Jesse Puljujarvi

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Flames land top NCAA free agent; Rielly wins in transition

Flames land NCAA free agent Connor Mackey, Colton Poolman, Morning Skate
Getty Images
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.

• The Flames recently signed two NCAA players to bolster their defense: Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman. Frank Seravalli goes into detail on the Flames’ “two-year pursuit” of Mackey. Seravalli deemed Mackey the No. 1 NCAA free agent available this spring, making Mackey quite the get for the Flames. (TSN)

• Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke with Mark Spector about resolving the situation with Jesse Puljujarvi, which will be a challenge whenever there’s an actual chance to address it. In that same piece, Ken Hitchcock praised Puljujarvi as at least a useful third-line type player, while admitting he isn’t sure Puljujarvi will end up being more than that. (Sportsnet)

• Lou Lamoriello answered fan questions on the Islanders website, which meant a lot of Lou-like non-answers, sometimes comically so. (Yes, he even briefly discussed his fascination with lower jersey numbers.) Later on Sunday, we’ll ponder Lamoriello saying the Islanders would match a Mathew Barzal offer sheet. There’s other noteworthy information, though. The Islanders expect Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas back if play resumes this season/playoffs, while Adam Pelech should be ready for training camp before 2020-21. (Islanders)

• Could the Penguins actually keep their first-round pick from the Jason Zucker trade if the season isn’t completed? Pensburgh goes over that, and in doing so, lays out some of the tricky questions the NHL would face if COVID-19 forces more than just a pause for 2019-20. (Pensburgh)

• Helene St. James hands out best and worst awards for the Red Wings. In doing so, St. James posits that Justin Abdelkader will be waived and sent to the AHL in 2020-21. (Detroit Free-Press)

• Steve Simmons went looking for a phone number in an old phonebook, and found himself pausing to remember several names from the past. (Steve Simmons)

• How Malcolm Subban and Brendan Perlini could make strange history for the Blackhawks. Could Subban end up having the shortest “career” with the Blackhawks ever? (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Andrew Berkshire takes a look at defensemen who excel at that transition game, with Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leading the pack. (Sportsnet)

• Fun 2020 NHL Draft angle from McKeen’s Hockey: the most polarizing prospect from each region, starting with Antonio Stranges in the OHL. (McKeen’s Hockey)

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.

Kings face key stages of rebuild with trade deadline, 2020 NHL Draft

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

While the Avalanche hope to become true Stanley Cup contenders, the Kings wonder how to reclaim that form.

The next few months are crucial for both teams, only in dramatically different ways. After looking at Colorado’s climb to contention, let’s ponder how the Kings are handling their rebuild.

Kings get off to strong start with rebuild

Experts already rave about the building blocks the Kings have amassed.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (sub required) and The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell both ranked the Kings’ farm system number one in recent articles. In fact, Wheeler ranked the Kings first with “no hesitation.”

They seem to be combining quantity with quality. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed six Kings prospects in his top 100 rankings (sub required), with Arthur Kaliyev finishing highest at seventh. Five of those six landed in the top 50 of that list, with Samuel Fagemo barely missing at 53.

You can nitpick elements of that pool, as with just about any. But overall, it seems like the Kings are pressing many of the right buttons. So far.

Trade deadline provides opportunities as Kings rebuild

Rob Blake could accelerate this rebuild with deft trades.

To his credit, he was already aggressive in landing a nice haul for Jake Muzzin last season, and once again extracted a solid package from Toronto in the Jack Campbell trade.

Neither Tyler Toffoli nor Alec Martinez boast the same trade value as Muzzin, but maybe the Kings can seize some opportunities anyway? This year’s deadline market seems pretty shallow, so perhaps Blake may take advantage.

Who should stick around?

Looking further down the line, it’s tough to imagine the Kings shaking loose from Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown. Moving Jonathan Quick also sounds unlikely.

(That said, the Kings should pull the trigger if there are suitors, and if Carter and others would comply.)

Ultimately, your optimism may vary regarding the futures for veteran stars Kopitar (32, $10M AAV through 2023-24) and Doughty (30, $11M AAV through 2026-27). Actually, go ahead and take a moment to wince at those contracts. That’s a natural reaction.

There’s only so much the Kings can do about the aging curve, at least since they already signed the extensions. The Kings could at least take steps to be proactive, though, with hopes that Doughty and/or Kopitar can still help out once the prospects (hopefully) bloom.

Right now, Doughty is averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game (25:56) while Kopitar is logging almost 21 (20:46). With the Kings far out of contention, I must ask … why would you run them into the ground? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take measures to keep them fresher for 2020-21 and beyond?

That’s where Todd McLellan creates an interesting dialogue. On one hand, there’s evidence that he’s a good or even very good coach, including in Hockey Viz’s breakdowns. That data argues that McLellan positively impacts his teams on both ends, especially lately:

McLellan HockeyViz

The Kings can’t judge their coach based on structure alone, though. McLellan received some criticism for how he handled young players like Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton, so Los Angeles must be wary about McLellan’s development impact.

If McLellan can’t be convinced to scale down minutes for the likes of Doughty and Kopitar (at least after the deadline, in particular), then that’s a contextual problem, too.

Kings need some lottery ball luck for next phase of rebuild

Right now, the Kings rank as the worst team in the West, and second worst in the NHL. The Senators could sink below the Kings and grab the second-best lottery odds:

via NHL.com

Shrewd moves propel rebuilds forward, but luck is crucial, too. As excited as people are about their prospects, the Kings’ rebuild could swing based on getting the chance to draft Alexis Lafreniere, landing another blue-chipper like Quinton Byfield, or slipping just out of the truly elite range.

