With the NHL All-Starr game officially in the books, it’s time to take a close look at who are the leading candidates for this year’s top honor for Nhl rookies. This year’s class is like no other. From top to bottom, this year’s class is loaded with talent lets take a look at some mid_season candidates. Mid_ Season NHL Candidates Mid Season Report 1. Charlie Mc Avoy Bruins; After a handful of games in 2017 mostly in the playoffs McAvoy has lived up to his billing. The Bruns number one pick in2016 has exceeded all expectation. McAvoy can score, play solid defense and bring a physical presence to a fragile group. Mcavoy has also contributed to a game -goal in a shootout last month. Presently McAvoy is injured due to heart palpations. If he can pick up where he left off he could be a strong finalist for the award. 2 Alex Dibrincat Chicago; After forty plus games Di Brincat brings some youth to an aging team. DiBricat has shown consistency to a struggling Hawks team. His 17 goals and 15 assists and a plus_ minus the ratio of_7. Playing on a sub_ par team could hinder his chances. 3. Yanni Gourde Tampa; Gourde is on a first_ place team which helps him immensely.Gourde has a great scoring touch netting 17 goals and 16 assists.One of the fastest skaters on the team looks for Gourde to be a strong finalist at voting time. 4. Brock Boeser Canucks; Boeser was the MVP in this year’s All_ star game and it shows why. Boeser brings respect for a non- competitive team loaded with issues. After 46 games Boeser is probably the best scorer of the group 24 goals 19 assists 43 points. If he keeps going at the same pace he could reach 40 goals and 50 assists. At this stage, he’s a front_ runner for Rookie of the year. 5. Kyle Connor Winnipeg; The Jets have a special player in Connor. In 40 NHL games, Connor is one of the leagues swiftest skaters. Connor has 15 goals and 14 assists. At the voting time, he should be right in the mix. After 40 plus games hopefully, this article will be fairly accurate a voting time. Othe names that deserve honorable mention are Danton Heinen Bruins, Jake De BruskBruins, Will Butcher New Jersey, Mark Jankowksi Calgary, Sonny Milano Columbus, Pierre Luc DuBois Columbus, and Clayton Kelleher Arizona, Matthew Barzal Islanders, The two front_ runners are McAvoy or Yanni Gourde.
Apart from awarding San Jose next year’s All Star Game, for me at least, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made two significant announcements at this year’s All Star Game in Tampa Bay; one international (the subject of a future article), and one about the future of the NHL which is the subject of this article. In his polite terms: Seattle submit your bid and get your season ticket drive (like the one Las Vegas held) started and over with as soon as possible.
As I’ve said in a few articles on this blog, once the world learned that the NHL wants Seattle to become its 32nd team, the NHL will not be refunding $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Bettman and the NHL Governors want to welcome them to the NHL Board as soon as possible and only a major catastrophe (like discovering that Bruckheimer and Bonderman share the same sentiments of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the unwanted Quebec City bidder) will stop Seattle. But scooping up that expansion fee may not be the main reason for hurrying things along. In a recent article, I’ve speculated that the NHL wants Seattle over and done with so that they can expand further and possibly solve their two remaining major problems in Quebec City and Phoenix.
I strongly suspect that Houston is already one of the those “done deals” that the Internet and hockey media were announcing before the disappointing attempt at expansion that only brought in Las Vegas. And I have further speculated that by adding yet another American western city as well as Houston, the NHL which wants balanced conferences can then switch the Arizona Coyotes who have probably a 0% chance of getting money to build a new downtown Phoenix arena, the key to their survival, to the east as a revived Quebec Nordiques team, thus cutting out the unwanted Peladeau who has a stack of enemies on the NHL Board. And to follow that up, most likely there will be some kind of NHL realignment, as yet unannounced, probably into an NFL type structure that will allow the NHL to expand easily to 40 teams.
