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Monday Musings

August is almost here and before you know it,  NHL rookies will report September 7th and participate in rookie games before the lucky ones will join NHL veterans at main camp on September 14th. Hockey enthusiasts in Edmonton and Red Deer who are craving hockey can watch the Hlinka Gretzky Cup starting Monday, August 6th as many of the best U18 players in the world will display their talents.

Even with NHL training camps seven weeks away, there is no shortage of discussion points, so let’s hit on a few.

1. Tom Wilson is loved in Washington and hated in most of the other 30 NHL cities. His willingness to continually deliver borderline body checks is why most loathe him. It is fair, but his tenacity and aggressive nature, combined with his skill, is why the Capitals signed him to a six-year contract with a $5.17 million AAV. It was a bit of a surprise considering Wilson’s career-best point totals are 14-21-35, which he produced this year. He has a total of 104 points in 391 career NHL games. Those numbers do not scream big money, yet the Capitals are big believers in him. Wilson did produce 15 points in 21 playoff games this past spring and he played regularly in their top-six. The Capitals are paying him $5 million because they will use him there and he’ll have Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeni Kuznetsov as one of his centres. It is a risky move, but the Capitals are paying him for more than his offensive numbers.

2. An NHL scout texted me this about Wilson: “When he focuses on playing within the rules he is actually very effective. He skates very well for a big man, and this year he showed he can think the game well enough to play with high skill players. The opposition hates him, but his teammates love him and while some people think that stuff doesn’t matter, I’m telling you it still does within the room. Some opposing players are scared of him and it gives him more room. He started to show he could make plays with the extra time and space. I hate when our team plays against him, but that means he’s making an impact.”

3. The Capitals are hoping Wilson produces more points similar to the big jump we’ve seen in fellow agitator Brad Marchand. Not at the level of Marchand, of course, but more of a poor-man’s Marchand. Marchand produced 41, 55, 36, 53 and 42 points his first five seasons, before scoring 61, 85 and 85 the past three years. If Wilson can become a 45-50 point-player in the next six seasons, and continue to agitate and straddle the “cheap shot” line, they will be ecstatic. Wilson’s contributions won’t just be on the scoreboard. Whether you like how he plays or not, he is a unique player and as the game becomes less physical he will stand out more — good or bad.

4. Defenceman Brady Skjei signed a six-year, $5.25m AAV extension with the Rangers on the weekend. Skjei is 24. He played 21:02/game last season and produced 25 points for the Rangers. His contract is an example of why Darnell Nurse was never going to sign an extension worth less than $5 million. Nurse is 23, he averaged 22 min/game last year and scored 26 points. All of his were EV points, while Skjei had 18 at EV. Not every contract is a perfect comparison, but Nurse’s camp will be using this one as a comparable for now and in the future.

5. Vegas is my pick to take a major step back. Last season five teams dipped by 25+ points. Chicago was -34 (109-75), Montreal -32 (103-71), Ottawa -31 (98-67), NYR -25 (102-77) and Edmonton -25 (103-78). Four of those teams had 100+ points. Vegas had a record-setting inaugural season filled with emotion, but it will be impossible to match that feeling this year. I don’t think they will drop 25 points, but I see them dropping out of the playoffs and dipping below 93 points.

6. Milan Lucic scored 49 points in 79 games in the 2017 calendar year. He had a brutal start to 2018, with eight points in 43 games. He struggled mightily. He missed multiple wide open nets and looked disinterested far too often. No question he was bad, but I don’t agree with suggestions he is no longer a top-six forward.

7. Over the past three seasons, he has the 23rd most points among left wingers. Even if you loathe him, there are not 60 better left wingers. I understand being frustrated with the season, but remember the Oilers as a team were terrible. They grossly underachieved. Lucic was one, but he wasn’t the only one, and he is one of the few Oilers with a proven track record of being productive.

8. Lucic was 27th in EV points in that time with 99. Evander Kane was 19th with 104. The gap to being in the top-20 was five points. No question Lucic should have to answer for his final 46 games, and he was very honest when the season ended. He admitted he wasn’t good enough. He lost confidence and wasn’t professional enough to get it back. That is on him, but I view the second half of last season as a slump, more than the norm for the future.

9. Robyn Regehr joined me on TSN 1260 today to discuss Jarome Iginla’s retirement. The entire interview is here, and Regehr shared a surprising story about Iginla. “One fun fact about Jarome. He really can’t skate backwards. He would do C cuts, but instead of using his legs to push out, he would just wiggle his butt and wouldn’t go anywhere. (laughing),” said Regehr.

NON-HOCKEY THOUGHTS…

1. Lebron James is the best player in the NBA. He is an exceptional talent, but we should talk more about what he does off the court. The Lebron James Family Foundation has done a lot for kids in Akron for years, but today they opened a school. It is amazing, and it is hard to quantify the impact this will have on kids and their families. We often focus on the mistakes athletes make off the ice/court/field, but don’t focus enough on the great things. James is an ideal role model for young kids. He is a great athlete, works incredibly hard to stay at the top, and is an ideal role model off the court. Controversy has never followed him and he has always given back.