[Mock Draft for 2020; prospect rankings heading into the season]

Up to this point, the Kings are doing a good job “making their own luck.” Even so, the trade deadline and 2020 NHL Draft represent the biggest make-or-break moments of all.

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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.

Oilers’ Puljujarvi, Stars’ Honka won’t play in NHL this season

Getty Images

With Sunday’s RFA deadline having passed, neither Dallas Stars defenseman Julius Honka nor Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi will play for any NHL team during the 2019-20 season.

Both Finnish players are plying their trade in Finland’s Liiga this season. Puljujarvi’s play has been particularly tantalizing, as the big winger has 24 points in 25 games so far for Karpat. (Honka has six points in 15 games for JyP HT Jyvaskyla.)

Of course, things feel more fraught with Puljujarvi because of the stakes. The 21-year-old was the fourth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, and it was a surprise to most that he didn’t go third overall. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has been a find for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pulujuarvi’s development has been bumpy with the Oilers, skewing more toward the Nail Yakupov route than that of, say, Leon Draisaitl.

Time will tell if Puljujarvi can prove that he actually isn’t a bust, but either way, it at least feels like he won’t suit up with the Oilers again. That said, Ken Holland has pointed to instances during his time as GM of the Detroit Red Wings where players seemed like they wouldn’t suit up again for Detroit, only for them to return — at least sometimes. (Jiri Hudler’s a decent example.)

It’s difficult to tell what Puljujarvi’s ceiling or floor really is, but it feels like he should at least be able to help an NHL team, so it feels like a waste. There are certain signs that he could at least be someone who brings something to the table, such as his Hockey Viz heat chart via Micah Blake McCurdy:

Solid enough. One could picture Puljujarvi giving the Oilers a much-needed boost beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, if only new Oilers management could find a way to earn a clean slate (or maybe Holland would’ve needed to pony up some more money?).

To a less dramatic extent, Honka has been one of those players whose underlying stats make you think that he should be helpful … if nothing else, at least as a bottom-pairing defenseman, as the bar isn’t especially high at that level:

Alas, neither one could really stick in lineups, whether they weren’t quite ready for the NHL, found their way into coaches’ doghouses, or some combination of factors.

Both situations seem wasteful, even if each player might only be capable of fairly average results. Oh well, maybe we’ll see them in the NHL next year — wherever they might play?

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.

Five players that could be on the move

We don’t typically see a lot of trade activity early on in the regular season, but with parity at an all-time high across the NHL teams may be tempted to make a splash earlier than normal. The St. Louis Blues, for example, have already done so by acquiring Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. So, who’s the next one to be moved?

Nobody’s completely out of the playoff race yet, but some general managers have to know that there’s a good chance they won’t be playing meaningful hockey in April. At the same time, there are some good teams that are outside the playoff picture right now, so they may be looking to shake up their roster a little bit.

Let’s take a look at five players that can possibly be on the move in the next little while.

• Jesse Puljujarvi – RW – Edmonton Oilers:

Puljujarvi isn’t playing for the Oilers right now because he wasn’t in love with the contract offer they made him this summer. The 21-year-old had just four goals and nine points in 45 games, but he has a nice combination of size and skill that most teams would kill to have at their disposal. The former fourth overall pick in 2016 has opened the season with Karpat of the Finnish league where he has 11 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Sure, the Finnish League competition isn’t like the NHL, but that’s still an impressive start. The Oilers need some forward depth pretty badly, so they could be tempted to pull the trigger if another team is willing to give them that in return for Puljujarvi’s services.

• Julius Honka – D – Dallas Stars:

Alright, let’s get the Finnish hold outs out of the way. Like Puljujarvi, Honka didn’t sign with the Stars this summer. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Jyp HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. There, he’s accumulated a goal and three assists in six games. The former first-rounder hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet, but he has two goals and 13 points in 83 games across three seasons. Honka is still a bit of project, but he could be a useful asset for a team looking for a puck-mover.

Eric Staal – C – Minnesota Wild: 

This one might be out of left field, but the Wild are old and they aren’t very good. Staal is now 35 years old, he’s picked up a respectable nine points in 13 games and he has this year and next year remaining on his affordable contract that comes with a $3.25 million cap hit. Staal doesn’t have any trade protection, so there’s a chance he could be on the move. Finding a big center that can score roughly 50 points in a season isn’t easy no matter how old they are. If the Wild make him available, teams would come calling.

Chris Kreider – LW – New York Rangers: 

The Rangers’ rebuild is probably right where it should be right now, but will it continue to include a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent? Probably not. Whenever Kreider plays at 75 games in a season, he scores 20-plus goals. He’s big and has pretty good wheels for a player of his size, so you know other teams will be interested in his services. What will it take to get him? That remains to be seen, but rather than losing him for nothing on July 1st, the Rangers might as well just get something for him. Kreider has two goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Paul Byron – LW – Montreal Canadiens

Byron is off to a difficult start this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player anymore. The speedy winger has scored 22, 20 and 15 (in just 56 games) goals over his last three years. When healthy, he’s an excellent penalty killer that’s capable of playing up and down in a good team’s lineup. The tricky part, is that he’s in year one of a four-year deal that will pay him $3.4 million per season. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ bottom-two lines this year and he has just two assists in 13 games. Byron is an important leader on his team, which may mean that he doesn’t get moved at all, but the Habs are deep and need to get bigger.

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.