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.
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