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Off the Top of My Head

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Photo credit:David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 month ago
It took four games for coach Jay Woodcroft to ice most of the line-up we’ll see during the regular season in the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday. That’s a couple of games too many for my liking. It’s also a sign that, as many fans and pundits have pointed out, the Oilers playing eight pre-season games is two games too many. Six is plenty.
I’d rather see Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard and the rest of the roster a game or two sooner and have them playing for points two games earlier. As it stands, the Oilers played last night in Winnipeg and have two games remaining with Vancouver before wrapping up their pre-season against Seattle at home Friday.
Extra games generate revenue, especially with a near sell-out like Friday at Rogers Place, but from a hockey standpoint, it’s not ideal. Players report to camp in shape. Those who don’t are gone in a hurry. They don’t need eight games. And how many roster spots are actually available with the Oilers? I say give the prospects a chance to shine for a game or two, give your top-end guys a chance to knock off the rust and then get on with it.
“I think it’s probably a little much,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We played nine games in the past. It’s a lot of games. You don’t want to come into the season unsure of how your game is, or unsure of how you’re feeling, but you also don’t want to come in fatigued or feeling tired. You want to be ready to go.”
“I would tend to think that eight is too many,” said McDavid after surviving friendly fire in the form of a collision with Kane in his pre-season debut Friday. “But, understanding that it’s a chance for lots of different guys to get looks.”
Jack Campbell, who’ll get the crease as Woodcroft’s starter when the season begins, saw his first action Friday and stopped seven of eight shots he faced in 31:12. If Campbell has a preferred number of pre-season games, he wasn’t saying. “Usually, its whatever coach wants,” he said. “However many he puts me in, I’ll be ready to go. It’s nice getting that first one out of the way and learning from it and moving on.”

THAT CHYCHRUN BUZZ

Mar 10, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) pursues the play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
I liked Jakob Chychrun as a player when his name first came up as a potential trade target for the Oilers late last December. I still like him today with his name circulating yet again after a mention by uber-connected TSN insider Darren Dreger. 
From Dreger: “. . . what is clear now as the regular season is fast approaching is that the trade interest in Chychrun is once again intensifying. Some say that the Coyotes have softened to some degree at least in their expected return and are more willing now to take on a contract or contracts. Granted, you’ve got to have a first-round draft pick, you’ve got to have a prospect involved in all of this, so the ask is still high.
“Now some of the teams that are listed with interest include the Ottawa Senators, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers, the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues, the Columbus Blue Jackets and on and on it goes. However, it is a challenging one. Despite the quality of player and the contract, there’s some cap hurdles that many of teams I just mentioned are going to have to overcome.” For context, the complete quote is here.
I’m not debating Chychrun is worth the $4.6 million AAV he’ll make through 2023-24, and I’m not surprised there’s a line-up of teams ready to take him. In that regard, nothing has changed. Now as in December, though, I don’t see how Oilers’ GM Ken Holland can afford Chychrun 10 days before the start of regular season. It’s worth noting that as of right now, the Oilers aren’t in on Chychrun, according to Mark Spector of Sportsnet. 
If there’s a way that makes sense with the team in win-now mode, even if it requires significant roster changes to make it work, which it most certainly would, I have no doubt Holland will be all over it. Possible? Sure. Probable? I don’t see it.

JUST DUCKY

There was a fitting tribute to former Winnipeg Jets great Dale Hawerchuk at the True North Square plaza Saturday with the unveiling of a statue in his honor before the Jets game against the Oilers. Hawerchuk passed away Aug. 18, 2020 at age 57 after a prolonged battle with stomach cancer.
Hawerchuk, a HHoF inductee in 2001 who amassed 1,409 points in 1,188 games, wasn’t just a great player, he was a wonderful guy. When his initial rounds of chemotherapy were done after having a gastrectomy – removal of his stomach – Hawerchuk took time to offer words of encouragement to friend Bryn Griffiths, a long-time media man in Edmonton and my partner on The Outsiders podcast, after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
I won’t try to speak for Bryn, but I know what the texts he exchanged with Hawerchuk before his cancer returned meant to him as he faced his own battle. Saturday’s statue unveiling is a fitting tribute and addition to Hawerchuk’s rich legacy – and something wife Crystal and their children Ben, Alexis and Eric can be rightfully proud of.

50 GOALS?

With McDavid coming off a career-best 44-goal season, there’s been more than a little chatter about the possibility he’ll score 50 goals this season. He was asked about it before Friday’s game with the Flames. The answer was what you’d expect.
“This team had kind of done the individual awards thing and the stats and all that,” McDavid said. “Our focus is on team only and winning games and getting ourselves into a good spot to continue to take steps forward. Obviously, getting into the playoffs is the first step for the year, but getting off to a good start is super important . . .”

#NATIONVACATION TO LAS VEGAS

  • When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
  • Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
  • What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
  • How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy) 
  • Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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