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.
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?
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.
The obvious template for Edmonton's rebuilt front office is clear: Toronto.
The Oilers have the resources to go heavy into analytics, to hire a credible team with *varied* experiences, and to be at the leading edge of modern hockey thinking.
That should be the goal.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) January 23, 2019
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