GDB Game Notes: Oilers @ Leafs: McDavid Returns

It feels odd to write Connor McDavid returns from suspension, but that is indeed what will unfold tonight in Toronto when the NHL’s third leading scorer returns to the Edmonton Oilers lineup. His teammates played quite well in his absence, picking up three of a possible four points, but under the most blatant Captain Obvious caption, McDavid’s return will be a major boost for the Oilers. He is always excited to play, but after sitting out consecutive games for the first time in three years and playing in his home province, I expect McDavid to be very amped up for tonight’s tilt.

1. His first five-point game came against the Maple Leafs on February 11th, 2016. He has 4-4-8 in five games against the Leafs. Tonight’s game will be televised nationally and his return from suspension will only build the hype. I expect an electric atmosphere and with four of the league’s top-15 goal scorers — Leon Draisaitl, John Tavares, McDavid and Auston Matthews — on the ice, we should be very entertained.

2. Draisaitl has been outstanding for the past month. He has 14 goals in his past 14 games and he’s averaging 23:22/game, trailing only McDavid’s 23:28/game and Patrick Kane at 23:29/game. In the three games McDavid missed this past week Draisaitl produced five points. The notion that he only scores with McDavid should never be mentioned again. I wonder what lines Ken Hitchcock will run with tonight. He could run McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH as three centres, but the major problem there is the lack of scoring wingers. Draisaitl has produced despite playing with Tobias Rieder, who, while skating well lately, has zero touch around the net. Rieder’s confidence is so low that when he has partial breakaways he isn’t even getting a shot on goal. I suspect RNH will play wing with one of McDavid or Draisaitl.

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3. Having RNH on one of their wings is the best way to generate offence. In the four games McDavid missed this season the Oilers have scored seven goals, and Draisaitl was in on six of them. It is obvious they need to add some complementary wingers who can produce next summer. They don’t have to be 20-goal scorers. Just some wingers who can score 10-12 goals. That would be a major improvement. On top of Chiasson, if the Oilers had just three wingers with ten goals the Oilers would be much better off. Of course you’d love to add a 20-goal scorer, but even a low-end mark of ten goals would be a big boost for next year — which is why I think the Oilers should try to re-sign Chiasson. If he scores 12 goals — his average the past six years — he’d be a very solid bottom-six winger.

4. I was surprised the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t add anything to their blueline at the deadline. I know they got Jake Muzzin a few weeks ago, but I still don’t think their defence is good enough to beat Boston or Tampa Bay. The Leafs added nothing last year and they didn’t win a round, and this year Kyle Dubas only made one addition. Matthews’ $11.6m contract kicks in next year while Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and  Andreas Johnsson are RFAs, and Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey are UFAs. The Leafs’ depth will take a hit and it will be harder to win. The normal cycle of the NHL in a salary cap world.

5. The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, yet if you read and listen to many out of Toronto, and even in other places, the Leafs were, and are, one of the favourites for the Cup. I’ve never understood this. They haven’t won anything. And while many applaud Kyle Dubas; his team is competitive, no question, but when he had cap space I feel he didn’t do enough to bolster his group. Currently the Leafs surrender the seventh most shots/game in the NHL and rely heavily on Freddy Anderson. It is great to have an excellent goalie, but the Leafs team defence is still their major weakness and it has been for the past few seasons.

6. I will be very intrigued to read and hear what those who have pumped up the Leafs and Dubas will say if the Leafs lose out in the first round again. They’ve built a good regular season team, but until they prove they can win a playoff series and limit the opposition’s scoring, I’m not high on the Leafs. They allowed 28 goals in their seven-game series loss to the Bruins last year. I’m sorry, but you aren’t winning in the playoffs when you allow four goals per game. Is their team defence that much better a year later?

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7. The fact is I like watching the Leafs. They are entertaining, but the over-hype coming out of Toronto gets to me. Maybe it brings back childhood memories of always having to watch them on Hockey Night in Canada when we only got one game a week and it was always the Leafs, but for an organization that hasn’t won a playoff series in 15 years, I find the praise a bit much. Former Nation writer and a guy I respect, Jonathon Willis, posted this recently.

I don’t discount the Oilers need to invest more on analytics. They have so many things they need to do better, and that is one of them. However, my question is: why is Toronto the obvious template? Have they accomplished more than Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Winnipeg or other teams? Toronto has built a solid regular season team, but since Lou Lamoriello left has Dubas made their team any better? Discuss below.

8. Mark Stone is an excellent winger, and no question he will help Vegas, but I disagree with the notion the Golden Knights were the big winner on trade deadline and are now a favourite in the West. They have been brutal in 2019. Since January 1st they are 22nd in points gained with 21, one more than the Oilers. Calgary has 35 points, San Jose 33 and Nashville 31 in 2019.  Stone will be a big boost for Vegas, but he is one player, and except for a stretch between November 18th to December 20th, when they went 12-4-1, the Golden Knights have been below average. They are 21-22-4 prior and before and after that one hot month. Stone gives them a legit scorer, no question, but Nashville, Winnipeg and San Jose also improved their teams and are playing better right now.