All these potential wonderful events are of course being done behind closed doors, out of the sight of the media and Internet by Bettman and his agents. Out of nowhere came the announcement that Tilman Fertitta, the new owner of the NBA Houston Rockets wants an NHL team as a tenant in his Houston arena. And a few weeks later came the unexpected news that the NHL had given its blessing to Bonderman and Bruckheimer to start getting Seattle into the NHL. Unlike the open attempt to recruit new franchises that ended in the humiliating failure of getting only Las Vegas, Bettman has switched to working behind the scenes and taking everyone by surprise. So a Houston/second American western city expansion and an Arizona-to-Quebec possibility are well within the realm of speculation. And it wouldn’t surprise me that another one of my speculations – Patrick Roy who was happy coaching the Colorado Avalanche for his friend, General Manager Joe Sakic and then suddenly without good reason abruptly quit – will be involved in a revived Quebec franchise with Sakic’s (an ex-Nordique himself) knowledge and blessing.
As a soothsayer, I could be wrong. I’m not infallible like Paul the Octopus. It’s just that what I’ve speculated makes the most sense based on three known facts: The NHL wants to expand to at least 36 teams, probably 40 and it is well known that there are several hungry cities like Seattle, Houston, and Las Vegas that want to join the league under right terms; the NHL wants to realign into a more manageable structure that will allow expansion to 40 teams to take place easily; and the NHL wants Quebec back in the league with a suitable owner and also wants to solve its Phoenix problem one way or the other.
For my theory to be proved, the only real mystery for me is which other American western city wants to join Houston. Here again everything is being conducted behind closed doors so it is difficult to get an accurate picture to what is going on. I’ve narrowed it down to four cities but I could be wrong. In my opinion, Portland is the best American city after Seattle without NHL hockey. There’s talk that San Diego which recently lost its beloved NFL Chargers wants to build a modern arena. It would not surprise me that Bettman, who loves new arenas has already been secretly in touch with this potential San Diego bidder. Oklahoma City which failed to get an NHL franchise in 2000 and instead grabbed the NBA Seattle Supersonics is a good possibility. And there still sits Kansas City with its forlorn new arena awaiting a permanent tenant. Who would be Houston’s western expansion partner? For now I would bet on Portland or San Diego. But I’m not infallible.
And if we want to speculate beyond the current round of four new franchises plus a relocation to Quebec, it would not surprise me that Bettman has secretly been in touch with Hartford, the other former NHL city he visited in 2010 and gave them advice and encouragement about how to get themselves a proper arena and a suitable owner. And once the Quebec problem is settled, in Canada there is always Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city there for the taking. So Seattle get your rump in gear and get this token approval process over with. There are plenty of other delicious morsels on the NHL’s plate and Gary Bettman can’t wait to get at them.
In my last article in this series, I told about the panel that comes with Windows 10 that lists articles of contemporary news. And I mentioned that the sports section seldom carries any hockey stories. Right now with Seattle getting a new franchise and Houston possibly the next one, you read nothing about it. At the midpoint of the NHL season, there is nothing about scoring leaders, injuries, individual teams, or any feats that occurred during the previous night’s games.
Today in the sports section with nearly 30 articles listed, there was only one about hockey, that the Colorado Avalanche now had a ten game winning streak. Ah but don’t despair hockey lovers, I discovered one more article on the panel, this time in the entertainment section. With all the important developments and games occurring in the NHL and elsewhere, what’s the most important thing about hockey that the American media feels is necessary for fans to know? How many of you guessed that what is most important to American fans is that network television wants to bring back the Mighty Ducks of movie fame in a weekly television series.
Yes that American mythical sports monument to American hip hip hooray jingoism is being considered as a weekly sitcom. What’s next, the Bad News Bears as a miniseries? I have never seen a Mighty Ducks movie but I have read the several reviews in Canadian newspapers to get the picture. It’s always the same. Those lovable Ducks take on some villainous European team, probably Russia and win the World Championship. Canada always manages to get defeated off camera by either Russia or some other villainous European team, so it is up to the Ducks to save the world. To this date, the Ducks have yet to play a Canadian team. Disney, the creator of the Ducks doesn’t want to offend and lose the Canadian market.
