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Monday Mailbag – Defencemen Getting Paid

We’re back on another Monday with a brand new Mailbag to not only get your week started but also to make sense of what’s going on with our beloved Edmonton Oilers! This week, we’re looking at Darnell Nurse’s new contract, line combos, Kailer Yamamoto, and more. If you’ve got got a question you’d like to ask, 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.

Mar 29, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) scores the game winning goal past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Michael Hutchinson (30) in overtime at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

1) Taylor asks – What does everyone make of the giant contracts some defencemen are getting this offseason, especially with Nurse landing his own deal on Friday afternoon?

Jason Gregor:

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They are still less than what Doughty ($11m) and Karlsson ($11.5m) signed for a few seasons ago when the cap was lower. Top D-men play more minutes than forwards so it isn’t a big surprise to me. Players who can play 25+ minutes a night and be effective are vital to team success.

Robin Brownlee:

That’s the market. When Jones and Hamilton got their deals, you knew Nurse was going to be in the same neighborhood. D-men who play first-pairing minutes and produce points get paid — especially as UFA’s.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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It really feels like teams just don’t want to risk losing good, young defenseman and are willing to pay more than they were before to make sure they don’t get to market. I personally don’t mind it. In the cap era, it’s always felt like star players got less than they deserved while average players got overpaid, and personally, I’d like to see that change. If you have a good, young player on your roster, you should do everything in your power to lock them up.

Baggedmilk:

I wrote about this a little bit on Saturday, but it wasn’t exactly surprising to see Nurse grab the bag after seeing some of the other contracts that got handed out to d-men this summer. Is it too much? Yep, but that was the going rate and clearly, Ken Holland felt the need to lock him in. We’ll see how this one plays out.

Feb 20, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (11) plays the puck against Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

2) Kevin asks – With Zach Hyman now signed, could you see Dave Tippett keeping McDavid and Draisaitl together and having the new guy along RNH on the second line?

Jason Gregor:

I don’t think 97 and 29 play together all the time, but I could see them skating 30-40% of their TOI together. Hyman-RNH-Puljujarvi could be a solid second line and I could see Tippett trying that trio to see what they do. If they play well and produce, then playing the Dynamic Duo more often is a big advantage. Colorado has loaded up their top line for a few years, same as Boston and they’ve had lots of regular season success. I do think in playoffs 97 and 29 would run their own lines.

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Robin Brownlee:

Draisaitl and McDavid will play together this season, The only question is how much. So, yes, I expect we’ll see Hyman with RNH at some point. We could also see McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH in the middle at the same time on separate lines.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

It’s an interesting idea. McDavid with Draisaitl and Foegele could leave you Hyman and Puljujarvi to play with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, which could be a very good second line. They have a lot of forwards who can play different positions so there are plenty of different combinations that could work.

Baggedmilk:

We all know that the blender will be out at varying points of the season and we’ll have to wait and see how much Tippett leans on Connor and Leon to put the rock up hill.

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Feb 16, 2020; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) celebrates his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

3) Yves asks – Kailer Yamamoto didn’t have the best season in 2020-21. What does he need to do this upcoming season to ensure he rebounds because the Oilers need him to produce?

Jason Gregor:

Have a good start. Confidence is a must for players to produce, and for the final 40 games last year you could tell Yamamato didn’t have much. A good summer of adding more strength to his diminutive frame should also help him stay healthy.

Robin Brownlee:

His 2019-20 season raised expectations because Yamamoto had some hot stretches with RNH and Draisaitl, plus everything he shot went in — he was at 25 per cent. His shot rate dropped off slightly last season and his shooting percentage fell to 11.6 per cent. No matter who he plays with, Yamamoto has to keep doing what he’s done — strip pucks, create turnovers and be around the net.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

He just has to finish more. He goes to the tough areas of the ice and gets scoring chances, he just can’t score. If he works on his shot and finishing ability, I think his numbers can bounce back.

Baggedmilk:

I would be more worried about Yamamoto if he wasn’t getting chances but the guy was cursed in 2021 and just couldn’t cash to save his life. If he keeps working hard and busting his ass as he always has, I’d bet on seeing a bounce back year from Yamo.

