Off the Top of My Head
8 months ago
As far as having passionate and engaged fans, Edmonton is a terrific hockey town when it comes to the Oilers. We saw that yet again as the NHL trade deadline came and went at 1 p.m. Friday, ending several weeks of free advice provided at every opportunity for GM Ken Holland.
At one end of the spectrum, there’s the hair-on-fire crowd: “Come on, Kenny, wake up! The clock is ticking on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. You’ve got to go all in! Do whatever it takes! Make it happen! You make big money, find some cap space!” At the opposite end, I had somebody on my Twitter timeline question Holland sending Michael Kesselring to Arizona as part of the Nick Bjugstad trade. Sure.
There’s another segment, for whom the GM is wrong no matter what he does, but that’s a noisy, goofball sliver of the fan base to be ignored. For the vast majority, the question with the trading done is whether Holland landing Mattias Ekholm, Bjugstad and minor leaguer Cam Dineen and sending out Tyson Barrie, Jesse Puljujarvi, Reid Schaefer, Kesselring and draft picks is enough to get the Oilers over the top.
We won’t know the answer to that until the stretch drive and playoffs are done — even though the deadline work of every GM has already been graded somewhere. In early returns, Ekholm performed as advertised in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Toronto and he was even better as the Oilers doubled the Winnipeg Jets 6-3 in the first game of a home-and-home Friday. Bjugstad drew in Saturday and scored the Oilers fifth goal in a 7-5 loss to the Jets.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Mar 3, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) skates with the puck against Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers (27) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Like I said after his Oilers debut against Toronto, Ekholm, 32, looks like what this blueline group needs. He knows how to shut things down and defend. He works the PK. He moves the puck and he’s not without a clue offensively. The Oilers need to cut down on 5-on-5 goals against and that’s Ekholm’s calling card. He’ll help bring Evan Bouchard along.
At six-foot-six and with 599 games in the books, Bjugstad, 30, provides size — although he’s not particularly physical — and experience as well as depth at centre. Like Ekholm, he can work the PK. It’s also noteworthy that Bjugstad has scored 15 or more goals four times in his career and is poised to do it again this season.
If it was a case of Erik Karlsson-or-bust or you had your heart set on Jakob Chychrun, you might be lukewarm on Ekholm. Fair enough. Karlsson is a two-time Norris Trophy winner who could make it three this season. Maybe the Oilers can make the money work to get him this off-season. Up front, if you wanted Timo Meier or Max Domi, Bjugstad is no big get.
For me, the Oilers are better today than they were leading into the deadline, and they’ll add Evander Kane in the next week when he’s deemed ready to play. The bottom-line question is whether Holland has improved the Oilers enough for them to get out of the Western Conference. And if the Oilers have the juice to get to the Stanley Cup final, would they have a shot against the Boston Bruins?
I like Holland’s work at the deadline and I think it’s possible, but it’s a leap for me to get to probable. What say you?
Feb 11, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates his goal scored against the Ottawa Senators in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Puljujarvi gets a fresh start with Carolina after being acquired for Patrik Puistola, and that’s a good situation, but introductions are in order with coach Rod Brind’Amour, who admitted he doesn’t know much about Puljujarvi.
“I know it didn’t go very well in his last stop,” Brind’Amour told the Raleigh News & Observer. “We’re giving him another opportunity. The hard part is coming into a new system. It takes time for guys to get adjusted to all that, let alone the move and you’re changing your whole life overnight. Sometimes it’s better not to know too much about a guy, especially in a situation where he’s coming in fresh and we want to give him every opportunity to start over.”
Puljujarvi played with Carolina’s Sebastian Aho at the 2016 World Junior Championship on Finland’s gold medal winning team and was named best forward with 17 points in seven games. He’s been sorting out work visa issues and he was spotted taking a twirl on his own at Rogers Place Friday morning.
I’ve never understood the desire by some to crap on players on their way out of town. The NHL is a business and trades happen. Better, I think, to wish players well as most people do. On the flip side, many players take time to pass along their thoughts when they leave. Count Puljujarvi and Barrie among them.
Puljujarvi bid farewell on his Instagram page. He wrote:
It’s time to say thanks and good bye Oilers fans, I loved you as much as you loved me❤️ Teammates,coaches and all the Oilers staff, with you I grew up into this league! I’ll remember these six years for the rest of my life! Let’s smile when we meet 😁 Jesse
Barrie also took to Instagram. He wrote:
Oh man… feeling very grateful for the time we got to spend in Edmonton. We made so many great memories with our family and have added life long friends! Thanks for all the kind words and love along the way! Stoked to be joining Nashville and for the new adventures ahead! ❤️✌🏻’s
WHILE I’M AT IT
A tip of the cap to TSN for their Filthy Bruce spot on deadline day with the addition of Bruce Boudreau to a crew that’s been the best in the business for a long time. He’s absolute gold. It was a tough gig in the studio Friday given that almost every trade that mattered had been made by the time the TSN crew got on the air . . . the Kids World’s Longest Hockey Game in support of the Ben Stelter Fund wraps up today at Saiker’s Acres in Sherwood Park, so if you’re looking for a great way to spend the day, this is it. If you can’t make it out to cheer the players on, you can still donate here.
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