Will McDavid Complete His Contract With the Oilers?

The Edmonton Oilers are not in a good place right now.

Could Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid one day seek a trade? (Photo via NHL Images)

Despite the presence of superstar center Connor McDavid, the Oilers entered the first full week of 2019 having lost eight of their last 10 games. As of Jan. 5, they sat four points out of a wild-card berth in the Western Conference.

So far, the Oilers have done a lousy job providing McDavid – the NHL’s best player – with a suitable supporting cast. The fact they’re even within striking distance of a playoff berth is due to his efforts. Without their 21-year-old captain, they’re jockeying with the bottom feeders to win the Jack Hughes sweepstakes in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

Since last season, the Oilers’ struggles prompted some observers to wonder if they risk wasting McDavid’s best years. Toronto Star columnist and TSN contributor Bruce Arthur was the latest to weigh in on this problem.

 

McDavid, of course, is a team player who really wants to help the Oilers return to Stanley Cup glory. Demanding a trade probably hasn’t entered his mind.

Nevertheless, Arthur’s comment raises some interesting questions. At what stage would McDavid entertain the notion of a trade? If management, be it current GM Chiarelli or his successor, fails to significantly improve the Oilers, would McDavid request a trade before his contract expires?

When Arthur called the Oilers “a stinking franchise”, he wasn’t slamming the city of Edmonton or Oilers fans. He’s referring to how poorly they’ve been managed for the past decade. Nearing the halfway point of this season, there’s little sign of improvement.

McDavid, meanwhile, is a former Hart Trophy winner and two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader and of the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s top player as voted by the players.

With 23 goals and 61 points in 40 games, McDavid is the Oilers’ leading scorer and entered this week sitting fifth among the NHL scoring leaders. At his current pace, he’s within range of a career-best 50 goal, 130-point performance.

McDavid is also in the first year of an eight-year contract, giving management until 2026 – when he becomes eligible for unrestricted free agent status – to build a contender around him.

Most observers will consider a McDavid trade before the expiration of his contract a remote possibility. In response to Arthur’s comments, some cited Hall-of-Famers like Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman as examples of superstars sticking with their teams despite lean early years and eventually being rewarded for their loyalty with Stanley Cup glory.

Lemieux and Yzerman, however, played for teams whose management eventually surrounded them with quality talent. The same cannot be said right now for the Oilers and McDavid.

Perhaps like Lemieux and Yzerman, McDavid’s loyalty will be rewarded in time. But what if it isn’t? What if the Oilers fail to develop into a Cup contender? What if, in three or four years, McDavid realizes he’s wasting his time and talent on a perennially mediocre franchise? What if he wants to join a contender while he’s still in his prime playing years?

If so, what would be the asking price for the league’s best player?

We discussed this during last week’s Face Off Hockey Show. The last time the best player in the league was traded while still in his prime was Wayne Gretzky in 1988 when he was shipped by the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player deal.

Taking into account how much the league has changed since the Gretzky trade, including the implementation of the salary cap, we guessed the Oilers’ asking price would be a first-line center, a top-four defenseman, one to two first-round draft picks and one or two top prospects.

To ensure the best possible return, we also suggested trading McDavid before his no-movement clause kicks in on July 1, 2022. That allows the Oilers to send him wherever they wish without his approval, assuming they’re willing to be that coldblooded or McDavid doesn’t care where he goes.

All of this, of course, is mere speculation on our part. Feel free to pitch your hypothetical trade proposals in the comments section below.

For now, there’s no indication McDavid wants out of Edmonton. He’ll probably remain the good soldier like John Tavares was with the New York Islanders. Tavares spent nine years with the Isles but had little to show for his efforts and finally departed via free agency to Toronto last summer. McDavid could also opt for greener pastures when his contract expires.

The longer the Oilers remain “a stinking franchise,” the more questions will be raised about McDavid’s future in Edmonton.










Are NHL Offer Sheets Coming in 2019?

The calendar hasn’t yet flipped to 2019 but already some pundits are speculating over which NHL players could become targeted for offer sheets from rival clubs.

Earlier this month, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston claimed there’s a “strong belief” inside the industry that Matthews will be a prime offer-sheet target if unsigned by July 1. He also suggested Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine could receive one as well.

Could a top young RFA, such as Toronto’s Auston Matthews, receive an offer sheet next summer? (Photo via NHL Images)

Johnston acknowledged Matthews and Laine would first have to agree to sign an offer sheet and there’s no certainty either guy will want to leave a contending team. Still, he considers it unlikely they would spurn a massive offer worth around $15 million annually.

