The trade deadline is over. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli made three trades leading up to yesterday’s 1 p.m. MST deadline. He moved Brandon Davidson on Saturday, Mark Letestu on Sunday and Patrick Maroon on Monday all in separate deals.
The Oilers got a Pontus Aberg for Letestu, a 2019 third rounder for Davidson and a third rounder and NCAA prospect J.D. Dudek for Maroon. I didn’t expect any major moves or massive returns, and now the Oilers will focus on their final 20 games. These games are more meaningful than some have suggested.
1. I don’t agree with those who state these final games mean nothing for the Oilers. How can you believe the final 28 games (when Oilers were unofficially out of playoffs) of an 82-game season mean nothing? They aren’t making the playoffs, but these games are very meaningful to many of the young Oilers. They present an opportunity to get better, and with so many Oilers still in the infancy stage of their NHL careers, they can benefit from playing more games and being injected in different scenarios.
2. Darnell Nurse (177 games), Matt Benning (119), Drake Caggiula (108), Anton Slepyshev (84), Jujhar Khaira (74) and Jesse Puljujarvi (73) can use these games to improve and learn. Khaira is playing centre regularly now, and he’ll use these games to improve his defensive zone reads. Slepyshev is finally healthy and getting more opportunities. It looks like he’ll play with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, and could show everyone he is ready and capable of handling more minutes. Caggiula will try to find some consistency. Puljujarvi is getting more ice time, but he can use these games to earn even more opportunities in the future. Benning and Nurse can benefit from more games, and while the Oilers won’t be in a playoff hunt they will face many teams who are.
3. With the Oilers out of the playoffs, I’m starting to get texts, tweets and emails saying scoring now means nothing because the pressure is off. Many of these are in relation to Ryan Strome, who has five goals in his last five games after going goalless in 20. I’ve never really believed the “no pressure when out of the playoffs” theory. Players always want to succeed, and often you can tell a lot about a person when they continue to show up when things aren’t positive. It is easy to play when the team is winning and things are great — you go to the rink excited every day — but there isn’t much excitement surrounding the Oilers. They’ve had a disappointing season, and it would be easier to mail it in than to show up and keep battling. And while the Oilers aren’t playing for the playoffs, many nights their opponents will be, and the Oilers will have to try to match their intensity and desire.
4. For those claiming Strome is scoring because there is no pressure, will you say the same about McDavid? He has scored 12 goals (13 games) in February, most in the league. He had 15 goals between October-January (49 games). I doubt anyone is suggesting McDavid is suddenly scoring goals because the playoff pressure is off. Prior to this month, the most goals he’d scored in any month was seven (March, 2017). He’d scored six goals twice and five goals in a month five times. It is possible McDavid is learning how to become a more effective goal scorer in the NHL, and it isn’t just because they are out of a playoff race. Every game presents an opportunity for players to learn, grow and develop. I’d argue that with such a young roster, and the reality that most of this group will be here next season, these final 20 games, plus the previous ten mean a lot, regardless of their position in the standings.
5. McDavid has 54 shots in his last 13 games, for an average of 4.1 shots/game. In the first 49 games this season he averaged 3.1 shots/game. In his rookie season, he averaged 2.33 shots/game and last season he had 3.06 shots/game. He has started to shoot a lot more recently and he is scoring more. Even the best players in the game find ways to improve in the early years of their career. Every other young Oilers player should be taking note, and that’s why these final games are meaningful.
6. Many have wondered about Strome’s next contract. He currently carries a $2.5 million cap hit but is making $3 million this season, so the Oilers would need to make him a qualifying offer at $3 million to retain his rights. However, they can sign him to a contract prior to the QO deadline, similar to what they did with Zack Kassian in the summer of 2016. Kassian made $2 million in 2015/2016, and would have needed to be qualified at that price, but he and the Oilers agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million on May 19th, 2016. I suspect the Oilers and Strome will do something similar. Many players take time to get comfortable on a new team. Strome has looked much better lately, even before he ended his 20-game goal drought, playing centre. I’d keep Strome at centre and have him as the third line centre next year. Strome has two RFA years remaining. A one-year deal at $2.5 million is what I could see happening.
7. With Strome in the middle, I’d play Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on left wing when he returns this season. With Patrick Maroon gone the Oilers need a left winger, so why not try RNH on the left side with either McDavid or Draisaitl? It doesn’t make financial sense to pay a third line centre $6 million, but if RNH is playing LW in your top-six, and producing, then his contract can match his production. He will return in early March and I’d play him on the left side in every game to see how he does.
8. McDavid leads the NHL in goals, 12, and is second in points, 20, (Malkin has 21) in February. Leon Draisaitl is tied for seventh with 17 points. They have each had a good month, and they are doing most of their work at EV. McDavid is tied with Malkin with 17 EV points and Draisaitl is third with 14. The Oilers PP continues to be dreadful, and if these two could find a way to revive it their point totals would be even more impressive.
9. Evgeni Malkin has 21 goals in his last 20 games. It is the second time in his career he has produced a stretch of 20 goals in 20 games. The first time was from January 13th to February 26th, 2012. The only other player to score 20 goals or more in a 20-game stretch since is Alex Ovechkin. I bring this up because McDavid has 12 goals in 13 games. He needs eight in his next seven to do something that is very rare in today’s game. It also illustrates how difficult it was to score 50 goals in 50 games. Scoring 20 in 20 is hard today, and if you want to use era-adjusted scoring, 50 in 50 is still incredibly impressive.
10. Speaking of goal scoring: the top two picks from the 2016 draft have produced almost identical numbers through their first 135 games.
Auston Matthews has 68-51-119 points. He has taken 439 shots. He has played 2,416:08 TOI, with 317:15 on PP and 2,096:16 at EV. (17:53 TOI/game).
Patrik Laine has scored 67-48-115 pts. He has fired 381 shots and has played 2,336:02 TOI with 399:51 on P and 1,934:40 at EV. (17:18 TOI/game).
Laine is 19 while Matthews is 20 years old. Both have had excellent starts to their careers. Matthews plays centre and has more responsibility, but it is comical how many Toronto writers/bloggers will try to push how Matthews is one of best goal scorers (era adjusted of course) in NHL history, but don’t mention Laine. Classic. Laine is younger and has one fewer goal in the same amount of games. I like both players and it will be fun to watch their career paths.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
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- GDB 56.0: Oilers and Golden Knights’ role reversal
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- GDB 55.0: In need of a save
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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 02/27/2018 – 9:15 am MST