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Mike Millotte, Kingston, Ont.
Mike Millotte, Kingston, Ont.
Despite coming off another last-place finish, there's finally reason for optimism in Edmonton. The Oilers will go as far as Connor McDavid can take them.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Edmonton Oilers.
THN's Prediction: 5th in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 43-1
Key additions: Milan Lucic, LW; Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; Adam Larsson, D; Mark Fraser, D; Jonas Gustavsson, G; Kris Versteeg, RW
Key departures: Taylor Hall, LW; Lauri Korpikoski, LW; Adam Clendening, D; Luke Gazdic, LW
-Will the real Jordan Eberle please stand up? It’s been five seasons now since Eberle had the best season of his career – a 34-goal, 76-point campaign as a 21-year-old in 2011-12. Since then, his points per 82 games settled at 63, 67, 64 and then dropped to 56 last season. At 26, he’s now in his prime. So why do we think there’s much more to offer? Expect Eberle to break through his career high playing on a line with Connor McDavid and probably Milan Lucic. After 500 regular season NHL games, however, Eberle likely won’t get his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring.
-Can Adam Larsson become a top-pair bluelineer? In trading Taylor Hall to New Jersey, the Oilers paid a stiff price to secure the services of a second-pair defenseman. But the anticipation is the 23-year-old Larsson, going into his sixth NHL season, can evolve into a minute-munching, two-way force.
Larsson did play on New Jersey’s top pair for the first time last season, but his numbers were underwhelming, and he has yet to live up to his billing as the fourth-overall pick in 2011. His 0.79 shots per game last season ranked 191st among defensemen who played at least 20 games.
-Will the Oilers set a mark for futility? When the Oilers missed the playoff for the 10th consecutive season in 2015-16, they matched Florida (2001 to 2011) for the longest in NHL history. Can Edmonton make that record its own with 11 straight dry springs? Most experts say yes. The Hockey News predicts the Oilers to finish fifth in the Pacific Division and not be a wild card team. On the bright side, they’ll be in the lottery for a chance at their fifth first-overall pick in eight years.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Is this the year the Oilers finally make the playoffs? Most people would say probably not, but like any team there’s always a chance. For Edmonton, it’s just over one-in-three, which would be an optimistic outlook for most teams that finish second last, but an infuriating one for this specific team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade and set off an atomic bomb to their roster with the trade of former franchise cornerstone Taylor Hall.
But there’s been enough ink spilt on the futility of this team so let’s look on the bright side instead. The Oilers have Connor McDavid, and that’s as bright as it gets for any team. If he becomes as good as everyone thinks he will be, then the Oilers certainly have a much better chance to make the playoffs.
Their current projection hinges on McDavid being a top-15 player that scores just over 85 points – the second highest in the league. Here’s what happens to the Oilers if we get a little more optimistic and he becomes a 90, 95, or even 100 point player (assuming linemates Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic add 3.5 points for every five from McDavid). One more wrinkle to this is the Oilers signing underrated forward Kris Versteeg to a PTO. If he ends up making the team over someone like Matt Hendricks that increases their chances of making the playoffs even further.
The Oilers might become a borderline playoff team on the addition of Versteeg alone. Add McDavid’s ascension on top of that and the team could jump to third best in the Pacific, edging out the Ducks. And that ignores any potential changes for the rest of the team. Maybe Leon Draisatl takes a big step in year two, or Nail Yakupov finally finds his game, or Adam Larsson blossoms into a number one D-man. These are all things that could feasibly happen and would greatly strengthen the Oilers chances.
Basically, a lot has to go right for the Oilers to make the playoffs, but in spite of all their issues, they actually might have a shot this year. For the first time in a long time, the playoffs might actually be within reach.
Up next: Vancouver Canucks
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs
Winning seems to follow Corey Perry around and if Canada can take home the World Cup championship, he'll join a very exclusive group.
In case you’re wondering, Corey Perry keeps all his championship rings and gold medals locked in a safety deposit box. It must be a really, really big one. “I don’t travel with them,” Perry deadpanned as Team Canada prepared for its semifinal game against Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. We’ll figure something out when I’m done playing.”
Perry has not only a chance to add another bauble to his collection, but he also has an opportunity to join a miniscule group of players when it comes to winning championships. Miniscule, as in one. In all of the history of the game, only Scott Niedermayer has won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World Championship, World Junior Championship, Memorial Cup and Canada/World Cup title. Perry can join him if Team Canada can win three more games in the tournament. Perhaps he and Niedermayer, a former teammate with the Anaheim Ducks and a special assignment coach with the Ducks, can compare their hardware when he returns to Anaheim.
Like Niedermayer, winning follows Perry around. And like Niedermayer, Perry has been a huge part of the championship teams on which he’s played. When asked if there are any similarities between the two, Perry’s Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf cracked, “Yeah, they skate the same.”
He was joking. Niedermayer is one of the smoothest, most effortless and efficient skaters the game has ever seen. Perry, on the other hand, skates as though he’s on a personal mission to do as much damage to the ice as possible. But the results are undeniable. It all started for Perry in 2005 when he barely made Canada’s WJC team during the NHL lockout and scored seven points to help Canada win the title. Later that season, after scoring 130 points for the London Knights, he added another 38 in 18 playoff games to lead the Knights to the Memorial Cup. Two years later he contributed to the only Stanley Cup he has won in his career. He then won gold medals with Canada both in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014 before becoming the 27th member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship) when Canada won the world title last spring.