Jan 31, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (50) makes a save against Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk (7) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

4) Robyn asks – What are the chances of Oliver Rodrigue or even Stuart Skinner ever playing for the big team? I remember when they were both drafted and the talk around them was pretty positive. I was a little surprised that Rodrigue didn’t end up on the Taxi Squad when Smith was hurt at the beginning of last season. Am I putting too much stock in our goalie prospects?

Jason Gregor:

Rodrique being on TS would have been a bad decision. He needed to play games. He was one of 29 goalies drafted in 2018. Only Ivan Prosvetov (three GP) and Veini Vehvilainen (one GP) have played in the NHL. It is still very early in his development. He will need to show improvement in the AHL this season, but he is probably still a few years away.

Skinner needs to dominate in the AHL this season to show he is ready for the NHL. Historically most goalies have .920sv% or higher in the AHL, before they are recalled and become regular NHL goalies. Of course there are some exceptions, but Skinner will need to raise his sv%, which was .914 last year, to over .920 this season. Of the 28 goalies drafted in 2017, he is one of nine who has played at least one NHL game. Only Jake Oettinger (29) and Jeremy Swayman (10) have played double digit games thus far.

Robin Brownlee:

I don’t know if “ever playing for the team” is putting too much stock in the goaltending prospects. “Ever” is a low bar. Skinner is 22 and Rodrigue is 21, so both have time to develop. Are either one of them the answer when Smith and Koskinen are done? I don’t know. I know what their numbers are but I haven’t seen enough of either of them to say with certainty.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I don’t think either will see any with the Oilers this season. With Smith, Koskinen, and Stalock all signed, there likely won’t be a situation where a young goalie gets a legit look in the NHL. I will say, the goaltending prospect that excites me the most is Ilya Konovalov. His KHL numbers have been very good for the past few seasons.

Baggedmilk:

Goalies are voodoo so I have no idea when or who will be able to grab the Oilers crease. Fingers crossed one of Skinner, Rodrigue, or Konovalov will be able to earn the job at some point soon.

Apr 14, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers anthem singer Robert Clark signs O’Canada with 18,000 Edmonton Oilers fans in game two of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place.

5) Daniel asks – Going back to Jason Arnott, Oilers fans have criticized good to great oilers players to the point where many have decided to move on because of the negative environment. Or they’ve spoken about how tough it is to play here because of the negative fan attention. Arnott, Schultz, Petry, Larson, Bear and Eberle. Come to mind.
Do you see this is a problem? How do we fix this?

Jason Gregor:

Fans will always have different opinions on players. I don’t see how you “fix it” so all fans view players the same. I’d recommend ignoring and not amplifying the voice of the overly negative ones. But in a hockey market there will always been varying opinions and if a player or fans only focus on the negative ones they will miss out on the hundreds of thousands fans who are positive. Too often in life we focus more on a negative comment than positive. It isn’t wise or healthy. Look at Ethan Bear situation. No one should have to endure one negative message, but I was told it was two or three direct messages that were racist. In a fanbase of over one million, and two comments had people label an entire fanbase toxic. It isn’t true. It was two or three ignorant human beings. I wish they would have outed those people so the public would know who the racist, ignorant asses are, but we should never allow a very small group to reflect the majority. I think most fans appreciated Bear’s play, and many saw him as a very positive role model for the Indigenous community.

Robin Brownlee:

There are plenty of markets in the NHL just as demanding as Edmonton, so we’re not alone and I’m not sure it’s something you can “fix.” The thing is, with technology growing as it has and social media everywhere, everybody gets to make their opinion known right away — whether they have a shred of a clue or are total buffoons. The ability to get your opinion out there is a genie that’s not going back in the bottle, so players simply have to learn to deal with it. Negative attention from fans used to be largely limited to inside the rink or to the call-in shows on radio. Now, everybody, including the dim and perpetually angry, have their say in real time.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I guess it might be a problem for some players, but it’s not unique to Edmonton. Every big market with passionate fans has this “issue”. There are fans who are always negative and there are fans that are always positive. It’s just one of those things that comes with being in a market that loves their hockey team as much as Oilers fans do.

Baggedmilk:

I remember interviewing Georges Laraque on Oilersnation Radio and asking him about the fans being too negative in Edmonton, and his answer was (paraphrased), “if you think it’s bad here you should try playing in Montreal.” The point of me bringing that up is that Edmonton is a passionate hockey market but it’s not the only one where fans get on the players. Should it be that way? No, but with Twitter and Instagram giving you instant access to these guys then I don’t think it will get any better.

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