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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Toughest All-Canadian Matchup

Happy Monday, dear citizens, and welcome to another edition of Mailbag where I’ve taken your Oilers questions, emailed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their answers right here on this very website. This week, we’re looking at the challenges the NHL will face ahead of the season, player pressure, a potential taxi squad, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

July 28, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA; A general view of game action during the second period of the exhibition game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on July 28, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Mandatory Credit: Dave Sandford/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports

1) Terry asks – Now that we know the NHL will be coming back for a 56-game season starting in January, what do you see as the biggest challenges the league faces before the season begins?

Jason Gregor:

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COVID is the biggest challenge. From an on-ice standpoint, the biggest challenge will be for coaches to get players on the same page and understanding the system etc. With only one new face on the blueline, I think that is positive for Dave Tippett as only Tyson Barrie has to pick up the system. And it won’t be that difficult for him.

Robin Brownlee:

We know 56 games starting Jan. 13 is the plan, but that doesn’t mean it’ll play out that way. The biggest challenge is rolling out the plan as stated today. COVID will dictate and the situation today (Dec. 14) will be different 10 days from today, 20 days from today, especially if Christmas is the same super-spreader event that Thanksgiving was (it will be worse). I’ll double down — it’s probably quadrupling down with the number of times I’ve said it over the few weeks — and say I think Jan. 13 is extremely optimistic, at best. The challenge, to answer your question, will be to have a workable Plan B that addresses the worst possible scenario.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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Assuming that they truly do have all the money issues figured out, then the biggest hurdle is going to be getting everyone into their team’s cities and preventing early outbreaks.

Nation Dan:

I think the biggest challenges are going to be the minutia of details like the agreement between the teams and the players regarding the rules for what they are and aren’t allowed to do in their off-time. There is going to need to be a balance throughout the process. Money can always play a role and dictate the way things go as well. The protocol around postponements and how to schedule the season to have “release valves” for bottlenecks in delays. So many things to consider.

Baggedmilk:

With COVID-19 still very much at the forefront, the NHL will have to navigate the unknowns of this virus as it tries to put the new season together. From the health of the players to the logistics of moving everyone around, having to get the train on the rails while wading through these waters will certainly be difficult.

Feb 1, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

2) Taylor asks – Which Oiler do you see as having the most pressure on him to produce this season? Why?

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Jason Gregor:

Probably Barrie and Nugent-Hopkins as both are set to be UFAs at the end of the season, and a good year might lead to an extra year on a contract.

Robin Brownlee:

I’m not sure pressure is the right word, but Kailer Yamamoto’s ability to produce at something resembling his pace of last season (26 points in 27 games) will go a long way in determining what Edmonton’s top-six forward mix will look like. He doesn’t need to score at last season’s pace, but he can’t drop right off either.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

If this is purely from an offensive production standpoint, then it’s probably Tyson Barrie. He’s looking to re-establish himself a little bit and when you consider the fact he’s on a one-year contract, there is definitely pressure on him.

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Nation Dan:

The player I think that is going to see the most pressure from the team is going to be Mikko Koskinen. Our defence didn’t get much better in the offseason (if not a slight downgrade thanks to injury) and Mike Smith hasn’t been consistent. As for personal pressure, Tyson Barrie has to be feeling a lot of pressure to make sure, in the perfect situation for him, that he excels.

Baggedmilk:

Anyone on a contract year will have pressure to perform. For Nugent-Hopkins and Barrie, they’ll be looking at their next deal. For Chiasson, he’ll be battling for his next job. Lots of pressure to go around this season.

Jan 11, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Joakim Nygard (10) skates during the warmup period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

3) Clay asks – If the NHL decides to expand rosters for the upcoming season, who do you see as the most likely players or prospects to fill the Oilers taxi squad?

Jason Gregor:

Edmonton has 17 forwards on one-way contracts, so Patrick Russell, Joakim Nygard and Alan Quine up front with Evan Bouchard as the 8th D-man and Anton Forsberg will be the third goalie. If the AHL gets going, then Bouchard would go down and I could see Theodor Lennstrom as the 8th Dman.

