This is actually a month late, and then I won’t do another one of these until post trade deadline (which will be a lot more fun to write given I’ll be able to factor in teams deadline day moves). Blogging in general has become extinct for me of late since I’ve taken on podcasting and been busy the last month or so. Not quitting doing it, just haven’t had time of late, I know you all have missed me oh so much….
So as has been with my rankings, I’m not too worried about the standings. I’m worried about which teams are the biggest threat’s to win the Cup in order. With the trade deadline coming up, how big of a buyer certain teams have the potential to be is without a doubt a factor. Other than that I’m exhausted as I’m typing this and can’t think of anything else to say, so here we go.
31. Ottawa – They’d be in a much better spot than LA or Chicago if they owned their 1st this season. I know the draft is getting pissed on a bit lately, but the top five is still DAMN good and it appears as though the Avs will own a top five pick thanks to the Sens.
30. Los Angeles – It’s not JUST the spot in the standings, it’s how long it is going to take them to get back near the top. I love Kopitar and Doughty, but I just do not see the pieces who are coming to save this organization anytime soon.
29. Chicago – Same with the Hawks. The Hawks have drafted a little better than the Kings so I give them the slight edge here, but obviously both are in bad spots.
28. Detroit – Not much to say for the Wings. It’s a season that was expected, and it’ll likely be a while for them. I will say though, Ken Holland appears to be building one of the fastest teams in the league.
27. New Jersey – Unless they get amazing goaltending, they’re a bottom feeder. MacKenzie Blackwood has been terrific for them, but he’s just another Keith Kinkaid.
26. NY Rangers – Similar to Detroit. Not much to say, but they’re doing it right. I see where some are speculating if they’ll start loading up this summer by going after guys like Panarin and Karlsson, that feels SO MUCH like Minny going after Suter and Parise in the summer of 2012 which looked sexy at the time, but it really handcuffed the Wild from ever building a true contender. If the Rangers won Hughes, then I’d be more on board for that idea, but barring that, even if it’s Kakko, I’d say keep being patient and wait for the right time, not the knee jerk time.
25. Philadelphia – Ron Hextall, contrary to what some may believe, did a great job as Flyers GM and has them setup for the long haul. Their system is stocked and their cap situation is very good. Carter Hart has looked very good, but they still need to buy him some years. He has two years of his ELC left, and after two seasons the CBA is up and teams will likely get at least a couple of compliance buyouts. Jonathan Quick?
Should be Something, But They’re Not
24. Buffalo – They’re slip sliding away. When they won 10 straight, 7 were in extra time. You have to judge teams more realistically. This is why when teams go on heaters, analytics guys are usually quick to point out what their numbers show because fans and media just rush to anoint teams. They have the two very key pieces in place, more coming, but they’re not ready. Sucks for Sabres fans, sucks seeing a team in a similar situation to the Oilers, it’s no fun. They’re getting closer, but more patience is required.
23. Florida – It’ll be interesting to see what they do in goal this summer. I still maintain that Luongo is going to retire, and actually will double down on that with his season going to shit as it’s been, and Reimer is a buyout candidate this summer. If they had good goaltending this season, they’d be right there with Boston and Montreal, but they very much so do not.
22. Edmonton – It’s a mess obviously and the best course is to be patient yet again and retool for 18 months. It wouldn’t be a rebuild because the core is in place. But you need to re-do what the core has surrounding them, and need to build up depth. What would Oilers fans prefer, a true contender or to continually be bounced in the 1st or 2nd round every season? Take a breathe, do it right this time.
The Playoffs are Their Cup
21. Anaheim – They’re in a weird spot right now. You could say they need to re-tool much like the Oilers, but I still haven’t lost faith in them. It’s what they seem to do is look like they’re done and then make a run.
20. Arizona – FULL CREDIT to these guys who I openly mocked at the start of the season. Thought it was beyond ridiculous that people were picking them to be in the hunt if not make the playoffs this season. And the big reason’s people expected that are underperforming as he always does while the other is out for the season. Yet they’re right in the thick of it.
19. Colorado – They’re fading, but they still have enough to get things straightened out. Tyson Jost not emerging is really hurting them, I believed he was going to bust out this season and it just hasn’t happened.
18. St. Louis – Wow, what a turnaround for these guys! Now, some of these is a result of the lower half of the West being a complete joke. After the top five, it’s just a pile of very average teams. But full credit to them because they were DONE, and now won’t be anything of a surprise to get a wildcard spot.
17. Vancouver – Is it bad that I’m an Oilers fan and I’m going to pull for them to get in the playoffs (barring the Oilers making a miraculous run)? Look, will they win a Cup? No, they’re not coming close. But, if Pettersson stays healthy will they make the playoffs? Easily could. Embarrassing as an Oilers fan that a rebuild which started during the peak of the last Canucks contender is still only up to a “doubtful” for a damn playoff spot while the Canucks fly past them, yet here we are.
16. Dallas – I really don’t like this team. They’re built very much so like the Avs and Oilers, though they’re blueline is going to be VERY good in a few seasons. They’ve had some wild swings in momentum and I’m having trouble figuring out what they are.
15. Carolina – Similar to the Panthers in that I wonder where they’d be with some high end goaltending?! They’re well built thanks to Ron Francis, and I give the new regime credit for the Niederreiter deal. Of course the talk is that they’ll move some D out to load up with scoring, but they have an insane 44 million in cap space at the moment, 76 million on trade deadline day. If they’re close to a playoff spot in a month, they could REALLY make some noise!
14. NY Islanders – A lot of this is smoke and mirrors, but full credit to Trotz and Lamoriello because it’s not exactly a coincidence either. These two are elite at what they do, and it rubs off on people. I’m not a big believer in them this season despite the amazing record, but what a bonus this will be if they keep it up and make the playoffs this year. The system is looking pretty good too and will only get better now that a very competent GM is in place.
13. Montreal – Over the Islanders, yes. I’ll tell you why: If they get in the playoffs, and it looks as though they will, I’m taking Carey Price all day over Robin Lehner. Islanders have been a great story, but the Habs would be a miserable team to play in the post season, and they have some pieces to deal if they want to chase a centre they badly need.
12. Minnesota – This is where it falls off badly. I don’t like the Wild at all. They’re in no man’s land, badly need to rebuild and might make the playoffs…might not. But…if we’re doing this by chances teams have to win the Cup, they’re 12th. It looks better than it actually is, I give them no shot.
Great Season, Not a Cup Contender
11. Columbus – I’m putting them here, but Bobrovsky is gone possibly by the deadline, and Panarin is gone after the season. So they aren’t good enough to win as is, and are about to lose their two best players. Kekalainen needs to attempt a reboot at the deadline in my opinion. Sure, it’s not fair to the guys that are there, but two of the guys in that room want to bail on the team, so is that Kekalainen’s fault? It’s not as if he’s saying he doesn’t want to sign them. GM with your head, not your heart.
10. Vegas – I don’t get it, but I tap on doubting them. They’re clearly legit, clearly making the playoffs again, I still think it is a joke that they were given as much as they were as an expansion team, but what’s done is done and I better get used to it. One thing I’ll never take away from them is how hard they work though. What I saw this year and didn’t see last season is they did have some adversity early which is when I figured they’d fold. Instead they’ve become one of the best teams in the league since that time, full credit and respect.
9. Calgary – The thing about the Flames that keeps them out of my Cup contender teams is for me they lack one more big piece to the puzzle. It’s funny, I say it’s a centre and that if they had the right centre then I’d bump them to Cup contenders, but they are filling the net. I also don’t like that they are coming back late to win so many games as that won’t fly come April. But don’t get this twisted, they’re easily a top 10 team right now, I’m just talking about them in terms of being a serious Cup threat.
A Sliver Below Elite
8. Boston – They’ve been beat to fuck, but now are finally healthy. I’ve been impressed with how they’ve withstood the injuries. I really believed last season this was an organization that simply had everything bounce their way, but they’ve proven this season they can take a punch.
7. San Jose – They’re coming, aren’t they? I still say they need a centre, and I still say Doug Wilson will have to work a miracle to get that done. But crazier things have happened. No doubt though that Karlsson has his game going now and largely because of that they’ve been looking scary good.
6. Toronto – “How can you like Toronto more than Boston right now?!” Because the Leafs have SO MUCH to offer at a trade deadline that appears to be right up their ally. Imagine if they add something like Wayne Simmonds, Radko Gudas, and Michael Ferland? And they can. It’s looking more and more likely the Leafs window to win could be this season and then close for a season or two while Dubas adjusts to life with monster contracts, so watch for him to make a big push at the deadline. If he does, I’m moving them to this next tier.
True Cup Contenders
5. Pittsburgh – Rutherford is a threat to do something big in the next month. What is big? Matt Duchene? Elliotte Friedman has brought up more than a few times that the Pens have had big interest in Duchene, and we know Derrick Brassard is on the trading block as that hasn’t worked out. So how could the Pens do that deal? Well if Brassard goes without retaining salary, that’s 3 mil, and then in the deal I could see a guy like Olli Maatta being a fit for the Sens given their holes on the blueline and the Pens having Justin Schultz returning before the end of the season (at last check, mid February was the speculation on a return). After Maatta, I’d suggest their 1st round pick this season, and perhaps a future conditional pick should the Penguins re-sign him or make the final. Oh yeah, also I know they’re only in a wildcard spot right now but we all know they’re a true Cup contender.
4. Washington – They’re on a big losing streak right now, Holtby is playing some of the worst hockey of his career, does it matter?! Don’t buy into great teams losing games in January. They’re bored. Come April, it’ll be fun to see how they come together. I believe they’ll be even better than last season because now they have ZERO pressure.
3. Nashville – Is anyone going to be surprised if they win the Cup? I don’t know if I’d trust Rinne or not come this spring, but I know I trust David Poile to get them what they need by the trade deadline.
2. Winnipeg – They get the slight (and I mean SLIGHT) nod over the Preds for me based off the standings. It’s a total coin flip right now between the two. And I STILL am not sure if they’ve really hit their stride yet. Imagine them acquiring a Matt Duchene? It’s possible.
1. Tampa Bay – Much tougher decision here than you may think. Who are you taking in a seven game series right now, Tampa or Winnipeg? Tampa or Nashville? I’m probably taking either one of those teams. But Tampa doesn’t have to go through either one of them before seeing the other, they do. So the Lightning get the nod here.
So here is a dirty little secret about me:…well, it’s not actually a dirty secret, and I’m not sure it’s anything scandalous in general. But here it is: I’ve been wanting to do a “What If” blog for a long time now. There have been lot’s that I started. Gretzky not been dealt, Lemieux at the 98 Olympics, Chris Pronger never asked for a trade, the Penguins taken Jonathan Toews, there are a lot of them you could do. One of my favourites in sports is if the Detroit Pistons in 2003 taken Carmelo Anthony with the 2nd pick in the NBA draft and how huge that would have been for the Pistons success AND Melo’s career.
My worlds collide on this one though. I’ve been wanting to do these pieces coupled with a question that a few Oilers fans have asked of late. So let’s go back. It’s April 19th, 2015 and we have the ability to simply say to Bob Nicholson “get off the fucking golf course and do your job!!!” But we ALSO have the ability to say “quit talking about your fucking Bobby Nicks burgers you sound like such a piece of shit, do your fucking job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And finally, we ALSO have the ability to tell him “Bob, hiring Peter Chiarelli is a colossal mistake and it is a better play to simply stick with Mac T”.
1. Todd McLellan is still hired as head coach
No, we don’t get a do-over on this one and have the ability to also stick with Todd Nelson even though we all would like to. This was heavily rumoured to be happening pretty much from the moment Dallas Eakins was fired if I recall correctly. It was going to be Mac T’s move. So McLellan is still the guy, even though he shouldn’t have been and that amazing thing that Todd Nelson appeared to have going on was likely legit.
2. He lands Dougie Hamilton
I don’t pin the Oilers inability to land Hamilton on Chiarelli. It was widely reported at the time that the Bruins flat out refused to do business with the recently departed Chiarelli. The ask from the Oilers was the same as the ask from the Flames…PLUS Darnell Nurse. I’m actually stunned Chiarelli didn’t simply say “ok” given what he’s done since! But that would have been an insane over payment. If Mac T is the GM though, the Bruins are likely very fine dealing with him. The package the Oilers could have gave up was VERY similar to the Flames, and I believe according to the draft chart was a little more value than the Flames. Realistically though, the Bruins would take getting just a tiny bit less in a deal to risk that they could get more out of the Oilers, and they could have given how desperate they were. So what is the extra piece? Let’s not go with fantasy, let’s think about what the Oilers had at the time which could have been of interest to the B’s, which thanks to a razor thin prospect pool would have probably been their 2016 2nd rounder, so say bye to Tyler Benson. Still a deal that many would have been on board with at the time.
3. 2015 Off-Season stays in tact
Talbot, Sekera, Letestu and Klefbom’s extension in my mind still all get done. I’ve always felt like Chiarelli didn’t really start to run things until the 2016 trade deadline. There was no big connection to any of the players he traded for/signed, and the Klefbom extension had to be the OBC because Chiarelli couldn’t have known the player THAT well. None of those moves felt like they were because of Chiarelli.
4. Schultz stays
With Dougie Hamilton in the lineup, the blueline wouldn’t have been fixed, just improved. But slotting Schultz more properly would have been huge as we’ve seen it’s been in Pittsburgh. Now, maybe he still falls apart. There is something to be said for the East/West differences in style of play and the style of defenceman Schultz is does seem to get eaten up in the West. But with the pressure off him had Hamilton been there, I just believe it would have made a world of difference for the perception of him in the eyes of management, the media, and the fans.
5. No Maroon
I mean…who knows? But I just don’t think Mac T would have pulled that one off. I know Murray was looking to off load Maroon at the time, so MAYBE he still gets lucky. But to me it was a move that Chiarelli got from being around the league and his relationship with Bob Murray, I just don’t know if Mac T would have had that one happen.
5. Hall stays/Demers signs
Mac T wouldn’t have had the balls….or maybe a better word is the stupidity….to pull the trigger on it. He would have seen Jason Demers out there and said “that’s the better play is to stay the course and bring in Demers”. Mac T not only had his chances to panic, but painted himself into a corner by saying “bold moves” once he was hired and he STILL didn’t get overly stupid as a GM! Yes, he royally fucked up with Petry, but in hindsight he never put the team in a position of no return with his decisions like Chiarelli did. In fact, the reason he didn’t extend Petry was because he was being too conservative. No doubt that Demers would have been overpaid. I’m guessing something as bad as 6×6. But that still wouldn’t have been as bad as the Lucic contract has been, and would have along with Hamilton and better slotting of Schultz improved the blueline more than Chiarelli has been able to.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Russell…I doubt it because the blueline would have then looked pretty set. Benning? Probably not as it was Chiarelli who drafted him in Boston. Eberle might go after the 2017 season, but for Ryan Strome? Here is the big one to keep in mind and be completely fair though:
6. The System isn’t near as good
The one thing I can’t take away from Chiarelli is that he has turned around the drafting and developing here. One reason I wouldn’t fear dealing the 1st round pick this season is because they know what they’re doing in rounds 2-7. I wouldn’t say the system is loaded right now by any means, but it looks really solid. We’ve got to see Caleb Jones recently. Ethan Bear is a damn good prospect. Joel Persson, Maksimov, Benson, Marody, McLeod, Wells, Skinner, Kemp, go down the list. He has done a terrific job turning the system around.
