James Neal

Edmonton Oilers

Check out the Oilers’ new alternate jersey

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The Edmonton Oilers underwent a lot of change over the summer with the hiring of a new general manager (Ken Holland), a new head coach (Dave Tippett), and a handful of new players (most notably, James Neal and Mike Smith).

There is also going to be a small change in their look.

The team unveiled their new alternate uniforms on Thursday, a look they will sport for all Friday home games during the 2019-20 season.

Check it out.

The Oilers point out that the uniform “emboldens the iconic Oilers logo, removing all white accents to bring the crest alive on the ice.”

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look or not?

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.

Will ‘Vegas flu’ continue for Golden Knights’ opponents?

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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 Vegas Golden Knights.

Plenty of sports teams boast rowdy fans and wild atmospheres, but until the Raiders and Jon Gruden’s grimaces give them company, the Vegas Golden Knights can boast an edge that’s truly unique.

Now, sure, people might get so carried away about “The Vegas Flu” that they might exaggerate the advantage, and downplay the fact that the Golden Knights win games because they’re really good, not just out of some notion that their opponents woke up that morning wondering where that tattoo came from.

But you’d be kidding yourself if you argued that there’s no advantage, and a strong home record so far adds credence to the arguments. After going 29-10-2 at home in their inaugural 2017-18 season, the Golden Knights were still pretty tough to beat in their own building, managing 24-12-5 home record despite some bumps in 2019-20 (including a 19-20-2 record away from Las Vegas).

So, an X-factor for the Golden Knights’ 2019-20 season is simple enough: how much of an advantage might home ice be for Vegas once again?

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

To some extent, you can’t blame coaches for merely washing their hands of various curfew-breaking risks, and just accepting the situation.

As James Neal said as part of NBC’s doc “Knight Fever,” there are certain temptations that come with Sin City, and Connor McDavid points out that those vices may drive you to lose some sleep. Even normally disciplined players might want to let loose, and that must be especially true for Eastern Conference opponents who don’t make it to The Strip all that often during a given season.

Vegas might provide an edge even if you ignore the most obvious elements that might leave players with bags under their eyes. The weather is generally a lot nicer, and like with plenty of Western Conference teams, travel can be a challenge.

Combine those factors with over-the-top “Medieval Times”-inspired entertainment before games, along with – again – this team being quite good, and getting minor line matching advantages when you’re actually on the ice, and it’s really just common sense that the Golden Knights are just that much more formidable at home. It’s probably a relief to the rest of the league that, generally, Vegas only has a small overall advantaged in “rested vs. tired” scenarios (counting both home and away).

Yet, with this being the Golden Knights’ third season in Vegas and NHL existence, opponents might be less vulnerable to various traps.

Most obviously, the novelty factor continues to wear off. Some players might have gotten those Galifianakis nights out of their systems already. Coaches might know what “works” or the closest thing to what works, by now. Gluttons may have tired of various buffets.

Whether the advantage moves the needle or is merely marginal, the Golden Knights should seek out home-ice nonetheless. After all, we’ll never really know the answer to a painful “What if?” question: would Cody Eakin have received that major penalty for the hit that bloodied Joe Pavelski if it happened in Vegas, rather than in front of horrified San Jose Sharks fans?

We’ll find out soon enough if the NHL teams have found their vaccines for “The Vegas Flu.”

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

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.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Bounce-back candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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After looking at the top breakout and regression candidates in our previous offseason PHT Power Rankings, we shift our focus this week to more established players that should be better (and maybe significantly better) than they were a year ago.

Who are among our top-10 bounce-back candidates for the 2019-20 NHL season?

To the rankings!

1. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets. For the majority of NHL players scoring 30 goals in a season would be a huge accomplishment. For Patrik Laine in 2018-19 it was probably a hugee disappointment. He was supposed to challenge Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring crown but never really came close to doing so. His season was made by one 12-game hot streak in November where he scored 18 goals, then managed just 12 goals in the other 70 games thanks mostly to an uncharacteristically low 6 percent shooting percentage in those games. That is a fluke and will not last. He is too good, too talented, and has too good of shot for it continue.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. He missed the first quarter of the season due to an extended contract negotiation and never really had a chance to get rolling once he returned. Despite the poor production, there were a lot of positive signs that indicate he can (and will) bounce back. HIs possession numbers were outstanding and he still generated a fair number of shots, he was just crushed by a 5.6 shooting percentage. A fresh start and a full season will do him well.