Robin Brownlee:

I’m thinking Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, Tyler Benson, Patrick Russell and Alan Quine are likely candidates. Anton Forsberg looks like the third goaltender.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

On Oilersnation Radio, I argued that Evan Bouchard should be up with the NHL team for the entire season. I also think players like William Lagesson and Cooper Marody would benefit from being up in the NHL rather than down in the AHL for the entire season.

Nation Dan:

We’re going to have to watch and see if they structure in some cap relief for teams as the pandemic has what 11 (at the time of writing this answer) teams over the cap? If there was no relief, I think you’re going to see NHL ready players on our black aces. Guys like Haas, Nygaard, maybe even Adam Cracknell in the forward ranks. As for defence, I am honestly not sure. I don’t see the Oilers wanting Evan Bouchard up there, not playing games, but he and Lagesson are probably the next best choices up.

Baggedmilk:

Bouchard, Nygard, Haas, and Anton Forsberg will be my guess!

Mar 9, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) tries to knock the puck away from Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

4) Anthony asks – The all-Canadian division is going to be really exciting to watch. Which team do you think is going to be the toughest matchup for Edmonton?

Jason Gregor:

Toronto is 5-1 v. the Oilers the past three seasons and outscored Edmonton 24-15. They have struggled to stop the Maple Leafs offence. And Winnipeg’s hard, aggressive forecheck has given Edmonton problem in the past as well.

Robin Brownlee:

I think it might be Calgary, at least I hope it is for the benefit of fans in both cities. That’s based largely on Jacob Markstrom being an upgrade in goal and the addition of Chris Tanev to mitigate the loss of T.J. Brodie.

Nation Dan:

For me, the benchmark for how the Oilers do is our record against the Flames and the Leafs. Those are the other two in the divisional top three in my opinion.

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Tyler Yaremchuk:

I personally think it will be either the Leafs or Jets. Both of those teams have really good forward groups and when it comes to the Jets, they also have the reigning Vezina Trophy Winner. They could both be problems for the Oilers.

Baggedmilk:

The Leafs will be tough because they have a lot of offensive firepower, but I also think the Flames will be a difficult matchup because of how emotional those games can be. In a series against the Flames, discipline could be a big factor.

July 28, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA; A general view of Rogers Place is seen before an exhibition game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on July 28, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Mandatory Credit: Andy Devlin/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports

5) Yves asks – John Shannon reported that the NHL is planning the private purchase of COVID-19 vaccines and I’d like everyone’s thoughts on athletes skipping the line?

Jason Gregor:

Shannon’s first tweet wasn’t very specific.

First off, NHL teams and private companies won’t be able to purchase the Pfizer vaccine. So it won’t be even possible until Moderna, J&J and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines are available. Also, Shannon followed up on his original tweet that the NHL has no plans to get ahead of health care workers or the most vulnerable.

You could purchase a private COVID test if you wanted to, and some people/companies did, so I won’t be surprised if Moderna or the others sell it privately. Canada’s health minister, Patty Hadju, said last week that Canada doesn’t have any “mechanisms to block corporations from purchasing a vaccine on a contractual basis.”

Once health care workers and the most vulnerable have the vaccine, I could see some corporations purchasing it for their employees, and I suspect the NHL would look into it at that point. There is no way they would risk buying it before those two groups as the backlash from fans would be immense.

Robin Brownlee:

Athletes won’t be skipping the line. The initial tweet by Shannon was clarified shortly after it first came out. “John Shannon, an NHL insider and long-time hockey reporter, tweeted the report on Thursday, noting that it’s only an interest of the NHL at this point, “when and if it’s available for private purchase.” The league also is adamant that they would not jump the line to do so,” he added. The NHL has not officially commented on the reports.”

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I don’t like the idea of it. They should wait like everyone else. But, as Wanye pointed out on the Real Life Podcast, money talks and that’s the reality of the situation. It’s a horrible look, but I don’t think that’s going to stop them if there’s a chance to buy vaccines.

Nation Dan:

Morally, it’s a tough sell for me but it’s the logical move. This pandemic has shown a lot of true colours and the colour green is chief amongst them all. If they can afford it, and a company is willing to set aside some, then that’s their decision.

Baggedmilk:

For my answer, I turn it over to AC/DC.

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