Having said that, I still am taking what Mac T likely would have done with the big club’s roster over a drastically improved system. But thanks to this great system, now the next GM should be able to keep it in place and the organization can simply focus on finding someone who can find value in trades and free agency.
It’s amazing to say, but they would have been better off. Man, what a nightmare this has turned into. Pretty much everything since winning McDavid has found a way to blow up in their faces. It’s what happens to people who are poor at their jobs. Bad bounces find them, and good bounces find people who are good at it. Look at the Leafs. Nobody talks about it, but they’ve had some insanely great luck the last four years! Babcock, Marner, Matthews, and Tavares could EAAAAAAAAAAAASILY be Bylsma, Strome or Hanifin, Puljujarvi and re-signing Bozak. But they’d still be a damn good organization because they’re so well run.
If it’s me doing the hiring, I want the Oilers to find the best analytics guy they can get to be the next GM of the team. This position is perfect right now for someone who can find value. I don’t like analytics guys for rebuilding situations, but I’d love a job like that for this gig. He wouldn’t get swayed by old school minds or what the media in town thought of the team. He would just look to get the cap under control, and look to find the best bargains he could given the situation.
Something better happen soon though, because when it has become pretty clear that Craig MacTavish was a better GM then you were, the time has come to (as Mike Commordore would say) pack your shit.
A day late, and really I should have done this on Saturday. Don’t worry, I feel all the shame. We’re still at a point in the season where it’s difficult to tell who is what. So I did tiering this time around and basically you can put the teams in each tier in any order you please and I wouldn’t really argue with you.
My power rankings are done by me ranking the teams I like best to win the Cup at this point in the season. 31st is the furthest away from winning, and 1st is my Cup favourite. And I have a lot of writing to do so I won’t take anymore time dicking around with an opening and let’s get right to it!
31. Detroit – They’ve been a lot better since last month, but I still just see bottom five with Jack Hughes are very real possibility. That sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn’t. Some will see this ranking and be pissed at me because they’re record isn’t near this, but it’s how I feel.
30. Chicago – It’s really bleak there right now. I said it before the season began and will say it again: Duncan Keith is a prime candidate to be dealt. I really don’t get caught up in the trade rumour mill anymore, the only people you need to listen to on that front are McKenzie and Friedman, so I have no idea if that’s out there (though I’m sure it is). But I’d bet good money Keith is on the move by the deadline.
29. Ottawa – I saw how they could be competitive this season, and they are. They’re not a disgrace on the ice like most believed they’d be and it seems from a far like they have a great room. But they’re still pretty bad.
28. Vancouver – A massive tumble back down my personal rankings, but I really hope Canucks fans aren’t discouraged by another hot start, fizzle out type of season because this organization is getting loaded with talent. Imagine simply adding a guy like Bowen Byram to Quinn Hughes and of course what they already have up front in Pettersson, Horvat and Boeser. This thing might be painful, but it’s on the right track and just a season or two away from popping.
27. St. Louis – Craig Berube isn’t fixing shit, I’m sorry. They’re a lot like the Kings, and we’re also seeing the impact Hitchock had on this team. Pre Hitch, they were awful. Post Hitch, it’s been a steady decline. Big changes are needed to the roster moving forward, but they do have a tremendous system to soften that blow.
26. Los Angeles – You know, they’re looking a lot better and now have Jonathan Quick back. Kopitar, Doughty, Quick. When those three are going good, even with how slow and old they are they’ll have a chance. I know they’re last right now, but watching them lately I just feel as though with Quick back and healthy they’ll move back to respectability.
25. Philadelphia – You fired Ron Hextall?! So the GM who finally had your organization on the right track got axed? Ooooooook. Philly has a lot of the same problems the Oilers do in that as long as certain people are still around the organization, they’ll just never get it right. Chuck Fletcher is now the new GM, and apparently/allegedly he was just a puppet for Craig Leipold in Minny so I can’t imagine why the Flyers brass wanted HIM so bad….
24. New Jersey – Yep. I just didn’t buy what was going on here and now we’re seeing that without goaltenders standing on their skull that they just aren’t that good of a team. Everything went perfect last season and all that happened was they snuck into the final playoff spot in the East. If I’m Taylor Hall, I’m not signing long term with this squad barring winning Jack Hughes. Too many holes and not a lot in the system to get excited about.
Might Make Playoffs, Probably Won’t
23. NY Rangers – I’m not buying what they’re selling. They had a hot streak to get above .500, and actually I had them being a surprise team this season, but the fact is they’re still probably going to sell some good pieces barring an insane run.
22. NY Islanders – Here they come back down to earth. You knew it couldn’t last. They’re so on the right path though and really even though they’ve had the puck bounce their way a lot this season, it’s not going to hurt anything. They have great pieces in place with Barzal, Trotz behind the bench, Lamoriello at the controls. Another thing with the Isles: underrated talent on the way.
21. Montreal – I feel as though they’re built a lot like Jersey, but while I have the Habs in this 20-25 range, they have Carey Price who can get as hot in net as both Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider were last season. Unlikely they’re more than just a competitive non-playoff team, but I said it before the season that if they make it then it’ll be Price who gets them there. They’ve fallen of late, but he hasn’t played to his potential yet either.
In the Race
***DISCLAIMER: You see three Pacific teams right off the bat in this tier, they aren’t in my opinion any better than the last three teams I listed, but the Pacific is the worst division in the league so their path to the playoffs/Cup isn’t near as difficult.
20. Arizona – I’m just not much of a believer. I know what their goal differential is, and then I look at the reason for it and it’s just because they’re basically massive front runners. Aiden Hill is giving them amazing goaltending?! And I know I say that as an Oilers fan who have Koskinen running just as hot, but at least Koskinen has a track record! (even if it’s a KHL/IIHF track record) Credit where it’s due, but I just haven’t bought what they’ve sold all season and continue to take that stance until I see what a lot of other people seem to. They’re like 3/4 of the league: if they’re goaltender is ridiculously good then they can win.
19. Vegas – Tough to judge this team. On one hand, I don’t buy their recent success to get them back in the hunt. On the other hand, I didn’t buy it for 102 games last season and they proved me wrong. So here with the Coyotes and the next team, I think you could put these three in any order you want. Problem is that none of the three can get higher than 4th in the Pacific right now and they might need to get to 3rd to make the playoffs.
18. Edmonton – I know I got them ahead of certain teams you can make an argument for to be ahead of them, but the reality is teams from about 22-15 are pretty even in my mind. Last time around I really don’t think I overrated them! You looked at what the record was at the time and who they had gone through to get there and it seemed very legit! But man, what a horrible month where they gave it all back. Still, they’ve gone through the worst part of their season, they’re around .500, Oilers fans think they’re done but I don’t believe they realize how big that start to the season was. Hitch taking over behind the bench and Koskinen playing great between the pipes has bought Peter Chiarelli some time, but now he has to make the necessary moves to help get them over the hump and into the playoffs.
17. Carolina – I’m intrigued to see what they might do now that the Willie Nylander saga is done, because as you know they were basically considered the top contender for him. Justin Faulk now in play? What about their goaltending? Will they roll with Mrazek and McElhinney or look to get someone more trustworthy? An interesting team to watch…off the ice…not so much on it, unless they’re doing that stupid yet awesome celebration after home wins.
16. Florida – I still can’t give up on them, but they’re running out of time too. I was right that once Luongo returned they got it going, but then they fell off a bit and now Luongo has been hurt again, though he was starting to shit the bed before the injury, have to wonder if the knee was bugging him before he officially went down? If they get the goaltending, they can still make a real good run, same as 3/4 of the league though.
Playoff Teams who are No Cup Threat
15. Dallas – I’m not too worried about what they’ve been lately because they’ve been hammered by injuries. Staying in the hunt despite that. With Jason Spezza going how he is, this is a playoff team.
14. Minnesota – Bruce Boudreau baby! This team should be falling off, and yet they’re as good as anyone in the regular season. Why? Bruce FUCKING Boudreau. His teams never underachieve, and rarely don’t overachieve.
13. Calgary – They’re scorching hot since the 3rd period of the game against the Oilers a couple weeks ago. Everyone will tell you it’s the new blood in the room or it’s the added depth, and it’s neither of those things. It’s David Rittich stepping up and becoming their number one goaltender. And this team as much as any team in the league gets a boost when they trust their goaltending. Maybe a little more so for whatever reason.
12. Colorado – Is there a more underrated goaltender in the league than Semyon Varlamov? The guy has three seasons with a Sv% of .920 or better (min. 50 GP) and is well on his way to a fourth right now with it at .930. The first line gets all the love, but the reason they’re fighting for first in the league is the play of Varlamov.
11. Columbus – Bobrovsky has got right and so have the Jackets. I don’t see them as being anything of a threat, and strongly believe that they need to deal both Bobrovsky and Panarin, but it doesn’t look as though they will. It’s fine, they’ll be back in the playoffs, but I can’t see them going far.
10. Buffalo – Let’s keep in mind here with that 10 game winning streak that 7 of the 10 wins were in OT or a shootout. They don’t play 3 on 3 or have shootouts in the playoffs. Having said that…let’s also keep in mind that while they’ve lost 3 in a row, all by 1 goal, two of the three were on the road to my two top ranked teams, the other in OT against a good Panthers team on the 2nd half of a back to back. I’ll also say for the Sabres, while 7 of the wins were in extra time, I don’t care how you have to build your confidence in this league as long as you’re building it. Really pumped for Sabres fans.
9. Anaheim – They just won’t die. Probably too high for most, I know. But I’m a massive believer in their young talent. They looked horrendous, yet they’ve weathered that storm and are now rolling, with the 5-1 comeback win on a back to back as big time proof of that. Won’t be shocked if they end up at the top of the Pacific when the season comes to a close. Gibson was my pick for the Vezina…not to brag….oh and the blueline is beat up and they’re STILL getting it going. Oh and they have a mountain of cap space. Oh and they have a shit ton of assets to play with.
Legitimate Cup Contenders
8. San Jose – I’m going to keep them here, but pretty reluctantly. The reason I’ll keep them here is because you shouldn’t count “suck at 3 on 3 hockey” as any reason a team can’t win a Cup. If they are decent at 3 on 3, they’re much higher in the standings, and last I checked playoff OT isn’t 3 on 3. Having said this, I probably disliked the Karlsson move more than anyone for them, and it’s been worse than even I thought it would be.
7. Pittsburgh – Spare me if you want to tell me how the sky is falling in Pittsburgh. It’s not, they’ll be fine. I know, they’ve been dog shit, but they’ll get it figured out. I trust them more than San Jose because both have been bad by their standards, but if they play in a best of seven who are you betting on? Yeah, the Pens. So save it if you want to “at me” as the children say.
6. Boston – Bergeron out is huge, Chara out is still pretty important, McAvoy isn’t back yet, they have a lot of key injuries right now. And Rask hasn’t been that shit hot either. I knew this was coming, everything went too perfect for them from about December on last season, had to balance out a bit. But they’re still one of the best when everyone is healthy.
5. Washington – Might seem dumb as they’re fresh off a 6-5 loss where they blew a 5-1 lead midway through the game. But the fact is that they haven’t put it all together yet, and likely won’t feel the pressure to do so until April. I’m still sky high on them.
4. Winnipeg – They haven’t played well at all to this point…and are still looking great in the standings. Imagine what’s going to happen once they get their shit together? The big comeback last night against the Rangers may have been the starting point.
3. Toronto – Maybe it’s just me now loving them because the media had quit drooling all over them for a bit, but going into November I felt as though they were in big trouble with Nylander not signed and Matthews hurt, serious potential to take a fall and sound the alarms with the Toronto media. Instead, they stayed the course, and now Matthews and Nylander are back and they look primed to really take the league by the balls. I know the blueline is still suspect, still lack some size and toughness they’ll need in the spring, but Dubas has the chips to upgrade it big time.
2. Tampa Bay – No Vasilevskiy, no problem. They’re skilled, they’re deep, they can defend, and they’re basically an afterthought in their division. Only real question will be how much Julien Brisebois can do to improve their chances between now and the trade deadline.
1. Nashville – I just like them a LITTLE better than Tampa if they were to meet in the final. I could easily put them as co-number 1’s, but if they met in a best of seven right now, I’m taking the Preds in 7. They can play it anyway you want, and they haven’t skipped a beat without Subban and Arvidsson, two pretty key guys. Need anymore? Well Eeli Tolvanen just got recalled and has Calder candidate type talent…
It’s been a few weeks I’ve gotten to a Hot Takes piece. Also been a few weeks since I got to a Soups on HOCKEY podcast. Little busy, little sick, little too much Oilers news has taken away from both. But now, I’m back. In pog form. And there is PLENTY to talk about. Of course as always I will get to the Oilers, but I have a lot to cover here. I’ll start off with the somewhat significant trade last night.
The Coyotes get Nick Schmaltz, the Hawks get Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. So I wasn’t the biggest fan of any of these guys when they were drafted. Schmaltz was considered highly skilled but highly lazy, Perlini was considered a word than rhymes with mussy, and Strome wasn’t labelled anything but real good but I always felt he was front runner. I’ll never forget when he won the OHL scoring title going balls out on the final day of the OHL regular season to win it and then essentially no showing the playoffs. So who wins the deal? I’d say Arizona, though I get Chicago’s thinking. They believe Strome in the same spot as Schmaltz can put up the same numbers, and then they add a top nine winger while doing the move. Arizona is thinking “let’s shed these busts while they still have value and get a guy who can produce”. It’s very much so “hockey guy” thinking vs “analytic” thinking. Schmaltz probably does have character issues, but the Coyotes don’t care about that, just give them the 50 points. Always makes me cringe because while character and grit can get overrated by old school thinkers, it’s probably more vital than analytics guys will have you believe.
