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Ten Thursday NHL Thoughts…

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Photo credit:Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
7 months ago
We are five days away from puck drop on the 2023-24 season when Nashville visits Tampa Bay. The Edmonton Oilers begin their season next Wednesday in Vancouver, and the excitement and expectations surrounding the Oilers are the highest they’ve been in 35 years. Most view the Oilers as a more complete team today than they were one year ago, and many across the NHL feel the Oilers are a legit Stanley Cup contender along with Carolina, Colorado, Dallas, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vegas. There are also other teams very close, like the Rangers and Kings. It should be a great regular season.
Here are 10 thoughts on the upcoming season and a few non-hockey thoughts.
1. Could the Boston Bruins have one of the largest point reductions in NHL history? They had the greatest regular season in NHL history last year, setting a new standard for wins with 65 and points with 135. They finished the season 65-12-5. Amazing. They enter this season without their top two centres, as Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired. Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno were traded to Chicago. Those are four of their top-11 goal scorers from last year. I expect the Bruins to be competitive, but they were so dominant last season they could be a 100-point team this year and still have a 35-point reduction from last season.
TEAMSEASONGPPTSSEASONGPPTSMinus
Flyers20068210120078256-45
Blackhawks1953706919547031-38
Red Wings19968213119978294-37
Jets (1979)1985809619868059-37
Kings1981809919828063-36
The Bruins could flirt with being in the top five, and still be a a playoff team. It is crazy.
2. Since the NHL returned to four divisions with two Wildcard spots in 2014, the Pacific division and Atlantic have never had five teams from their division make the playoffs. The Central has had five teams in the postseason five times in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2022, while the Metropolitan has had five in 2016, 2018 and 2019. The Pacific division should have five playoff teams this coming season. I see three playoff teams from the Central with Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota. I see Edmonton, Vegas and LA making it and then two of Calgary, Seattle or Vancouver. The Atlantic is improving, and we might see five playoff teams from there for the first time, but I think the East will be split 4-4.
3. I understand certain publications want to appeal to the large Toronto market. It makes sense — they have the largest population — but there are times they look desperate trying to excite the Maple Leafs fanbase. The Hockey News, specifically Adam Proteau, ranked the best top-six forward groups. He ranked his top five (from five to one) as Ottawa, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Edmonton and Toronto. It is comical to rank Toronto first.
Here are the point totals from each team’s projected top-six groups.
The Oilers had a combined 368 games played. They scored 205 goals, 291 assists for 496 points. Toronto’s top-six played 369 games and scored 154 goals, 228 assists and 382 points. The Oilers scored 51 more goals and 114 more points. To suggest Toronto’s top-six is better is — how do I write this politely? — ridiculous.
Here is who he is listed for each team’s top six. I have added their point totals from last year.
Edmonton                                                 Toronto
McDavid (82GP) 64-89-153                 Marner (80GP) 30-69-99
Draisaitl (80GP) 52-76-128                  Nylander (82GP) 40-47-87
RNH (82 GP) 37-67-104                        Matthews (74GP) 40-45-85
Hyman (79 GP) 36-47-83                     Tavares (80GP) 36-44-80
E. Kane (41GP) 16-12-28                       Bertuzzi (50GP) 8-22-30
C. Brown (4GP) 0-0-0                            Knies (3GP) 0-1-1
Knies is a rookie. Is he really going to grossly outplay Connor Brown? I don’t see any way you’d say Edmonton doesn’t have the best top-six forward group in the NHL. They have other weaknesses, and we’ve discussed them often, but the need for some National publications to try and appease LeafsNation when there isn’t much of a debate is odd to me.
4. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the busiest off-season of any NHL team. They hired Kyle Dubas as President of Hockey Operations. He’s also currently the GM. The Penguins will have 11 different players on their roster from last year’s club, which missed the playoffs by one point.
Out:  Jason Zucker, Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen, McGinn, Josh Archibald, Teddy Blueger and Ryan Poehling at forward. Jeff Petry, Brian Dumoulin and Jan Rutta on defence and goalie Casey DeSmith is gone.
In: Forwards; Reilly Smith, Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, Matt Nieto, Jansen Harkins and Alex Nylander. On defence Erik Karlsson, Ryan Graves and either Mark Pysyk/Wil Butcher are new with Alex Nedeljkovic in goal.
The Penguins’ bottom six produced very little last year, and Dubas overhauled essentially the entire group. Karlsson is a huge addition. The Penguins should be better and back in the playoffs. I don’t see them as a top-tier Cup contender, but they could upset a few teams in the postseason.