2. Eskimos QB Mike Reilly is on pace for 6,100 passing yards and 39 touchdowns, but also 18 interceptions. The reigning Most Outstanding Player is off to a great start and looks poised to surpass his career high in yards and touchdowns. His great start isn’t just a hot stretch. Here is how he compares to the past few seasons.

Year            ATT   COMP     YARDS      TD      INT
2016           633      448        5554         28      12
2017           654      447        5830         30      13
2018           214      147        2063         13       6
prorated**  642      441        6189         39       18

Reilly is off to a great start and after 1/3 of the season he is the early leader to repeat as the MOP. He’d be the first back-to-back winner since Anthony Calvillo (2008-2009) and only the third player in the last 37 years. Doug Flutie won it 1991-1994 and again in 1996-1997.

3. Went to my first Nascar Canada race at the Edmonton International Raceway (by Wetaskiwin) on Saturday, and I really enjoyed it. They had an autograph signing on the track prior to the race and fans could were able to talk to drivers, take pictures and get a first-hand look up close of the cars. My son is four and he loved seeing the cars up close. He also got a shirt from Alex Tagliani’s team and that really fired him up. Fans of any sport like seeing things up close and while I’m far from a diehard racing fan, my son loved it and has already asked to go back. Smart decision by Nascar Canada to have such accessible access to the cars and drivers.

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  • Serious Gord

    1. Does anyone else see the similarities between Lucic and Wilson?

    2. Lebron is the greatest basketball player. And his philanthropy is commendable. But he should “shut up and dribble” – his mal-informed comments have contributed to sharp increases in inner city violence across the US.

  • SRELIOFAN

    We have an International Raceway in Edmonton!? Huh… You learn something new everyday. I will have to check it out!

    Also, awesome interview with Regehr, Gregor. He sounds like a great guy. Some great stories!

    • Reg Dunlop

      A true Oiler fan would spit if he uttered Regehr’s name. Anybody have an opinion on Lucic’s comments about DeRozan? Seemed a little harsh to me, but Whitney has a talent for extracting controversial comments.

  • 2centz

    Just watched a highlight package of Iginla, sure not hard to tell that man was a byproduct of Mark Messier playing for the Oilers and being from St.Albert. People like to always compare this prospect to that former player or whatever the case, but I’ve never seen two players that were as much alike as Messier and Iginla.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I would agree that Skjei is a decent but imperfect comparable for Nurse.

    I’m sure Nurse’s camp will point to this year’s box-cars that favor Nurse (in particular at even strength) but management should point to Skjei’s 39 points the previous season. That number blows Nurse’s career high of 26 out of the window is likely very close to a ceiling for Nurse’s offensive potential.

    I understand essentially zero PP time for Nurse is a factor, however, that is largely on Nurse as he has an average shot (at best) and is not a great puck distributor, in particular in the offensive zone – his skill set does not lend itself to PP efficiency, at least at this point of his development.

    Skjei had 1.4 P/60 (5 on 5) last season which blows away Nurse’s 0.93 this year.

    Additionally, Skjei had arbitration rights and Nurse did not, another important factor.

    Yes, Nurse has some things going for him (5th in the NHL in ES TOI, etc.) however both players played important top 4 minutes for their team and did well.

    At the end of the day, in my opinion, Skjei’s superior offensive career (and potential) and the arbitration rights should lead to his contract being an absolute cap for Nurse for a similar term, in my opinion.

    • Jason Gregor

      Nurse played 1602 minutes at EV…Skjei played 1500.
      Nurse had 26 EV points. Skjei had 18.

      If you want to break it down further… at5x5
      Nurse played 1538 minutes and had 20 points.
      Skjei played 1418 minutes and had 13 points.

      Info courtesy of Corsica.hockey… https://www.corsicahockey.com/nhl/players/nhl-player-stats

      I’m sorry, but your calculation of Pts/60 is incorrect. Nurse had seven more points in only 120 minutes more of 5×5 TOI this past season.

      Skjei did have a very good rookie year, no question, and the Rangers are paying him for that it would seem, but even if Oilers had cap space I highly doubt, based on convos I’ve had, Nurse’s camp would sign a long-term deal for anything less than an AAV starting with $5 mill.

      • OriginalPouzar

        No, Jason, my calculation is no incorrect, in 2016/17, Skjei has a 5 on 5 P/60 of 1.4 and this towers over anything that Nurse has done including his 0.93 P/60 at 5 on 5 this year. All figures via natural stat.

        Yes, they are comparing different years but Skjei’s 2016/17 season dwarfs anything Nurse has done offensively and I don’t think I’m off-base saying that Skjei is the higher end offensive player with the higher offensive ceiling.

        With that said, I don’t disagree that Nurse will not sign long term at anything less than $5M but, again, what I said was this $5.25M should cap Nurse’s contract for term (not saying it will because of Alex Tuch and Peter Chiarelli) but Skjei is better offensive player and he had arbitration rights when he signed – it should cap Nurse at this time (doesn’t mean it will though).

