The Oilers were supposed to play their first home game in 25 days tonight against the 30th place Ottawa Senators. But COVID had other plans as the Oilers placed seven players in COVID protocol over the weekend and they are now scheduled to play Ottawa this Saturday.
— Ottawa is likely one of the best options to face to try and end their ugly 12-game skid where they are 2-8-2. Edmonton won all nine meetings last season outscoring the Senators 41-18.
— The franchise record for most consecutive victories over an opposing team is 13, over the Detroit Red Wings from March 19th, 1983, to March 11th, 1987. They won 11 in a row over the Quebec Nordiques between November 28th, 1988 to February 2nd, 1992, and defeated the Vancouver Canucks 10 in a row between December 15th, 1985 and December 30th, 1986. A win tonight would tie them for third most at 10.
— Connor McDavid (4-17-21) and Leon Draisaitl (10-11-21) feasted on the Senators last season and both are looking for a breakout game offensively. Even the most dominant offensive players in the world can have dips in their offensive production. Draisaitl has 10 points in his last 11 games, while McDavid had 11 points in his last 10. Most players would love to be that productive, but by their standards, it’s below average.
— McDavid, Tyson Barrie and Derek Ryan exited COVID protocol yesterday and will be on the ice for their next practice on Wednesday. Edmonton won’t practice from Sunday to Tuesday. Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Brendan Perlini, Slater Koekkoek, Warren Foegele, and Tyler Benson were all placed in protocol on Saturday and Sunday. Taxi squad goalie Ilya Konovalov and six support staff were also placed in protocol. Dylan Holloway was placed in protocol today. With those seven skaters in protocol the Oilers would have only had 10 available forwards and five D-men for tonight’s game, which is why the game was postponed. And there is the chance more players could test positive today or tomorrow.
— Edmonton has eight players on the roster who haven’t been in protocol this season: Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith, Kris Russell, Markus Niemelainen, Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Colton Sceviour, and Kyle Turris. Also associate coach Jim Playfair and goalie coach Dustin Schwartz. The virus is slowly infecting most players on the team. Luckily none of them have had any serious symptoms, unlike Josh Archibald and Alex Stalock, and with over half the team having been infected, including coaches Dave Tippett, Glenn Gulutzan, and Brian Wiseman, Edmonton could (if none of the infected players have serious symptoms) be in a better position health wise when the season resumes with regularly scheduled games later this month.
— Despite the Oilers’ horrible last month they are still in a good position to be a playoff team because teams around them have struggled as well. Anaheim is 4-4-2 in their last 10 and Calgary is 3-6-1. Los Angeles (6-3-1) and Vancouver (8-1-1) have made up ground and are back in the race. It obviously isn’t as comfortable of a spot as early December, but they aren’t in a deep hole or needing to chase teams. Obviously, the Oilers need to start winning, but they don’t need to go 8-2 or 9-1 in their next 10 to be in the race.
— Just a hunch, but Mike Smith looked much more comfortable in goal in Toronto, even after the unlucky first goal. At practice on Friday he looked more comfortable than I’d seen in a long time. It is only practice, but I’m a big believer in how you practice impacts how you play. I don’t think Smith will post a .923Sv% in his next 30 starts, like he did last season, but if he can be around .915-.917 then Edmonton will be okay. Especially because I believe Stuart Skinner will be the other goalie in Edmonton when they get back to playing regularly scheduled games.
— Skinner has played six games since December 29th. He is 4-0-2 with a 2.10 GAA and .910Sv%. He has played very well and will start for the fourth time in five days tonight against Abbotsford. Currently, the Oilers are scheduled to play Saturday v. Ottawa and then next Thursday against the Panthers. If we presume the schedule gets back to normal starting around the 20th, here is the scenario I see unfolding.
Skinner plays tonight in Abbotsford and then Friday and Saturday in Bakersfield. No need to recall him now with Edmonton only playing one game in a span of 14 days. If the Oilers game on the 20th v. Florida isn’t postponed, then I’d recall Skinner and place Koskinen on waivers early next week. If it is postponed, Skinner could then play on the 19th in the AHL, and be recalled before Edmonton is scheduled to play Calgary on the 22nd. Edmonton needs more consistent goaltending, and right now Skinner has earned the promotion. I don’t expect him to be the saviour, but Koskinen isn’t playing well enough right now and I’ve seen enough to know what he is at this stage of his career. The Oilers can’t overcome his penchant for allowing goals on low percentage shots. Smith hasn’t performed great either recently, but he has been better in 2020 and 2021 than Koskinen so I’d run Smith and Skinner.
— Bakersfield doesn’t give up much. Granted, Abbotsford is playing with a depleted lineup, but all season the Condors haven’t allowed many shots against.
Skinner has eight starts this season and he’s faced 17-26 shots in six of those games and 34 and 36 in the other two.
Ilya Konovalov has eight starts and he’s faced between 21-28 in seven of them. He faced 36 once.
Olivier Rodrique has made nine starts and faced 15-26 in seven of them. The other two he saw 34 and 38 shots (Konovalov faced 10 in third period of this game for total of 48).
In their 25 games the Condors have allowed 30+ shots only five times. They averaged 25.6 shots against per game.
