Ten Points: Very little NHL lockout, quite a bit of actual hockey

Jonathan Willis
December 03 2012 06:20AM

I’m not going to ignore the lockout completely, but given that Nugent-Hopkins is (likely) heading for the World Juniors, and that a whole mess of prospects are ripping up the minors there is plenty of actual hockey to talk about.

1. Fresh voices? Interestingly, the NHLPA appears to have accepted the NHL’s proposal to have a players/managers meeting. I’ve argued previously that the hope of getting a deal out of these meetings is small, and the roster we’ve seen so far confirms it. For starters, Bill Daly and a representative from the NHLPA (likely Steve Fehr) will be in attendance. Additionally, of the six owners, two – hardliner Jeremy Jacobs of Boston and Calgary’s Murray Edwards – are from the group that has already been involved extensively in negotiations. We have yet to see the players who will be involved, but it seems a safe bet that they’ll be the guys who have already spent a bunch of time on the lockout file.

2. Taylor Hall at center? It was interesting listening to Todd Nelson’s rationale for not trying Taylor Hall at center – he was on Oilers Now last week and Bob Stauffer asked him whether it was something we could expect to see:

I think [playing Hall at center] is something we may explore in the future. I think right now we want Taylor to feel comfortable – obviously he’s doing that right now – but we want some longevity with that. I think moving forward that’s always an option we can explore, but right now with the way that the lines are set up and the guys that we have injured, right now our team’s clicking pretty good.

What does “longevity” mean in this context? I’m not entirely sure, but with lockout negotiations where they are it seems likely that Taylor Hall will get it.

3. Justin Schultz’s ice-time. One of the great side effects of the lockout, from an Oilers perspective, is that Justin Schultz is racking up the minutes. From that same Nelson interview:

We have him playing at least 28 minutes per game, playing great, and right now he’s not showing any signs of fatigue playing that much… That’s one thing we’ll have to watch with him, but right now he’s having a lot of fun and getting a lot of points doing it.

Fatigue is often cited as a factor with college players – I’ve never seen definitive evidence one way or the other that the shorter college season makes adjusting to a pro schedule more difficult, but it makes a lot of sense and there’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence. It’s obviously something that Nelson’s thinking about.

For Schultz, the weaknesses in his game are defensive. The best way to solve those sorts of weaknesses are lots and lots of minutes against quality forwards. He’s getting those minutes in Oklahoma.

4. Justin Schultz and the offense/defense split. I do tend to think that Schultz’s defensive woes are overstated, though. It’s not that those holes aren’t in his game – they are. But hockey is a game of offense minus defense, and there’s no question at all that at least at the AHL level the good far outweighs the bad. Even with big chunks of his scoring coming on the power play, Schultz leads Oklahoma (and is second in the AHL) with a plus-14 rating. Plus/minus has real weaknesses as an evaluating tool, but just watching him play there can be no doubt that he is driving the play. He isn’t bad defensively, and he’s a marvel with the puck – he gets it out of the zone quickly and can skate or pass it equally effectively. He’s a plus player.

5. If ever a player statistically looked like a write-off… Kristians Pelss is an interesting prospect to follow because superficially his offensive numbers scream ‘never going to play in the NHL.’ The Oilers signed him despite subpar numbers in junior, and he has just five points through 13 ECHL games. I’ve enjoyed watching him play – in his brief Oklahoma stint he looked like a solid third liner – but with his lousy scoring numbers I still struggle to see him as a real NHL prospect. But everything I’ve heard suggests the team still considers him a prospect of interest, and there’s no denying that (somewhat like Tyler Pitlick) he just looks like a hockey player.

6. Yann Danis rebounds. Quelle surprise. For big chunks of November, Yann Danis has been the difference between victory and defeat in Oklahoma. In his last game, on Thursday, he made 32 saves and allowed just one goal – a performance that allowed Oklahoma to make it to the shootout. After allowing 3+ goals in five of his first seven games, he’s held the opposition to two-or-less in six of his last eight games. His 0.887 save percentage in four October games gave way to a 0.926 save percentage in 11 November contests. Score one more for ‘years of evidence’ over ‘a couple of lousy games’.