        • Jason Gregor

          I read it as last year…so my bad. As I pointed out he did have a great rookie year, but then took big step back. Rangers are banking on him bouncing back, but his best year he had 28 EV points to Nurse’s 26. His P/60 isn’t really a factor since they won’t be playing him that little moving forward. He only played 1,198 min that year, in sheltered minutes. Last year he played more min against better competition and will now moving forward. I look at straight up points, rather than P/60, just what I prefer as I find P/60 can skew things somewhat. Playing more minutes doesn’t always guarantee a player maintains the same P/60 ratio, unless they are the rare elite player.

          His rookie year he played mainly with Klein and Clendening in a 3rd pair role and last year played most with Kevin Shattenkirk. I’m curious to see where his offensive numbers go.

    • lee

      I agree, there are lots of players that are similar to Nurse who have settled for around 3 million. Nurse is never going to be an offensive d man, and that’s OK. But when you look at who makes the big money up front or at the back its the players who get lots of points.
      If Nurse doesn’t want a bridge deal at about 3 million, then the team should look to trade him.
      The return for him would be very similar, I’m not down on Nurse but he simply isn’t playing at the 5 million level yet.
      All these player who want to be paid for potential, potential is another way of saying he might be, or he could be. Agents will tell every GM that their player is like no other on the planet, they’re agents, they don’t deal with truth only potential.

  • orion

    I’m not sure Lucic’s slump is just the last 46 games. His even-strength points are a lot lower since coming to Edmonton. Fortunately he made up for it in the first year with 25 PP pts, but that was a career year for him. If you look at his EV and PP points per 82 games year by year:

    EV PP
    07/08 26 3
    08/09 39 9
    09/10 31 2
    10/11 50 15
    11/12 51 11
    12/13 45 4
    13/14 48 12
    14/15 36 8
    15/16 48 8
    16/17 25 25
    17/18 27 7

    Once he hit his stride in 10/11, most years he got 45-50 EV pts/82, until he started playing here. He’s going to have to find something he hasn’t had in 2 years..

    • OriginalPouzar

      Yup, this is correct, Lucic only struggling for the 2nd half of last season isn’t really being honest. He’s struggled at even strength both seasons and his decent overall production in 2016/17 was predicated on a PP heater that was not repeatable (he literally produced goals and points at double the rate of his previous career highs).

      I am hoping he can bounce back at evens and produce an overall 40-45 points, however, given his overall lack of production at 5 on 5 as an Oiler, my hope may be unreasonable.

      Come on Luc!

    • Jason Gregor

      Orion, Lucic scored 50 points his first year, by scoring so much on PP, it was unlikely he was going to score same on EV, otherwise he’d have blown away his career year.

      This past season he had 20 EV points in his first 36 games. (If you prorate that to full 82 games season it is 46 points). Pretty much same as he had in previous years, then as I’ve said many times, the wheels feel off in final 46 games and he struggled mightily. Anytime you use the entire season, of course the numbers will not look good. That is why I broke down his production without using the final 46 games, since, for me, it represents a significant outlier.

      • Bills Bills

        Jason when I looked back it became clear that Lucic was not used on special teams much in his time in Boston and LA. Do you think the added utilization on special teams has taken away from his 5X5? His historic numbers 5X5 have always been very good. But the one outlier was his first year in Edmonton where he had scored 12 pp goals. In the previous 3 he had a combined 7. Could lowering his special teams ice time improve his overall game?

        • crabman

          @Bills Bills,

          Where are you getting Lucic’s usage on the pp? Because in my own research using Hockey-reference.com it shows Lucic has consistently gotten around 2 minutes a game on the pp since 2010. This season with the Oilers he got 2:07. The year before he did have a career high 2:44 pp/game time but he has played close to those numbers before.
          2010-11 2:30
          11-12 2:12
          12-13 1:58
          13-14 2:20
          14-15 1:49
          15-16 2:07

          I don’t see a significant difference in use on the pp over the past 8 seasons and 3 teams he’s played for. especially not enough to account for is reduced production and efficiency at 5×5

      • OriginalPouzar

        I think over the two years as an Oiler, the 20 even strength points in 36 games is the outlier as he has been very unproductive at evens in the other 3/4 of the games. Thank goodness for that PP heater in the first season.

        I haven’t given up on the player, I am hopeful for a bounce back season at evens but the numbers really show that its been a two year negative trend. It also matches the eye test where, for long stretches in both years, he was struggling to make simple plays, taking passes at the blueline, making passes in the neutral zone in transition, etc.

        Hopefully he can turn that around. I’m sure hopeful.

        A 45 point Lucic would be massive for the lineup.

        • Sammy27

          I think most people will back off ( maybe) if Milan chips in a few more points on a more consistent basis. I think he can still skate well enough, get in on the forecheck, intimidate 99% of the opposition and hopefully provide some off ice leadership for the younger players. But PLEASE the passes at the blueline/transition zone thing drives me crazy….