3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings. There is really no way to sugarcoat Doughty’s 2018-19 season — it was bad. Maybe it was the result of playing on a terrible Kings team that had nothing going for it. Maybe it was the fact he is inching closer to his 30th birthday and reaching a point where he will inevitably start to slow down. Maybe it was just a down year. It was probably a combination of all three. Whatever the case, he had a miserable year as the Kings were absolutely steamrolled when he was on the ice. He is too good and has too much of a track record for that to happen two years in a row.

4. James Neal, Edmonton Oilers. His days as a 35-or 40-goal scorer are probably done but did his career really fall of a cliff that quickly? Scoring 20-25 goals shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation, and if he manages to do that it will be a nice bounce back season and really help a painfully thin Oilers roster.

[Related: Can James Neal bounce-back after tough year in Calgary?]

5. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. The raw numbers point to a strong season offensively, but there weree a lot of flaws to his game in a lot of areas (5-on-5 and defensively, to be specific). He wasn’t *bad* but he can definitely be a lot better and will no doubt be motivated to show he is still one of the elite players in the league. It is a big year for him in Pittsburgh.

6. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. Quick has always been a polarizing player because he’s never been as good as his loudest supporters think he is or as bad as his loudest critics think he is. He’s a perfectly fine starting goalie that’s had two amazing playoff runs. That’s it. He’s not an all-time great and he’s not bad. He’s just … good. For some reason that is difficult for people to accept. No matter what side of the Quick argument you fall on you should probably be willing to acknowledge he is not going to repeat the .888 save percentage he finished last season with. He is WAY better than that.

7. Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders. There were a lot of shocking things about the Islanders’ turnaround a year ago. One of the more overlooked storylines is that they were able to make the playoffs despite their best and most important returning player — Barzal — regressing almost entirely across the board. After one of the finest rookie seasons we have seen in years, expectations were through the roof for Barzal in year two. He was good, but probably fell short of what was expected of him.

8. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Benn’s slower than expected start drew the ire of team CEO Jim Lites even though he was still one of the four or five players on the team that actually produced. Still, it wasn’t the typical Jamie Benn season in Dallas. His 0.68 point per game average was the second lowest of his career (only his rookie season was worse) and a sharp decline from what we are used to seeing from him. The fact that is considered a “down” year is a testament to how good he has been. He is not finished as an elite scorer just yet.

9. Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks. During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons Rakell was one of the best and most overlooked goal-scorers in the league, scoring at a 37-goal pace per 82 games. He was one of the go-to players for the Ducks offensively and looked to be ready for another huge year this past season. But his down year was one of the many things to go wrong in Anaheim as his offensive production plummeted. A lot of the decline was shooting percentage driven and he should be able to recover from that this season.

10. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. Like Barzal in New York, Keller went through a bit of a sophomore slump for the Coyotes. The good news is he didn’t regress all that much, is still only 21 years old, and has already demonstrated an ability to be a top-line player in the league. If he gets back to the level he was at during his rookie season (or even takes a step forward) it will go a long way toward ending the Coyotes’ playoff drought.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Neal’s history with Tippett; Chiarelli in Wild GM mix?

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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.

• This can only end in disaster. (Edmonton Journal)

• Where are the 30 players taken in the Vegas expansion draft now? (Sportsnet)

James Neal‘s history with Dave Tippett is fueling optimism after his move to Edmonton. (NHL.com)

• The NHL salary cap is here to stay. (Featurd)

• Senators won’t be competitive until they prioritize talent over finances. (Sportsnet)

• Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be Stanley Cup favorites. (Editor in Leaf)

• Lafreniere laughing all the way to the NHL. (Featurd)

• Are the latest Jake Gardiner rumors about the Montreal Canadiens? (A Winning Habit)

• It’s a made-for-Hollywood story, and NHL nails it with video showcasing Cup champion Blues. (St. Louis Today)

• Can you make a competitive lineup solely out of the Leafs’ draft picks? (Pension Plan Puppets)

Chris Kunitz reflects after announcing retirement. (Penguins)

• ‘I paved the way’: The story of Fred Sasakamoose’s historic rise to the NHL. (The Daily Press)

• Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson attacked by family dog, hospitalized. (AZ Central)

• The Andrei Vasilevskiy contract is risky business. (Raw Charge)


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