Zack Kassian

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

Leave a comment

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.

Roundtable: Playing out rest of NHL season; 2019-20 memories

Alex Ovechkin 700th goal Capitals celebrate
Getty Images

Should the NHL return to playing games in a timely matter — a very big unknown at the moment — how would you play out the rest of regular season and/or the playoffs?

SEAN: A unique situation calls for a unique solution. Even if regular season games are able to be played, there may not be time for a typical two-month playoff schedule — unless you’re keen on things potentially going deep into the summer.

Depending how the league resumes its schedule, let’s take the top 10 teams in points or points percentage in each conference. The bottom four teams would play in a one-game play-in playoff game with the winners playing the two best teams in the conference. From there, we’re back into brackets with re-seeding happening in Round 2. 

The change here is that series lengths would be shortened. The opening two rounds are best-of-three with a 1-2 format and the final two games of the series played on back-to-back days. The conference final is best-of-five in a 2-3 format — again, back-to-backs and a day off before a potential Game 5 — and the Stanley Cup Final remains a best-of-seven with a 2-3-2 format. (All dependent on arena availabilities, of course.)

Let’s just play hockey soon, please!

JAMES: To avoid bleeding out too much of 2020-21, jump straight to the playoffs … well, after a quick, attention-grabbing detour.

To avoid being far too kind to teams who finished in the wild-card positions when the game of musical chairs got cut short abruptly by a record scratch, I think a “play-in” situation would be fairest.

Basically, if you look at each conference, there are the two wild-card teams, at least two bubble teams right there with them, and two other teams somewhere floating in the distance. You could form an interesting little NFL-like elimination tournament with byes. Let me explain.

Collect those six teams per conference to create two elimination bubble tournaments for two wild card spots in each conference.

  • The top two wild cards from each conference get a “bye” to the second round in separate brackets.
  • Top wild cards could be who finished in the WC positions at the time of the pause. That said, it might be more fair if the top seeds were based on points percentage. Either way, determine two byes for each conference. (Let’s assume that business would be mostly as usual otherwise, aka that teams are traveling to different cities for games. One could imagine a scenario where the league would instead want to limit travel even more … but let’s just assume business close to usual.)
  • Round 1: third I bubble team hosts the sixth bubble team, while the fourth hosts the fifth.
  • Round 2: winner of third/sixth bubble team travels to face first bubble team, winner of fourth/fifth goes on the road against second.
  • Playoffs begin with two wild cards per conference who seem to have “earned it,” while also providing grab-your-popcorn made for TV drama. Also, the teams who did the painstaking work of getting one of their division’s top three seeds get to shake off the rust and avoid injuries.

This isn’t perfect, mind you. Chicago and especially Montreal would be extraordinarily lucky for this break. One might instead lean toward, say, having four bubble teams face off for the two spots (basically boiling it down from two elimination rounds to one). That’s “cleaner,” but wouldn’t be fair to, say, the Panthers or Rangers.

ADAM: The longer this goes on the harder it is going to be to fit in more regular season games, play a full postseason, and then have anything that even resembles a normal offseason to give players a proper rest before starting another 82-game season next fall.

To me, there are only a couple of options here.

The first one is that, assuming we can get started again in a timely manner, you just scrap the regular season. You take the normal playoff teams (top three teams in each division plus the two wild cards) based on points percentage, give them a week or two to practice and get back closer to game shape, and you begin the playoffs. That is unfair to the bubble teams, yes, but if we are being realistic here the standings are probably not going to change that much in the regular season games that were remaining.

The other option is that if you insist on playing more regular season games to make it fair for everyone in the playoff race, you adjust the playoff schedule, maybe taking the first (and maybe even second) rounds from a best-of-seven, to a best-of five. Or maybe make the first-round a best-of-three. Not ideal for anyone, and certainly not something I want to see full-time in the future, but this is a rare circumstance that no one saw happening.

JOEY: I just don’t see how you can miss two months of action, come back, have training camp and then play out the rest of the regular season. I don’t think the league has enough time to do that. Come in, play an exhibition game or two and then you jump right into the playoffs (if they’re insistent on having a champion this year). Instead of having a regular season and shortening each playoff series, just jump into the playoffs.