How bout them Buffalo Sabres!!! I didn’t see this coming this season. Didn’t like the goaltending, figured Dahlin wasn’t ready for big minutes, didn’t have enough up front yet, but man they’re confidence just seems to be growing with every game. A healthy blueline has helped a lot. Zach Bogosian is a guy who has been really overlooked in his career. He never became what he was expected to be, but man injuries really set him back. When healthy he’s been a solid 2nd pairing guy. Having guys like Bogosian and Jake McCabe, Kyle Okposo all healthy this season has been huge. Just having guys you can depend on for certain roles is so massive for a team and they’re getting that. 16-6-2. And the best thing is that market has deserved this. One of the best US markets who now have two superstar talents to watch every night. I don’t know if they’ll keep THIS going, but they definitely appear as though they’ve turned a corner.
The Sabres have a Nylander in the system who actually is playing, but the Leafs Nylander will be back playing soon.
They’re getting Willie Nylander back and I feel dumb that I ever bought the trade speculation. Nobody will believe me at this point, but the more I thought about it the more I kept saying “the Leafs really aren’t under the gun here, just Nylander is because they will still have his rights to deal. He’s still a big trade chip for them if he doesn’t sign.” I still won’t be shocked if they do trade him this season, but they’re going to sign him for the time being. Don’t sleep on the fact though that the Leafs have other assets to deal. The system is solid, and they don’t need STUDS, just solid defenders. If they’re serious about making a run at a Cup this season, I expect two or three pretty big moves to get them the pieces they need. The hype has died down on them, and yet to me it should be going through the roof right now because they’re maintaining an elite level of play without Matthews and Nylander.
I’m going to say it again, I’m not really getting it with the Flames. That’s not to say they suck, but I’m just doing simple math on them. The blueline is much weaker this season, and the depth that they brought in which was supposed to be their key this season hasn’t really done much. Neal has been a disaster thus far (I don’t buy it’ll continue like THIS, but to this point he’s been brutal), and Czarnik is what he’s been throughout his career. So Lindholm is replacing Ferland’s offence, an upgrade of a 4th line centre in Ryan, but what else? I know they’re good, but I keep hearing these things from the media as to why their going so well and I really just think it’s the same old things. Monahan, Gaudreau, Giordano, Tkachuk, and great goaltending although not the same goaltender. I’m interested to see if they can maintain the level they’ve been at lately. We see these kind of wild flashes from this team a lot. And that’s what this recent run has been is a little too wild. They were TERRIBLE against the Oilers for nearly 40 minutes, and then world beaters in the 3rd, blitzed both the Golden Knights and Jets, shutout by the Golden Knights, and then blitzed the Coyotes. They seem to be either sky high or extremely low. They’ll be interesting to watch moving forward. I think they are really good (despite how much I still get annoyed with the national love in for them), but as I say we’ve seen this script a lot with this group.
Ok, the Oilers. Well I’ve beat it to death this week. Had the piece Tuesday morning about how shocked I was McLellan hadn’t been fired, and then he got fired a little over an hour later, and I’ve laid out why I really like the Hitchcock hiring. But now back to business and what needs to be done. Just when you thought the path to 3rd in the Pacific was an easy road as long as you got it on track, the Ducks are going good and the Golden Knights are starting to get their false bravado back. And while I don’t get the love in for the Coyotes, the Oilers have to actually separate from them before I can write them off. The Canucks have fallen back here so it looks like it’s going to be a mess of a fight between average teams from now until the end of the season. Point being here, the Oilers to get it going. That was a dog shit effort in LA last night. Dog shit. They looked like a team who had the two points already written down before they took the ice. Pathetic. I keep seeing these opportunities on the schedule for them to gain some ground or pull away from teams and they don’t step on the gas and just piss away points. 5-4-1 against teams I had in the top 8 with my October power rankings, and yet they get one point against the Flames, Golden Knights, Ducks and Kings. Just horrible and unacceptable. I’m sick of hearing about how they “have nothing” when they’re hanging in with or beating the top teams. They will rarely ever out work a team that’s below them or on par with them in the standings. I don’t know why they’re so entitled. I do know that they now have a coach who’ll really get after them for shit like that, but it’s infuriating. They’ve captured 3 of their last 20 points. If they weren’t in the Pacific this season would be over already. I really believe Hitch is going to get them going and they’ll end up 3rd in the Pacific, but they were looking at potential for six straight wins after beating San Jose, and they’ve lost two in a row since. It just couldn’t be more frustrating, but the fact is they’re due for a little run that will put them in that 3rd spot, and then it’ll be a matter of keeping it.
I don’t know what Hitch is going to do with the lines, but to me it’s becoming more and more obvious that McDavid should have Chiasson on one wing, and for the time being Caggiula but once back I’d have Rieder there. It just goes back to needing to find guys who’ll be able to elevate with McDavid and allowing Draisaitl and Nuge to possibly create on a 2nd line. Maybe a 2nd line of Nuge with Draisaitl and Puljujarvi eventually? He badly needs to find a way to create at least a LITTLE depth. But when a guy like McDavid wants to get his 12.5 per, that’s fine, he deserves more than that, and I’m not saying for a second Chiarelli has done even a decent job surrounding him with talent, but they need to find him guys he can elevate. I don’t want to hear about how you need to get him a winger. If their PP is top 10-5, nobody is saying a word about that. Sid won a damn Cup with two rookie grinders on his wings, and even when he won his first one he had Kunitz (a 2nd line winger on any other team at the time) and a well past his prime Bill Guerin. Sid has NEVER had the big time winger. I’m not calling out McDavid or anything along those lines, but he needs to carry his own line and elevate guys and they need to give Draisaitl the offensive support five on five.
Call me nuts, but I feel like there is a lot of potential now for the Oilers and Blues to make a big trade. I know talking today it would sound outlandish, but I wonder about Tarasenko? I mentioned the Parayko the other day and really stand by that, but Friedman has mentioned lately that the Blues aren’t real happy with him. It would largely depend on if the Blues wanted to blow things up. If they did, then the Oilers have the prospects and picks to make something work if the Blues were taking back salary. Remember how Tarasenko was going to just explode once he got out from under Hitch….Chances anything happens? Slim to none. I’m not going to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass and get them thinking that the Blues are just magically going to give the Oilers a couple players they could desperately use. But if I was to put money on one team the Oilers could swing a big trade with for a big time player, I’d say the Blues.
Hmmm, I see I managed to get pictures which are both photo bombed by Drake Caggiula. I prefer Caggiula with Hitch simply so I can call them “Drake and the fat man”. Used that line talking to one of my buddies the other night and if he’s reading this now he’s thinking “get a new joke Campbell you fucking moron”. Completely justified.
Can I be honest about something? I wasn’t at all surprised by that win Tuesday night. Even at 3-2 going to the 3rd, I felt good about the spot they were in. They won, and now we go from the sky is falling to starring at a golden chance to take 5 of 6 or maybe even 6 straight. The division is so bad that they’re already back in a tie for 3rd spot (at least by points percentage). The optimism isn’t all because of the coaching change. But it’s the coaching change combined with a massive win against the top team in the division and a light schedule on the horizon. And if you go by my personal power rankings (outdated now of course), the Oilers are now 5-4-1 against what were my top 8 teams at the end of October. Being fair, three of the five were in OT. But if you want to be fair to the Oilers, two of those three were comeback wins on the road, and three of the five have been on the road. You’ll have a tough time convincing me that this team isn’t capable of making the playoffs in this division when they’re above .500 against top competition.
So the more I’ve given this thought, the more I’ve loved this move for the Oilers. Hey, maybe it’s all just optimism that comes with a new coach? Easily could be. And combine that with me being a pretty big Hitchcock fan for a long time now, this will likely be viewed as me going overboard. But it’s tough to look at his track record and not see how positive his impact could be. Not for sure, who the hell knows what’ll happen, but I have a tough time seeing how it won’t be at least a decent upgrade.
Do you remember the 2014-15 Penguins? Of course you don’t. You remember the 2015-16 Penguins? Of course you do because they won the Cup. The 14-15 Penguins were a disaster. And then in November of 2015 the Penguins looked like a completely fucked franchise. But people forget this. Mike Johnston was a disaster of a head coach for them, after they had done nothing but digress after winning the Cup with Dan Bylsma in 09. Something else with that team that was being said at the time is that the GM (first Shero and then Rutherford) was they weren’t getting Sid the help he needed. All he had was Malkin, the Kessel trade was horrendous, and Sid had nothing. Sound familiar Oilers fans?…The effect that change had on the Pens was insane. Mike Sullivan didn’t do a lot honestly. Mike Johnston just was a bad fit for that hockey club. I don’t feel like Todd McLellan, the way he was coaching the team from the psychology to the system to the results was a fit for this Oilers team. Ken Hitchock just might be the perfect fit for them.
I might just sound like an amateur blogger who is really just a guy spewing garbage who’s opinion deserves nothing more than to be pissed on by people in the media, but I’m right and most of them are very wrong on the fact that Todd McLellan isn’t a great head coach. Sounds like an AMAZING man, and I feel awful for the guy because I really do believe that he worked his balls off and had nothing but the best intentions imaginable for the Oilers. He’s just an average coach by NHL standards. Not by the media’s standards. No, by their standards he treated them great so he’s an amazing head coach and it’s not his fault. Because he treated them great. I get it, but let’s maybe start doing our jobs and get just a LITTLE more objectivity fellas?
Is Peter Chiarelli deserving of his job right now? I don’t think so. I’m not a “one or the other” guy on this. Both coach and GM should have lost their jobs after last season, let alone 20 games into this one. But Chiarelli going won’t make or break THIS season, I’m not sure how this is lost on the “yeah but Chiarelli…” crowd. What exactly is your defence for McLellan staying if you simply want to blame Chiarelli? What is his track record of getting his teams to higher level’s of performance? And why did most of you believe 12 months ago this roster was capable of contending for a Cup and now is nothing other than 97? I’m VERY well aware of how much gold Chiarelli traded away and it makes me sick. I get that. But is this roster capable of making the playoffs? Yes, it is. And last year it not only didn’t make the playoffs, it didn’t COMPETE for the playoffs. Most observers reasoning for McLellan staying was basically “well, if he had the stacked roster he should have then they would be a playoff team”. So, he’s a great coach, but because his roster isn’t loaded it’s not his fault. Right? Who is the player which surprised and took a massive leap under McLellan? The only one I can think of who you can maybe make a case for is Nurse, though if you’ve read my stuff you know I’ve been sky high on Nurse from day one. There wasn’t one player who I personally looked at as a guy McLellan and his staff were elevating/developing. And TRUST ME on this: I was full board on the McLellan bandwagon once they hired him. I didn’t know what the big deal was about him previous to the hire, but once they hired him I bought into everything the media told us on how great of a coach he was and for two and a half years I never gave it a thought. But the fact is that there just isn’t a case for the guy.
Look at the track record and it gets worse. Ron Wilson is a pariah these days. Wilson took just an ok team (the 98 Caps) to the Stanley Cup final. He took the Sharks to the Western final in 04. Going into the 06 playoffs they were most observers favourites to go to the final. 06-08 they couldn’t get past the 2nd round and Wilson was fired. In steps McLellan to get this loaded Sharks team to the Cup! Here we go, they’re about to rattle off some Cups! 09, bounced in the 1st round. Well whatever, just one season of many. 2010 they made it to the Western final! They took six games to knock off an awful Avalanche team (seriously, one of the worst playoff teams since the league went to 30 teams in 01). Then they knocked off the Wings in five…who had gone seven games with the Coyotes and had played 63 playoff games over the three previous seasons so it’s safe to say they were just a tad gassed. But whatever, they were in the West final…and got swept. 2011 though, that’s their year! Right?! They beat the Kings…before Darryl Sutter took over and became what they did. They beat the Wings again…after blowing a 3-0 lead and barely hanging on in game seven at home. Then against a weaker Canucks team than the Hawks had been, they managed to get a big one win in the West final. 2012, THIS is it for them though right?! Stumbled down the stretch and got embarrassed in the first round by…Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues. Hey, in fairness the Blues had hardly any talent at the time and the Sharks only had a few hall of famers. 2013 was ok, though bounced in the 2nd round to the Kings. 2014 they looked like they FINALLY were going to go somewhere, and blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. 2015 he missed the playoffs and was fired. But obviously the Sharks will digress big time once he’s gone…right?…If Ron Wilson had done all that we’d be talking about what a disaster he was for not getting anywhere near over the hump with that talent. And then the next coach takes them to the final?! That’s a bad look! But McLellan skates because everyone loves the guy. And again, I’m not in anyway looking to bash the person, but I’m trying to look at it objectively when most seem to be refusing to do so.
Now, some will say the Oilers took a big leap forward because of him, but did they? Cam Talbot was Vezina candidate worthy in 2017, and it was McDavid’s first full season. Add to that, Lucic was still producing, Eberle while digressing was still a 50 point player, and the team (even though it was a disgusting overpay to get there) was a lot more balanced up front and on the blueline. I actually believe he might have done a better job in 2016. 2016 he had horrible injury luck and had the team stayed healthy with the West being down, they might have snuck in the playoffs. But for people to be picking virtually the same roster as this one to go to the final 14 months ago (or at least be a legit contender to get there), and then say today that the roster has nothing other than McDavid…spare me. FUCKING. SPARE. ME. Todd McLellan…he’s just another coach. I remember saying this about him when I had tapped on him last year. He’s not a BAD coach, but he’s no different than 3/4 of the coaches in the league. He’s no different from a Paul Maurice, a Gerard Gallant, a John Stevens, a Lindy Ruff, a Mike Yeo, a Glen Gulutzan, a Willie Desjardins. They’re all just guys who don’t have much of an impact on teams. They mainly live and die with their goaltending, and they’re a dime a dozen. Can they have momentary impacts like Maurice first did with the Jets or Gallant last season in Vegas? Yep. But Gallant for example has had three gigs now. In Columbus he didn’t have goaltending and his teams did nothing. In Florida he had great goaltending and they made the playoffs in 2016. And last year he had incredible goaltending (and frankly the easiest job in the league). They’re all guys who people seem to really like, and get REALLY overrated. McLellan was a hot coaching candidate initially because the job he did as Mike Babcock’s assistant in Detroit. The last guy who was hired in similar fashion was Jeff Blashill. Blashill spent time as a Babcock assistant and the head coach in Grand Rapids and all I heard about was how great Jeff Blashill was. Granted, the Wings roster has gone to complete shit under him, but he seems to be just like all these other guys to me.
Hitchcock though, the media can shut up with all the cliches already on the guy looking to downplay his accomplishments. “He’s fixer.” “He has a shelf life”. No, he’s an elite coach. Is he going to be any teams coach forever? No. But does the media realize that probably 95% of coaches don’t last long EITHER?! “He has a shelf life”. Oh ok, I’ll take four or five awesome years of Hitch elevating 3/4 of my team without a shelf life then a decade of Paul Maurice doing nothing like he did in Hartford/Carolina. I like my teams to WIN, I’m weird like that.
