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Three Thoughts: What happens in Vegas…

Las Vegas has always been a lot of fun — too much fun in a lot of cases — but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t convinced hockey was a fit for Sin City when the NHL handed the expansion keys to the Vegas Golden Knights. Losing your shirt (and pants) gambling? Sure. Night life? Duh! The occasional face tattoo? Why the heck not? But hockey?

I love the town. I honeymooned there with Sam’s mom. Between trips for fun, covering the Edmonton Trappers in the old PCL when they’d hit Nevada to play the Las Vegas Stars and chronicling the pugilistic rise of Edmonton flyweight Scotty Olson, I’ve been there somewhere around 30 times. I even saw a hockey game there, back in 1995-96 when Curtis Joseph was with the Las Vegas Thunder of the IHL before joining the Edmonton Oilers.

What we’re seeing so far with the Golden Knights, though, is not that. To understate, they’ve been a huge hit — in large part because the team has been far better than anybody could reasonably expect. The joint has been jumping and T-Mobile Arena been a rowdy, fun place to watch hockey. Oilers’ fans, thousands of them, and Oilersnation got in on some of the action Saturday for Edmonton’s first trip into Las Vegas, Connor McDavid’s 21st birthday and a 3-2 overtime win.

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From belting out the national anthem to singing Happy Birthday to McDavid to the uproar when Darnell Nurse scored the overtime winner, legions of fans who made the roadie from Edmonton did Oil Country proud Saturday while looking for a good time and being the life of the party — even if this season has fallen well short of qualifying as that. That was a lot of fun to watch, even from afar. Well done.

I’m not sure how long the dice will stay hot for the Golden Knights in a town where fortunes can turn on a dime, but they’ve been the story of the year, and by a longshot, in the NHL this season.

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COMING OUT PARTY

Oct 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. The Penguins won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of things I didn’t expect, at least not to this degree: we’re seeing Nurse’s game grow in leaps and bounds before our eyes this season. Still two weeks short of his 23rd birthday and with just 161 games on his NHL resume, Nurse has been putting all the tools we’ve seen flashes of — he’s a terrific skater with a nasty streak who can move the puck and cover a lot of ice — together. He looks like money in the bank right now.

Nurse’s winner Saturday came a night after he hammered home a couple of wicked clappers top shelf in a win over the Arizona Coyotes. Through 46 games, Nurse has tallied 6-12-18 and is averaging 21:24 of ice time per game. For my money, he’s been Edmonton’s best D-man this season with Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson having struggled with nagging injuries.

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While it’s fun to think about what Nurse’s ceiling might be and project how good he might become, let’s resist some of the old pitfalls that come when a player is feeling it like Nurse is. There’s no need to insist that GM Pete Chiarelli ink him to an eight-year deal now or trade Klefbom to address other needs because Nurse is the man. We know better. The latest example of that is Klefbom — his coming out party was just last season but he’s struggled. Of course, fans will do it anyway. Watch and enjoy.

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CLOSE CALL

I don’t care what happened in the casinos or the clubs in Las Vegas after the game, nobody got luckier Saturday than Milan Lucic, who had the right side of his neck cut by the skate of Tomas Nosek during a play that didn’t seem like anything noteworthy at the time.  Lucic, who skated to the bench under his own power after the play for what looked like a normal change, took what looks like seven or eight stitches to the neck.

Back in 1985 while working as the sports editor at the Peace Arch News in White Rock, B.C., I had to cover the story of a young hockey player, Jeffrey Butler, a Portland Winterhawks prospect, who died after having his neck cut by a skate in a BCJHL game. We sometimes forget the potential dangers players face out on the ice, be they the expected bumps and bruises or freak plays like Lucic was involved in, but they are real. I still think of Jeffrey and his family whenever a close call like Lucic happens.

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RONNIE BACK ON BOARD

I mentioned in an earlier item that I’m on board with Hockey Helps The Homeless for their 2018 event in Edmonton May 11. I’m happy to say that since then, former Oiler player and coach Ron Low has let us know that he’ll be involved again after taking a year off. I’ve never met a more down-to-earth, honest guy in the game of hockey than Low, who was head coach of the Oilers from 1994-95 to 1998-99. Our team just got way better.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  


  • Rama Lama

    Last night’s game is perhaps the first time we have seen Darrel Nurse on the ice in OT……..Caggiula as well. This coach has his favourites and usually has them on the ice. It’s nice to see him utilizing other players lower down in the lineup.

    Darnell is a beast and is loved by all the fans……..hope PC does not get any trade ideas with Darnell! A bridge deal would work!

    • Scotty is in Edmonton. He was one of the top salesmen at Kentwood Ford for a long time, but he suffered a couple of heart attacks in the last few years. He’s here and hanging in. As for his right hand, Scotty broke it in the two most important fights of his career — at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and at America West Arena in Phoenix. Those losses cost him at least one $1-million payday against Michael Carbajal. Real deal, the Bulldog.

  • RJ

    300 games. That’s supposedly the marker to know what you have in a defenceman. Nurse is just a little over half way there. Even though Klefbom was drafted earlier, he also has not hit 300 games.

    Having said that, Nurse is a great skater. Has been since he joined the NHL. Why he hasn’t been tried in OT is still a bit surprising.