Meanwhile what goes on in reality? Most of the top American players that play in the NHL or internationally got their junior development by playing in the CHL, Canada’s top junior league that has a few American franchises near the Canadian border. Both American and European boys are anxious to get into the CHL which probably has the best junior development program in the world. If an American or European boy does well in the league that has most of Canada’s top juniors, it is almost a certain ticket that he will become a high NHL draft choice. As my colleague on this blog, Sam Happi will tell you, many of the top juniors for next year’s NHL draft are Europeans playing on Canadian or American franchises in the CHL.
Just what does an American or European boy have to go through? Most likely he will be taken in by a Canadian family in the Canadian town he plays for and try to fit into a strange environment with the new “foster family” that is sponsoring him. He will have to go to a Canadian high school to make sure his education is up to stuff. He will learn about a country’s history he is unfamiliar with, learn about its culture, and in many cases have to learn one if not two languages, English and French.
It probably hasn’t occurred to the potential revivers of the Mighty Ducks that the vast majority of Canadians live close to the American border and are bound to see this American “patriotic” sports comedy on American television. Are the Ducks going to finally play a Canadian team? If so, how are Canadians going to react if they are portrayed as the “bad guys”? And will the Ducks defeat them or will the game diplomatically end in a tie? If the Ducks win and are acclaimed the best in the world, how does this match up to reality in which the United States finished third at the recent World Junior Championship (though they did beat Canada in a game decided by a shoot-out) and even worse, lost every game at the revived World Cup which Canada won? Such a television series is bound to be treated with mild amusement at best by Canadians, more likely with scorn and ridicule, if not worse.
More importantly, how is this type of thing going to help American boys coming to Canada to learn skills in the CHL, who just want to fit in and be friends, to get along with and be part of their new foster family? The last thing these boys need is an American hockey television series in which the Americans lord it down on everybody else. These boys are coming to Canada to learn, to be friends with their new Canadian family and their Canadian and European teammates. They don’t need this kind of embarrassment. But this is typical of a country where the teams that win in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are proclaimed “World” Champions even though there are only two international teams, both located in Toronto that compete for the top trophy. The NHL does it too, but in more recent decades with the influx of American and European players, the term “Stanley Cup Champions” instead of “World Champions” is preferred.
Bringing back the Ducks won’t help the NHL or its commissioner, Gary Bettman either. Bettman has a bad image in Canada where he is unfairly perceived to lead a gang of American owners who pursue “anti-Canadian” policies. It’s a false myth, encouraged by the owners of the NHL’s Canadian franchises who have repeatedly thwarted attempts to place more Canadian franchises in the NHL. Cooking up this anti-Canadian myth gets them off the hook. Bringing back the Ducks is only going to encourage this myth. This is the last thing Bettman needs.
The Duck myth only emphasizes the low status of the NHL and hockey in the United States. Why doesn’t American television make up a sitcom about football and basketball instead of hockey? Because they can get away with it better if they choose low-status, fourth-ranked hockey. Actually a more intelligent television series would be one about an American boy coming to Canada to learn hockey skills and then trying fit in with his new hockey foster family and a strange environment. Or if it must be a sitcom, showing these problems in a humorous way.
Instead American television wants to bring back a stupid piece of “patriotic” rubbish that bears no relation to reality and has the potential to make relations between Americans living abroad in Canada decidedly uncomfortable. And American hockey can do better to correct its recent sinking ship than to spend time spewing out unrealistic sports propaganda that is only going to bring contempt and ridicule to America. This week, the NHL has its All Star game in Tampa Bay. There is nothing reported on the panel about it. There are no articles about the success of the new franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Nothing about the problems of the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes. Nothing about the current injuries in the NHL. Nothing about the New York Islanders building a new arena. Nothing about anything important in hockey. But the Mighty Ducks might be coming back. That’s all that matters.