7. Tyler Bunz’s professional debut continues to be bumpy. It would be a mistake to read too much into a professional career that spans 14 ECHL games, but so far Bunz’s adjustment to the pros has not inspired enthusiasm. He has allowed 3+ goals in nine of his 14 games played, and his save percentage is a lousy 0.883, ranking him 31st of 36 goalies. Still, at the same point in his career Devan Dubnyk was four seasons from regular NHL employment, so it isn’t like Bunz is on the clock.

8. Dumb luck and Ryan Murray. I have to imagine that the guys making draft day decisions for Edmonton breathed a sigh of relief this week that they opted not to take Ryan Murray first overall. That’s no slight to Murray, who was enjoying a good season – he is just three points out of the team scoring lead despite a) eight less games and b) offense not being his greatest strength, and he’s also even as the top defenceman on a team that has gone minus-37. But a shoulder injury that appears likely to knock him out for the season is a big negative, especially this early in his career. There was no way to predict it (though some would argue any player drafted by Edmonton has a greater risk of shoulder injury), and it’s the kind of dumb luck thing that might have a big impact on Murray’s career.

9. The outrageous salaries of Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr. Gary Bettman makes roughly $8 million per year, while Donald Fehr earns a little under $3 million per year (source). Fehr hasn’t been paid since July 1; Bettman since September 15. Fehr has indicated that he will likely take the same pay cut percentage-wise that the players end up taking in a new deal with the league. It’s been suggested to me that both guys are overpaid, but I don’t buy it: they’re negotiating deals to split up $3.3 billion in revenue. The difference between Bettman vs. some other guy for the league or Fehr vs. some other guy for the union could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

I’m open to arguments that either has done a bad job negotiating, but to me that’s not the point. If either is not good at their job, you fire them. If they’re good at their jobs, they’re worth every penny and then some. (Also, semi-related: I agree with Tyler Dellow that the rumour that Fehr has a clause paying him big chunks of money if the NHLPA accepts a proposal against his wishes is ridiculous.)

10. Finally, good on the Oilers for agreeing that Nugent-Hopkins deserves a chance to play at the World Juniors. It’s a nice gesture of reciprocity, given that Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall are all playing in Oklahoma instead of Zurich (or similar). It’s also a nod to those fans who haven’t been watching the kids play via the AHL’s miserable video feed. Finally: I don’t buy arguments either way that this is going to have a big impact on Nugent-Hopkins’ development. I seriously doubt he’s going to “learn to win” by beating the pants off a bunch of 17-year old Slovakians on a stacked Canadian team. He’s also not going to be damaged by skipping out on AHL hockey for a few weeks. What he is going to do is get a chance to play in a starring role for Canada in one of the most exciting tournaments in hockey, and it is his very last chance to do so. It will be fun for him to play, fun for the rest of us to watch, and that’s reason enough for it to be a good decision.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Aitch
December 03 2012, 06:49AM
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Pumping the fist for Nuge going to the World Juniors! Whooo!

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#2 Klima's Mullet
December 03 2012, 07:26AM
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With Nuge going to the World Juniors, I can see Hall centering Eberle and Hartikainen.

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#3 Toro
December 03 2012, 07:36AM
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Watching that Eberle tying goal in the WJHC always gives me goosebumps, can't wait too see that tournament seeing how there's never any AHL highlights anywhere.

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#4 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
December 03 2012, 07:52AM
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Let's hope Nuge's shoulder is good.

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/sports/hockey/edmonton-oilers/Nugent+Hopkins+thinking+about+world/7641397/story.html

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#5 RexLibris
December 03 2012, 08:04AM
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Re: #6, gee I hate to say I told you so... ;-)

Seriously, the numbers don't look like much, but just like you said, after watching Pelss play you can't help but think that he has some of the tools to spend some time in the NHL. Others have gotten by on less, and if he ever does start to score then it is a bonus. But for now, his drive speed and skill set are enough to make most coaches find a spot for him.

