Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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

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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.

The Buzzer: Red Wings eliminated before trade deadline; Spurgeon’s surge

Red Wings already eliminated from playoffs PHT Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Spurgeon collected a hat trick on Friday. It was the first hat trick of his career, making him the second Wild defenseman to pull off such a feat after Ryan Suter. Spurgeon enjoyed a tremendous all-around performance, managing six shots on goal, a +3 rating, three blocked shots, and one hit in 21:55 TOI.

Spurgeon reached the 10-goal mark in just 53 games. He’s hit double digits in goals during four of his last five seasons, and could top his 2018-19 career-high of 14. He also generated nine goals in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In other words, it’s almost OK to write “Spurgeon, hands of a surgeon” in headlines. Almost.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provided quite an effort for the Oilers in their loss to Spurgeon’s Wild. RNH managed two goals and one assist, but Edmonton fell short.

2. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders

Eberle generated the third hat trick of his career as the Islanders took care of business against Detroit. Eberle supplied the game-winner in a 4-1 win. His last hat trick came on April 9, 2017, while he was still with the Oilers. The only knock against his hat trick is that it came against the Red Wings, who have already been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Islanders decided to re-sign Eberle despite a down season in 2018-19 where he was limited to 19 goals and 37 points. With 13 goals and 34 points in 50 games, Eberle looks closer to the player he was during his debut season with the Isles. (Interestingly, Eberle is enjoying similar rebounds in his possession stats after a slight dip last year.)

Mika Zibanejad and Colton Parayko also enjoyed strong three-point nights, but the third star goes to …

3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

The Predators received five power-play opportunities, including some 5-on-3 time. They fired 20 SOG on Crawford during the second period alone, failing to beat him during that frame.

Crawford ended Friday making 42 out of 43 saves in a goalie duel with Pekka Rinne (36 saves). Alex DeBrincat ended up scoring both of Chicago’s goals to grab an OT win for the Blackhawks. Crawford broke a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) with this splendid performance.

Highlights of the Night

Now, this is one strange goal credited to Leon Draisaitl:

DeBrincat broke loose for the OT-winner:

(This Petr Mrazek save ranks as a runner-up.)

Red Wings already eliminated and other factoids

  • The Red Wings became the first team to be eliminated before the trade deadline since the Penguins suffered that ignominious fate in 2003-04. Hey, at least that paved the way for better things for Pittsburgh, eh?  Getting mathematically eliminated in game 63 is the quickest boot-out since the 1995-96 Senators. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Colton Parayko has been a nightmare for the Stars this season. The big Blues blueliner collected one goal and two assists on Friday. Parayko increased his output to seven points (4G, 3A) in three games vs. the Stars in 2019-20.
  • Pavel Francouz celebrated his contract extension with a steady performance for Colorado with his first career shutout.
  • Spurgeon’s hat trick was of the natural variety. He became the 12th player listed as a D to score a natural hat trick. Justin Faulk and Dustin Byfuglien authored the most recent ones that preceded Spurgeon’s surge. (NHL PR)
  • The Rangers pushed their road winning streak to seven consecutive games, tying a franchise record. (NHL PR)
  • The Bruins fell behind the Flames 3-0 less than four minutes (3:23) into Friday’s game. Despite that, Boston ended up winning. This marks the seventh instance where a team fell behind 3-0 within the opening four minutes of a game, only to win. (NHL PR)

Scores

NYR 5 – CAR 2
NYI 4 – DET 1
CHI 2 – NSH 1 (OT)
STL 5 – DAL 1
BOS 4 – CGY 3
MIN 5 – EDM 3
COL 1 – ANA 0

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 headed toward another collapse without major change

Edmonton Oilers
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Take a quick glance at the NHL standings and it is easy to conclude that the Edmonton Oilers have put themselves in a pretty good position.

They are just two points out of first place in the Pacific Division, and after a disastrous meltdown in 2018-19 it would seem first-year coach Dave Tippett and new general manager Ken Holland have made some significant strides this year.  But the current standings are only a history of what has already happened. They tell us nothing about what will happen — or is likely to happen — in the future.