Joe Veleno entered the 2017-18 season as a top 5 prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft. In November, I had him 5th on my list, and viewed him as a future first line centre. A month later, in December, I had him 13th, and viewed him as more of a two way 2C. At that point, I started to doubt if he would be able to produce enough at the NHL level to be a first liner. I haven’t released a ranking since then, but I’m finalizing my list for a February 1st release. In early January, when his slump continued, my initial doubts worsened, and I began to believe that he might only ever be a 3C. Now, in late January, I see him as a 2C again, thanks to him breaking out of a lengthy slump following a trade deadline move.
On December 8, Joe Veleno was traded from the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Drummondville Voltigeurs for 3 QMJHL 1st round picks and 2 secound round selections. Veleno moved from the QMJHL’s second last team to the fourth best. With the Sea Dogs, Veleno had 31 points in 31 games. Those are good numbers, but not what is expected from a top 5, or even top 8 pick. So far with Drummondville, he has 15 points in 10 games, a 1.5 PPG clip. That’s top 5 production. When a player goes from a bad team to a good team, a rise in production is expected. However, I think Veleno should still get credit for ending his slump.
Veleno was at a PPG with one of the league’s worst teams, and he’s now at 1.5 PPG with one of the best. Using some amateur analytics, we can say that Veleno would be at roughly 1.25 PPG, top 10 numbers, on an average team.
I ultimately see Veleno as a second line centre, and a top 15 pick. He has only played 10 games with his new team, so the emphasis placed on his play with Drummondville should he limited. I think he will end up with about a 1.25 PPG by the end of the season. Good numbers, but I still don’t know if he has the offensive potential for the first line. Instead, he looks best suited to lead a second line that can both produce offense and shutdown the opposition’s top players, thanks to his 200-foot game.
There is still lots of time left for Veleno to regain the massive potential that he used to have. It’s hard to regain lost ground, but the hard-working Veleno could certainly accomplish that. Keep an eye on this kid.
It was not a happy Hockey Day In Canada for the Ottawa Senators. On the very day that the Senators and their prized acquisition, Matt Duchene blew yet another two goal league to arch-rival, Toronto, Duchene’s old team, the Colorado Avalanche won their ninth straight game, putting themselves in a playoff position, while the Senators drop further away out of sight.
Ottawa must still be reeling from the shock. Nobody would have predicted such a one-sided trade. What’s even more horrible is that Ottawa was supposed to be the big winner. To recap: Ottawa got Duchene from Colorado in return for a bunch of players and at the same time let Kyle Turris go to Nashville. To rub it in, Nashville is now leading their division and Turris has made a significant contribution, while the Senators have got virtually nothing from Duchene.
Getting Duchene made sense for Ottawa. Last year in the playoffs they solidly defeated a tough Boston Bruins team and then pulled off one of the two major upsets of the Stanley Cup tournament by ousting the New York Rangers. The Senators weren’t through either. They proved to be Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins toughest opponent, going toe to toe with them for the maximum seven games and only losing in double overtime. To General Manager Pierre Dorion, the difference in that series was that the Penguins had two superstar players at forward, Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the best player in the world and the best European player in the world. Dorion figured that if he could acquire a superstar forward of his own, it would be the final piece of the puzzle that would put Ottawa past Pittsburgh and give them a Stanley Cup to match their recent Grey Cup. Dorion was not alone in such thinking. Many fans, coaches, media, other general managers, etc. believed it too.
So with the best will in the world, Dorion looked around for a superstar forward. The biggest prize available seemed to be Matt Duchene who was rumored to be available for the right price. In a way, Colorado was trying to imitate the Pittsburgh formula for building a Stanley Cup champion, by molding a team around two superstar forwards, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. But the Pittsburgh formula was not working in Denver and the Avalanche finished near the bottom of the standings last year. It was rumored that Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic had made Duchene – significantly not MacKinnon – available for a trade.
Sakic obviously made a sound assessment of his club. As things would turn out he picked the right source for the “cancer” on the team and then kept the result close to the chest. His accurate assessment qualifies him to being named this year’s top General Manager of the NHL, in conjunction with Las Vegas General Manager George McPhee. One only has to compare the result of Sakic’s diagnosis with that of Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin who targeted P.K. Subban as the scapegoat for Montreal missing the playoffs two years ago and shipped him to – a potential deja vu for Dorion – Nashville. And today, both Ottawa and Montreal are out of the playoffs by a wide margin while the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche soar.