What Hitch does is drastically improve teams. Dallas, 95-96, bottom five team. Hitch’s first full season was 96-97 and they finished tied for 2nd in the league, three points out of 1st. 97-98 they won the President’s trophy. 98-99 they won it again and that big silver thing they hand out at the end of the playoffs. 2000 they nearly won that big silver thing again. But we all know the Stars had a sky high payroll so he only deserves so much credit. On to Philly in 02-03. Finished one point behind Jersey for tops in the Atlantic, six behind Ottawa for the President’s trophy after looking awful during the 01-02 season for the talent they had. The next season they went to game seven of the East final and lost to Tampa by a goal. Game changed pretty dramatically in 05-06 and they fell apart. A detractor could say A) Philly also had a monster payroll and B) game got more offensive and Hitch couldn’t adjust. Ok, that’s fine. Onto Columbus. Blue Jackets had never made the playoffs, Hitch gets them to the playoffs. Not only gets them to the playoffs but has Steve Mason as a Vezina candidate. And again someone would say that he got lucky Mason was so hot. Ok…St. Louis. Blues were very similar to the Oilers. After making it in 09, Blues fell back off in 2010 and 2011. 2012 started off weak too, and after being shit kicked by the Oilers 5-2, Hitch was brought in. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and David Perron were the “stars” up front. Man, let’s hear about how McDavid, Draisaitl and Nuge are so much worse than that trio…Anyway, 43-15-11 the rest of the way. Goaltending duo? Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Defence? 21 year old Alex Pietrangelo as his number one guy. 22 year old Kevin Shattenkirk as his number two guy. I like how the media has completely forgotten where the Blues were at when Hitch took over, or how they’ve just slowly digressed since he left. In Dallas last season, they also had/have a very similar roster to the Oilers. Seguin is their McDavid, Benn is their Draisaitl, the blueline is more talented but a lot less experienced than the Oilers is (which is saying something), go look at the Stars roster at the start of last season and tell me you though Radek Faksa was anything. Now he’s looked at as one of the best two way centres in the game.
The one thing a lot of people are leaving out of this though, it’s not just that it looks like an upgrade, it’s that it feels like a much better fit for Chiarelli’s vision. We’ll call it Chiarelli’s vision, though in the last few days I’ve really wondered how much of it is JUST his doing. Regardless, think back to Chiarelli’s Boston teams. Those were teams who resembled Ken Hitchcock teams. Did they resemble Todd McLellan teams? They really didn’t. The Oilers are built like those Bruins teams, and like Hitchcock’s Blues teams.
Ken Hitchcock is an elite head coach, even at 66 years old. He’s a BIG upgrade for the Oilers and in my opinion, combined with a very weak Pacific division, is going to get them in the playoffs and by April I believe they’ll be looked at much differently. Initially, I felt uneasy about bringing in Hitch. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Maybe the biggest thing is that he’s a teacher. He lives to coach and teach and evolve. This is a guy, despite being 66 who has embraced analytics, he isn’t just simply an old crusty head coach who’ll do things the same as he did in 1999. Hitch is known for having veteran teams, but you can point to so many guys who played their best hockey under Hitch. Modano, Lehtinen, Primeau, Nash, Tarasenko, Backes, Seguin, Faksa, and that’s just the forwards. As a whole the blueline and goaltending gets a LOT better under Hitch’s watch. Of course the reason for all the improvements is his system and philosophies on the game. He demands his players defend as a five man unit. If you’re a forward, you’re not going to be a passenger in your own zone. And if you are, then you’ll either be scratched, sent down, or be traded. Simple.
Jimmy Johnson was the same style of coach as Hitchcock when he coached in the NFL. Now, I know this was 25 years ago, but I’m still going to roll on this. Anyone will tell you that Johnson is a great guy, yet he pushed his players to their limits. And he was a psychology major, so he knew how to do it. Johnson would speak about the self fulfilling prophecy to treat a person as they are and they will remain who they are. Treat a person as they could be or should be and they will become that person. I think of that when I think of the comparisons with these two, and though I’ve never heard Hitch say that, I have very little doubt he has the same philosophy. And to me, it works. Always has, always will.
So many people miss this, not just with Hitch, but the top end coaches in general is their grasp on psychology. The media just plays it off as “pushing buttons”. You can’t “push buttons” if you don’t know how to do it. Dallas Eakins took this approach and it blew up in his face, he didn’t know how to do it. Look at how much people around hockey absolutely love Hitch. People didn’t think of Mike Keenan like that, who was also considered a “task master” or a guy who would “push buttons”. Nobody talks about Michel Therrien like that, and he’s considered that guy too. I’ve talked about this with my psychologist. We were talking last year about how it is simply disastrous when coaches try to play mind games with players just because they think that’s what they need to do as a coach. You can’t do that shit when you don’t know why you’re doing it, or how to do it. Hitch does. Away from the rink the guy is an extremely engaging guy. He’s a teacher. You really think he would be adored in hockey circles if he was actually anything like what he is behind the bench or at practice? He’s not, which to me is a sign that the guy knows exactly how to do it.
And he’s 100%, not just confident in what he’s telling his players and in how he’s pushing his players, but also 100% secure in what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. That’s the key. There are A LOT of people in life who have a massive ego but you can see it’s an act and that they’re actually very insecure people. Hitch doesn’t come across as that guy at all. He studies the game non stop, he’s open minded to all idea’s on how to improve (another sign of being secure), and sure he’s 66 but I’m going to tell you the game isn’t passing this guy by. He’ll change as the game and people playing it do. It’s a lot like Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich, Scotty Bowman, etc.
Ok, so that’s what Hitch is bringing to the table. But what you want to know is how this could help/hurt the team. So…let’s do just that. I got both area’s and players who I believe he’ll either improve, could improve, or will fall off.
First and foremost, the goaltending now should be fine. Koskinen has already been giving the Oilers the goaltending they’ll need. Even on nights he doesn’t look great, he’s not getting rattled. Cam Talbot badly needs some easy nights to get his confidence back up, which is exactly what will happen with Hitch. Brian Elliott was an afterthought before Hitch got to St. Louis. By the end of the 2016 season most believed that the Flames got a bargain when they dealt the 35th pick in the 16 draft for Elliott. Talbot has more talent then Brian Elliott so I’m interested to see how he plays.
Next is the PK, and again this would greatly help Talbot in particular who seems to be really struggling mentally on the PK. But the PK looked a little better already in San Jose. The Oilers are currently only at 75.4% which is actually slightly worse than last season. In St. Louis the PK was elite. 7th, 7th, 2nd, 9th, and 3rd overall. The season before Hitch arrived they were 18th, 81.7%. Blues first full season without Hitch was of course last season, and where was their PK? 18th, 79.9%. Where was the Stars in 2017? 30th, 73.9%. Last season? 14th, 80.8% (top five apparently before Ben Bishop went down Elliotte Friedman pointed out on the latest 31 Thoughts podcast). He improves it.
The blueline in general will improve a lot. Klefbom and Larsson I feel as though will take another step. Might be a small one, but it’ll still be noticeable. The big one though I’m watching for is Nurse. I really believe this is the perfect coach for Nurse. Not sure if Hitch will tap into his offensive ability, but defensively I see the kid becoming a beast in his own zone. Under Hitch, Colton Parayko for example sure was looked at as the next stud D-man in the league wasn’t he? Since? No progression. Won’t surprise me actually if the Oilers end up trading for him just as a side note. They loved him before and if Hitch does too, I could see them pushing hard with the Blues struggling and Parayko not progressing as they’d hoped. Also I should toss in here, really like the trade for Chris Wideman if he’s going to be their number six/PP1 D-man. Klefbom isn’t good enough on that top unit. Lefty, doesn’t move the puck quick, and too stationary back there for my liking. I could see Wideman really making an impact if given the chance. Question will be whether or not he can play well enough five on five to stay in the lineup.
Ok I have to speed this up!
Leon Draisaitl I believe will thrive. I’m surprised Hitch wants to keep him on McDavid’s wing, but it’s what he had in Dallas with Seguin and Benn. Draisaitl’s big problem is he lacks consistency. I believe they’ll butt heads much like Hull and Tarasenko did to name a few, but we’re going to see Draisaitl’s best.
Jujhar Khaira might play the best hockey of his career. First, a lot of observers including myself believe Khaira is better in the middle because it forces him to move his feet. Hitch has thrived with players of his skill set (Faksa, Shore, Backes to name a few), and I strongly believe we’re going to see him become a pretty valuable player.
Then you have the wildcard types where I’m not sure which way it could go. In terms of players, those would be Lucic and Caggiula.
With Looch, he doesn’t strike me as a mentally tough guy. I could be very wrong about that, but it’s just how he comes off. So I believe Hitch will either get the most out of him, or get absolutely nothing (which isn’t far off what Looch is giving the team now, though I do believe the effort has been there most nights). Time will tell. I know this: the system is better suited for Looch. Don’t mistake “slower pace” with “slower team”. And a slower pace with more puck support all over the ice should help Lucic.
Caggiula is interesting. On one hand, he’s a bit of a pest, plays hard, has talent. But he’s a disaster in his own zone. He strikes me as a kid who is willing to learn, so I believe he could thrive, and again above pushing buttons and heavy hockey, Hitch is known for being a teacher. If Caggiula wants to learn and wants to buy in, we could see a big improvement. But he’s BAD in his own zone at the moment, so it might take some time.
But I have another wildcard for you that Hitch could improve with this squad, and it’s the offence. WHAT?!?!?!?! Yep. I’m not calling my shot on it, but the thing I saw with McLellan was attempting to play a style that was just horrendous for creating offence. I’m not really sure what it was attempting to do, as the main goal was for the forwards to always look to the blueline option. Problem with that is the Oilers blueline had no threats offensively and so you’d often get a bad shot on goal. To top it off, often there would be no traffic. It was pretty obvious to me that while McLellan didn’t have a deep team up front, he wasn’t allowing the players to play with ANY offensive creativity. When I think of Hitch’s teams, while offensive creativity doesn’t come to mind, manufacturing goals is something his teams will do. They cycle it to death, and often get the puck to the slot whether it be a D-man pinching in or someone rotating off the cycle once the opportunity is there. That means the Oilers will likely be getting the pucks to their best offensive players more often and in better shooting positions. The PP may also get better, though in Hitch’s last two stops (St. Louis and Dallas) it was in the bottom 12 both years. It’s at 20.3% right now, but what might be a big improvement for it is the Chris Wideman acquisition made yesterday. Remains to be seen if they’ll use him as more than a number seven guy, to me he should be a lock for their number six every night and send Gravel back down (since he no longer has to clear waivers). If Wideman does get in regularly, he better be on top PP unit in place of Klefbom. He moves the puck quicker than Klefbom, more mobility, and he’s a righty shot. He’s just a much better fit for it.
Another big one I have yet to hit on is Nuge, but I don’t see Nuge improving much just because he plays the way Hitch loves already. Maybe the system suits his game better too? But I wouldn’t look for much improvement. If anything, I could see his offensive stats droping a little, but he grows even more defensively and maybe he’s the new David Backes or Radek Faksa AKA Selke candidate? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not betting on it. Just throwing it out there as something to watch for.
Of course when it comes to 97, we know what he’s going to do. No, his offensive game isn’t going to take this big hit. No doubt that his defensive game could improve some, but his offensive game won’t suffer. The latest guy to play under Hitch who was similar to McDavid was Seguin. His numbers went UP last season. Jamie Benn’s numbers also went UP last season. 97 will be just fine.
Two guys I have no issue saying they’re done are Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie. Both kids play nothing the way the new coach wishes. The latter of course already had many chances to play for him in St. Louis and never could break through. The former I was really high on the Oilers getting, but I can’t see him fitting in knowing how soft he plays. You have to either have a well rounded game, or have the ability to have a well rounded game. Both of those guys are undersized, not overly fast, a little soft, and not good away from the puck.
Ok. FINALLY I’ve come to the big key to all of this. The player who I see improving the most. The player who McLellan badly failed with. The player who I believe is going to thrive playing for Hitch. It’s Jesse Puljujarvi.
Hearing Chiarelli’s comments in the aftermath of all this, it became clear to me that Puljujarvi’s handling played a large part in the decision to make the change. Chiarelli sounded as though he made sure that Hitch is going to work with the 20 year old Fin and give him a real chance to play. Is he his Tarasenko? You would scoff at that, and I’m by no means expecting THAT. But let me ask you this: Who was the better player at 20 years old? Puljujarvi is. What has Tarasenko done since Hitchcock left, which was supposed to be a change that would see his game take right off? Word is that Doug Armstrong might be ready to deal him.
Puljujarvi dominated in his quick AHL stint. Dominated. Whether he pops on this call-up (which as of writing this he has yet to be recalled but according to Stauffer it’ll be coming soon), I don’t know. But Hitch is an analytics guy, and I have little doubt he’s going to see Puljujarvi’s goal share with McDavid and give him a legit chance in that spot.
As per a request: McDavid's GF% with and without his most common line mates since 2016 started (100 min+ 5v5 together). The with and without are only calculated for games in which both players appeared. Sorted by GF% together. Data courtesy of @NatStatTrickpic.twitter.com/Lsxi3Vipia
So, McLellan was refusing to give the guy at the top of that list a chance? He gave the guy 2nd on that list two months of a dog shit performance on the top PP unit in 16-17 before he finally caved and took him off it, but the guy who produces best with McDavid gets jerked around all season and eventually they have to demote him due to the coach not playing him? This one has serious potential to be a massive black eye on McLellan moving forward. He hated Puljujarvi, at least this season he sure did. Apologists want to talk about how McLellan had nothing to work with, yet maybe his fourth and fifth most skilled players entering the season looked like nothing playing for him. Hitch is going to work with Puljujarvi, because Hitch will see the potential to be the type of player he adores. And it wasn’t just Puljujarvi and Yamamoto who have struggled offensively under McLellan. Taylor Hall had a brutal 2nd half of the 15-16 season, Eberle digressed in his 2nd season under him, Lucic has fallen off a cliff, and I’m not saying these are on McLellan but it’s very noteworthy. Probably on the players, but that is a pretty big list of talented guys. Hell, even think of a kid like Caggiula. You can see the offensive ability in his game, and yet offensively he’s never taken a step.