Perry is well aware that he’s on the cusp of history. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t given it a lot of thought. “Obviously, I’ve heard about it and I kind of know what’s at stake,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s just a matter of going out and playing hockey. I don’t worry about it. You don’t know if it could ever happen again, but I just go out and let the chips fall. It would be a tremendous honor for sure and it speaks volumes of the teams that I played for and guys I played with.”
It also speaks volumes of his contribution to those teams. Playing on what is essentially the third line on the left side of Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture, Perry has a goal in the tournament, mostly because he hasn’t been getting many looks. He has just six shots in the tournament, while Toews has 10 and leads Canada in scoring with three goals and an assist. The best thing about this for Perry is that he was not initially part of the group that was named to play in the World Cup and was added to the team when Jeff Carter had to pull out with an injury. But Hockey Canada knows what Perry is all about and appreciates how he has always answered the call for his country, so it was a pretty easy decision for both sides.
“The times I went (to the World Championship in 2010, 2012 and 2016), the season kind of ended abruptly and I wasn’t planning on sitting back and relaxing for another month or so,” Perry said. “It’s a great time and anytime you get a call, if you can go, I go and I want to be a part of that team.”
What Perry is on the cusp of accomplishing is something rather special. Sidney Crosby, who has won everything but a Memorial Cup, lost to Perry’s Knights in the final in 2005. Wayne Gretzky hasn’t done it. Nor has Mario Lemieux, nor Team Canada teammates Toews or Patrice Bergeron. They've all come close, but none of them has a safety deposit box with quite as much variety as Perry.
“It’s important to have winners, period,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. “If you look at our group, we have a lot of determined people that have been in a lot of good situations and have learned how to win and expect to win. And in the big moments in your life, the best of the best deliver and they think they’re going to deliver. They don’t know why, but in their heart and in their mind they know they’re going to do it.”
Canada got a scare from the Russians and trailed for the second time in the entire tournament, but Brad Marchand’s pair of goals helped put Canada ahead for good.
It was looking a little dicey for Canada for awhile. Even though the master plan was in full effect – control the play and bombard Russia with shots – netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was playing Superman in the other crease. But good things tend to happen when Canada follows the plan and eventually Bobrovsky could hold the fort no longer. In the end, Canada got the 5-3 score that reflected the imbalance on the ice and now the Canucks move on to the World Cup final.
It's actually quite incredible that Russia led the game 2-1 at one point in the second. After Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with a tremendous strip and deke in the first, Russia repaid Bobrovsky for his heroics in the second. A bad Jay Bouwmeester pinch led to a 2-on-1 and a Nikita Kucherov snipe, which was followed by Evgeny Kuznetsov cashing in on a nice charge by Ivan Telegin.
But Crosby came to Canada's rescue again, hawking another puck in the offensive zone and slinging it to a wide-open Brad Marchand, who made no mistake at the side of the net.
The dam finally broke in the third, with Marchand slipping a wrister past Bobrovsky, followed by strikes by Corey Perry and John Tavares. Canada outshot Russia brutally throughout the contest and the possession numbers were similarly one-sided, as one would presume. Despite Bobrovsky's all-world play (a quick recap: he stoned Tavares on two point-blank shots, outwaited Steven Stamkos on a goal-mouth sojourn and stopped a streaking Marchand tip, among many other feats), Canada got the result it deserved.
Alex Ovechkin was practically invisible thanks to Shea Weber and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Canada's excellent defensive forwards made up for some shaky play by blueliners Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo.
So now the Red and White Killing Machine moves on, to face either Sweden or Europe. Canada got a nice challenge from Russia, at least for part of the game, and now the gold is in sight. If everybody sticks to the plan, as per usual, Canada will be very hard to beat once in the final, let alone twice.
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Ottawa is already without Curtis Lazar in training camp due to mononucleosis, and now the Senators are going to be without Mark Stone due to a concussion. There’s no timeline for the 24-year-old’s return, either.
The Ottawa Senators caught a bad break ahead of training camp when young pivot Curtis Lazar came down with mononucleosis, and the breaks aren’t getting any better.
Senators coach Guy Boucher announced Saturday that Mark Stone has been diagnosed with a concussion, and the 24-year-old winger will be on the shelf day-to-day. Boucher said Stone’s health and his recovery progress will be evaluated daily, but, currently, there’s no timetable for his return. There’s also no word on how exactly the injury occurred, either.
Concern for Stone first arose during the opening day of Senators’ training camp Friday. He was part of the skate early on, but left the ice before the skate was over and did not return. Because of the injury, Stone didn’t take part in Saturday’s practice, and there’s no certainty when he’ll be able to rejoin the Senators.
The only good news in all of this — if you can even call it that — is that the Senators still have nearly three weeks to go before the start of the regular season, and there’s no need to rush Stone back into action. Thankfully, Stone doesn’t have a history of head injuries, either.
Outside of Erik Karlsson, Stone has arguably become the center of Ottawa’s attack in just two short seasons. This past campaign, Stone notched 23 goals and 61 points as a sophomore, finishing behind only Karlsson in scoring for the Senators. It was the second consecutive season Stone surpassed the 20-goal, 60-point plateau, and he appears primed to take another step forward this coming season.
Stone took over a top line role in 2015-16, averaging upwards of 20 minutes per night, and he was one of the top 50 scorers in the entire league at 5-on-5. Stone’s 12 goals and 34 points ranked 48th in 5-on-5 scoring, and his 22 assists ranked 39th among at 5-on-5.
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