9. I think the Sharks’ acquisition of Gustav Nyquist was brilliant. He gives them another offensive weapon. He has 49 points this season, and will shatter his career-high of 54 points. Even with 49 points, he is now the seventh highest scorer on the Sharks. They have loads of offence. Nyqvist would be second on Vegas in scoring behind Stone and third on both Winnipeg and Nashville. Only Calgary, where he’d be sixth, has high-end offensive depth to match the Sharks. Vegas is going to have to face one of them in the first round, most likely. Maybe the Golden Knights’ top guys like Marchessault, Karlsson, Smith, Pacioretty and Stastny will all get ignited due to Stone’s presence, but right now Vegas is not nearly as consistent or dominant as they were last season.

10. I expected Leon Draisaitl to have 80+ points this season, but I didn’t see a potential 50-goal season coming. Draisaitl has become a finisher. I’m sure someone will bring up his shooting % and how it isn’t sustainable long-term, which of course it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean he can’t maintain it for the rest of this season. Draisaitl has always been a passer. “I always got more excited setting up a guy for a goal than scoring one myself,” he told me earlier this season when we discussed his passing prowess. While Draisaitl has become more of a goal scorer he hasn’t lost any of his passing skills. He’s still an outstanding passer, on both his forehand and backhand, but he has added a shooter’s mentality. Scoring 50 goals in a season is a remarkable achievement, especially in today’s game. I hope it happens.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/27/2019 – 7:00 am MT

  • Abagofpucks

    Leon should get to 50 goals, and what he has done so far this year makes him look like a value contract. This should stuff a cork in it for most of the nay sayers. And i’m looking for a big night for Conner tonight, because he always seems to have a big night after an absence, not to mention it’s a game against the team he grew up cheering for.

  • Oilerz4life

    Game in Toronto, hmm, McDavid and what exactly that has to do with the Maple Leafs.

    SN and mentally stunned media speculation in the “center of the universe.”

  • OilersBro

    Going to the game live with a bunch of ‘Berta Beauties… instead of a “Connor’s better” chant (referencing Matthews), how disrespectful would a “Leon’s Better” chant be ?.
    I kid but I’d love to see Leon tear it up

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Leon’s been a beast since his first full season. That 8.5 mil is already looking like a beauty contract. Also, huge props to MacT for picking Leon over Bennett in 2014. A popular narrative at the time was “Leon’s slow, Sam is speedy, pick the feisty Canadian kid.” Thank gord he picked Draisaitl, who’s on pace to score 100 this year. Bennett’s career total to date is 113 points.

  • Christian Pagnani

    Hey Jason,

    I agree with Willis that Toronto should be the template because the process they’ve embraced is something the Oilers badly need. I also agree the Leafs didn’t do enough and their defence, especially the right side, likely isn’t good enough against a Boston or Tampa Bay, but I think Toronto is the template because they are the one of the few teams who were in a very similar position to the Oilers.

    Nashville and San Jose have been more or less consistently good for a while. Winnipeg’s decision-making and asset management has always been completely opposite Edmonton’s. Vegas is an expansion team and the Oilers won’t get that opportunity.

    Toronto was where Edmonton is. They overvalued size and toughness. Spent too much on mediocre, declining free agents and generally valued the wrong things. They hired someone who completely cleaned house and brought in voices different than the ones that created their mess, something the Oilers desperately need to do. They got rid of a ton of bad contracts without retaining on most of them – another thing the Oilers will have to do.

    There are things they could pick up from Nashville/San Jose/Vegas/Winnipeg, but I’d follow what the Leafs in terms of restructuring their management and philosophy. None of those teams had such a radical philosophy/management change as the Leafs, which is what the Oilers desperately need. I think we have to be careful of not judging the results over the process. I consider the Leafs’ process to be very good in most parts.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      Jonathon Willis tried to argue Mark Fayne was better than Darnell Nurse, using “analytics”.

      Now he is saying the Oilers should model their organization after a team that has won a single playoff series in 15 years and are heading for salary cap hell with a bad blueline??

      Maybe if he said: Tampa Bay Lightning it would give him some credibility…..

    • Jason Gregor

      @Christian… I didn’t say it was bad, but if they don’t win a playoff round and then contracts kick in their situation changes. I’ve never defended how Chiarelli did things. I just tire of Toronto is doing things great. They have loads of forwards, but still lack D and I believe that will be their downfall.

      No arguing in their hiring of Shanahan to oversee entire organization. He has been great. Leafs are good, no question, but Chicago, Pittsburgh and LA were all terrible, then built a Cup winning team. I’d still learn from what they did over Leafs, to this point, is probably a better way of saying it. Winnipeg built their team from junk, and has had more playoff success than the Leafs.

  • My Water Tastes Funny

    Leon is such an enormous talent that at times I feel he could do more. That’s probably unfair on my part but I sense there is even another level in there somewhere. Reminds me of Mats Sundin, who was so big and skilled but you always thought could have done more.

  • Randomfan

    Watch oilers get smashed out of the arena today. Too much hate against the leafs here and for what? For them being better then us? Well then play better..draft better..develop better. Show some class folks. Secretly all of you would trade oilers for leafs in a heartbeat minus connor and leon ofcourse.