So Puljujarvi is the key. Because if Hitch starts to tap into that potential then it completely changes the dynamic of the team. All of a sudden you have the winger for 97, and you can deploy 29 and 93 accordingly. Or maybe he loads up the top line even more? Currently constructed, this Oilers team in my mind is as good as the Stars were last year. Three stars up front, an ok but not great blueline, and real good TALENT between the pipes. And while they didn’t make the playoffs in the end, tougher division and the Ben Bishop injury really killed them late in the season. This Oilers team compared to the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues is head and shoulders above them in talent. The Blues maybe had a bit more depth at the time, but nowhere near the skilled guys or the talent between the pipes. If Puljujarvi gets rolling, it’s going to make one hell of a difference.
Do not get ANY of this twisted. It doesn’t absolve anyone of anything. Chiarelli has still been a bad GM, the OBC still BADLY need to go, I’m not singing their praises just because one possible season saving change was made. But credit where credit is due, this has potential to be a hell of a good move! The fit for the players, the fit with the assistants, the fit for the organization, the fit for the city, it’s an all around terrific fit. And while I slag on how McLellan gets pretty badly overrated by people, it’s not as though he’s the only coach who is just ok. The league is littered with them. So there was no point in firing him to hand it over to Gulutzan on an interim basis. Maybe you get a jolt for 10-15 games, but it’ll probably back to status quo after. Hitch is an elite coach.
I’m probably making this sound better than it is or will be. Best case scenario with all of these things. I get it. I really don’t feel that everything is going to work out amazingly as I likely just made it sound. All I’m saying is I see SOME improvement coming for most, and basically we’ll see the team we saw over the first 11 games more consistently. It’s his type of team (which was another thing I heard multiple media members say it wasn’t…sure…). Hitch needs to coach up some guys without a doubt, but he’s the guy to do it. I see them getting back to bullying teams with heavy hockey much like they did in 16-17, much improved defensive play, and rarely getting out coached. Combine that with a very weak Pacific division, and I feel pretty damn comfortable predicting…barring injuries…the Oilers will get in the top three in the division. Not an accomplishment to be all that proud of in McDavid’s 4th season, and doesn’t absolve anyone for any of the shit that’s gone on. But it’s a great move that will likely save their season, so at least it’s a start.
Todd McLellan got on the plane yesterday, and is in San Jose along with the rest of the Edmonton Oilers as we start our day today. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so sick about someone keeping their job then I was with this. I’m not a bad person and don’t wish for anyone to lose their job, but it has just become crystal clear that Todd McLellan isn’t too good of a coach by NHL standards and maybe more so is the flat out wrong coach for the Oilers. Yet that’s what he’ll be at least for one more evening.
I’m not sure what the hold up is here quite frankly. Lost 6 of 7, going on the road for 3 massive games, is management waiting for the season to be completely lost?! I’ll get back to them, but for now I’ll stick with McLellan. He badly needs to be fired. I brought up on the podcast the last time around that Todd McLellan tries to act a lot like Mike Babcock. This has been a similar problem with former Bill Belichick coaches is that they try to act like Belichick but don’t try to coach like Belichick, they just copy his mannerisms. Matt Patricia for example keeps a pencil in his ear like Belichick…he never uses it as his sheets are all laminated. McLellan emulates his former boss in his pressers, in his body language on the bench, with his “I’m firm but fair” approach towards his players. That’s great, but Mike Babcock’s biggest key to his success is his ability to adapt and be open minded. Babcock has won now with three different organizations in three different ways (I know it’s only two, but it’s going to happen with the third whether you loathe them or not). He took a talentless team to game 7 of the final, he won a Cup and went to game 7 of the final with a team that had a ton of high end skill and veterans, and when he takes the Leafs on at least a deep run and likely wins a Cup with them he’ll have done it started right from scratch with mostly kids on his roster. Todd McLellan in the meantime continues to have his teams get pucks in deep, funnel it to the point, and go hard to the net. He refuses to trust or attempt to develop any of his highly skilled kids. He openly admits he tries to win 2-1 games. Todd, look around the league. Look at who is winning. Those teams aren’t trying to play 2-1 hockey anymore brotha.
As for who should take over, Joel Quennville….ain’t happening. Simply put, there are no ties to Quennville in the organization. I’d be happy if that’s who they went out and got, but I HIGHLY doubt it.
If I had to guess what would happen if or when Todd McLellan is let go, I would say Glen Gulutzan will be promoted to interim head coach with it being a legitimate audition to become the permanent head coach, which I’m not sure ever works long term. But that’s what I see happening, with Gulutzan perhaps adding a new assistant to the new staff. What would I do? Well my solution goes well beyond the head coach, but what I will say is that their are certain qualities I would look for. One would be the ability to keep his team loose. Playing in Edmonton, these players are tight enough as is thanks to how crazy this fan base is and how much media attention they have. It’s a fishbowl. So they need someone who will keep the team playing loose and keep things positive, though not simply patting players on the back non stop like Ralph Kruger did for example. They need that, and they need someone who understands today’s game. Today’s game has become very difficult to defend, and there for you need to take advantage of that and allow your highly skilled players to use that skill. They also need someone who is open minded and there for can adapt. Now, who that coach is, I don’t know. I have guys in mind, but I would have to interview the coach and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. But I’d want those three things, and then I would want to know what he plans on his entire staff looking like because an underrated part of coaching in all sports to me is the ability to identify the right people to work with you.
But the problem with a coaching change is that Peter Chiarelli is still GM…right?
Before I get rolling here, note to “yeah, but…” guy in Oiler land (there are a few of them) who want to tell people that the actual problem is Peter Chiarelli. Guys, just because people are saying Todd McLellan needs to go doesn’t mean most didn’t realize Chiarelli needed to go long ago. In fact I’d say MOST, if not all Oilers fans had their fill of Chiarelli before the start of last season. I know for me, I HATED the Griffin Reinhart trade, HATED the Taylor Hall trade (even though I understood a bit more at least what the logic was with it), felt sick about the Milan Lucic contract (was pumped about the player but the contract was worrisome right from the get go), HATED the Jordan Eberle trade (not trading Eberle, but for the return of Ryan Strome), HATED the Kris Russell contract, HATED the pointless Benoit Pouliot buyout, HATED the pointless Eric Gryba buyout, man that is such a long list of awful. Anyway, if you’re taking to Twitter and pointing out how he’s ACTULLY the problem like you’ve figured it out and nobody else has, who thinks he’s doing a good job?! That’s not too original boys. And if you’re bragging about an article you wrote a year ago on Chiarelli’s terrible moves that was three months old AT THE TIME, you’re really a schmuck and not helping The Athletic get more subscriptions…no names mentioned…
Yes, Chiarelli needs to go too. But the reason most are hot about McLellan right now is A) Chiarelli likely isn’t going to go anywhere right now, and B) while the roster has been royally fucked up from what it could be, it’s still a team that can make the playoffs in the worst division in hockey.
I’ve actually begun to wonder how much of the big moves have actually been Chiarelli’s doing? And stay with me here because I’m not meaning to be an apologist for him. But in the last year, we’ve started to hear things leak out that make Chiarelli look more innocent in all of this. The infamous “red wine meetings”. Mike Liut did the latest 31 Thoughts podcast. For those who aren’t aware, Liut is Leon Draisaitl’s agent, and he gave a little insight to the contract negotiations. He talked about the analytics Chiarelli was using which were right in line with the analytics a lot of Oilers bloggers were pointing to as to why Draisaitl was undeserving of a contract North of 7 million per season. Yet…he got 8.5? So it looks like Chiarelli was right in line with the thinking of others, yet Draisaitl still got the overpay? Of course when it comes to the Griffin Reinhart trade, while I admit I often throw it in when pissing on Chiarelli, I know that wasn’t his trade. That was very clearly done by the old regime. Did he sign off on it? At the time I would have said he did because we had been led to believe he had the final say on all decisions. Yet as time has gone on, it hasn’t seemed as though he has. With the Hall trade, I’ve never heard anything about Peter Chiarelli having ANY issue with Taylor Hall and Hall has admitted since that he was stunned by the trade in large part because his talks with Chiarelli were so positive. But what do we know? What we know is that before Chiarelli arrived there were a TON of rumours that people in management had a big issue with Hall. You also have the Todd McLellan hiring. I’ve said this before and will say it again, Elliotte Friedman has gone on the record (he could have better information now, but this was the day Babcock was hired) that he believed Mike Babcock wanted the Edmonton job when he initially stepped down in Detroit, but the Oilers went with McLellan anyway…who was heavily rumoured to be the next coach of the Oilers well before Chiarelli was ever brought in. If Babcock did want the Oilers job, no chance that wouldn’t have been relayed to the Oilers. And most sane people would want Mike Babcock and spare me on how the Oilers wouldn’t have gave him the same contract the Leafs did, yes they would have. If this organization has done one thing right since Darryl Katz took over it’s that they haven’t been cheap.
So let’s take a minute to add it all up. A lot of these moves gone horribly wrong have deeper roots than Peter Chiarelli as GM of the team, and does it make sense that he just plainly sees things the exact same way as his predecessor’s did? I’ll add it for you and give you the answer: nope. I’m not saying Chiarelli is now all of a sudden blameless in all of this. I believe the Eberle trade/Russell signing that was simultaneous was very likely all him. Lucic? That one is tougher to say because while he had his history with Looch, it was also well known that the people above him were craving the Oilers to get really big and really tough. And I have no doubt that Chiarelli was on board for the vision of the team to be big and tough. But the more I give it thought, and the more word leaks out about what goes on in management, it doesn’t really add up to being simply Chiarelli’s doing. Not at all blameless, and should be axed, but don’t you want to get to the root of the problem as an Oilers fan rather than just wash, rinse, repeat?
I want to go back to what I said about the desire of not just Chiarelli but the organization to get bigger and tougher. In doing so, the Oilers showed how little they knew there team. For a long time, the Oilers without a doubt got pushed around as much or more than any other team in the league. No doubt the team toughness had to greatly improve. But while they were so caught up in that, it was completely lost on them how slow they were. That was the biggest fundamental flaw with the Oilers through the “rebuild” is that they were small AND slow. While they were labelled as this young and exciting team, they weren’t. They were small and slow. They had kids like Eberle, Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, David Perron for a short period of time, all under 6’0 and all poor skaters for their size. Someone is bound to point out that Yak was speedy, which I don’t disagree with, but where you’re missing it is that Yak needed about nine or ten steps to get up to top speed. That hurt his ability to play fast. Anyway, by 2016 it was clear in the league that speed was the big thing, and the league in about a three year span had taken a massive leap in speed (which we continue to see now). I wrote about it after the season how the Oilers better be careful not to sacrifice their speed because it was becoming a speed league, they weren’t an overly fast team, but had two elite skaters to build around in McDavid and Hall.
This isn’t me talking out my ass, I believe Stauffer has mentioned it before that it wasn’t a Chiarelli thing but rather an organizational decision to get much bigger and tougher. But yet, those people above Chiarelli, they aren’t even to blame. Kevin Lowe (whom we were told had no more say in hockey matters as of April, 2015), Craig MacTavish, Wayne Gretzky, and Bob Nicholson. Sure, these people all seem to have a much bigger say into things than they should, but it’s not on them either.
All of these guys in the organization have a lot of blame. McLellan isn’t a good coach and there is no reason to keep him. A coaching change will likely give this squad a short term spark that they need. The season isn’t lost yet, they’re capable of making the playoffs (especially in the Pacific). But a change behind the bench is badly needed. However, that’s the short term. Big picture, Chiarelli needs to go too. Even if Chiarelli was more of a puppet for the brass, he still has overpaid in trades, overpaid for free agents or on extensions, been careless with things like buyouts and handing out NTC’s, he’s done a terrific job with the amateur scouting staff he’s put together but you need to do more. And then the OBC drinking their red wine, for shit like that to leak out and especially the talks of them holding the proverbial gun to McLellan’s head is a complete disgrace. Have those talks, sure. They’re getting leaked to the fucking national media!?? What is wrong with people in this organization?! But no, still, it isn’t the fault of any of these people. The Edmonton Oilers problem is Daryl Katz.
Since taking ownership in the summer of 2008, Katz has done little to help this organization on the ice. It’s my understanding (Elliotte Friedman has stated this before) that Katz stays out of hockey matters. That’s good to know, because most owners in pro sports love to meddle. But those people I mentioned in the last paragraph, none of them should have any say as to what goes on in Edmonton, and they do. They do because A) Rumour is that Katz can’t fire people (Bob McCowan has made mention of this on Prime Time Sports in the past), and B) Katz is still a fan boy for the 80’s teams and clearly loves having those guys around as his buddies. WAKE THE FUCK UP!!! Hell, the man doesn’t even have to fire those guys, but cut their balls off already! Quit giving them any kind of say as to what goes on here! He’s had Kevin Lowe around this entire time and it’s clear that Lowe has no clue what he’s doing. I had a good chat about Lowe with my psychologist (a sentence I never thought I’d say) yesterday before my session began and he talked about how the big thing that he believes gets in Lowe’s way is his ego. Not earth shattering news I know, but Lowe seems more worried about protecting his ego than he is about the hockey team, which is why it’s such an “old boys club” with the Oilers. He doesn’t want anyone in power who can look better than he does or anyone who he can’t get the ear of. I’m sure Lowe doesn’t realize this is what he’s doing, but he is. He sees it as competitiveness, but in reality he has to prove that he can put a winner together, and he can’t. But that’s not Lowe’s fault, it’s the man who employs Lowe refusing to recognize things such as this and make a change.
If the Edmonton Oilers are EVER going to get out of this hell hole they’re in, they have to make massive changes and completely clean house. More analytics input, more sports science input, continue to improve the amateur scouting, improve the developing, really improve the pro scouting, create an organizational identity, bring in a coach and coaching staff who are on the same page as the GM. If Katz wants to actually build an elite team, he needs to clean house. Basically I’m saying…grow a fucking set Daryl. The longer he doesn’t, the longer it’s clear he’s picking his buddies over winning. Which is his right, he owns the team. But then fans should stop paying for the product, and Connor McDavid should be demanding a trade. And I’m starting to get really worried that a McDavid trade demand is coming.
He’s not an idiot. Edmonton is already a small market that is pretty undesirable for a hockey player. And this is coming from an Oilers fan, someone who grew up in Northern Alberta. I don’t like saying it because I love it here. But it’s the truth, and Katz more than anyone needs to wake up to this reality. Sure, he has McDavid on an eight year contract, but if McDavid wants out then Katz is going to have the NHL, the NHLPA, the media, and fans of 30 other teams breathing down his neck to trade him for the good of the player and the good of the league. I’m not rocking the fan goggles on this one, I would not blame McDavid for one second if he request’s to get out of this mess. He deserves so much better than this shit show Katz has not only created, but continued to allow.
