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
- The Best of the Nation – 12.2.12
- Gary Machiavelli
- Latest Forbes numbers show healthy Canadian teams, struggling American ones
- Should Ryan Nugent-Hopkins represent Canada at the World Juniors?
- Ten points: Magnus Paajarvi and Justin Schultz
- Career probabilities: Teemu Hartikainen
- Career probabilities: Curtis Hamilton