When you dig a little deeper than just the win-loss record it becomes really hard to be optimistic about the direction this season could take. And before you argue that the record is all that matters and the team is playing better, keep in mind they are only one point better after 34 games than they were a year ago (40 points this year vs. 39 points a year ago).

All of the same flaws that have plagued the Oilers still exist today, and without some sort of a major change they could be headed toward the same fate as last year’s team.

It’s Still McDavid and Draisaitl or bust offensively

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the best offensive players in the league, and when they are on the ice together they are the best duo the league has seen in decades. But the second the Oilers take them off the ice the team’s lack of depth is exposed and they are unable to compete. It’s been a problem for two years and is somehow even worse this season.

Just consider…

  • When one of McDavid or Draisaitl is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers have a plus-5 goal differential. Not great, but at least on the positive side. At this time a year ago it was plus-11.
  • When both of them are on the ice their goal differential is a plus-6. At this time a year ago it was plus-10.
  • When neither is on the ice their goal differential is minus-17. At this time a year ago it was only minus-7.
  • When neither player is on the ice the Oilers are averaging just 1.46 goals per 60 minutes. That is a drop from the same point a year ago when they were averaging 1.65 goals. Last year’s number was awful. This year’s is worse.

They attempted to address the scoring depth issue by adding James Neal from Calgary. While he has been better than Milan Lucic offensively, he has cooled off considerably after a white-hot start that seemed to be the beginning of a bounce-back year.

He has just six goals in his past 26 games, while almost all of his production this year has been power play dependent (when he is with McDavid and/or Draisaitl). During 5-on-5 play his overall play has become a hot mess. Once you get beyond McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins there is not another forward on the roster that is capable of driving a line on their own.

They still can not stop anybody

When it comes to goals against the Oilers have shown marginal improvement this season. Probably not enough to matter (still 18th in goals against per game), and it’s not the type of improvement they should be relying on to continue because it is entirely dependent on goaltending.

Almost all of that improvement is the result of Mikko Koskinen playing better than expected over the first month of the season in net and masking the team’s many defensive flaws.

When it comes to shot attempts against, scoring chances against, and their ability to control the puck the Oilers remain one of the league’s worst teams. They are still lacking impact players on the blue line, and if their goaltending is not flawless (and it often isn’t) they do not have much of a chance to win.

Mike Smith is in the middle of his second straight sub-par season, while Koskinen has already started to show some signs of regression over his past few starts. If the goaltending doesn’t hold up things could quickly derail.

It’s all starting to catch up them already

The lack of forward depth. The lack of a true No. 1 (or even No. 2) NHL defenseman. The mediocre goaltending.

All of it.

Since starting the season by winning seven of their first eight games, the Oilers have gone 11-11-4 in the 26 games that have followed, including a 2-5-1 mark in their most recent seven-game stretch. While they remain in second place in the Pacific, they are still only four points ahead of the first non-playoff team (a Vancouver team that has two games in hand). On top of that, their upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier as the next seven games are against Toronto, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary. If they can not successfully navigate through that stretch it is going to leave them in a tough spot where they might be in danger of wasting another fast start to the season.

What that change might be is hard to determine. It’s still a matter of talent and not having enough of it. There is only so much a coach can do with no forward depth and no top defenders. And there is only so much a GM can do to make changes when there are so few assets to trade.

In the end, it all goes back to the mess the previous front office left behind and is a reminder as to how much work Ken Holland still has to do in fixing it.

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.

NHL injury roundup: Nugent-Hopkins out; Letang, Brodie nearing returns

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Checking in on some injury news around the NHL on Sunday evening.

Oilers will be without Nugent-Hopkins for at least two games. Shortly before puck drop against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night the Edmonton Oilers announced that center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be sidelined for at least the next two games due to a hand injury. He has five goals and 15 total points in 25 games this season for the Oilers. While his overall numbers are down a little offensively this season he has been one of the team’s top offensive players the past few years and helps drive their second line. Without him an already thin forward group gets even thinner. Assuming the two-game time frame remains he would miss Sunday’s game against Arizona as well as Wednesday’s game at Colorado. He could be in line to return for a big home-and-home set with the Vancouver Canucks next weekend.