As an Oilers fan, it’s disgusting what CONTINUES to go on here. The Oilers should be as setup or even better than the Leafs are right now. Instead, the Leafs, without a lot of the assets the Oilers had, have blown right past them and are the NHL’s next big thing while the Oilers are struggling to stay at .500…STILL. This owner is going to either cost the fan base it’s most treasured asset since Gretzky, or he’s going to cost a generational talent a lot of amazing years in his career because he doesn’t have the balls to clean house. Daryl Katz, I know you’ll never read this, nor will many others because I don’t have much of a voice, but wake the fuck up man. Wake the fuck up. McLellan is in San Jose coaching what has now reverted back to your laughing stock of a team. Why? Because your GM won’t fire him. And why is that? Because he has a bunch of jack asses above him who also have a say in matters. And why is that? Because you, Daryl Katz, need to grow a set of balls and clean house. You’ve had several chances to do it, and you either never do it or kind of do it or claim you’ve done yet really haven’t. ENOUGH. Buy new friends, you have the money to do so.
Denzel Washington’s character “Alonzo” in the movie Training Day asked “you wanna go to jail or you wanna go home?” I want to ask Daryl Katz “you want McDavid to ask for a trade or you wanna win Cups?”
There is a Deep Blue Sea 2?!? What was the need for a 2nd one?! When people used to bitch about how Hollywood had no original idea’s left, I kind of rolled my eyes. But when Deep Blue Sea gets a sequel…that’s where I draw the line! I went and saw that movie twice in the theatre. Once was my buddy going on a bit of a blind date with this girl and I tagged along because I knew both of them, the other was…I really can’t remember, but I know I saw it twice. I’m glad LL Cool J made it out alive, but it was pretty weird that he was the chef and the comic relief guy, yet lived. At the start of the movie I would have guessed Sam Jackson would have mother fuckered his way to the end of it. Another movie I remember going to was a really bad Schwarzenegger movie with Sarah Watts not long after Deep Blue Sea came out, and making out with her through the whole thing as some poor schmuck watching the show by himself was sitting like two seats away. Ahhhh youth, where you think making out during a movie is something you should do with a date. Only thing cooler than me that night was the Tommy Hilfiger khaki’s I was likely rocking. This trip down memory lane is brought to you by Tahiti Treat, and by Bonkers (the candy, not the awful cartoon with the dumb cat). Tune in next time for another episode of Soups on High School, onto hockey.
John Stevens is out as Kings coach, and that was so badly needed. I think we all agree that it was his fault he has the oldest team in the league, the slowest team in the league, the biggest cap mess in the league, and that his elite goaltender has been hurt all season. Good riddance John Stevens you cancer, and Pacific division you better get ready for the ambush the Kings are about to embark on now that they’ll have a coach in Willie Desjardins who can fix their speed, age, and goaltenders meniscus. Hope you enjoy the new contract Drew Doughty…
Big win for the Leafs in Pittsburgh Saturday night, and I felt as though they really needed it. On one hand, I feel as though with Mike Babcock behind the bench this team will never really be in trouble during the regular season. On the other hand, as it stands right now the John Tavares “trade” is a one for five deal that the Leafs are losing badly. Tavares in, Matthews, Nylander, Bozak, JVR and Komarov out. I worry that things could go sideways here, and it really wouldn’t be anyone’s fault with Nylander holding out and now the Matthews injury, but I can already see the Toronto media turning on them a bit. That’s not good, because the pressure is so ridiculous with this squad that I worry it could crush their season. Again, shows you how stupid the media are collectively. A month ago I’m bitching because they’re overrating this team so badly, now I’m bitching because you can see it coming that they’re going to now underrate them pretty badly. Leafs fans, don’t get obsessed with where your team may finish in the standings. The media will, but you shouldn’t. Just worry about the Nylander thing coming to a head and Matthews getting healthy.
Speaking of the Nylander thing coming to a head, I feel as though he’s getting dealt. Just seems as though both sides are dug in. He is worried about getting dealt down the road, and they’re worried about getting him on a deal where they can deal him down the road, so he’s going to get dealt by December 1st. Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that the Canes would be “all in” on him. So what does that mean? Pesce? I think Pesce would be for sure, and that would be a hell of a get for the Leafs, a perfect fit with Morgan Rielly giving them a very legitimate top pair. But could they get more? What would it take to get Pesce AND Necas? That might be the move I’d be looking to make if I were Kyle Dubas. Get your D-man but while you’re doing it get your replacement for Nylander as well. Necas is a very similar player to Nylander. I highly doubt the Canes would move him, but when it’s reported that you would be “all in” on a player, that sounds to me like they’d be willing to overpay. I’m not saying they’d do Pesce and Necas for Nylander only, but perhaps for Nylander and Dermott? Or Sandin? I’d probably do Sandin over Dermott because I’m sure the plan is to have Dermott on their 2nd pair next season with Gardiner almost certainly gone as a UFA. Something to think about anyway. I have a lot of faith Kyle Dubas will do the best possible move he can here, but it does feel like he’s lost a lot of leverage throughout this process.
So I went off about this on Twitter last night and I’ll do it again here.
Here it was. So Tampa has one already, should have a 2nd after Girardi clear as day crushes Stone from behind, so with the goal the Sens should still have a 5 on 4. But Girardi wasn’t penalized for that… pic.twitter.com/u84NmvWjjM
When will the media start speaking up about this absolute trash?! And I know that it is the league, it’s not the refs, but it still needs to be ripped to FUCKING SHREDS and the media won’t acknowledge it. Teams couldn’t be tighter then they are right now, so the refs are deciding a shit ton of games with their horse shit approach of managing games rather than officiating them. Just a coincidence that teams get the same amount of PP’s most nights is it? Just a coincidence that we hardly ever see 5 on 3’s is it? Just a coincidence that when we do see 5 on 3’s that both teams will receive them in the same game is it? And as I’ve said recently when I’ve bitched non stop about this, I’m not asking that everything gets called, just a standard be set in the games they STICK TO IT. And how about we don’t put the whistle’s away until about 1:30 left in the third rather then 9:59? Man, it just couldn’t be any bigger bull shit than it is and what’ll eventually happen is that the majority of the league is going to catch on that the strategy needs to be just do as much shit as you possibly can and challenge the refs to call everything. And guess what’ll happen? They won’t. In my opinion you already see some teams doing this, like the Bruins. Probably wouldn’t work against the veteran teams who have “earned the calls”, but against most teams it sure would.
Ok, let’s get to the Oilers, who have now gone 8-4-1 on the year, 8-2-1 in their last eleven. The truth is that the last two loses they had, both should have been wins. Cam Talbot had a bad night against the Pens, and then the special teams were disgusting against Minny. Outplayed both teams, both should have been wins. So as good as 8-2-1 looks, 10-1-0 would look even sexier!
What’s for real here? Koskinen? Chiasson? The logical observer in me suggests this can’t continue. If Koskinen or Chiasson are doing this with another team, I know for me I’d be saying “well that won’t keep up, they’re frauds right now.” Having said that…I know what I’m seeing. And what I’m seeing is two players who look legitimate in their play. Nothing is cheap with either of these two. With Koskinen, this isn’t exactly out of nowhere. This is exactly why Chiarelli gave him that deal. He rolled the dice that Koskinen could be the calibre of a starting goaltender and through three starts that’s exactly what he is. And the team looks more confident with him in net at the moment.
I don’t like McLellan going with Talbot tonight. It’s not because I’ve instantly given up on Talbot at all, I actually think we’re going to see his play shoot up because of the extra rest he’ll now receive, obviously the knowledge that he is now being pushed to up his game, but also the team pressure that will be taken off him. And it actually isn’t a belief of needing to ride the hot hand. The reason I don’t like it is because the Caps just saw Talbot who shut them down. You give them Koskinen who teams still don’t have much film on, and a different look between the pipes then what they just saw. Just my opinion, but in fairness maybe they know something I don’t? MAYBE the thought is that you save Koskinen for the tougher team? Because the Caps have been scuffling. Lost three of four, but more so they only have one regulation win in their last nine (3-4-2 in that time). And Talbot does have a .924 SV% in eight career games vs the Caps. Again though, I personally like the idea of giving a team a different look.
Back to Chiasson. He’s a guy who when Calgary signed him I was pissed about the Oilers missing on. I liked him a lot just because of the size and speed. Not that he’s a great skater, but for a 6’4 guy he can go pretty good. I honestly didn’t know his shot was THIS good, but that’s why I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t legit? When has Chiasson got to consistently play with a guy like Draisaitl before? Maybe he has, but I’ve always known him as a 3rd or 4th line guy. He does everything right out there, and while I realize that he is a streaky scorer, all he has to do playing with Draisaitl or McDavid is work hard and get open. And it’s not like we haven’t seen this script before. Pascal Dupuis bounced around the league and was a guy who had all the tools, finally started putting it together in Pittsburgh at age 30. We just saw it with Patty Maroon two years ago, he was 28. Should we be so shocked that a 27 year old with all the tools is emerging after given a chance to play with a high end centre? We all know the way he’s scoring won’t keep up. Even for the best snipers they can keep up THIS level of production. But because he’s become such a solid all around winger, I do believe that he’s found a home in the Oilers top six.
If both Chiasson and Koskinen are legitimate, and the team continues to stay healthy, they’ll be a playoff team. It’s as simple as that. I mean, they don’t even have the special teams going good yet! And you can see the confidence of the team has shot through the roof. Since the Pittsburgh game, they haven’t been leaning badly on 97 either. It’s crazy though that as good as they’ve played, you still see so many things that they’re still in the process of cleaning up. The puck moving from the back end is improving, but still has so much more room to get better. There were plays in the first last night by both Klefbom and Larsson where it was old habits. Klefbom very early in the game ripped one along the boards from behind the net to Caggiula that caused a turnover when he had a lot of time to skate it and set it up. After a great heads up play by Puljujarvi to skate it back and keep possession rather than dump it in while they were changing, Larsson fresh off the bench took the puck, skated it to the redline and ripped it into the Detroit zone. No need for that. There was zero pressure, just skate it back into your own zone, wait for the change, and break it out. It’s coming though. And while I hammered on McLellan early on in the season, maybe he had made the adjustments and the players were just taking a while to get that shit out of their heads? Let’s hope we just see more and more of a team trusting their skill and being better game managers. By the way, seriously that was a great decision by Puljujarvi. The big knock with him is hockey sense and yet if you’d never seen him play and watched that Detroit game Saturday you would have said “wow that Puljujarvi kid is so smart out there, made a lot of very heady plays”. This whole team man, it’s insane what a turnaround it’s been. 3rd in the West in points percentage, tied for 4th overall, and we all know the schedule they’ve had work with that let up for a bit but toughens back up HARD tonight and tomorrow facing the East finalists back to back.
EDIT: After giving it thought, while the initial idea was to put a bow on the previous month with these, probably makes more sense to title them according to where we are now. Hence the date change in case ANYONE cares which I’m sure you don’t.
Uhhhhhhh, power rankings. I’m not sure that there is anything more ridiculous than power rankings. In theory, they should be great. But in reality, nobody seems to do them right. You’ll see major websites have power rankings done weekly, and essentially they just look at what a team did during the week. WHAT?!? So if you beat up on Arizona, Detroit and Ottawa one week you’re a good team?!? Shut up. So I decided to come up with my own. Full disclosure, a lot of this is just “feel”. Analytics fans won’t like reading that and probably have already stopped reading. I definitely take them into consideration, as I will circumstances, strength of schedule, expectations, etc. I’m not going to just randomly throw some team getting lucky up at the top, and I’m not going to overly punish a good team who I really like just because they aren’t going good. The big question I’m asking myself is after each month “who are the teams I like best to win the Cup?” So with this being said, here we go.
31. Detroit – It’s bad, and I’m not sure if it’s going to get better anytime soon. The ideal season will be winning the top pick to get Jack Hughes, and Steve Yzerman stepping in as the new GM in the spring.
30. NY Rangers – Similar to the Wings, though neither Jeff Gorton or David Quinn are going to go anywhere.
29. Los Angeles – It’s really bad. I knew it was bad heading into this season, but it’s worse than I thought. And now Quick is likely done for the year. Drew Doughty, enjoy that new contract brotha…
28. Anaheim – Their record looks WAY better than the way they’ve played. I can’t believe how awful they’ve been to this point. Lots of time to turn it around, and I believe they have the talent to do so, but so far I badly regret being higher on them then most.
27. Arizona – Some impressive wins on paper of late over Vancouver, Tampa, and Ottawa. The former two were on the 2nd half of back to backs and none of the wins were while facing a starting goaltender. I’m still not much of a believer but at least they’re going good lately.
26. Ottawa – Pretty much how I felt they’d start, isn’t helping that Brady Tkachuk is out. If they can stick around .500 until he gets back, I believe they can stay in the race.
25. Vegas – Watching them in a few games thus far, they don’t look anywhere near what they did and teams appear ready to play in Vegas this season. And to top it off, they probably still have a ton of confidence thanks to last years run, what will they look like if that goes?! Worst PDO in the league, but can’t help but wonder if that’s just balancing out what they did last season?
24. Philadelphia – Don’t fire Dave Hakstol when your goaltending is this horrific. I really don’t know what Ron Hextall is going to do about this. Is there anyone he can trade for now that Jonathan Quick is likely done for the year? And that was probably a long shot to begin with. It’s not pretty.
23. Chicago – Hawks are much better than I thought they’d be to this point, but it’s fools gold. Their wins? Ottawa on the road in OT, St. Louis on the road in OT, St. Louis again at home in OT, Columbus on the road (the one quality win), and Anaheim at home. 5 of the 6 vs teams I personally have 21 or lower. 3 in OT. It’s fools gold, they aren’t that good. Now that I’ve said this, they’ll kick the shit out of the Oilers tonight, go put money on it.
22. NY Islanders – No Tavares, no problem?! Something to know though, their PDO is nearly 106, best in the league. So it’s highly unlikely they keep it up.
21. Buffalo – So far so good! Bad loss to Calgary Tuesday, can’t let that happen when they’re off a back to back and you’re up 1-0 late, but like the Oilers if you had told me the Sabres would be 6-4-2 right now I would have said that’s a great start for them! Remember with teams like the Sabres and Oilers, their winning record at this point is much more of a massive deal than others because of the confidence both lack.
20. St. Louis – Another team with absolutely horrific goaltending. If they get it fixed, they’ll be fine. Here’s the thing to remember with their bad goaltending though: Jake Allen can get just as hot as he can be awful. The guy is seemingly unstable between the ears, but when he’s hot he is terrific.
19. Vancouver – I’ll still need more time on buying that their goaltending and blueline are legit. But I am LOVING Bo Horvat, and LOVING Elias Pettersson obviously, and Brock Boeser hasn’t got it going yet. I do believe this is a bit different from their start a year ago, but again…the blueline and Markstrom still scare me.