His colleague Elliotte Friedman subsequently expressed his belief that offer sheets could be coming for several prime “grade-A candidates” next summer. While he didn’t elaborate who they were, he’s likely referring to guys like Matthews. Laine, Matthews’ teammate Mitch Marner and Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Point.

Limited salary-cap space for several teams carrying superstar RFAs is fuelling that speculation. Assuming an $83-million cap for next season as recently projected by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the Leafs and Jets would each have over $26 million in cap space. While that seems like plenty of room, re-signing those young stars could take a big bite out of that cap space, leaving considerably less for other signings or roster additions.

With over $73 million invested in 15 players, the Lightning faces the tightest squeeze. Same goes for the Calgary Flames ($67 million committed to 14 players), who have a power forward in young Matthew Tkachuk due for a hefty pay bump.

Colorado Avalanche winger (and current NHL scoring leader) Mikko Rantanen will also be in line for a big raise next summer. While the Avs have plenty of cap room ($46 million tied up in 11 players) they might have a self-imposed cap lower than the league. If so, Rantanen would become a tempting target for an offer sheet.

Not everyone, however, believes we’ll see an offer-sheet signing next summer. TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently said he’ll believe it when he sees it because of so much previous talk on the subject that came to nothing.

McKenzie felt Ottawa Senators winger Mark Stone was a prime candidate last summer to get an offer sheet. Had Stone received a one-year offer and the Senators matched it, McKenzie pointed out they wouldn’t be allowed to trade him this season, thus risking Stone’s departure via free agency next July.

McKenzie said some teams are believed to have considered signing Stone but ultimately no one tried it.

In the NHL’s salary-cap era, offer sheets are rare occurrences. The last successful signing took place in 2007 when Dustin Penner left the Anaheim Ducks for the Edmonton Oilers. The last player to receive an offer sheet was then-Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly in February 2013, inking a deal with the Calgary Flames that was quickly matched by the Avs.

Nearly two months ago, I examined the reasons why offer sheets seem to have gone the way of the dodo. An apparent reluctance to employ that tactic by management, fuelled by fear over having their own best players targeted, seems the main reason. Many players also appear disinterested in such deals.

In a recent interview, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said he’s not concerned about the issue. He pointed out that his club’s cap situation is set up to defend against offer sheet threats “with no worry at all.”

Dubas could intend to get Matthews and Marner re-signed before July 1. Or perhaps he’ll put his other re-signings on hold until he’s got both players under contract, ensuring sufficient cap space to match any offer. Or perhaps Dubas could shed a contract or two next summer to free up extra space.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, only has one young superstar to re-sign in Laine. Granted, re-upping Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers won’t be cheap, but they’re not on the same level as Laine. If push came to shove, Cheveldayoff could pass on Trouba or Myers, or perhaps consider dumping a contract or two via trade.

Lighting GM Julien BriseBois will probably attempt to channel former GM Steve Yzerman’s wizardry at getting their top players to accept less than market value on Point. He’ll remind the youngster that Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman all passed up the opportunity to make bigger bucks elsewhere to remain in Tampa Bay.

If Matthews, Laine, Marner, and Point are unavailable, Tkachuk could become a more attractive offer-sheet option. Still, it’s unlikely a rival club will pony up over $10 million annually for him.

The threat of an offer sheet remains a possibility next summer but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. All of those pending RFAs could be re-signed before July 1, or they could simply be uninterested in accepting offers from other clubs, or the general managers could maintain their unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” not to try poaching away each other’s best young talent.

As a wise man recently said, I’ll believe it when I see it.

 










Projected 2018-19 NHL Scoring Race

In mid-October, I took note of the high rate of scoring during the opening weeks of this NHL season. While acknowledging scoring has slowly risen since 2015-16, I assumed October’s higher-than-usual rate of goals (3.11) would decline over the remainder of the schedule as players and teams adjusted to the slog of a long season.

As of Dec. 15, however, goal production has remained at the same rate. 

The number of power-play opportunities (3.15) and power-play percentage (20.41) is slightly higher than the previous two seasons. It’s worth noting, however, that those numbers were significantly higher a few seasons ago without generating a big boost in goals percentage.

Save percentage has continued its steady decline since the .914 peak of 2015-16, sliding to .907. Gradual reductions in goalie equipment, especially pads and chest protectors, could be contributing factors.

Another reason is a number of players are scoring at rates unseen since 2005-06, the last time the average goal rate rose over 3.00.

The league’s ongoing trend toward youth and speed is a significant factor. Among this season’s current top-10 point leaders as of Dec. 15, all but Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Winnipeg Jets winger Blake Wheeler were 25 or younger.

