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Ten Tuesday Thoughts…

The NHL regular season begins next Tuesday when Pittsburgh plays the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting and the NHL officially welcomes its 32nd franchise to the league when Seattle travels to Vegas.

1. I’ve seen many models predicting the Seattle Kraken to make the playoffs. I just don’t see how. I wonder if the success of the Vegas expansion season plays a part in those predictions. Vegas had an incredible inaugural season. In fact their first four years have been great, but that type of success is extremely difficult to replicate. I realize the Pacific isn’t as deep as the other divisions, but who is going to score goals for Seattle? Vegas finished fifth in goals scored in 2018.

William Karlsson scored 43. He has scored 24, 17 and 20 (last two seasons prorated) in three seasons since.
Erik Haula was second on the team with 29 goals. He got hurt the next season and only played 15 games and in 2020 and 2021 he scored 12 and nine goals (prorated to 19 and 14).
Jonathan Marchessault had 75 points in 77 games (0.97 points/game). He’s had 0.71, 0.72 and 0.79 since.
Rielly Smith averaged 0.90 points/game. He’s tallied 0.71, 0.76 and 0.47 since.

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Four players had the best seasons of their careers and three of them were on the same line. They were 24, 26, 26 and 27 years of age that season.

Who is going to have career years in Seattle?

Their top-six is projected to be Yanni Gourde, Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Johansson. This season they will be 30, 31, 29, 27, 29 and 31. I’m sorry, but expecting 22-43 goals from these six is unrealistic. It isn’t happening. Maybe Mason Appleton will have a breakout season, but I don’t see the Kraken mirroring Vegas’ offence.

Seattle’s strength is its blue line and goaltending, but if they don’t get enough sustained offensive zone time they will spend too much time defending. Mark Giordano is going to have to be sensational, while Jamie Oleksiak won’t be paired with Miro Heiskanen for 82% of his 5×5 ice time like he was last season in Dallas. I like Oleksiak, but Vince Dunn is a step down from Heiskanen.

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Philipp Grubauer will need to be as good, if not better, than he was last season in Colorado. Since 2015/2016 Grubauer is tied for the third best Sv% in the NHL at .920. (among goalies with at least 50 GP). He’s been good for the past six seasons, but the most starts he’s had in a season was 39 last year. He will need to be great for 55+ starts this year and even then I’m not sure it will be enough.

Vegas only had Marc-Andre Fleury for 46 games in 2018. Malcolm Subban was 13-4-2 in his 19 starts with a .910sv%. Maxime Lagace went 6-7-1 in his 14 starts with a dreadful .867sv% and Oscar Dansk was 3-0 in his three starts with a sizzling .946sv%. In 53 starts since that season Subban is 23-25-6 with a .897sv%. He had a career year with Vegas, while Lagace and Dansk have played a total of two games each since. Vegas being able to go 22-11-3 in 36 starts with borderline NHL backup goalies was amazing. I can’t see that happening again for Seattle.

I don’t see how Seattle is going to make the playoffs. Do you?

2. Connor McDavid is getting more comfortable expressing his views on the game. He isn’t loud or brash, but as the league’s brightest star he is starting to voice his opinion more often. He said this about being tripped and flying into Calgary goalie, Jacob Markstrom, last night.

“Obviously they have the right to defend their net and defend me trying to get in there, but when the stick comes into the feet like Tanev’s did, it’s a dangerous play for me and for the goalie. I don’t want to go flying in there (crease). The goalie doesn’t want me flying in there, and the guy that’s left safe is the defenceman who is sloppy with his stick.”

There was no call on the play. Edmonton did get a power play, after Calgary lost its challenge for goaltender interference, but the no-call irked McDavid. He was calm, direct and controlled in his response. I hope he keeps the pressure on the NHL to call infractions like this.

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When he does, some opposing fans will call him a whiner like they did Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and  Sidney Crosby. At different times those three spoke about missed calls or bad officiating. Not much has changed since they did, but McDavid is seemingly tired of the missed calls. Good for him. But fans in opposing markets should applaud him rather than rip him, because if the league starts to properly call infractions it benefits the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Petterson, Auston Matthews, Mark Schiefele, Alex Barkov, Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, David Pastrnak, Patrick Kane and all the other top offensive players in the league. Fans across the league should want infractions penalized.

3. I think this needs to be repeated. Playing McDavid with Leon Draisaitl for stretches in the regular season is a good idea. No, in fact it is a great idea. They are the most dangerous duo in the NHL when they play together and it isn’t close. During the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons Sidney Crosby’s most common linemate at 5×5 in Pittsburgh was Evgeni Malkin. In those two seasons, Crosby played 1,857 minutes and skated 709 minutes with Malkin. That is 38.1% of his 5×5 TOI with Malkin. The Penguins made the Cup Final both years, and in the playoffs, Crosby only played 10% of his TOI with Malkin.

McDavid and Draisaitl together in the regular season for 25-30% of their ice time is the smart move by Dave Tippett. The debatable point is who should play with them. Right now I’d argue Jesse Puljujarvi is the Oilers’ third best forward. The big Finn looks better than he did last season. I’d play him with Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when Tippett loads up his dangerous duo, because then the second line is a legit second line. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Kailer Yamamoto, Zack Kassian, Brendan Perlini, Kyle Turris or someone else is with McDavid and Draisaitl. Those two will make that line tick, while playing Hyman-RNH-JP as a trio gives you two solid lines. I’m sure Tippett will experiment with different combos during the season, as he should. Edmonton has enough depth now that in the playoffs McDavid and Draisaitl should only play 10% of their 5×5 time together like Crosby and Malkin did when they went consecutive Cup Finals early in their careers.