How would you go about deciding who gets in and who doesn’t? Either go with points percentage or make sure the top 12 teams in each conference have a shot at a playoff spot. Technically, the top 12 teams still had at least a small percentage of making the playoffs. Start the postseason with play-in games and then jump right into it when you get down to eight teams in each conference.

My suggested playoff format would work like this:

12th seed vs. 9th seed
11th seed vs. 10th seed.
Lowest seed remaining vs. 7th seed
Highest seed remaining vs. 8th seed.

The winner of those two matchups get to qualify as the Wild Card teams.

I realize that giving teams like Montreal and Chicago a shot at making the playoffs isn’t fair or ideal, but you have to make the numbers work somehow, and having 12 teams makes sense. Neither of the current Wild Card teams in each conference were guaranteed to make the playoffs, so it’s not like they’re being totally robbed by this format I’m proposing.

Once the “play-in round” is over, then you have the playoffs like you would normally have them.

SCOTT: Based on the latest CDC recommendations, we are at least two months away from returning to action. There will be a severe time crunch to get games in without impacting the 2020-21 season too severely. In addition, there needs to be time for the offseason activities such as the NHL Draft and free agency.

There are five teams in each conference that are above 82 points.

In the East, there should be a play-in game/series between the Penguins and Flyers. In the West, the Oilers should host the Stars. This could be a best of three series if time permits, with the other teams skating in exhibition games to get warmed up.

After the opening-round series are decided, the four teams remaining in each conference will participate in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It is tough to imagine a scenario where we will be able to witness a postseason that lasts two-plus months, but this concept allows the NHL to generate playoff revenue and award the Stanley Cup.

Getty Images

What’s your favorite memory so far of the 2019-20 NHL season?

SEAN: I’m a sucker for a feel-good story and we could certainly use some of those at the moment. Two that stood out to me this season happened a few weeks apart in February.

First, Stephen Johns missed 22 months dealing with post-traumatic headaches. He returned Feb. 3 and scored in his first game back. Making the moment all the more sweeter was that his parents were in attendance for that Stars win at Madison Square Garden.

Then you had the emotional Ottawa return for Bobby Ryan on Feb. 27. It was only his second game back since completing the NHL/NHL Players’ Association assistance program for alcohol addiction. That’s enough of a feel-good moment right there, but the Senators forward had other ideas.

During a 5-2 win over the Canucks, Ryan recorded a hat trick, with two of the three goals coming in the final 2:08 of the game.

JAMES: I racked my brain trying to debate the merits of EBUG vs. a goalie scoring a goal vs. Brad Marchand biffing a shootout chance, and then I realized I was the one who biffed it. Of course my favorite moment of 2019-20 was the Matthew Tkachuk vs. Zack Kassian feud.

I’m not necessarily the most blood-and-guts hockey fan. The danger of the sport has its place, but to me, it really just heightens the incredible skill involved. The Connor McDavids of the world soar down the ice and make balletic magic happen while walking a tightrope of injury. That’s more thrilling than sloppy fights between two people who might be damaging their brains.

But the Kassian – Tkachuk feud was so much more than Kassian grotesquely rag-dolling Tkachuk around.

There were the Tkachuk hits, and the dopey machismo of him telling Kassian to get off the tracks if he didn’t like it.

It’s all amplified by the Battle of Alberta, and two division rivals fighting over relevant playoff positioning.

The trash talking was absolutely glorious, from Tkachuk’s barbs to Kassian’s ominous threats. Let’s not forget that Tkachuk is a legit two-way All-Star, and while Kassian isn’t in Tkachuk’s league, he can still play enough to flirt with keeping up with Tkachuk on a night where Kassian’s puck luck is booming.

The charitable chicanery of the Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton really sealed the deal, though. Glorious stuff, and this took me so long that I might need to put up a billboard to remind myself not to forget that splendor so easily.

(Simpler times, eh?)