18. Carolina – ABOUT where I figured they’d be. Looked great, tailed off a bit lately, still more of a wait and see.
17. Columbus – Uh oh. Now, will Bobrovsky remain this weak between the pipes? I doubt it, but then again the contract might be an issue. My issue? They really haven’t had anything of a tough schedule so far and are only 6-5-0. I’ve never been very high on them, but this isn’t a promising start at all.
16. Dallas – 6-5-0, not the start I really expected from them, but I still like them. Thing is, it’s a one line team, with a very talented/high potential blueline, but is that potential going to be reached this season? Probably not. And then Ben Bishop is pretty inconsistent in goal. Feel as though they’ll be around this 14-19 area all season.
15. Montreal – Hey, they have been great to this point, and have had some great performances! I counted four great performances and only one dog. That’s impressive! I still don’t trust the mix they have to maintain this. I hope I’m wrong, and I still have them in a playoff spot if we’re going by who the top 16 is, but
14. Minnesota – I know they came into Edmonton the other night and got a comeback win, and I know their record looks good, they only won that game in Edmonton because the Oilers were disgusting on special teams. They were dominated 5 on 5 for 50 minutes of the game. You won’t win much playing that way. I’m a massive believer in Bruce Boudreau, but I just still see them falling right off at some point.
13. Calgary – From here to 9 I feel like you could mix the teams up in any order and it be fair. Had I done this on Monday morning the Flames would be much lower, but the back to back wins and 5 of 6 points in their last 3 has me feeling much better about them. I know on paper that the goaltending SHOULD be fine, the blueline has quite a bit of talent, and the depth is much improved, but what worries me is this team doesn’t have one thing (at the moment) that is elite. So are they good at everything, great at nothing? Or are they average at everything, good at nothing?
12. Florida – They’ve hardly played and had no Roberto Luongo, so I have trouble dropping them far because this roster is still great. Obviously some people will look at me sideways for having them above the Habs for example, but I’ll need to see a lot more. This roster is great, I’m not going to penalize them just because Luongo has been out.
11. New Jersey – Below Edmonton. Didn’t think I’d be having it that way three weeks ago. They’ve comeback to earth, mainly Keith Kinkaid has. What will Cory Schneider be like when he returns? If he’s the Schneider of old, they should be fine. If not, this could fall apart on them.
10. Colorado – PDO is 103.29. So they’ll come back a bit, and they still don’t have much depth or much of a blueline, but holy shit Nathan MacKinnon gets underrated up here. How underrated? In my opinion, if Auston Matthews is being compared to McDavid, MacKinnon better damn well be compared to him too because in this idiot bloggers opinion he’s a hair better than Matthews.
9. Edmonton – By their record alone, they should be lower. But then you consider the schedule they’ve played, which was the toughest schedule of the month. All but one of the 11 games were against teams who had a .600 record or better going in (although the Hawks are now below that). All but two of them didn’t make the playoffs last season. Yet they’re 6-4-1, 7-3-1 if they aren’t so awful on special teams Tuesday night. The effort is what is most impressive. They’re bringing it every night. They aren’t living off puck luck, not getting ridiculous goaltending, special teams have been just ok, and they’re 6-4-1 having faced that beast of a schedule. Still a LOT of things that can get much better.
8. Washington – They’ve been hot and cold, but I really believe that they couldn’t care less about the regular season and that this is all about just getting in and going on another deep run. Playing with house money when they do.
7. Winnipeg – So they’re playing like SHIT. The wins they’ve had have been them getting by on their depth and talent, and they’ve had a lot of games where they’ve blown leads or no showed in general. They’re just like the Oilers were last season. However, they’re much better than the Oilers were and they’ll be able to get by because of their insane talent, and likely will be better for this come the spring.
6. San Jose – They are likely going to obliterate the Pacific division. Their PDO is 96.75 (29th) and they’re still 6-3-3. They’re real good, but much more so than that is who is going to challenge them? I got the Oilers 9th, and to me the Oilers are an ocean away from the Caps at 8. Because the rest of the division looks so weak, winning the President’s trophy wouldn’t shock me in the least.
5. Toronto – No Matthews for a month definitely is going to sting, but even without him, even without Nylander, this team is still elite. They likely won’t be dominant for the next 4-6 weeks, but they’ll maintain a spot high in the standings.
4. Boston – I feel as though they’ll get figured out by the league eventually, but so far it doesn’t seem as though they have. One of the smallest teams in the league and they run just about everyone’s show, talk about living off past reputations. Goaltending is interesting here though because it’s all Halak right now, Rask is struggling. So can Rask get back to form? If not, can Halak keep it up?
3. Nashville – They’re so good, but I hate that I’m seeing a lot of the same garbage I saw late last season where they don’t bother to show up until they feel like it. They would benefit from a few key injuries and/or some shitty puck luck for a while. Not a shocker, their PDO is 2nd in the league at 104.57. They’re tremendous, just need a wake up call.
2. Tampa Bay – By points percentage they’re the top team in the league. I love them, just not as much as who I have at number one.
1. Pittsburgh – Without Matt Murray for a few games, without Justin Schultz, they’ve started to really dominate. Forget the massacre of Western Canada, how about the 3-0 in Toronto? The game against the Islanders, whatever. Home off a roadie, bad night for Matt Murray, whatever. They’re awesome and they’re going to add at some point this season. Jim Rutherford knows this window is going to slam shut after this season or the next so he is going to push every chip he can to the middle.
This can’t be right. Full disclosure I’m doing a little bit of looking around right now trying to think of what the best topics are to talk about this week, and I look at the Tampa/Chicago boxscore from last night, Tampa had 33 shots in the 2nd?!?!?! Not in the GAME, not a game, not, not the game that I die for. We talkin’ bout the SECOND. That’s what we talkin’ ’bout. The second. 33 shots on goal in one period. I can’t believe that’s only the most in 20 years and not the most all time. Was that Colorado vs Tampa Bay from that season? Avs were dominant offensively at that time, Lightning were a train wreck, it would make sense (seriously I didn’t bother to look it up nor do I care to because it really doesn’t mean much). But wow, that is stunning. And the Hawks have been playing well! Unreal.
I guess I’ll start there because I picked the Lightning to finally make the final, and to play the Preds, and so its safe to say that my Stanley Cup final prediction is basically in the bag. Preds are first, Lightning are three back with a game in hand, I just don’t see how it doesn’t happen at this point. Seriously though, the Preds look GOOD. Obviously got to watch both their games in Alberta and the Flames are playing good, the Oilers didn’t play that bad, but they have everything you’d want in the lineup and so when they get the goaltending pretty much no team in the league is going to beat them. Meanwhile, you want to know something scary about the Lightning? Their leading scorers are Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and J.T. Miller. Stamkos only has one goal and three points so far. Point is just so damn underrated. I know he wouldn’t want to leave Tampa, but what an offer sheet candidate this summer. I’d GUESS (assuming the cap goes up five mil next season) they’ll have 17 million for Point, Gourde (UFA), three defencemen, and Vasilevskiy is up after 2020. I highly doubt Point would do it because it just isn’t in the nature of most players, but unless they shed Tyler Johnson, or Ondrej Palat, or ideally Ryan Callahan, their cap is going to be such a mess and Point could really cash in with a 7-8.5 per type of deal. And he’s worth it. The kid is terrific at both ends of the ice.
Did you notice the Buffalo Sabres are playing…GOOD?!?! Couple of impressive wins in California, above .500, hope for their sake they can keep it rolling! That’s a fan base you just tend to pull for. There aren’t many actual real good hockey markets in the States, but Buffalo is one of them.
And if I’m talking about surprise teams to this point, how about the Vancouver Canucks?!?! I meant to get to them last week and flat out forgot. But a big win in Pittsburgh, then a big win at home against the Bruins, sure they lost in Winnipeg but the Jets coming off that disaster against the Oilers you can forgive the Canucks for being the bug on their windshield that night. Travis Green had them looking good out of the gate last season, and I do think they’ll come back to earth because the blueline and the goaltending are…not great, but I like how they play and again, I really like some of their cornerstone pieces. And I’m not sure Bo Horvat gets the love he deserves. Some people liked him as much or maybe even a little more than Sean Monahan going into the 2013 draft. That was probably mocked a bit at that time, would have been mocked mostly since, but now? And I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of Horvat just yet where Monahan, while being awesome, I believe is what he is. Horvat might live up to that Patrice Bergeron billing in more ways than just the style of game.
Then you have the BAD West coast teams, starting with the Kings. You’d assume that them looking sluggish was in part because of Quick being out. Then Quick comes back and it gets much worse against the Islanders and Sabres. I knew it wasn’t going to be overly pretty with them this season, they’re SO SLOW, but those performances reminded me of the 2009 Edmonton Oilers. A forgotten team in league history, and even though it was the season before the rebuild became obvious, I think for most of us who watched closely realized that a lot needed to change that season. There were a lot of games like the Kings had this week at home. The Kings have been A LOT better over the years than those Oilers teams were, but it still has the same feeling. If you’re Drew Doughty, are you already regretting signing that extension? Or at least getting nervous about what you have maybe signed up for? There isn’t much hope there even if they do get things back on track this season.
Their closest rival are close to the same hockey team right now, but the difference is that John Gibson is playing incredible to keep them in it. On paper, Ducks are 5-3-1, but have been owned. On average, they’re being out shot 38-24. They’ve played nine games. This is getting to be a nice sample size, and have had Getzlaf, and had Kesler. This team might be the shit team that most expected with the exception of me. Mind you, I did have Gibson as my pick for the Vezina so maybe I’ll be proven right, but it hasn’t been promising that they’ve been dominated on so many nights so far.
Onto the Oilers, and things are much more promising this week than they were this time last week, but still a tough week lies ahead. Keep in mind too, Winnipeg win was in OT and the Jets hadn’t been playing well to that point, Boston win was in OT and the Bruins were on the second half of a back to back (Talbot also probably stole that game for them). So, nice wins, and confidence boosters which this team BADLY needs here early on. But far from out of the woods and we saw why on Saturday night. They didn’t play like garbage, but the coach seemingly prefers to lose 1-0 or 2-1 than win 5-4 or 4-3, so that’s what happens…
So let’s get to Leon Draisaitl. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here at all, but I noticed this act in the first game of the year. He was dog shit all game, gets put on McDavid’s line and it wasn’t just that he scored, it was the body language. He went from really sluggish to spirited. I don’t believe that it’s ALL just because he wants to play with 97. He needs a guy to do some heavy lifting. The other guy he looked great with was Taylor Hall, a driver. And you might say that he’s not a driver, which to that I’d say it’s not that simple. To me, he needs someone who’ll gain the zone. He seems to struggle on zone entries. Last season I recall a lot of turnovers at the blueline. I’m not sure if that’s what the numbers say, but I do recall a lot of them. He needs a linemate who can gain the zone. Both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are guys capable of doing this, but I wonder with both (in particular Yamamoto when playing with Draisaitl) if they just try to defer to Draisaitl? Leon does his best work down low. As for the fans who are saying trade him vs the fans that are saying they would be morons to….he’s far from untouchable and has a contract that he’s nowhere near at the moment. If he’s not going to carry his own line, then yes he is expendable. But in saying that, you don’t give the guy away (that’s what always makes me laugh when people say you can’t trade a guy, who is suggesting that they give a good player away for nothing?!) You’d need a 2nd line centre coming back who is worth his contract, and then either a number four D-man who fits, or a high end winger. If for example the Hurricanes wanted him and offered say Necas, Faulk, and Terravainen for Draisaitl and Bear, you’d have to think about doing that deal.
I do believe with Draisaitl that two things need to be tried. One for sure is telling him you’re going to give him his wish that he goes back with 97 for the time being (now being a good time to try it with Rattie out), but that it won’t be constant and he needs to be a team player when called upon to carry his own line. Because the option is there. I prefer Nuge with McDavid since McDavid seems to shoot when he plays with Nuge, but Nuge is willing to play the middle unlike Draisaitl seems to be and can play tougher minutes if need be too. The other thing I would LIKE to see McLellan try is both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi on his line. I know both are RW’s, but he clearly needs some talent to play with and while neither guy has hit their stride just yet, both are capable of providing the skill Leon needs to play with. As I said above, he needs someone to gain the zone, or if they must play McLellan’s system then get the puck back for him when playing chip and chase (which could be the big reason Draisaitl prefers playing with McDavid is he’s the only guy who isn’t required to play that way). Having said this, I highly doubt it would ever happen because of how stubborn McLellan is. It would maybe happen for two shifts and if they didn’t produce four or five goals in those two shifts he would deem that it didn’t work and break them up. McLellan runs his lines similar to how Monty Burns manages his softball teams. Though in fairness to Burns, what he did worked out even though I disagreed with the decision at the time.
The other hot button topic after Saturday is another one I’ve been all over from early on and that’s Klefbom on the top PP unit. I was on this last year in fact, and even a little in 2017. Maybe I’m NUTS here and just don’t see it right, but to me, I’ve never understood why they see Klebom as this “must play” on the top PP unit. Larsson moves the puck better and while he doesn’t have as big of a shot he has a pretty good one and when he’s decided to use it has shown to be little more mobile. Not to mention he’s a righty that they don’t have on that top unit. Nurse has maybe as hard of a shot, but the big draw with Nurse is his mobility and would be able to take advantage of break down’s on the opposing PK or backdoor plays sneaking into the slot while the puck is controlled down low. We all know Bouchard looked better on the top unit when given the chance, but they look hesitant to put much on his plate right now, which I completely agree with. He will be that guy, likely starting next season, but less is more with him right now. And finally….again…Bear should be on this squad, on the second pairing not because he’s a number four but because they badly need the most amount of high end puck movers on the blueline they can play right now, and he’s the perfect fit for the top PP unit as well. Bear is as good in his own zone as Benning’s been, and personally I believe he’s a better defender than Russell too but just not as good of a goaltender. As for Klefbom, yes the shot is nice, but he’s playing VERY slow on the PP right now, doesn’t have great vision, not a ton of mobility even when he’s playing well, I just DO NOT GET IT. And while I thought I was going to go this whole blog without ripping into Todd McLellan, it’s just more of what has gone wrong under him. He very clearly has his favourites and has guys he for whatever reason doesn’t want to give a chance to, and this closed minded approach has really hurt the squad in my opinion. Again, Peter Chiarelli has destroyed so much of what they had, but he’s still given McLellan enough talent to make the playoffs and McLellan produced a disaster last season, and while I’m ok with a 3-3 start considering the schedule, I still believe there is MUCH more that this team has to offer and worry he’s not the guy to get it out of them.