4. Brendan Perlini is not Ty Rattie or Tomas Jurco. He is bigger, faster and a much more proven NHL scorer than either of those two were when they had productive preseasons with the Oilers in 2018 and 2019. Jurco had scored 22 goals in 201 NHL games with Detroit and Chicago before he came to the Oilers in 2019. Rattie had played 35 games over four seasons with Chicago and St. Louis and had five NHL goals before scoring five preseason goals in 2018. Perlini has scored 46 goals in 239 NHL games.

Of course he isn’t going to rip up the regular season like he has the preseason with five goals in five games, but comparing him to Rattie and Jurco is misguided. He is a better player. He is a better shooter, he’s stronger, faster and bigger. He also isn’t producing because of McDavid or Draisaitl. He’s also not getting ahead of himself.

“As far as the game goes I’ve felt decent out there,” said Perlini. “I just want to keep working hard and do the little things that add up over games.”

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Perlini played in Switzerland last season and he believes that helped him become a more patient player on the ice. He doesn’t force things as much. He has always had NHL skating and shooting ability, and if he continues to do the small things properly he could be the bottom-six forward the Oilers really need. Someone who is productive, while also being sound defensively. Perlini has outscored teams 5-0 when he’s on the ice at 5×5 this preseason. That has been the most impressive part of his play beside Devin Shore and Kyle Turris — how little time they have spent defending.

5. “I had a hunch we weren’t going to be very good,” said Dave Tippett after the Oilers 4-3 victory. “We had a really hard practice yesterday. You could tell there was some heavy legs out there. I give them credit for hanging around and we got better as the game went along. A game like that gives you the ability to see things I might try during the season. The only derogatory thing I would say is we didn’t take enough penalties because I want to watch some penalty killers (laughs).”

Interesting note from Tippett about heavy legs. Teams will never have a hard practice the day before a game in the regular season for that reason. Those practices occur two days before a game during the season.

I asked Tippett if he’d ever ask a player to shoot the puck over the glass on purpose in a preseason game to get a penalty so he could look at his penalty killers?

“If the score was the right score, I might.”

It is preseason for a reason. You work on different things, when the outcome isn’t as important as the process.

6. In the first preseason game in Calgary and again last night, the Oilers looked like the quicker team. I’m curious to see how the Flames season goes. They don’t have a lot of team speed from what I’ve seen. That will be an issue in the regular season.

7. Tippett said the Benson-McLeod-Sceviour line will play on Thursday. I believe they need to be quite good if they hope to beat out the Perlini-Shore-Turris trio for a spot in the opening night roster. The competition won’t end just because the regular season starts. It will be ongoing all season. And not just for the fourth line players. There are some guys in the top-nine who will need to start playing better or Perlini could get promoted. Healthy competition is great and from my seat the bottom six is significantly more skilled than in previous seasons. Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, Zack Kassian, Perlini, Shore and Turris have had three, three, three, four, four and eight seasons respectively with 10+ goals. They all won’t score 10 this season, but entering a season with players who have done it before compared to the players who filled those spots in previous seasons is a big improvement. And I believe Ryan McLeod will be more impactful as the season progresses.

In 2017 Edmonton had seven forwards with 10+ goals. The past four seasons they had: 2018 (9), 2019 (5), 2020 (9) and 2021 (8, prorated). However, last season all six were players who played in the top six. If the Oilers can have two or three players from the bottom six contribute 10+ goals then their depth will be quite good. Especially because most of those goals will occur at 5×5 due to limited PP time for the second unit.

8. Mike Smith and Kris Russell are the only Oilers skating today. The rest have the day off. Tippett mentioned he wants to play Russell with Evan Bouchard on Thursday and if Smith continues to progress he will also play on Thursday. I asked Tippett about Bouchard’s low TOI last game and he said that won’t be the norm. He will play more in the regular season, he was just experimenting with a few things. Bouchard has played 25 minutes more than any D-man in preseason thus far, so I wouldn’t get too concerned over one game of TOI. As Tippett said he was trying a few different things because it was preseason.

9. Edmonton’s giveaways and errant passes have been their Achilles heel this preseason. When they don’t give away the puck they have been quite steady defensively. Last night Calgary had two goals from giveaways, and another from an errant pass, but outside of those chances Edmonton didn’t give up very much. I’ve actually been impressed by their team defence for long stretches of games. Their forwards are much better positionally and I feel Edmonton’s blue line as a group passes the puck better than last year. Bouchard is just as good of a passer as Bear, while Ceci moves it better than Larsson. My one concern is on the PK. Larsson and Bear were excellent there and I’m curious to see how the Oilers PK looks in the regular season. Keith and Ceci are veterans, but it is still a lot of new faces on the PK.

10. “Will he get claimed on waivers?” is the annual question that comes up now. You never know until the player is put on waivers. Last season the OIlers opted to keep William Lagesson instead of Anton Forsberg as they were concerned Lagesson would get claimed. Forsberg did and that led to Mikko Koskinen having to start the first 11 games. Would Lagesson have been claimed? We’ll never know, but I don’t see why they would be worried about losing him this season. Currently he’d be #8th on their depth chart, but how much better is he than Phillip Broberg, Filip Berglund, Phil Kemp or Dmitri Samorukov when he returns in four weeks? I don’t think it is much and I wouldn’t expose someone else to keep Lagesson.

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