  • Redbird62

    Robin, you might need to correct Nurse’s stat line. NHL website has him at 6-12-18. Looks like you used his total points for assists. Still having a break out year. Occassionally has some defensive zone coverage problems, but so are all the D. I have believed since watching him in that world junior tournament, that he had the potential to be at least a number 2 defender (on a team with a good D and not just by default, and he is definitely trending in that direction.

  • 40 Year Re-build

    You know what? I checked with my bookies and it turns out I didn’t put any money on the Oilers this year. So despite the fact that it is highly unlikely that they go 26-10 and make a playoff push, it is still possible. Let’s Go Oilers. Prove everyone wrong.

  • WillyWonka

    wow, that was a seriously close call on the neck cut… that’s scary!
    Speaking of Vegas, that’s where i was born, according to my birth certificate. as far as i am concerned it’s a gross city

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I do hope Nurse is signed long term before the draft. Another Klefbom/Larsson type contract would be nice for our top 4. 16mil for the teams top 4 dmen, is pretty damn good in my opinion.

  • crabman

    Klefbom is having a bad season bit as stated he is having some injury problems as well. After his breakout season last year I would be hard pressed to trade him now especially with his contract which would be a big value contract if he got back on track. That said if the right trade came along for the coveted RD we are still in search for I have to believe that is a deal Chairelli looks long and hard at. I think the question would be does he expect Sekera and Russell to live up to their contracts for the duration. They both have 3 years remaining after this one. But both have just 1 more year before their mnt kicks in making it possible to move one or both. If it was me unless the perfect trade came across my desk I would probably sign Nurse to a 2-3 year bridge possibly bringing him to the end of both Sekera and Russell’s contracts freeing up money for the big long-term deal if he continues to progress and giving the team more time to evaluate. If he developes into a true top pair and needs to be paid like it Klefbom is still a great price as your 2LD assuming he bounces back. The team has options at this point. My only concern with this plan is it is another year with this D core before decisions are made and if Nurse regressed, and Klefbom, Larsson and Sekera don’t bounce back to last year’s play it could be another lost season. even still I would bridge and stand pat with the 5 D mentioned.

      • Serious Gord

        The last thing the oil needs is a less experienced defense Corps. Trading sekera and Russell would likely do that.

        That noted the type of injury sekera has is very tough to come back from – some players never fully return to their former level. And Klefbom- if injured has to be considered injury prone – all of last year not withstanding.

        The oil needs to build depth – quality depth on defense and shooting balance while retaining as much experience as possible.

        Chia has a monumental – maybe impossible task – in front of him.

        • crabman

          @Serious Gord

          depending on the nature of Klefbom’s potenttial injury I don’t think it would be fair to label him injury prone. Jonathan Willis wrote a great article over on cult of hockey June 2016. It goes back to his 1st year pro in Sweden 2010-11 and accounts for all time missed. The only concerning injury was his last year in Sweden 2012-13 when he lost most of the year when he needed season ending shoulder surgery. Side note up until the injury he broke camp and started the year as the #1 Dman for a team in the top pro league in Sweden at 20 years old. The only other significant time missed was the staph infection that shut home down for most of 2015-16. and I don’t think anyone can chalk that up to injury prone. I would only be concerned it his latest injury was to the same shoulder from his surgery and it was related.
          outside of the Klefbom injury prone concern I agree with everything else.

      • crabman

        @ Big Nuggets, I’m not advocating trading the vets before the kids until after next season at the earliest. At that point we have a better idea of what we have in Klefbom and Nurse. We also see how Sekera’s injury will affect the rest of his career and if time and his rugged play slows Russell down. If Nurse continues his growth without a setback like Klefbom has had this year and Sekera bounces back to last year Klefbom might be the center piece to get that RD we need. But that shouldn’t be decided until end of next season when hopefully all these ifs have answers. I still like a bridge for Nurse and set him up for his payday, if he earns it, when Sekera and Russell are set to come off the books.

        • Big Nuggets

          ahh, I dont want to trade Klef and watch him become a stud with someone else while Sekera gets older. Klef is a stud, prime candidate for a bounce back next season. Also cheaper and younger than Sekera.

    • DXB

      Klefbom definitely looks like he’s playing with an injury. Have to wonder if he’s just had a string of bad luck or he’s just injury prone. Would hate to lose him but he may be a good chip in a package to get the true offensive D man we desperately need.

  • Your comment history paints a pretty clear picture. It seems your only purpose is to get in people’s faces and tell them how dumb they are. I grow weary of it. It stops or the “post comment” button stops working for you. Contribute something other than bile or get lost.

  • Serious Gord

    Put another way: the oil need to play .734 hockey to get to 96 points. That means they would have to play as well as the Tampa lightning have so far .738.

    The lightning are on track for 121 points.

    That’s how steep a mountain they have to climb.

  • RJ

    Canucks are two points back, two games in hand. Even if they won both, they’re not dreaming of the playoffs.

    Vanek is on pace for 57 points as a RW/LW. Expiring contract. He is getting a little long in the tooth, but a 57 point pace for $2m seems like he would have been a great add last off-season.

    They’re also planning to move Gudbranson, who’s a big RH defenceman.

    If the Oilers are in the same neighbourhood as them this late in the season, they aren’t making the playoffs.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i wish other columnists here would see things the same way you do with this garbage because i get tired of it too and wish others would hit the delete button more often.