So without divulging the reason for his assessment, Sakic held out until he got what he believed was the right equivalent for Duchene and then let him go to Ottawa. Nobody flinched at the move. As an added incentive, getting Duchene would seem to be a way for Ottawa Senator owner, Eugene Melnyk to tell local Ottawa politicians, “We’re serious about winning the Stanley Cup. Now provide funds for building a new arena.”
For Duchene, perhaps it meant he was now going to be released from playing under the shadow of MacKinnon and be given his own team to lead. But instead of responding to the challenge, Duchene has failed to produce and Ottawa, once so close it seemed to the Stanley Cup now finds itself in the dregs of the league. Nobody would have predicted this. It was supposed to be a win-win-win trade for every team. Instead Ottawa stands fleeced.
Who do you blame? How can you blame coach Guy Boucher who got his team to respond so well in the playoffs last year and until Duchene appeared, had the Senators in playoff contention this year? Obviously Dorion is going to get a lot of blame, but other NHL general managers, coaches, media, fans too numerous to count, believed in Duchene too. Duchene was coveted by a lot of teams. This trade seems to prove Sakic’s worth as a general manager, rather than any deficiency by Pierre Dorion. And owner Melnyk approved the trade for the arena reasons listed above. There have been no further moves since the trade by Ottawa. Probably the results have left the owner, general manager, coach and the rest of the team in shock, stunned.
As to why Duchene has proven to be not what he was projected to be, there you have me. Obviously I am not close to the Senators. I am not acquainted with Duchene personally so I cannot accurately access why he failed to respond in his new environment. Obviously Sakic and the Avalanche management had come to believe that he was not what he was projected to be and wanted him gone and carefully and wisely kept it to themselves. They were lying in wait, ready to take advantage when any inquiring general manager like Pierre Dorion came calling.
So most of the blame clearly falls on Duchene. A lot of people are going to be refining their judgment and assessments about him. There is no way Ottawa is going to get what they paid for if they try to trade him. If he became a free agent, there is no way he is going to command the salary he once seemed to merit. Unless he turns things around, his value on the NHL market will take a severe drop.
Unless Duchene becomes what he was projected to be, this trade will become one of the worst or best in NHL history, depending on who you are cheering for. Not even the Gretzky trade of 1988 was so one-sided. Edmonton won one more Stanley Cup without Gretzky, while he failed to take the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. So far, a more accurate trade to compare this one to was the one in which the Chicago Blackhawks traded Phil Esposito to the Boston Bruins. Esposito subsequently became the NHL scoring champion and Boston won two Stanley Cups while Chicago had to wait over 40 years until the days of Jonathan Toews to win the Cup again.
Right now it is a nightmare to play for or be part of the ownership, management, and coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators. A logical trade, one that most people might have predicted that Ottawa would win has blown up to catastrophic proportions. The team that seemed one step away from the Stanley Cup now has plunged into the depths of the NHL. And still worse, from Duchene’s point of view, they can accurately name the date of when it started to occur.
Danish hockey fans awaiting the World Championships in May, in Denmark are going to get an unexpected major, bonus, windfall for their tournament. They are going to get to see Canada’s best young player, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, arguably one of the two best players in the world today, along with Sydney Crosby, captain the Canadian team. That ought to boost ticket sales. The World Championship tournament will be the only significant, pressure games that McDavid will play this year.
Unless a miracle of a long winning streak(s) occur, the 2017-18 season is over for the Edmonton Oilers. Currently they are behind the top eight teams in the NHL Western Conference by more than 10 points – and four other teams are poised to pull away to be just as far if not farther. It is probably too late for Edmonton to catch them. For the remainder of the year, the Oilers will occupy a space with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks, who are supposed to be where they are, far away from the top twelve teams in the conference and comfortably above the horrible Arizona Coyotes. That was expected of Vancouver, not Edmonton. Their unexpected drop has been the reverse equivalent of the success of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights. If one didn’t know any better, one would assume that the Knights were the established, rising power, while the Oilers were the new expansion team.