On #9, the salaries are outrageous, but only in so far as many salaries are when looking at society as a whole. When placed in a smaller context, that is league commissioners, I doubt Sepp Blatter is pulling in less (legally or otherwise) than Bettman, so those numbers are probably in the range for the job. It doesn't change how repugnant it is to the average person that someone is paid that much, but that is another debate entirely.

#10, agreed. For the WJC I don't care one bit about Nugent-Hopkins' development. I'm a fan of his, so for me I'd just hope he goes, plays, has a great time, and ends up with some terrific memories. He'll have enough pressure for the rest of his career, this might be something he can look back on in 10 or 20 years and smile.

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#6 Fresh Mess
December 03 2012, 09:05AM
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Gary Bettman is an excellent chief executive.

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#7 Zack
December 03 2012, 09:40AM
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Just to stir the pot, Seatle has released some arena concepts. http://www.icethetics.info/blog/2012/12/1/seattle-arena-design-proposals.html

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#8 T Ambrosini
December 03 2012, 09:56AM
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More regarding point #7... Bunz looked great in his first few starts in Stockton. In retrospect, he probably didn't face as many quality scoring chances in the early going. The team simply doesn't do a good job in controlling the puck and he has given up an alarming number of goals due to offensive zone turnovers leading to breakaway opportunities. He is left exposed by his team too much and the GAA reflects that somewhat. Stockton's last game ended in a shootout, their first of the season. It ended in a loss where Bunz allowed three for three to score. I suspect there is a hitch in his fundamentals that they will attempt to address. Time will tell...

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#9 Rama Lama
December 03 2012, 10:06AM
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Predictions:

1.The NHL will tell the brat pack that 6 teams are making money and everyone else is basically volunteering their time and resources.

2.The brat pack will think about this, get confused, and then ask for a raise.

3. The NHL will tell the players hey look around the whole world is in a recession, there is mass unemployment, and a fiscal cliff is looming. Just how are ordinary people supposed to afford $ 200 hockey tickets and beer. The players will respond , "what recession", and ask for a raise.

4. The NHLPA will go back to their lord and savior, Donald Fehr and ask for him to tell the insane owners to "smarten up and give them what they want". After all if they don't they will leave North America and take someone else's job in Europe.

5. The NHLPA will counter that the service they provide is essential to the world turning and their importance cannot be measured with super high salaries alone.......some other measurement will be required.

6. The players will act all huffy after the meeting and demand a face to face meeting with President Obama .

I have to go to work now!

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#10 geoilersgist
December 03 2012, 10:09AM
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Typical Eberle roofing it backhand. That was a great goal hopefully there are more

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#11 Oilblood
December 03 2012, 11:22AM
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One of the greatest moments in Canadian hockey and Pierre McGuire manages to completely destroy the call yeah I'm sure the crowd was raving about "Tavares's magical play", hate him for that.

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#12 @Oilanderp
December 03 2012, 11:59AM
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Would Murray have been injured if a different ball had popped out of the lottery machine last year? Only time will tell if he is injury prone or if it was just dumb luck (as I think most injuries are).

As regards to some of our struggling prospects; Pelss, Pitlick, Hamilton, Lander, Bunz et al...

In the long run if they are a player their numbers will show it. It's early. Given the percentage of draft picks that actually make it to the NHL, we shouldn't be surprised if they fail in the end.

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#13 I'm a Scientist!
December 03 2012, 12:08PM
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@Rama Lama

So.... who's side are you on anyway?

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#14 Velo
December 03 2012, 01:45PM
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Oilblood wrote:

One of the greatest moments in Canadian hockey and Pierre McGuire manages to completely destroy the call yeah I'm sure the crowd was raving about "Tavares's magical play", hate him for that.

Yep. Brutal.

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#15 B S
December 03 2012, 02:03PM
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#2 While I don't mind the idea of Hall learning to take faceoffs, I just don't see the need for him at center. He isn't that much bigger the RNH, or Gagner (a difference of 10-15 lbs?) and is clearly a strong shooter and breaks into the offensive zone best when he's moving from the outside-in.

#4 Finally saw some AHL and Schultz action in the 3rd period on Friday. At that time, the team looked good, but they were too fancy. It seemed like they were used to toying with their opponents and were trying to pick their shots a little to much. Schultz looked good in that 3rd period both offensively and defensively. People need to realize that positioning and stick control are usually more effect than hammering a guy into the boards. You separate the man from the puck, and can gain control of the puck immediately. Schultz was doing that well when I saw him.