In eight starts Skinner is 6-0-2 with a .925Sv% and 1.96 GAA.
Konovalov is 3-3-2 with a .900Sv% and 2.48 GAA.
Rodrigue is 2-5-2 with a ..869Sv% and 3.49 GAA.
Skinner has been excellent in the AHL. I understand why he was sent down when Smith was activated, as getting in some games was good, but after the Ottawa game I’d recall him and send Koskinen down. We know what Koskinen is. I don’t expect Skinner to carry the Oilers, but I believe he is a better option now.
— Edmonton has more concerns than just goaltending. It isn’t all on Koskinen or Smith, but you have to fix one problem at a time. I’d make the change in goal and then focus on the need for improved defensive play, a better commitment to making smart decisions with the puck and more offensive production. But I’d start with the goalie change.
— After a really slow start with no goals in his first 18 games, Raphael Lavoie has started to play better. He has 6-3-9 in his past seven games. He’s had the puck more and he’s shooting much more with 29 shots in seven games. In his last 11 games he has 46 shots. In his first 14 games he had 22 shots. He’s gone from 1.57 shots/game up to 4.18. A significant difference and the one of the big reasons is he is skating better, but he’s winning more puck battles. He is involved in the play much more. The AHL is a difficult league and even top-ranked prospects often struggle before adapting to the speed, skill and strength of the league. He still needs to improve some areas of his game, but he’s starting to show signs of improving.
— Evander Kane is officially a free agent after the San Jose Sharks terminated his contract on Saturday. On Sunday the NHLPA filed a grievance opposing the termination. In the summer of 2015 the Los Angeles Kings terminated Mike Richards’ contract. The NHLPA filed a grievance. He was owed $22 million over the next five seasons. Before meeting with an arbitrator Richards and the Kings settled on him receiving $10.5 million paid out over the next 17 seasons. He received $1.8 million in 2015/2016, then $250K between 2017-2020 and from 2021 to 2032 he receives $700K, $900K, $900K, $700K, $700K, $600K, $600K, $600K, $600K, $500K, $500K and $400K.
The Kings had a recapture penalty of $1.32 million for five seasons from 2016-2021. It is important to note that Richards had one blemish that led to his termination. Kane is in a much different situation and if Richards received 47.7% of his remaining salary, how much can Kane realistically expect?
Kane is owed around $22.9M, but unlike Richards, he has more than one strike on his resume. There was the submission of a fake COVID vaccination card which led to a 21-game suspension earlier this season. Then this past December, it is alleged, he tried to get into Canada while knowingly being infected with COVID. And the Sharks supposedly have other examples they will submit if it goes to an arbitrator. If the second allegation is true it would hurt Kane’s appeal. Kane’s agent Dan Milstein tweeted on Sunday, “We are aware of the Sharks’ decision to put Evander on waivers for contract termination. If he clears, we will file a grievance. The Sharks do not have sufficient grounds for taking this action.”
While Kane and his agent will deal with the legal ramifications, Kane is a free agent. It isn’t 100% clear yet if that means he can sign with a team right away. Milstein is getting confirmation from the NHL and NHLPA, but right now many believe he is available to sign. How quickly will teams look to sign him is the question.
— Many teams have already expressed interest. Kane is a unique talent on the ice. From 2017 to 2021 (five seasons) Kane was tied with Artemi Panarin for the 18th most goals in the NHL with 135. He is a true power forward. Last season he was, without question, the Sharks best player. I watched every Sharks game and Kane was excellent. He led the Sharks in goals, assists and points. He averaged 15:47 at EV, 2:47 on the PP at 1:45 on the PK per game. He is an elite skater with skill and he’s tough, which is why many teams have interest in him.
— The concern is off the ice. Will he be a distraction? Kane’s issues in Winnipeg, Buffalo, and San Jose were mainly off the ice. On the ice, he’s an elite talent. I think many teams would be intrigued to sign him to a one-year pro-rated deal and see how he fits in. He’d make the Oilers a better team, no question. He’s better than any winger on the team. He has the speed and skill to play with McDavid, and he could protect him if need be. He’s fought Ryan Reaves. He isn’t afraid of anyone in the NHL.
— There would be a risk. I spoke to people in management positions on three different teams on Sunday and all of them expressed interest in Kane. They all said they’d need to do their due diligence and speak to Kane, his agent and people in San Jose, but there definitely is an appetite to sign him. The advantage is that teams could acquire a legit first line winger without giving up any assets and I can’t see why you’d have to pay him term or a high salary. Many teams will feel the risk is worth the reward.
Would you want the Oilers to sign him? If I was Holland I’d take a long look at it.
— He’d help most teams. Even the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the NHL in points% could use him in their top six. The question will be at what salary are teams willing to take him on? Despite scoring 22-27-49 in 56 games (30th most in the NHL last season) he doesn’t have much leverage in contract negotiations. He will have to show teams he can be a positive addition and not a distraction. Kane has made some bad decisions and he has to own them. How he answers teams’ questions — and smart teams should ask direct questions about his past behaviours — will play a big factor in who signs him. But make no mistake: Some team will sign him.
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