The fall of the Oilers is an unpredictable shock, and it has its Eastern Conference match in the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams were supposed to be building around two rising young stars, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel but instead of moving forward from the progress they have made, both teams have dramatically regressed and are now top contenders to land the supposed number one draft choice, Rasmus Dalhin of Sweden. But in McDavid’s case, he also carries two burdens; first being the projected successor to Sydney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain (the line of Canada’s top players, head and shoulders above everybody else, starting with Maurice Richard) which includes Wayne Gretzky; and second, being Gretzky’s heir in Edmonton. Gretzky himself is back with the Oilers and is acting as McDavid’s mentor.
Much of the blame for the current unexpected result will fall on coach Todd McLellan who has an undistinguished record as a head coach at the NHL level. Unless that miraculous winning streak occurs, he is probably a goner at the end of this season. Dan Bylsma, ironically the fired coach of the Buffalo Sabres, whom impatient owner Terry Pegula abruptly dismissed, who once won the Stanley Cup with Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins, ought to be a leading candidate to replace him. But the real problem that General Manager Peter Chiarelli has to determine is if changing coaches is the only problem.
This situation is in direct contrast with the Gretzky years in Edmonton, which proceeded on schedule like an upward Bell Curve. Except for one hiccup, a shocking playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 1982 playoffs (which included the legendary “Miracle on Manchester” game of Los Angeles Kings’ lore), it was onward and upward for Gretzky and the Oilers until he was shockingly traded in 1988. There were no regressions like McDavid is currently suffering.
Gretzky had entered the NHL with the merger of the WHA league in 1980 and under the merger terms, the four new franchises, Edmonton, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford were severely stripped of most of their players. The Oilers were allowed to retain Gretzky and because of him, they never missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the very early years, the Oilers status was that of a very bad playoff team that always lost in the first round, but during their third year, the Oilers, heavy underdogs, upended the declining Montreal Canadiens of the legendary Guy Lafleur in the first playoff round and then seldom looked back.
The fall of the current Oilers could only be temporary. If the coach is the problem, an established winning coach like Bylsma could right the ship within one season and have the Oilers back to where they were projected to be as the coming powerhouse of the NHL. Every member of Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain won at least one Stanley Cup and the current disappointing season won’t dim those expectations in Edmonton. The real dilemma is finding out if there is more to the problem than the coach and that again sharply contrasts with the Gretzky years.
Perhaps the main contrast with the current McDavid years and the Gretzky years is that everything the Oilers touched with Gretzky turned to gold. Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, both goaltenders, Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr are only the up-front players. There was also Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Charlie Huddy… the list goes on and on.
In contrast, since the departure of Chris Pronger, the Oilers have a horrible record of developing players and nobody can say why. The latest problem child is Anton Slepyshev whom Chiarelli says is available for the right price. Four times, the Oilers had the overall number one pick in the NHL draft; McDavid, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov. Only Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid remain. Hall was the best of the bunch after McDavid, and is now recovering his status in New Jersey. Yakupov plays a minor role in Colorado and Nugent-Hopkins has never lived up to his status as the over-all number one pick.
Then it gets worse. The departed Ales Hemsky, San Gagner, and Jordan Eberle were the best of a bunch of forgettables. Also during this period, the Oilers have changed coaches, general managers, uniform colors, and even arenas. There is no magic like there was during the Gretzky years. And that is Chiarelli’s main problem. Is getting rid of McLellan enough? Or is there some kind of developmental or even spiritual problem, hard to identify, that has been poisoning the Oilers for over a decade? If the problem is more than the coach, it is going to be very difficult to identify it and root it out. The Oilers have been trying to find it without success for over a decade. Last year, it seemed they had finally got over the hump and were on their way, but this year…
There is a writer for this blog, Sam Happi that specializes in articles about draft picks and the development of young prospects. He has got some potential surreal articles coming up. Imagine, Danish fans getting to see one of Canada’s all time greatest players, Connor McDavid playing in their World Championship tournament in May. Imagine, Rasmus Dalhin, the projected number one pick in this year’s draft in Dallas lining up next year as McDavid’s teammate. None of this would have been predicted at the start of this season. It would have been treated like a joke or a prophet who had lost his marbles.
