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Oilers finally fire GM Chiarelli: report

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It is done.

It would appear that a loss to the last place Detroit Red Wings was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And man, that camel was a stubborn such and such.

The Oilers reportedly fired general manager Peter Chiarelli late Tuesday after another miserable outing in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday, a move that the club is expected to formally announce on Wednesday.

The move, of course, was a long-time coming.

Chiarelli had failed to move the team forward, and in the eyes of many Oilers fans, only moved the team in the opposite direction.

The Oilers went from the Western Conference Final to one of the most disappointing teams in 2017-18. Perhaps it was just a fluke. Surely, a team sporting the best player in hockey couldn’t be held down for too long.

Tuesday’s loss, Edmonton’s third straight and perhaps most embarrassing of the season, was proof even McJesus can’t save this bunch alone.

The Oilers own a 23-24-3 record, shockingly just three points out of a playoff spot and yet still likely insurmountable.

In his wake, a litany disastrous moves that may take a while to make right after Chiarelli’s three-and-a-half years in northern Alberta.

We’re reminded of Milan Lucic’s contract, that Griffin Reinhart deal and others that saw good players — Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle — leave with less than adequate players coming to replace them.

More recently, the trade of Drake Caggulia for Brandon Manning, and the very recent three-year, $13.5 million deal for Mikko Koskinen, one based on less than 40 NHL games, a career .905 save percentage, and equipped with a limited no-trade clause just so Chiarelli’s legacy will live on in Edmonton all the longer.

Yeah, there’s a mess on a few aisles that need a major cleanup.

But by who? What the future holds is anyone’s guess at the moment.

In the interim, Sportsnet’s John Shannon said a member of the Gretzky family will take the reins in some fashion.

Keith Gretzky will assume many of Chiarelli’s duties in the next few weeks, with Vice Chairman Bob Nicholson being more involved until they find a new GM.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ken Hitchcock, who just took over as head coach earlier this season after the team fired Todd McLellan, take over the post at some point. He appears to want to stay in Edmonton.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see some recycling, either. That’s kind of par for the course in Edmonton, re-using old parts hoping they work like new again. Canning a GM mid-season isn’t common.

That would be a shame, however.

Edmonton deserves a clean slate, from top to bottom. This isn’t going to be the first “rebuild.” It’s not the second or third either.

Connor McDavid deserves a better fate.

Oilers fans deserve a better team. God knows they’ve been starving for one for a long while.


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

Robin Lehner’s turnaround powers surging Islanders

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — Just as news was breaking that he was the NHL’s “First Star of the Week,” New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner was deflecting the individual praise and identifying the accomplishment as a team effort.

“It’s nice when you get recognized sometimes but when the team plays good there’s going to be personal success for people, too,” Lehner said after Monday’s practice. “We’re playing a helluva team game and it’s rewarding everyone.”

His teammates have certainly helped during the team’s five-game winning streak that has helped put them atop the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders have held their last three opponents — the Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals, and New Jersey Devils — to under 20 shots, which is the first time that’s happened since their 1977-78 NHL season, per Eric Hornick. They’ve also averaged 3.1 goals per game in January, up a tick from their average of 2.95 from October to New Year’s Eve.

Lehner, who detailed his mental health and addiction issues in an article for The Athletic in September, has helped the Islanders win 10 of his last 11 starts and leads all goaltenders with at least 25 appearances in even strength save percentage (.937). His crease partner, Thomas Greiss, has posted a .930 ESSV% in 26 games this season. The success in net has been improved this season thanks to the work of goaltending coach Piero Greco and Director of Goaltending Mitch Korn.

Greco’s work with Lehner opened the 27-year-old’s eyes to what he could be doing better in his own game, like simplifying it.

“I don’t move that much. It’s not very exciting in there. It’s not a lot of flashy saves,” Lehner said. “Them calming me down, teaching me a little bit on how to play my angles has opened up some potential that I have reading plays. Before maybe I’ve been moving a little bit too much, I’ve been scrambling a little bit too much; but a key part to my game that I feel is reading plays, being patient, and with them slowing all that stuff down it’s really bringing that out.”

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz noted that the play of both of his goalies is in part to Greco and Korn earning their trust and “connecting the dots” in their games that’s led to winning habits through 48 games. 

“When we do breakdown, it’s not necessarily all the saves but it’s when you make those saves and they’ve been making the saves at the right time,” he added.

The saves have been coming at the right times with the Islanders entering Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks after two straight shutouts and a streak of 132:53 without allowing a goal. 

Among Lehner’s improvements this season includes handling the puck, something that he categorized as “below par.”

“People talk a lot the last few games we haven’t let in many shots at net, but it’s also a lot of the work me and Greisser are doing in playing the puck,” he said. “People try to get pressure, they dump the puck in and we’ve been able to break it out fast and all of a sudden we’re in their zone. That just keeps adding to what we want to do as a team here.”

Before this run of form, there was a span from November to early December when success wasn’t coming Lehner’s way. While he’s felt great all season, a back injury and a six-start streak of losses preceded this success for the goaltender and his team. But getting back to being patient and simplifying things has vaulted the team up the standings and helped the netminder to a stunning first-half turnaround.

“There were a couple games [earlier in the season] where I played really good but didn’t get a result,” he said. “That’s kind of sticking with it. We keep working with the goalie coaches, believing the structure of our team will take our steps and turn it around. That’s what we done.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie

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Following a dreadful weekend that saw them lose consecutive blowouts to Calgary and Carolina (getting scored by a 12-6 margin), the Edmonton Oilers made a few more changes to their roster on Monday by placing forwards Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie on waivers.