5. It is interesting watching hockey fans rip on baseball for their post-season celebrations. MLB plays 162 games. Only 12 teams make the playoffs. It is a long road, and I don’t see why some dislike the celebrations after clinching a playoff spot. Others argued it is only a best-of-three so is it really playoffs? Umm…the NFL and CFL are one-game eliminations. And the NFL has 14 teams in the playoffs now, so suggesting the Wildcard in baseball isn’t legit because they used to only have four teams make it, is also odd to me. Each league has their own different rules and traditions. I just don’t get why some feel the need to hate a tradition, especially in a sport they aren’t as passionate about. And FYI, NHL players celebrate when they win a playoff round, the difference is, it isn’t filmed and put on social media. Does that make it lame that they celebrate when they still have three more rounds to win? I don’t think so.
6. Edmonton has four of the top-five power play goals scorers in the Western Conference last season: Draisaitl (32), McDavid (21), Kirill Kaprisov (17), RNH and Hyman (15). Timo Meier had 13 before he was traded to New Jersey, so he might have cracked the top-five. Edmonton scored 89 PP goals and will try to become the first team since Detroit in 2009 to score 90 on the man advantage. Detroit had 353 PP chances in 2009 while Edmonton had 275 last season. It will be difficult to hit 90 PP goals, unless we see an increase in PP chances across the league.
7. I believe analytics can help you, but the Blue Jays went way too far yesterday. Having pre-planned situations, regardless of the moment is a bad strategy. I didn’t get the sense that manager, John Schneider, had the final say in pulling his starter, Jose Berrios, early in the fourth inning. Whoever made that decision needs to have the courage to explain it publicly. We can disagree with it, but at least have the courage to explain your thought process. Berrios must have been livid. And I don’t blame him. And Vladimir Guerrero needs to pay better attention. You can’t get picked off second base in that moment. Never, ever.
8. The Vancouver Canucks were dead last in PK% last year with an ugly 71.6%. Yet, Elias Pettersson and JT Miller tied for the league lead with 10 shorthanded goals. The Canucks had 15 as a team, while the Oilers led the league with 18. You have to go back to 2006 when Ottawa had 25 and Philadelphia had 19 to find teams who scored more shorthanded. But Ottawa was down a man 476 times while Philly was on the kill 465 times. The Oilers were shorthanded 278 times. The Canucks’ PK has been brutal for the past two seasons. They were 30th in 2022 and 32nd last year and are the worst over the past two seasons combined. The Oilers’ PP could get off to a good start with back-to-back games against the Canucks to start the season.
9. I’m still not sold Raphael Lavoie would get claimed on waivers. Senators fans were freaking out Tuesday when Egor Sokolov and Jacob Bernard-Docker were put on waivers. Sokolov was a second rounder in 2020 and JDB was a first rounder in 2019. Neither was claimed. Sokolov is a 6’3″, 225-pound right-shot forward who has produced back-to-back 50-point seasons in the AHL and has played 13 NHL games. He has 55 goals and 134 points in 169 AHL games. Lavoie has played 136 AHL games and produced 43 goals and 81 points. He had a very good second half of last season, but there is no guarantee he’d get claimed. It all depends on how opposing teams view him. I spoke to three scouts from other teams the past few days. One said he believes he’d get claimed and the other two said he wouldn’t. I can’t say for sure, and maybe the Oilers won’t risk it, but while many in Oilersnation are high on Lavoie, it isn’t a slam dunk he gets claimed. Sokolov is just as tall, and heavier, with more AHL production and he wasn’t claimed. It is difficult to predict how teams view players.
10. Lane Pederson could get claimed as easily as Lavoie. He’s a right-shot centre who scored 17 goals in 18 AHL games last year and has 71 games of NHL experience. I understand why some feel Lavoie has more upside, and I think that is valid, but the upside isn’t the only factor. Position, experience and a team’s needs are often more important. Whichever of the two is placed on waivers, the Oilers are hoping neither gets claimed.
11. Mattias Janmark looked solid playing centre last night. He is always on the right side of the puck defensively and coaches love that. He isn’t tall, but he’s thick. He is strong on his stick and can lean on guys. The Oilers could play him, Derek Ryan or Dylan Holloway at centre, so they don’t need to keep Pederson just because he’s a centre.
12. It is only preseason, but Patrik Laine has played a few games at centre for Columbus, and he’s produced very well. He has 3-3-6 at 5×5. I wonder if we will see him play centre in the regular season — something to consider for hockey poolies. Another name to consider later in the draft is Columbus winger Emil Bemstrom. He’s had a strong camp in Columbus. Might be a sleeper. And if you are a in a league where goals count more, don’t sleep on Jakub Vrana. He has 92 goals in his last 252 games dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season. Injuries and time in the NHL’s player assistant program limited his games played, but if he can stay on the ice, he is an incredibly productive goal scorer.
He has as many goals as Vladimir Tarasenko in the same number of games. They are tied with Jordan Eberle and Tomas Tatar for the 100th most goals over the past five seasons, and those two have played 100 more games. Vrana is someone to watch for in St. Louis.

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