It’s no laughing matter for Edmonton fans. Is this just one bad year that can be blamed on a coach or is it the continuation of a nightmare that has been going on for over ten years, that nobody has ever found out why it keeps occurring?
Nothing has gone right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ve had plenty of injuries, slumps from key players, and absolutely dismal special teams. Through 43 games this season, the Oilers have put up just 39 points, good for 3rd last in the Pacific. Although they aren’t mathematically eliminated yet, the chances of them surging back to make the playoffs are slim, especially with how they have been playing lately.
The Oilers have lost their last two games 1-5 and 1-4, to the Stars and Blackhawks. Before that, they beat the Ducks in a shootout, and prior to that, they lost twin 5-0 games to Kings and Ducks. They’ve rarely looked liked the team they were last year, when they were playing their best hockey of the last decade. Last year was a nice break from the darkness for Oilers fans, but it looks like true light won’t come to Oil Country until next year at the earliest, and that’s optimistic.
As it stands now, the Edmonton Oilers are not a playoff team. They were last year, but due to declining players and significant downgrades in the offseason, that is no longer true. Currently they are a top 6 winger and a solid defenceman short of being playoff-calibre. The Oilers had both last year, but thanks to Peter Chiarelli, they now lack both. When Chiarelli moved Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in the offseason, he lost the top 6 winger that Eberle was, getting a 3rd line forward in return, and by declining to replace declining borderline third pairing defenceman with a better option, he weakened the defence corps of this team. Last year, Russell was a #4 defenceman, but only when Andrej Sekera was there to help hin out. This season, he has struggled on defence, the only aspect of his game he isn’t terrible at. He consistently makes poor reads, and has seemingly forgotten how to defend a two on one, choosing to play the shooter on more occasions than I can count on one hand. Just in case you aren’t aware, you are supposed to play the pass on those. Don’t worry if you got that wrong though, I can’t really blame you. If an NHL player making $4 million a year doesn’t know, why should you?
Peter Chiarelli has created holes in this team, and it is too late for a quick fix. However, it can be patched up after just one year out of the playoffs, and that is what most Oilers fans will want. Few people will want to go back into a short rebuild after a decade of absence from the playoffs, and lucky for them, this is the plan that Chiarelli will likely follow, based on his track record of panic and lack of patience.
If I were Peter Chiarelli, I would be looking to add a young top 6 scoring winger, at the cost of a defenceman like Klefbom or Nurse. Then, I would begin to shop both Milan Lucic and Kris Russell, in an effort to lose those terrible contracts so the cap space to keep Nuge would be there, as well as some additional room to surround McDavid with more speedy talent, or to retain Maroon.
By filling the forward need, we weakened our defense, so now we need to add a defenceman or two. That’s where the draft comes in. Without one of Klefbom or Nurse, the already poor defence is even worse, and the offence, even with the addition of Hoffman, would still be unable to make up for it. This is an issue that won’t be able to be resolved this season, because this is where the draft comes in.
The 2018 NHL Draft lacks the top centre prospects that usually occupy the top positions in the draft. Instead, those spots are filled with wingers and defencemen, the two very needs that the Oilers have. In the grand scheme of things, it may actually be a good thing that the Oilers have played so poorly this season, as the draft is perfectly suited for their needs. Rasmus Dahlin, the prize of the draft, would be a great fit, especially if they move a left handed defenseman like Klefbom or Nurse. He’s a guy that could jump right into a top 4 role as the clear Calder favourite. By 2021, whoever has him could very well have the best defenseman in the league. If the Oilers lottery luck continues, they could have both the leagues best forward in McDavid, and the best defensemen with Dahlin.