Current NHL scoring leader Mikko Rantanen is among several players who could exceed 100 points this season. (Photo via NHL Images)

At the current rate of production, 17 players among the current scoring leaders (as of Dec. 15, 2018) could reach 100 points over the remainder of this season (stick tap to The Sports Forecaster). 

Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche: 139 points

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: 129 points

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: 121 points

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: 116 points

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: 110 points

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: 110 points

Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs: 107 points

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: 110 points

Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers: 105 points

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames: 104 points

Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning: 102 points

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: 102 points

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: 99 points

Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals: 103 points

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: 100 points

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers: 101 points

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: 103 points

The last time more than 10 players reached 100 points was 1995-96 (12). That group included Hall-of-Famers Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, Ron Francis, Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Sergei Fedorov, and Wayne Gretzky, as well as future Hall-of-Fame inductees Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Mogilny.

Thirteen players could score 50 goals, something no player has done since 2015-16. Three of them could even become the first to reach 60 goals since the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos in 2010-11.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: 74 goals

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: 57 goals

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: 57 goals

Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres: 55 goals

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: 54 goals

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: 52 goals

Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche: 52 goals

Brayden Point: Tampa Bay Lightning: 52 goals

Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: 51 goals

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs: 50 goals

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks: 50 goals

Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets: 50 goals

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames: 50 goals

The last NHL season that saw 10-or-more players reach 50 goals mark was in 1992-93. Fourteen of them – Mogilny, Selanne, and Lemieux, along with fellow Hall-of-Famers Luc Robitaille, Pavel Bure, Steve Yzerman, Dave Andreychuk, Brett Hull, Pat LaFontaine, Mark Recchi, and Brendan Shanahan, as well as Pierre Turgeon, Kevin Stevens, and Jeremy Roenick – achieved that milestone.

There’s still a long way to go until the end of the regular season in April. Most of the current scoring leaders should see their production decline as the long physical grind takes its toll during the second half of the schedule.

Still, even if half of these players drop out of their projected 50-goal and 100-point pace, the remainder will still represent a significant increase over those who reached those respective marks in recent years. It could become the league’s best offensive season since 2005-06 when five players tallied at least 50 goals and seven reached 100 points.

 










No-Movement Clauses and The Next NHL Expansion Draft

Last Tuesday, the NHL board of governors unanimously approved awarding an expansion franchise to the city of Seattle, Washington. The club’s first season will be in 2021-22, making it the first NHL team in the American Pacific Northwest and providing a natural rival for the Vancouver Canucks.

The expansion draft for the Seattle franchise will be held in June 2021 at the renovated KeyArena, with the rules similar to those of the 2017 expansion draft. The as-yet-unnamed Seattle club will select one player from each team (excluding the Golden Knights) for a total of 30 players: 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

Each club has the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender, or eight skaters (forward or defense) and a goalie. All first- and second-year players, and all unsigned draft choices will be exempt.

Players with no-movement clauses at the time of the draft, and who decline to waive those clauses, must be protected by their teams.

Thanks to the good folks at the indispensable Cap Friendly, here’s a list of players who have “effective & continuing “No Move” clauses in 2021 as part of their contracts”:

 

Fifteen teams – Arizona Coyotes, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins – will be affected, totaling 27 players.

The Blackhawks, Stars, and Penguins will be most affected, with each club having four players to protect, followed by the Bruins, Panthers, and Wild with two each.

Of those players, only two – the Stars’ Tyler Seguin and the Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau – will be under the age of 30.

Bear in mind this list could grow as more players are signed to long-term contract prior to the 2020-21 season. Given the impact they have on a team’s protected list, general managers could be reluctant to include such clauses in new contracts if they’re in effect during the year of the expansion draft.

Those no-movement clauses must be in effect before June 30, 2021. The number of players on each club with those clauses could also change as a few could agree to waive them in order to be dealt to another team.

 










Updated Look At NHL Coaches on the Hot Seat

Earlier this month, I looked at several NHL coaches thought to be at risk of losing their jobs. Since then, the St. Louis Blues fired Mike Yeo while Todd McLellan was relieved of his duties by the Edmonton Oilers.

Yeo was among those on my previous list. Given the Blues ongoing struggles since then, it wasn’t surprising when his firing was announced last week.

McLellan wasn’t on my list because the Oilers at that time had recently overcome a slow start and seemed to be surging in the Western Conference standings. Their resulting slump led to his dismissal.

Given these recent developments, it’s time to revisit and revise the listing. Some who were on the original compilation have seen an upturn in their fortunes while others could still be feeling the heat.