Letang to be game-time decision for Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins have been hit harder by injuries than any other team in the league, but are getting closer to getting one of their top players back in the lineup. Defenseman Kris Letang, who has missed the past eight games, will be a game-time decision for their game against the Calgary Flames on Monday night. In his first 15 games before injury Letang had been averaging more than 25 minutes per game and had already recorded 12 points (four goals, eight assists) on the season. With Justin Schultz also sidelined the Penguins have been playing with a patchwork defense but have still found ways to collect points. They are also currently playing without captain Sidney Crosby and forward Nick Bjugstad due to injury. Crosby, Letang, Schultz, Evgeni Malkin, Jared McCann, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Patrick Hornqvist, Alex Galchenyuk, and Bjugstad have combined to miss more than 70 man games due to injury. The Penguins are still 12-7-4 on the season while their underlying numbers in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals are among the best in the league. They also have one of the best goal differentials in the entire league.

Brodie will also be game-time decision for Flames. Some great news for Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie. As long as he gets medical clearance on Monday, he is expected to be back in the lineup when they visit the Penguins on Monday. Brodie has been sidelined after collapsing at practice more than 10 days ago. He was back skating by himself this past week as he continued to undergo tests to figure out what caused his collapse, but so far everything has come back negative and all indications in his recovery have been promising. The Flames snapped what had been a six-game losing streak on Saturday with a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

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.

 

The Buzzer: McDavid, Draisaitl stay red-hot; Lightning torch Rangers

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers
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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

There is a reason these two lead the NHL in points and a combined 11-point outing will certainly keep them there a bit longer. McDavid recorded his second hat trick in three games and his first career six-point outing. Draisaitl had five assists and extended his point streak to 11 games as the Oilers skated to a 6-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. If the Oilers feel that the rest of the lineup can provide enough support McDavid and Draisaitl can build on a dynamic partnership and help Edmonton return to the postseason.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

A trip to Sweden was the perfect opportunity for the Lightning to find their form and in their first game back in North America, they proved they still are an elite offensive team. Kucherov capped off an explosive stretch when Tampa Bay scored three times in a span of 61 seconds and added three assists. It was the second time this season Kucherov recorded four points.

3. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks

The Czech forward had two goals as the San Jose Sharks extended their winning streak to five with an important 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks. Hertl was the beneficiary of a suspect call when he pushed John Gibson’s pad over the goal line in the opening period. But on his second of the night, the 26-year-old wired a wrister to even the score in the second period. After a slow start, the Sharks are hoping to climb their way back into the playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

McDavid doing McDavid things

Video game dekes are normally reserved for an alternate reality but Justin Dowling of the Dallas Stars showed his slick hands with an impressive toe drag.

Before a one-timer is launched, there are times you just know the player is going to connect. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is one goal away from the 400-goal mark after this blistering slap shot.

Blooper of the Night

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably had a different plan for this celebration

Factoids

  • Connor McDavid became the fourth player in Oilers history to record two hat tricks in three games, joining Wayne Gretzy, Glen Anderson and Jari Kurri [NHL PR].
  • McDavid and Draisaitl are just the second Oilers teammates in the last 30 years to each record five points in a game [NHL PR]
  • The Hurricanes have not lost a game against the Sabres since March 22m 2016 and are one of five teams with an active win streak of 10+ games vs. one opponent [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton is the fastest defenseman in Hurricanes/Whalers franchise history to reach 20 points in a season (19 GP) [Sportsnet Stats]
  • The Lightning scored four goals in each of the first and second periods of a game for first time in franchise history [NHL PR]
  • Tampa Bay scored four goals in the first 6:42 of Thursday’s game. Only five teams have accomplished that feat faster in the last 25 years [NHL PR].

Scores

Lightning 9, Rangers 3

Hurricanes 5, Sabres 4 (OT)

Jets 4, Panthers 3

Wild 3, Coyotes 2

Oilers 6, Avalanche 2

Stars 4, Canucks 2

Sharks 5, Ducks 3

Kings 3, Red Wings 2

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.