If they don’t get the first pick in the draft, they can still get their hands on a solid consolation prize. Svechnikov, Zadina and Tkachuk, ranked #2, 3 and 5, are all game changing wingers (Tkachuk can also play centre, but I, as well as many other scouts, see him as a winger long term), while Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes (#4 and 6), are future top pairing defensemen. Ty Smith, Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard have top 4 potential. All of those players will be impact players for the team that drafts them, and for one of those players, that team will likely be the Edmonton Oilers.
Best case scenario, the Oilers get the first pick and take Dahlin. That would be fantastic for the future of the team and their blueline. However, more likely than not, they end up with a pick somewhere in the 2-10 range, and that means that they’ll draft either a winger or a defenceman. The later in the draft that their pick ends up being, the more likely it gets that they tale a defenseman. If they do get an earlier pick, probably somewhere in the 2-5 range, chances are that they’ll end up with one of the 3 wingers I have ranked there. If that happens, their blueline still needs some help. In that scenario, they would need to make a trade to add another defenseman, and in that scenario, I would be looking at trading Kailer Yamamoto for a young top 4 defensive prospect.
If I were Peter Chiarelli, thinking like Peter Chiarelli, that would be the course of action that I would take if I wanted to try to fix this in a short amount of time, and this may be what he tries to do. Chiarelli has a history of making bets and taking chances, and there is a lot of that in this plan.
Now, if I were GM, and I was thinking like myself, not Chiarelli, I would do things differently. Today’s NHL is built around speed, and I would try to build this team around that. Chiarelli built this team for the 2012 NHL, back when heavy hockey was the way to go. Nowaday’s, the game is too fast for that style, and the Oilers need to adjust to fit that fast style of game, and that means a moderate overhaul of this team.
Under my direction, the team would essentially go into a 2-3 year rebuild. I’d try to move Maroon and any other UFAs with any value at the deadline, and I would shop Russell and Lucic. I could see the Canadiens taking Lucic, they have some cap space, and adding another middle six winger would allow them to use Gallagher or Galchenyuk to add a centre. Montreal was also interested in him when he was available as a free agent, and was even reportingly willing to give him 7 million dollars a year. Russell will be harder to move, he makes a very small impact offensively, and his defense appears to have declined since last year, as he now makes at least one terrible defensive play each game, something I didn’t notice last year. The only thing he is good at is shot blocking, which really isn’t as great as a lot of people make it out to be, as for every quality shot he blocks, he makes two poor defensive plays, essentially canceling out his shot blocking. Both Russell and Lucic do have no-move clauses in their contracts, so hopefully they’ll waive those. If they resist, maybe spending the rest of the season in the press box will convince them. Getting Russell and his overall negative impact out of the lineup will be a positive anyways.
Moving those two players will only add to the holes in this lineup, which is why they’ll need to undergo a short rebuild first. Yamamoto will be the top 6 winger replacing Lucic, likely as soon as next year. I’d still like to see them add another, preferably a left winger. We’ve already got Puljujarvi and Yamamoto on the right side long term. That winger will come through the draft, as will the top 4 defenseman that they also need to add. The 2018 draft is deep defensively, so it is likely best for them to add the blueliner there, but if a winger like Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom is the best player available and they take him, you won’t see me complaining. They can try to get a defenseman like Bowen Byram, Tobias Bjornfot, Ilia Mironov or Matthew Robertson in the 2019 class. The one thing that needs to happen though, is them adding a top 4 defence prospect and a future top 6 winger. If they do that, they’ll have pretty solid top 6 and top 4 groups.
In this post, I’ve gone over two possible courses of action that could be taken to try to make this team a true contender. The first was what I believe that Chiarelli will try; a plan including panic and weakening one area of the team to improve another. It could work and get the Oilers to the playoffs next year, but it seems more likely that the defence will just be too weak for them to extend their season. The second plan is the map that I would follow as GM; essentially a short rebuild, where they trade away vets and count on the draft to fill holes.
The two plans differ dramatically. One has panic, the other patience. One is short, but risky, the other is longer and safe. One might temporarily fix the team now, while the other will guarantee a future of success in Edmonton.
Which way will Chiarelli go?