Dave Hakstol, Philadelphia Flyers. While many of the Flyers faithful remain disenchanted with Hakstol, GM Ron Hextall remains patient with his coach and his roster. They’re playing .500 hockey right now as their performances continue to blow hot and cold. Their inconsistency continues to cast a harsh spotlight upon Hakstol.

Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher could be among several NHL coaches feeling the heat this season. (Photo via NHL.com).

Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators. He’s in the final season of his contract and there’s no certainty he’ll be back after this season. Though the Senators defied expectations earlier this season, they’ve sunk in recent weeks toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. With the club seemingly at the mercy of their unpredictable owner Eugene Melnyk, it wouldn’t be surprising if Boucher was handed his walking papers before the new year.

Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers. With a knee injury sidelining goaltender Roberto Luongo for the opening month of the season, the Panthers got off to a sputtering start. They’ve shown some improvement since Luongo’s return and aren’t out of playoff contention yet but remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. If they don’t gain ground in the standings soon, speculation could grow over Boughner’s job security.

Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Penguins sitting outside the Eastern Conference standings, GM Jim Rutherford is shopping around for trades to bolster his struggling roster. Sullivan can’t be faulted for injuries sidelining several key players, goalie Matt Murray’s shaky start and the lack of skilled depth among his checking lines. But if there are no season-saving trades on the horizon, perhaps Rutherford will consider a coaching change.

Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks. Despite losing top defensemen Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm to recent injuries, the Ducks entered this week holding onto third place in the Pacific Division. Despite critics suggesting Carlyle’s tactics no longer work in a league trending toward youth and speed, Ducks general manager Bob Murray is sticking by his coach. Their recent improvement could reduce some of the heat Carlyle’s felt in recent weeks.

Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings. After one of the worst starts in franchise history, the Red Wings rallied back in recent weeks. They’re now within striking distance of a wild-card berth, silencing Blashill’s critics. The Wings aren’t going to part with him now.

 










Don’t Expand The NHL Playoff Format

Now and again, I find myself in agreement with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Like this past week, when the commish shot down the notion of expanding the NHL playoff format.

There is no proposal,” Bettman told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “You’re making it sound like there’s this movement out there. There isn’t.”

Bettman was referring to what Friedman called the “concept” where the top-three seeds in each division get a bye through a “play-in” round. “The next four teams would meet in a one-versus-four, two-versus-three setup. The winners of those two setups would move on”. The “play-in” round would be a best-of-three format.

Oh, goody. Just what we need, adding another week to an already too-long postseason following a too-long regular season.

The current playoff format, in which 16 out of 31 teams qualify, is fair enough. They play an 82-game schedule starting in early-October and ending in early-April to eliminate half the teams. Yes, it seems a tad pointless to go through that much of a slog just to determine which half of the league gets into the big dance, but so be it.

After that comes four grueling best-of-seven rounds that whittle away at those 16 clubs until finally a Stanley Cup champion is crowned in early-to-mid June.

Friedman wasn’t sure who dreamed up this “play-in” concept, though he said one source suggested it came about over frustration over how missing the playoffs hurt ticket revenue. To which I say, if a team owner or general manager wants a taste of that sweet playoff revenue, do a better job building and maintaining a postseason contender.

As Bettman noted, this “play-in” round concept isn’t exactly fair to teams that qualify for the final postseason seeds. “If you’re a team that was in the eighth slot, and you lose, your season ends in a disaster.”

Friedman thinks the league is missing an opportunity for some great hockey, but as the commissioner noted, we’re already getting that in the opening round. He considers it unfair to wear out a couple of teams before they get to play in the first round.

Besides, we already see some great hockey in that final couple of weeks of the regular season as teams in contention for the final playoff berths jockey for position down the stretch. The final games down the stretch can set the stage for some exciting finishes.

I love following the NHL, and not just because I’m able to eke out a comfortable living covering the league as a freelancer. But at the risk of sounding like a grouchy old coot yelling at a cloud, the last thing the league needs is something that pushes the end of the playoffs deeper into the month of June.

Hockey should be over by the end of May, not dragging into June when interest wanes as the fans turn toward summer activities.

If there’s going to be any changes to the playoff format, it should be shortening the opening two rounds. The first round could be a best-of-three and the second a best-of-five. I’m also ok with those two rounds being best-of-five. The Conference Finals and the Cup Final should be best-of-seven. That way, the playoffs could be over by the end of May.

Of course, that’s just a pipe dream on my part. Shortening the playoffs means cutting into that lucrative revenue, something the owners would never go for.

Thankfully, at least, Bettman is against adding another round. Nice to see he’s bowing to common sense. Hopefully, he’ll do the same with the next round of collective bargaining and avoid another lockout.