played nearly 450 minutes less last season but still saved just six fewer shots than he did in 2016-17. The Oilers, as has already been mentioned several times today, were an unmitigated disaster last year. Goaltending contributed to that, but Talbot wasn’t the sole reason for it. A better effort from those in front of him could go a long way to his rebound attempt.

Talbot faces the pressure this season of replicating what he did two years ago, because with the lack of moves the Oilers have made to get better this offseason, their season might just hinge on if he can put together another Vezina-caliber type campaign.

[Looking back at ’17-18 | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

“I have a pretty good feeling,” Talbot said near the end of the season. “If you compare this season to my first four years, this is the outlier. It wasn’t just last year (that he was solid). I had three good years before that. I don’t see myself as two different goaltenders. I see myself as one guy.”

And those are just the on-ice pressures a goalie faces.

Talbot is entering a contract year and the biggest potential for him to earn big bucks next offseason will come down to his performance. Two out of three seasons with upper echelon numbers and the excuse that the Oilers were bad in his down year will go along way in negotiations, especially if he gets off to a good start.

Talbot’s save percentage never dipped below .917 before last season, so there’s every reason to think that was a just a blip on the radar and not the status quo moving forward.

A rebound season from Talbot should net him a nice salary increase from the near $4.2 million he’s making at the moment. That would present an interesting situation for the cap-strapped Oilers.

There’s not much fat getting trimmed off the cap next summer for the Oilers. Talbot, backup Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya (buried contract) and defenseman Kevin Gravel (making a paltry $700K) are the only UFAs slated for next summer on their current roster. The likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira are all set to become restricted free agents and will need a raise in some fashion.

The Oilers need Talbot to play very well, but it’s a double-edged sword.

Either way, Talbot faces several pressures this season, from both a team standpoint as well as a personal one. Talbot has proven he can play among the league’s elite in goal. Now he has to prove he can get back there.

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

Trade: Blue Jackets welcome back a familiar face in Mark Letestu in three-way deal

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Trade deadline day could be a snoozefest at this rate.

The trade: Predators acquire Mark Letestu from the Edmonton Oilers for Pontus Aberg. Predators then trade Letestu to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Why the Predators are making this trade: Picks are nice. Teams like draft picks. Aberg also hadn’t played in 10 days and his future in the Music City was in doubt. Perhaps the deal is part of a bigger plan for general manager David Poile, who apparently are in the running for Erik Karlsson. (Wouldn’t that be something.)

Or maybe another conspiracy?

Why the Oilers are making this trade: Two words: Fire. Sale. The Oilers need to dump pending unrestricted free agents and get something in return. Aberg is the return. He wasn’t a fit on a very strong Predators team but perhaps could offer something to the Oilers going forward. He has one year left on a two-year, $1.3 million deal.

Or maybe not:

Why the Blue Jackets are making this trade: The Blue Jackets needed help in their bottom six and get some with veteran center Letestu, who will likely be hungry to perform as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Letestu knows the area well, having played parts of four season with the Blue Jackets. He has eight goals and 19 points in 60 games this season.

Perhaps some further context as well:

Who won this trade: Another one of these even deals, for the most part. Blue Jackets get depth, Predators grab a pick. But what do the Oilers gain in Aberg? He’s a cheap player going forward, but his metrics aren’t great. Maybe a change of scenery will help. Edmonton got something for a pending UFA, so that’s something.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker


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