#8 I've never been that big on Murray (he's good, just not top 3 in the draft), its still a shame, especially for the top prospect of a truly awful team. If anyone can sympathize with the Columbus fan it's Oilers fans. Maybe we should be sending Murray get well cards on behalf of that Columbus fan.

#9 These guys just drained over $3.3 billion in revenue. Unless the next CBA is close to 10 years long, I can't imagine either of these guys being worth their salaries.

#10 This still doesn't say that Nuge agreed to go (and if anyone earned the right to snub this event it's him), but assuming he will go: this is great, and I would disagree about the impact this has on his development. To date the only international hockey he's played for Canada was a WC that hasn't been taken seriously for over 50 years. The WJC have real meaning in this country and that puts a lot of pressure on these young guys.

RNH needs to feel that pressure, as well as understand his role as a leader, he wasn't doing that at the World Championships, or as an Oiler. This tournament won't sharpen his skills but it should further his maturity, and to top it off he should have even more to talk about with Hall and Eberle when all is said and done.

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#16 Wax Man Riley
December 03 2012, 05:07PM
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Oilblood wrote:

One of the greatest moments in Canadian hockey and Pierre McGuire manages to completely destroy the call yeah I'm sure the crowd was raving about "Tavares's magical play", hate him for that.

Seriously... what a knob. Tavares shoveled it on net without looking. Real magical, Pierre.

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#17 B S
December 03 2012, 05:41PM
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@Wax Man Riley

That's why I have to watch TSN broadcasts on mute.

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#18 RexLibris
December 03 2012, 06:54PM
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Wax Man Riley wrote:

Seriously... what a knob. Tavares shoveled it on net without looking. Real magical, Pierre.

Man I wish that man could find another GM gig.

Are the Flames hiring?

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#19 dougtheslug
December 03 2012, 11:22PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

Predictions:

1.The NHL will tell the brat pack that 6 teams are making money and everyone else is basically volunteering their time and resources.

2.The brat pack will think about this, get confused, and then ask for a raise.

3. The NHL will tell the players hey look around the whole world is in a recession, there is mass unemployment, and a fiscal cliff is looming. Just how are ordinary people supposed to afford $ 200 hockey tickets and beer. The players will respond , "what recession", and ask for a raise.

4. The NHLPA will go back to their lord and savior, Donald Fehr and ask for him to tell the insane owners to "smarten up and give them what they want". After all if they don't they will leave North America and take someone else's job in Europe.

5. The NHLPA will counter that the service they provide is essential to the world turning and their importance cannot be measured with super high salaries alone.......some other measurement will be required.

6. The players will act all huffy after the meeting and demand a face to face meeting with President Obama .

I have to go to work now!

1. The players will ask why, if contract lengths are such an issue and money is so short, were the "brilliant, perceptive, business savvy" owners signing as many players to long term contracts as they could before the lockout (including the Phoenix Coyotes, still owned by the NHL, signing Shane Doan to a 4 year 21 million dollar contract including a 2 million dollar signing bonus)?

2. They will ask why, if a fiscal cliff looms, would the Minnesota Wild commit 200 million dollars to two players over 13 years? Did the owners who offered the contracts intend to honor them despite, as you contend, they don't have the money? Were they being dishonest, stupid, or both?

3. They will ask why, if the NHL is so concerned about small market teams, would the Philadelphia Flyers put the screws to the Preds with a 110 mill offer sheet to Shea Weber, including 52 mill guaranteed against a rollback in the first 4 years of the contract? Forcing the Preds to match or be consigned to second tier status forever?

4.The owners will ask themselves how, if they are sooooo smart and the players are sooooo stoooopid, could they have been so outsmarted at the last CBA, when they could have had a hard cap of 49 million for the duration of the agreement, not tied to revenue increases? They will conclude that they must use lockout as their only bargaining tool to force the contracts back to the good old 1950s, when the players had zero leverage and the owners lit cigars with $100 bills.

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