    Screw the eastern bias. Its going to be there till the end of humanity. Just tip your hat to a better team and enjoy hockey.

  • D

    While I expect the Leafs to be favoured to win tonight, really the only template they serve for the Oilers is how to race through the regular season only to topple out in the first round of the playoffs. Same with the Flames.

  • Rick Stroppel

    There used to be a tradition in Canadian NHL cities that when a player got 50 goals a local dealership would give him a new car. I am serious. It would be great advertising for the dealership. People would say “there goes the Rocket in his new Caddy…wonder where he got it?” I remember 31 years ago, 1988, when Craig Simpson became the last Oiler to score 50 goals (56), I saw Simpson in a brand new Ford Probe GT. I thought, “I hope that’s a loaner, he deserves a better car than that!” If Draisaitl scores 50 goals, somebody needs to step up and give him a new car…make it a good one!

  • btrain

    Spot on Jason regarding the Leaf hype. Woke up to an article notification in the Athletic titled: ‘Five Lessons the Oilers can Learn from the Maple Leafs’ Successful Rebuild’. Although success is subjective, I think everyone not drinking the kool-aid would agree, when it comes to professional sports, success is measured in the playoffs. As you point out Jason, the Leafs are from from “arrived” when it comes to Playoffs success.

    I suppose if they want to use the Oilers as their comparative group, they look fantastic! but you can’t find a lower, self-inflicting, bar than that across the league.

    How about the Leafs compare themselves to the Hawks of a decade ago, the Pens, the Caps, the Lighting, the Jets, even the Bruins and Flames who are as good and likely superior to them today. Why not look at the Shark’s who would be up with the lighting if they had Andersen in net, when the Leafs would be battling for a wildcard spot with Jones.

    They are example of putting the cart before the horse by looking down to determine their success instead of up.

  • Wadentheshade

    the Oilers have a better chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the lottery (8 per cent) than they do of making the playoffs (3 per cent). Translation: Nobody’s cheering harder for an Oilers playoff push than Jack Hughes.

    From an article I just read. Sounds like a true story.

  • The difference between the Leafs and teams like Nashville and San Jose is that this Leafs management group inherited a decade-long failed rebuild and turned it into a contender 3-4 seasons. Teams like Nashville and San Jose have been well-managed by the same group years and haven’t been through failed rebuild after failed rebuild. The Oilers are in the same position the Leafs were in after Nonis completely pooped the bed, and they should look to Shanahan and co. for how to right the ship.

    Has Dubas made the Leafs better since taking over? Unquestionably. Could he do more? Sure. That’s true of every GM in the league not named Doug Wilson.

    • Cowbell_Feva

      Dubas signed a player (Matthews) to shorter term than both 97 and 29, allowing him to get to UFA status 3 years earlier…. he also gave up picks and prospects for Muzzin. The team is basically the same, maybe slightly better, but has mortgaged a lot of the future at the same time. I’m not sure this team is any better than they were last year.
      JVR and his 30 goals went out and Tavares and his $11 million came in…dollars for cap hit the Leafs took a hit….lets see how this team fares come playoffs before anybody hails Dubas as a genius….because next year with Marner and his contract in the mix, without Nylander, we will see how the team looks

      • Dubas signed #1 centre John Tavares and traded for top-four defenseman Jake Muzzin, and re-signed two of their top four forwards to long-term deals, graduated a pair of very good forwards from the Marlies in Johnsson and Kapanen and let Bozak (not good) and JVR (good in a sheltered role) walk.

        He unquestionably has made the team better.

      • This a totally bizarre and irrelevant comment. The Oilers made it past the first round in 16-17. They’re not a contender this year. The Leafs are one of the best teams in the league on paper, by record, and by underlying numbers. They have phenomenal forward depth, a decent defense, and one of the best goalies in the league. That makes them a contender. If they don’t make it past the first round again this year, that won’t change that fact – it’ll be because of the stupid way the NHL has structured the playoffs and the fact that the 2nd-best and 3rd-best teams in the East are going to play in the first round this year.

  • Oiler Al

    The Leafs are closer to a run than the Oilers, in a shorter rebuild if you may.
    There is a 77 goal diff., between the two teams.Thats a span.Leafs are 5th and Oilers 26th in leagues standings.!They have a solid tender in net.Their
    defense need tweeking [Muzin addition was a big move].
    They will have problems with the [“heavy game..play off time].
    The media are homers because the Nationals are based in Toronto.The worst homer[worse than Garett] is Bo dog on the TSN panel,he is an ex Leaf. I think if the Oil play the trap they might have a chance.
    PS> I want to trade for Nylander this summer.[Larsson + ].

    • Cowbell_Feva

      Freddy Andersson is easily their most important player. Everyone talks about the Matthews/Marner/Tavares guys as carrying the team, but they aren’t stopping 40+ shots per night, nearly every night!

      When he got hurt they went 1-5. If he ever gets knicked up this spring they will get swept. With that blueline and Sparks in net the Leafs would be lucky to be within 2 or 3 goals per game.