This will sound like it’s jumping on a bandwagon with the talk about him last week and now the recall, but I wanted to get to Cooper Marody. If I ever get around to releasing my newest top 20 Oilers prospect list, I’ve had Cooper Marody pretty high on the list. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about him when the Oilers acquired him, but started reading up, started watching Michigan games and highlights and it wasn’t difficult to see what they liked so much. I’ve said this now a few times, but he might be a similar situation to Ethan Bear for me only he plays the middle. Ryan Strome…I’m surprised that when I’ve brought this up people have defended him…isn’t pissing a drop offensively, and in his Oilers tenure it’s just become very clear to me that Strome isn’t an answer for the team. I know he’s the 3rd line centre, but you need your 3rd line centre to produce these days! Hell, you needed them to produce 20 years ago, but even more so now. And while I’m going off memory, I don’t recall Strome even creating a scoring chance this season! Marody’s short coming is his skating ability, but he’s about the same level of skater as Strome. Similar size (though not as filled out at this time), both RH shooting centres, he’s very willing to go to the dirty area’s and take some punishment (which I wasn’t sure of coming out of Michigan and NCAA hockey), but where Marody has Strome is his puck skills and vision. He’s a terrific playmaker and if you follow my stuff, you know how much I value playmakers and I really believe that as much as the league has become about skating, I believe that just as much or more so it’s about playmaking thanks to so much more ice now being available and the physical play having dropped off so drastically in the last five years or so. I believe that next season, that 3rd line centre role will be competed for by Marody and Ryan McLeod. Both could make the team, but they’ll be the two candidates for that specific spot. It won’t surprise me though, especially now, if Marody is able to come up and make Strome expendable. I had one guy on Twitter essentially say to me “there’s room for both”. There is, but it’s a cap world my man, and the Oilers are up against it. I wonder if Strome wouldn’t be of interest for the Canadiens? For who? Could you get Arturri Lehkonen? He’s off to a good start, but they literally have nothing down the middle, and Strome might free up Max Domi to move to the wing where he’d be even better for them. I don’t know, just a thought. I’ve liked Lehkonen for a while now and felt he could thrive if given a high end centre to play with, but then again it is likely that the Habs see it the same way and would like to maintain his services being on the final year of his ELC. Point being though that if you can shed 2.1 million and get better production, then you should do it. Marody to me looks very capable of being a better version of Strome, and I mean soon. Might not be on this call up, but soon.
I feel my stuff can get stale. I don’t feel at all as though I’m a great, or even good writer. I feel as though I might have interesting insight, but just as a pure writer I’m not good and haven’t improved all that much since I started doing this. One thing I feel I could do to offset that is speak on more topics that I can not only give interesting insight/opinions on, but topics that don’t get wrote about that often. Draft coverage has really taken off in the last three years or so, but I don’t feel as though there is much in terms of writing on it. Taking deeper looks at prospects, looks back, certain narratives (which I’m hitting on today), and looking at scouting itself. So this is hopefully the first of many pieces I do on the draft. I’m still doing my own rankings, still going to do mock drafts as I really believe that’s where I shine the most, but add more to the coverage in general.
So to start this, I’ll hit on what is perhaps my favourite draft narrative going today. “Tampa Bay gets it because they don’t care about the size of a player, they just take the most talented kids available”. It was during last season when this piece was really sparked. Corey Pronman had said something on Twitter. I can’t remember what it was, but something along the lines of “what would you like to see me write about on the draft”. And something I don’t often do is read the responses, but I scrolled through those ones, and came across Ryan Pinder of Sportsnet 960 in Calgary asking him to do a piece as to why other teams don’t follow the Tampa model of simply drafting the best player on the board regardless of size. So as a guy who can list off just about every first round pick in order and the team that took them since maybe 2008, and knows the history of the draft VERY well since I started writing on it in 2012, I knew the answer to this. I loved it, because I absolutely LOVE taking the completely lazy and unfounded narrative and destroying it. Pinder was the straw that broke the camel’s back, he’s far from the only one to think this way. So I’m not going to waste anymore time trying to think of a witty transition and get right to it. Steve Yzerman started working for the Lightning in the spring of 2010. Let’s take a good look at their drafts.
Now, before I begin on this one, this was Steve Yzerman’s first draft, so I’m going to talk about. However, this wasn’t Yzerman’s scouting staff. Al Murray wasn’t hired as of this time, and I doubt many of the scouts they had at the time were with the organization much longer. But I will include it thanks to Yzerman being there. They took Brett Connolly with the 6th pick. Today, Brett Connolly is scraping together a real good career after appearing to be a bust early on. If I had to guess, some of that has to do with his hip injury in his draft year setting him back a lot longer than most believed it would. But this wasn’t a good pick. And it wasn’t a good pick in the moment, not just in hindsight. Going into that draft, the consensus pick for Tampa was Brandon Gormley. Before you say “that would have been WAY WORSE!!!” keep in mind that this was pre-draft. Cam Fowler shouldn’t have got past the 5th pick in that draft, and he was still on the board at six where they should have been all over him. They took Radko Gudas in the 3rd round, easily their best pick of this draft, and took two players sub six feet (both 5’11), and none of the other picks ever came close to playing in the league. Not just didn’t play in an NHL game, but rather of the six other draft picks made those players only played a combined 19 games in the AHL. Not the NHL, the AHL.
This was probably their best draft to date, and was truly the first draft for Yzerman, and literally was for Al Murray. 2011 was all them, and they crushed it. Namestikov with the 27th pick, Kucherov was a grand fucking slam at pick 58, Nikita Nesterov at 148 played 119 games for them, at 201 (7th round) they got Matthew Peca who they weren’t able to keep this past off-season but is looking like an NHL regular, and finally another grand fucking slam with Ondrej Palat at 208th overall. Even goaltender Adam Wilcox taken in the 6th round and 178th overall has played in one NHL game. So every pick they made has played in one NHL game, five of the six have played over 100, and four of the six are regular NHL players. So that is an amazing draft, easily one of the best all time. But let’s look at the size which is the point here. For my money, as a guy who has been bias towards size (much more in the past than I am now obviously), my cut off is 5’11. 5’11 never felt “small” for me. 5’10 was dependent on the weight, and 5’9 I would consider a guy “small”. Matthew Peca is the only player who qualifies for that in this draft. Great pick where they got him, but I’m not sure there is a team in the league that would have passed on a highly skilled guy who was 5’9 by the 201st pick in the draft.
The Andrei Vasilevskiy pick is what is remembered, but that wasn’t their first pick, and they messed up their first pick in this draft just as they did in 2010. Filip Forsberg fell all the way down to 10. That was a HUGE shock at the time, and by the time the Lightning picked there was no doubt he was the clear cut BPA. Much like Evan Bouchard falling to 10 for the Oilers in this past draft, it was that surprising. Yet the Bolts passed in favour of Slater Koekkoek. Something I wonder about in hindsight is if they had a philosophy early on that they wouldn’t allow injuries to affect their thought process on players as much as others would? Because with both Connolly and Koekkoek, injuries derailed most of their draft years. Anyway, they messed up that pick, got it right with Vasilevskiy. This draft sure wasn’t 2011, as really the only players still kicking around are Vasilevskiy, Cedric Paquette and the controversial Jake Dotchin. Keep in mind though, this was still a very good draft. Not Yzerman, Murray or their scouting staff’s fault that 2012 was a bad draft year. They walked out with a star goaltender, a regular, and a guy in Dotchin who is still going to be hanging around the league as long as he can get his weight under control. Again though, I’m here to talk about the size of these players. Nikita Gusev was the only sub 6’0 player they took in the draft (5’11, not small in the eyes of a “sizest”), and all but three of the eight picks were players under 6’2.
This is the one that probably keeps them awake at night to this day, despite the success they’re having. They walked in with the 3rd pick in the draft. The top two picks for everyone were Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones. But the Florida Panthers badly needed a big two way centre, and as we seen in this last draft and the 2016 draft, if you need that guy then you better step up and grab him early (Pierre-Luc Dubois to Columbus, Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Montreal, Barrett Hayton to Arizona), which as you know they did and took Sasha Barkov (and it was the right pick). This left the door WIDE ASS OPEN for the Lightning to step up and steal Seth Jones at three…and they took Jonathan Drouin. And hey, all these years later, the Canadiens may have bailed them out for the mistake by giving them Mikhail Sergachev for Drouin. Sergachev has that kind of upside. But if they had Seth Jones and Cam Fowler on that blueline already, this team wouldn’t have needed to pony up for Ryan McDonagh. This team might have a couple of Cups already under this regime. And while you can play the “what if” game with so many teams, we aren’t talking about hindsight here. In the moment, with all three of Connolly, Koekkoek and Drouin were suspect picks over the players which fell to the Lightning. Anyway, again they took nobody tiny. Drouin wasn’t considered a great skater for his size, but he was still 5’11 (is what I had him listed at pre draft, now listed at 6’0). If you include Drouin, three kids they took (six total) were under 6’0, though again all three were 5’11 which I don’t know who would consider 5’11 small. This wasn’t a good draft for the Lightning. Drouin over Jones was a big mistake despite it being somewhat righted (I’m sure they’d move Sergachev for Jones right now), Adam Erne is very close to playing, and really that’s it.
Its about to get better…right? Nope. Anthony DeAngelo. At 19. When everyone had bailed on him as a first round prospect. Now, it wasn’t a GREAT draft, but there were pretty clear cut kids on the board most, if not all, had ahead of DeAngelo. And I’m not going with the “hindsight” guy. Easy to say now that they should have taken David Pastrnak. Pastrnak really didn’t stand out above any of the other high ranked/undersized wingers that this draft class was flooded with. But Robby Fabbri, Kasperi Kapanen, and Nick Schmaltz PROBABLY would have been my top three on the board, and likely for most (this was the year before I was doing prospect rankings, just mocks). Again, not hindsight because if you’re going hindsight then the pick obviously should have been Pastrnak. One thing about DeAngelo though was that he was under 6’0 (5’11 again). This is the draft that gives them the reputation I’m speaking on today. They took Brayden Point with the 79th pick. Didn’t take him 19th, or 35th, or 57th, no they waited until the 79th pick, but they did take him. He was the only sub 5’11 pick they made, but they did take Point who I love, I can’t believe that he’s not only a centre but a tremendous centre, and is maybe the most underrated player in the league right now.
Once again, nine picks in this draft, none of them have their full story written yet as we get into the years with prospects still developing. But two players sub 6’0, no players sub 5’11. Anthony Cirelli so far looks like a terrific pick. Other than Cirelli though, they have a couple of “maybe’s”, but they were in the final that season and looked to have done ok as they normally do. Hey, I’m not looking to bash their drafting, just kill a myth about their drafting.
This one is my favourite. Obviously I’m reaching here if I’m saying who they hit on and who they missed on for a draft featuring players who are currently 20 years old. We have no idea. But I love this one that narrative which in case you forgot is “the Tampa Bay Lightning are the best drafting team in hockey and its because they simply just take quickness and skill. They don’t care about size!” OH. REA. LLY. They had 10 picks in the 2016 draft. You know how many of those picks were both under 6’0 and under 200 lbs? 0/10. Their first pick in the draft was Brett Howden, who projects to be a third line centre/Shawn Horcoff type player. Undersized/highly skilled Sam Steel went three picks later. Libor Hajek projects to be a stay at home, number four/five type D-man, he was the second pick. Undersized/highly skilled Alex DeBrincat was taken two picks later. Boris Katchouk, power forward. Undersized/highly skilled Sam Girard was taken three picks later. Taylor Raddysh, 6’3, Chris Paquette 6’2, Oleg Sosunov 6’8, Otto Somppi 6’2, Ryan Lohin 6’0. The only pick…of 10…in the entire draft for Tampa who was under 6’0 was Ross Colton at 118 who was 5’11, 200 lbs. If you’ve been reading and thought “sure, but what has it been like lately, that’ll tell the story” shit are you dead wrong!
Again, let’s not for a second suggest we know after one damn year that we know how their draft went. But Cal Foote was the top pick. Cal Foote is 6’4 and projects to be a shutdown/top four D-man. I believed prior to the draft that they wouldn’t pass on Timothy Liljegren because he was much higher skilled yet still a RH shooting D-man (which it seemed pre-draft to be the obvious need/want with the 14th pick). And again, much like 2016, this team didn’t take a smaller guy until their fifth pick which was 180th overall in the draft when they took Cole Guttman. Guttman and Samuel Walker were both only 5’10, but again I’m going to say that I’m not sure any team WOULDN’T roll the dice on kids of that stature late in the draft.
This is insanely early to look at what they did this past June, but I will anyway just for fun. The top pick was Gabriel Fourtier and he’s only 5’10, so a good start for the false narrative. Then they didn’t take another skater who was under 6’0 (though they took 5’10 goaltender Magnus Chrona at 152).
Again, this exercise isn’t done to shit all over Tampa and attempt to make anyone suggest they’re doing bad. I’d be an absolute dip shit to suggest that. Drafting is TOUGH. Developing is TOUGH. For me, the Lightning are in the elite tier in this league when it comes to the draft. I’d probably say there are four teams in that tier, and the Lightning are one of them.
Having said that…
The narrative that this club simply drafts skill and don’t care about size is a COMPLETE crock of shit! They have hit on a few of those types in the draft, but mostly they draft similar sized kids at the same rate as everyone else. They just simply scout extremely well as an organization. Yanni Gourde was a free agent signing, they didn’t draft him. Tyler Johnson was another free agent signing. Cory Conacher was too and the truth is that after an impressive stretch at the start of the 2013 season he has essentially been irrelevant in the league. They drafted Matthew Peca, and let him walk as a UFA this off-season. I can’t stress enough how horse shit the narrative is with Tampa. They simply do a tremendous job of scouting, and a tremendous job of developing. Al Murray is their head amateur scout and one of the best in the business (we’ll see if he stays on now with Yzerman gone), and Yzerman was a tremendous GM for them. That’s it. Its not some magic formula. Its not out of the box thinking. Its just simply a well run organization. If you want to rave about the way they draft, then what you should be raving about is the fact that they are always looking to stock pile picks. That’s it. They didn’t hesitate to trade the aging Marty St.Louis in 2014 while firmly in a playoff spot. They got two first rounders. They constantly trade back in the draft and load up with picks. They’ve never had less than six picks in the draft under Yzmeran. 26 picks from 2014-2016.
So let’s just put the nail in this coffin, shall we? They aren’t reaching in the draft to take undersized/skilled kids where nobody else ranks them and having those picks perform incredibly. They really just took ONE kid over all these years who was really undersized (especially for his position) and has crushed it. By the way, the Jets took Nic Petan in what was considered a better draft with the 43rd pick. So higher than Point, where is the narrative that the Jets just took the highest skilled players on the board? But because Petan hasn’t worked to this point and the Jets are big, they don’t get credit for taking the undersized skill guy. So weird how that works…