The noteworthy name here, of course, is Ryan Spooner because of what he represents. What he represents is the type of roster management that has resulted in the Oilers wasting the first four years of a generational talent in Connor McDavid.

Follow along for a minute just to recall how we got here:

  • The Oilers just acquired Spooner a couple of months ago from the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Strome.
  • That trade came just one year after they acquired Strome in a one-for-one deal with the New York Islanders for Jordan Eberle.
  • That means in less than a year-and-a-half the Oilers managed to turn a consistent 20-goal, 50-point winger in Eberle into a player they are placing on waivers. The only natural winger on the Oilers roster this season that is on track to even come close to that sort of production is Alex Chiasson. That is … not good.

Let us not forget how that sequence of trades started just one year after Taylor Hall was traded to New Jersey straight up for Adam Larsson.

Spooner still carries a $4 million salary cap hit through the end of next season.

Rattie spent the 2017-18 season split between Edmonton and the AHL and has appeared in 29 games with the big club this season, scoring two goals to go with six assists. He was a preseason standout this year with five goals and three assists while mostly playing on a line with McDavid. That success never translated over to the regular season.

Whether or not the Oilers make any other moves to accompany these waiver transactions this still has the look of an organization that doesn’t really have any kind of a set plan in place and is just making it up as it goes along.

Related: Oilers add two defenders, including McDavid nemesis Manning

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: Toews powers Blackhawks, Petterson’s return, first place Isles

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks. The Chicago Blackhawks are having an awful season, which has to be even more frustrating for them when you consider their superstars up front have been great all year. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continued that on Sunday as both had five points in an 8-5 win over the Washington Capitals, continuing what has been one of the best individual seasons for Toews offensively in his career. Those five points for Toews included a hat trick. Just a shame for the Blackhawks it all happening during a season when everything around the top players has gone away.

2. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson has been a franchise-changing player for the Vancouver Canucks and has been one of the biggest reasons they are still in the Western Conference playoff race. He returned from injury on Sunday after missing more than two weeks and tallied two points, including his 23rd goal of the season early in the first period to open the scoring. He also assisted on the game-tying goal mid-way through the third period.  He is rolling toward the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year and nobody is even close him in this rookie class.

3. Cal Clutterbuck, New York Islanders. The New York Islanders remained in first place thanks to their win over the Anaheim Ducks and the Washington Capitals’ loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday. They are not only in first place, but they actually have a three-point lead over the rest of the pack and are top-five team in the league in total points in the standings. They have now won five games in a row and 15 of their past 18. Cal Clutterbuck had the big game for the Islanders on Sunday with a pair of first period goals.

Highlights of the Night

It took Nino Niederreiter just 30 seconds to score his first goal as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night. Then he scored another later in the period as the Hurricanes went on to rout the Edmonton Oilers.

It was not a great game for goalies in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, but we do need to give some love to these two saves by Blackhawks goalie Collin Delia.

Robin Lehner stopped all 19 shots he faced for the now first-place New York Islanders.

Factoids

  • Darcy Kuemper is one of four goalies without a regular loss since the start of the new calendar year. He improved to 5-0-2 since Jan. 1 with the Arizona Coyotes’ win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday evening. [NHL PR]
  • Nino Niederreiter’s two goals on Sunday were more than Victor Rask, the player he was traded for this past week, scored for the Carolina Hurricanes all season. [@SaraCivian]
  • Andrei Svechnikov recorded his 20th point of the season on Sunday night, making him one of four players from the 2018 NHL draft class to have already hit that mark this season. [NHL PR]

Chicago Blackhawks 8, Washington Capitals 5

New York Islanders 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

Vancouver Canucks 3, Detroit Red Wings 2

Arizona Coyotes 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Carolina Hurricanes 7, Edmonton Oilers 4

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: Greiss shutout gives Trotz win in return to Washington

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Three stars

1. Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders

There was probably a little pressure inside the Islanders dressing room prior to this one. Sure, it was just another game in the 82-game slog that is the regular season, but for their head coach, it was a bit more special than that.

Barry Trotz made his return to Washington for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup as the Capitals bench boss last June. They gave him a classy tribute and then he and his Islanders made sure they wouldn’t forget him in a 2-0 win.

Greiss was instrumental in that, stopping all 19 shots he faced as the Islanders leapfrogged both Washington and Columbus to move into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

John Tavares who?

2. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers

Sticking with goalies and their help in big wins… Luongo stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in a 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s not a 40-save night, but consider that the Panthers came into the game with a seven-game losing streak as a heavy anchor. They needed something, and Luongo provided the near-perfect game to end the longest active streak in the NHL.

3. Sam Bennett, Calgary Flames

Bennett usually gets lost in the Johnny Gaudreaus and the Sean Monahans of the Calgary world.

Some nights the other two don’t light it up, allowing other Flames to shine. Bennett provided that spark, scoring twice and adding an assist in the game.

Bennett’s second of the came with under four minutes left and broke a 4-4 deadlock in a 6-4 Calgary win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Highlights of the night

Bennett’s winner came off a nice pick up on a not so nice pass:

Kuemper the keeper:

A nice tribute to Brooks Orpik, who played his 1,000th game on Friday:

When you celly too hard:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 3, Maple Leafs 1
Canadiens 4, Blue Jackets 1
Islanders 2, Capitals 0
Senators 4, Hurricanes 1
Flames 6, Red Wings 4
Penguins 3, Coyotes 2 (OT)
Canucks 4, Sabres 3


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