ADAM: Have to go with Andrei Svechnikov bringing the lacrosse goal to the NHL, and then doing it again. I always liked Svechnikov because I think he has a chance to be a superstar in the league and is going to eventually help the Carolina Hurricanes do great things.

Then he went and did that.

Critics will say it is not that complicated of a move and that any NHL player can pull it off. That may very well be true. But no one ever had the courage to actually do it. Then he did it again.

JOEY: It has to be Alex Ovechkin’s chase for 700 goals. There’s no guarantee that we’ll see anyone else hit that number and if they do, it won’t happen anytime soon. It was a great story line. Everyone across the hockey world was checking in, paying special attention to Ovechkin and the Capitals. His run has also sparked a debate about whether Wayne Gretzky is the greatest goal scorer of all-time. I’ve also caught myself trying to do the math when it comes to Ovechkin possibly being the first to 900 goals. It was a great story and I’m glad to see he managed to reach the milestone before the NHL went on its pause.

SCOTT: The race between Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes for the Calder Trophy has been fascinating to watch this season. Traditionally, defensemen need more time to round out their game and adjust to the level of competition in the NHL. Both Makar and Hughes have each tallied 50 or more points and have had enormous impacts on their respective NHL clubs.

Adam Fox is also another young blueliner playing big minutes for the New York Rangers. He would be in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but Makar and Hughes have been a clear step above.

All three skaters played hockey at the collegiate level prior to this season and have begun to pave the way for more NCAA athletes to get opportunities to jump right to the professional level.

The NHL could potentially get even younger if teenage defenseman are able to influence the game as much as Makar, Hughes and Fox have during their inaugural seasons.

PHT Morning Skate: Reviewing NHL trades; Boudreau wants another coaching gig

Boudreau wants another coaching gig; reviewing trades NHL deadline headlines
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.

• Bruce Boudreau admits he was blindsided by his firing, and uttered the inevitable expletives. Boudreau doesn’t believe he’s too old to keep coaching, and wants another gig. (The Athletic, sub required)

• By trading Jason Zucker and firing Boudreau when Boudreau didn’t see it coming, Wild GM Bill Guerin put his team on notice. Who might be next? (Pioneer-Press)

• Doctors haven’t cleared Nolan Patrick for contact, but he’s skating again with teammates. Patrick explains how much of a difference it makes not to be alone anymore during this process. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Canadiens coach Claude Julien received a $10K fine for his comments to officials. (Global News)

• The league added some context to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s red-hot, record-breaking 11-game winning streak. Spoiler: they haven’t trailed very often. That and more in their morning skate. (NHL)

[PHT is tracking and reviewing trades through the deadline here]

• I must confess that when I read the headline “Part of the Sedinery,” I was wondering if there might be a Sedin twins wine. Reading about their outstanding charitable efforts was even more delicious than a smooth Valpolicella. (Vancouver Province)

• Travis Yost argues that Mike Hoffman would be a perfect fit for the Oilers. Actually, Yost is making that argument again. Imagine Hoffman’s sniping with Connor McDavid‘s playmaking? Goalies everywhere grumbled. (TSN)

• Going longer-term on Edmonton, Tyler Yaremchuk discusses Ken Holland’s quest for cost certainty. Giving Zack Kassian an iffy contract certainly took away a lot of breathing room. (Oilers Nation)

• Raw Charge makes a spot-on analysis of the Blake Coleman trade from Tampa’s perspective. Coleman is indeed a great addition, but credit to New Jersey: the price was high. (Raw Charge)

• Lou Lamoriello is reviewing other options for trades after adding Andy Greene to the mix. They’ve lost some ground in playoff races, so that might be a wise strategy. (Islanders Insight)

Blake Wheeler feels “gutted” for injured Jets teammate Bryan Little. (Winnipeg Free-Press)

• The Blue Jackets have had to scratch for every win, point, and basically every goal this season. (The Score)

Logan Couture seems close to returning to practicing with the Sharks. Here’s some unsolicited advice: err on the side of safety during a lost season. (NHL/Sharks)

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: Zucker finding rhythm with Penguins; Kreider’s trade value soaring

Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second goal
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby has always excelled when one of his wingers could skate like the wind. General manager Jim Rutherford tried to capitalize on this strategy and acquired Jason Zucker to fill the void. The winger cashed in twice in the Penguins’ 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens, while Crosby assisted on both tallies. If Zucker thrives on Crosby’s wing, his contract will start to look like a bargain for the next couple of years. The Penguins have survived an extraordinary amount of injuries this season, but Zucker’s emergence would provide a necessary boost.

2) Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

On one hand, Jeff Gorton has to be pleased that Kreider is acting as his own salesman ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline. However, the thought of trading a premium talent instead of re-signing the forward is dangerous for any general manager. Kreider picked up a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York collected its fourth consecutive win. The Blueshirts are not ready to take the next step but the upcoming decision about Kreider could shape the next few years in a positive or negative way.

3) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets came up one goal short against the San Jose Sharks Friday, but Connor’s second-period tally was a thing of beauty. The 23-year-old received a pass to the left of the Shark’s goaltender then slid the puck and his stick between his legs to even the game at 1-1. Connor is one goal shy of scoring 30 for the third consecutive season and continues to be one of the more underrated forwards in the NHL. The Jets will continue to rely on their high-powered offense as they look to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

Described above, Connor stole the show with this impressive maneuver.

Nikita Gusev stepped around Jaccob Slavin and Travis Zajac set up Mirco Mueller for the easy tap-in.

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal when he hammered a one-timer from the slot.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Winnipeg Jets 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Montreal Canadiens 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, New Jersey Devils 2


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.

Kassian offered in-person hearing for kicking Cernak

6 Comments

UPDATE: Kassian has been suspended seven games.

Edmonton Oilers forward Zack Kassian has been offered an in-person hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for his kick on Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Given the play in question, it’s not surprising to see the Department of Player Safety want to have a face-to-face with him. That means his suspension could be more than five games.

Kicking with a skate blade is a matter the NHL has to take seriously. Thankfully, Cernak wasn’t cut on the play. The NHL will usually factor injury into the length of the suspension, but this is one of the cases where they shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter that Cernak was fine after the play. The league has to send Kassian and others the message that using your skate blade in that way is totally unacceptable.

He attempted to justify his actions postgame, but it didn’t make him look any better.

“He was holding my leg, it was reactionary, I was just trying to get him off me, kick him off me,” Kassian said after the game, per the Edmonton Sun. “I was just trying to get my foot loose. I was laying there for a while, a couple of seconds, so I was just trying to pull my leg out.

“If I kicked him hard, I think he would have flew back or the ref would have called a penalty. I was trying to get off and pull my leg off. He was holding me and Archie down, I didn’t even know where the puck was I was trying to pull my leg up and get up.”

Over the course of the last little while, two players have been injured by blades. Red Wings forward Brendan Perlini was forced from a game against Buffalo after he caught a Henri Jokiharju skate to the face. Meanwhile, Islanders forward Casey Cizikas was sliced on the leg by Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov. Both these incidents were accidental, but they’re an important reminder that a skate blade can do some serious damage.

To make matters worse for Kassian, he’ll be considered a repeat offender in the Department of Player Safety’s eyes. He was suspended two games last month for being an aggressor in an altercation with Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. Regardless of how you feel about that incident, you can’t take this one lightly.

“I knew right away when he was on the ice he kicked me,” Cernak explained. “I think he was little bit mad and I asked him what was wrong with him, because that’s not a right play to do on the ice and he didn’t say nothing, so I don’t know. He kicked me right in the chest, so luckily that wasn’t higher.”

Yesterday was a tough day for the league. Many were left puzzled after Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara received nothing more than a $5,000 fine for cross-checking Habs winger Brendan Gallagher in the chops. Teammate Brad Marchand‘s spear on Jeff Petry resulted in the Bruins forward getting four minutes in penalties, but no supplemental discipline either.

Using your skate in that manner just can’t happen. The league needs to make an example out Kassian in this situation.

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.