NHL rookies will arrive in 31 cities next week, followed closely by rookie tournaments, and the start of NHL main camps is only 18 days away. Another NHL season is right around the corner, and as usual, there is much excitement, and some concern, in most markets. I’m refreshed after a relaxing two-weeks away from work, but September is one of the best sporting months of the year and I’m pumped to be back working.
As we get closer to main camp, here are some thoughts on what to expect from the Oilers.
1. Darnell Nurse‘s contract is the main topic in Oilersnation right now. With the injury to Andre Sekera the last thing Oilers fans want to see is Nurse not on the ice for the first day of training camp. I understand the concern, but there is still ample time to get a deal done. Nurse is among four good young RFA defenders yet to sign, along with Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg), Shea Theodore (Vegas) and Noah Hanafin (Calgary). All four teams and the players’ camps could be waiting for the others to see if a new negotiating line will be set, but I don’t see Nurse’s bargaining position on a bridge deal changing very much regardless of whether the other three sign deals.
2. Neither side wants to negotiate publicly, which is wise, and from conversations I’ve had, the lack of contract in no way suggests animosity. This is a business. Some deals take longer than others, but the Oilers really like Nurse. This is one of the few times NHL teams have more bargaining power. Nurse, like the other three RFA defenders, doesn’t have arbitration rights, so in theory, the team has a bit more control in the negotiations. The reality of negotiations is both the team and the agent will look at comparables, and the fact is there haven’t been many two-year bridge deals for big money.
3. Jacob Trouba had a $3 million AAV on his two-year deal in 2016. He signed it on November 7th and missed the first 14 games of the season. PK Subban also held out in the lockout-shortened 2012/2013 season and missed the first six games before signing a two-year deal worth $2.875 million/year on January 28th, 2013. Subban had produced seasons of 38 and 36 points prior to holding out, and then he won the Norris Trophy in 2013. He signed an eight-year extension on August 2nd, 2014, worth $9m/year. Nurse’s camp should try to get as much as they can, but they don’t have much negotiating power at this point, and sitting out a month won’t get him a bigger contract based on past history.
4. I understand Nurse’s camp wanting to get as much as they can for their client, and they could use Brandon Montour’s two-year, $3,387 million/year as a comparable. He signed with the Ducks in July after producing 32 points last season. He is a different style of defender, but when you see his contract I see no reason why the Oilers and Nurse can’t agree on something in the range of $2.9- $3.2 million/year.
5. The Oilers additions to their roster this summer have not been big-name acquisitions, and I understand those who believe they haven’t done enough to improve after last year’s disappointing season. However, I think the additions to the coaching staff will pay off. Trent Yawney will add a lot to the blueline. He knows how to work with young D-men and his more upbeat approach will be a welcome addition. Glen Gulutzan had a lot of NHL experience and a fresh voice. And after coaching against the Oilers the past few years, he will know first hand what they did well and where they were vulnerable. I think Manny Viveiros will also add a lot, especially on the power play, and his reputation of being a great communicator and coaching in Europe will help Jesse Puljujarvi’s development. I’m not expecting a sudden, drastic surge from Puljujarvi, but the more he and Viveiros get to know each other, the more he will improve. Much of his improvement will come from simple age and experience, but I won’t be surprised if he and Viveiros work together a lot.
6. Speaking of the power play, I could see the Oilers mirroring Pittsburgh model: load up the top unit and play it close to 90 seconds. I think the first four spots will be Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oscar Klefbom. The fifth spot is up for grabs, and while a right shot makes sense, I see them missing a net front presence, so I don’t think it has to be a right shot. The key for the first unit will be: are the players working hard enough? Last year the top unit simply didn’t outwork the penalty killers. There was a lot of focus on the system and Jay Woodcroft, but the harsh truth was the players didn’t work hard enough or smart enough at times. That will have to change this year. They can’t just assume they will produce because they have elite skill in McDavid and Draisaitl. They will need to work harder.
7. I know many want Jesse Puljujarvi on the first unit PP, but I wouldn’t have him there ahead of Nugent-Hopkins just because he shoots right. I don’t think Puljujarvi is a net-front presence type player just yet, and neither is RNH. I’m very curious to see who gets the opportunity there. Milan Lucic did well there in 2017, but historically he hasn’t been a great PP producer. Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira or even Pontus Aberg might get a look in that specific role. The net front player doesn’t have to be a great shooter. They have to have good instincts, read the play well and also be able to win puck battles.
8. I don’t have Kailer Yamamoto on the opening night roster. There is nothing wrong with developing his game in the AHL. If he is on the NHL roster he is in their top-six, and that means playing against tough competition. I don’t think he has the strength just yet. He has also needs to improve the velocity on his shot. I’d play him on the top line in the AHL and on their first PP unit and let him get used to battling against men. The jump from the CHL to the AHL is very difficult and at this point I don’t see Yamamoto being more effective than Ty Rattie. Yamamoto’s long-term ceiling is likely higher, but right now I think it is best he starts in the minors.
9. I like the Scottie Upshall PTO. He is very competitive and is an upbeat, talkative player. The Oilers could use an experienced voice around now and then, and Upshall has proven he can fill a specific role and do it well. Unless he really struggles, I see him signing a one-year deal before the season starts. I don’t know much about Jakub Jerabek, but got this from an Eastern Conference scout. “He has good hockey sense, good puck mover. Can start a breakout. Lacks some size, but competes. If given a real opportunity he could be a solid, reliable third pairing defender.”
10. I applaud the NHL for not reinstating Vyacheslav Voynov. Here is a great opportunity for the league to make a stand. They do not accept domestic abuse. Voynov is free to make a living playing in the KHL, and I hope the NHL doesn’t change their stance on his eligibility moving forward.
11. What a great story for Brooke Henderson. I love seeing Canadians succeed in anything, and for her to win in Canada was awesome. She is the best Canadian golfer right now, and at only 20 years of age she could become the greatest Canadian golfer, male or female, we’ve ever produced. It has been fun watching her career to this point, and I’m intrigued by what her future holds.
12. I didn’t buy the Marian Hossa skin allergy, nor am I buying the Henrik Zetterberg back injury. Zetterberg played all 82 games last season producing a solid 56 points. Hossa had 26 goals in his final season, but then over the summer both had ailments that were too tough to overcome. Is it that or the fact their salaries dropped significantly? I’m going with the latter. Yes, some doctor said Hossa has a skin allergy, and I don’t doubt he does, but when he was making $5 million he could deal with it, and now Zetterberg has a wonky back. Please. And the teams don’t fight it because they get the cap space and move on, while the players get paid. Next year Roberto Luongo’s salary will be $1.6 million and then he has two more years at $1 million. I won’t be stunned if next September he is battling an injury.