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Ten Thoughts: Ryan McLeod, Evan Bouchard, the Edmonton Elks, and more

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Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
9 months ago
The main off-season story in Edmonton continues to be the contracts for Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. I outlined earlier this week how McLeod’s contract should look based on some recent signings. I see him coming in around $1.8m-$2.1m. Recent signings of Bowen Byram and K’Andre Miller give us a pretty good indication of what Bouchard’s next deal will be.
1. Byram signed for two years at $3.85m, while Miller signed for two years at $3.872m. Byram produced 10-14-24 in 42 games. He’s only played 72 games in the past two seasons. When healthy he’s produced 15 goals and 41 points (0.57 pts/game), but he’s missed a lot of games. Miller produced 9-34-43 last year and he averaged 21:57/game. Bouchard produced 8-32-40 and played 18:31. Over the past two seasons Bouchard has produced 20 goals and 83 points and 19:09 TOI/game while Miller has scored 16 goals and 63 points while averaging 21:16/game. Bouchard’s extra 20 points mainly came on the PP. He had 20 PP points the past two seasons and Miller has four.
2. I’m sure Bouchard’s camp will want similar money to Byram and Miller. Points are a big factor in contract negotiations, but so is TOI, especially for D-men. The Oilers would prefer to sign Bouchard closer to $3.2m, so we will see how the negotiations unfold. Bouchard doesn’t have arbitration rights, but neither did Miller or Byram and that’s why they are very good comparisons for Bouchard’s contract.
3. Because Bouchard plays on the PP, he will put up points next season. But in the past three years, it has been proven that whoever plays the point with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl doesn’t affect the PP’s success.
From 2021-2023, Tyson Barrie played 550 minutes with those two and the Oilers scored 120 powerplay goals. They had a 13.08 goals/60. Bouchard played 186 minutes with those two and the Oilers scored 42 goals and had a 13.5 GF/60. Darnell Nurse played 100 minutes with McDavid and Draisaitl and they scored 22 goals and had a 13.19 GF/60.
The PP success runs through the skill and creativity of Draisaitl and McDavid. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the third most important piece on the man advantage. With Barrie, Bouchard, and Nurse on the blueline, the PP success was essentially the same.
The Oilers already have Nurse at $9.25m and Mattias Ekholm at $6m. If Bouchard puts up 50-70 points next season, he will be commanding a huge raise in the future. He’s a talented offensive D-man, but the Oilers don’t need more goals. Defending as a group is their biggest area that needs improvement. I wonder if the Oilers would consider playing Nurse on the PP and possibly trading Bouchard. It is an out-of-the-box thought, but one they might have to consider. The reality is the PP success doesn’t change due to who is on the point. Barrie, Bouchard, and Nurse have different skill sets, but mainly the point man is a distributor. Having a “Bouchbomb” is a nice luxury, but if it means you have to pay him $7m, is it worth it? I’m not advocating for trading him, I’m pointing out it could be an option. I’d be surprised if Edmonton did it, but if they could land a solid 5×5 right-shot defender, who skates well and is a decent passer, it is something to consider.
4. Mattias Janmark is going back to his original NHL number 13. He wore 13 with Dallas and Chicago and scored at a 0.165 goal/game pace. Wearing #26 with Vegas and Edmonton he scored at a rate of 0.135 goals/game. Based on this highly scientific and data-driven equation, he will score more this coming season than the 10 goals in 66 games he scored last year. Some players don’t really care about their number, while others feel better wearing a specific number. We’ll see if Janmark is more productive in his lucky #13.
5. Two CFL sources reached out to me about my 10 thoughts last week. The good news, according to them, for the Elks, which seems odd to say considering they are 0-6 this year and have lost 20 consecutive home games dating back to 2019, is that Chris Jones’ contract was structured with an option at the end of each year. The sources believe the Elks can terminate him at the end of the season, and they will not have to pay him the final two years of his deal. That is huge, especially with a management/coaching salary cap. At this point, I don’t see any reason why they would bring him back. He has proven he can’t be the GM, head coach and defensive coordinator successfully. The Elks are 4-20 since he took over. If you fire him now, you also have to fire offensive coordinator, Stephen McAdoo. You could do it, but you’d be hard-pressed to find people to fill the roles with limited salary available, even on an interim basis. It wouldn’t be wise to hire a new head coach during the season, when many of the candidates are currently employed with other teams and likely wouldn’t get permission to leave mid-season.
What is confusing is that last night Victor Cui said if Jones was fired, he would count against the cap as it is a four-year deal. I’d assume Cui would know, but the two sources were confident Jones’ deal has team options. If there are no options, then the four-year deal looks even worse.
6. The wise move would be to hire Ed Hervey as the GM in the off-season. He’s had success. He will only be the GM. He will hire a head coach and let the HC fill out his staff. Hervey was the architect of the 2015 Grey Cup-winning team. Despite those who felt Jones brought in the players, it was Hervey who scouted and signed the vast majority of that team. Hervey would be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect during his tenure as GM, but he was still the most successful GM they’ve had since Hugh Campbell — by a large margin. It was turmoil and chaos before he arrived in 2013, and since his ill-advised firing in April of 2017, the Elks have been a tire fire.
7. I’ve seen some suggest they just promote Geroy Simon right now. He’s never been a GM, and he’d have to hire a HC and DC, and I assume OC. Filling those roles would be difficult, but Simon was adamant they had scouted and recruited solid players. My main concern with Simon is that Wally Buono didn’t hire him in BC when he had the opportunity. Also, the Elks’ board needs to be less involved. For many years the Blue Bombers board was more of an issue than help. When Wade Miller took over, he slowly, and professionally, had less input from the board. The Blue Bombers are the top organization in the CFL now. They are proof you can rebuild and re-tool your organization.
8. Of the 16 NHL teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year, I like Buffalo the most heading into this season. Their defence, led by Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, will be solid. I love the addition of Erik Johnson. He will be the veteran guy who will help both of those young guys. Connor Clifton gives them a solid seven blueliners along with Mattias Samuelsson, llya Lyubushkin and Henri Jokiharju. They also have Jacob Bryson and Riley Stillman.
Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens are a solid 1-2 centre punch. Jeff Skinner, while a bit overpaid, has produced 33 and 35 goals the past two seasons. He’s a legit top-six winger. Alex Tuch is great value at $4.75m. They still have $6.7m in cap space and could add Vladimir Tarasenko, for instance, if they wanted to.
9. Goaltending is their main question with Devon Levi, Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (great name by the way). None of them are proven yet, but many hockey people are high on Levi. UPL is only 24 years of age. Many goalies don’t find their strides until 24, 25 or 26. He could follow that timeline as well. Comrie is the oldest of the three at 28, has the most experience, and has shown flashes he can play. I view him more as the backup. Having a better blueline will help all three goalies. The Sabres own the NHL record for longest post-season drought at 12 years. They end that in 2024.
10. I’ve spoken with Mike Stelter many times. He is a genuine human being. He and his wife Lea, their daughters Dylan and Emmy have been through a lot the past few years with the passing of their son and brother, Ben. Mike always spoke about how amazed his family was at the support they received from the community. It helped them deal with Ben’s illness and his passing. The void of losing a child never goes away, but your love, support and encouraging words made a difference. Sadly, the Stelter family is going through another tough situation.
If you can help Mike with a donation, please do. Or at least send positive vibes to Mike, Lea, Dylan and Emmy. The link to donate is here. 

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