NHL Network predicts a Blackhawks upset over the Oilers

A couple of NHL Network analysts believe that the Blackhawks will upset the Oilers in their five-game play-in series this summer.

Mike Johnson and Mike Rupp, two former NHLers, are picking the No. 12 seeded Chicago to take down the No. 5 ranked Oilers. They backed up their stance by noting that the Oilers are too reliant on special teams and that the veteran Blackhawks are battled-tested with a wealth of playoff experience.

“The Edmonton Oilers were so reliant on their power play and penalty kill,” said Johnson. “If that goes cold, 5-on-5 hockey, which playoff hockey involves more of, doesn’t favour them to the same degree.”

This take I don’t necessarily disagree with. There’s no doubt that an elite power play was a key part of the Oilers’ success this season and that it’s more difficult to rely on the man advantage in the playoffs as the referees tend to put their whistles away.

That said, even when you just isolate the two teams to their even-strength play, Edmonton still comes up better than Chicago. The Blackhawks ranked 27th in the league this season based on expected goals for percentage, which is calculated based on shot quality and shot volume. The Oilers are still better than the Blackhawks without special teams involved.

“Just look at the circumstances that we’re under right now,” Rupp said. “This is very foreign, it’s a unique situation. I want guys who have gone through some unique situations… That’s no knock to the Edmonton Oilers, they just haven’t been through a grind of any sort like this in the playoffs in general.”

This take I don’t agree with at all. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups and the core of those teams — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, and Duncan Keith — is still around.

But nobody has dealt with the circumstances that we’re dealing with right now. Chicago winning the Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015 has nothing to do with coming out of a four-month pause, picking things up, and immediately getting up to game speed to excel in a quick, five-game playoff series. If anything, I would lean towards Edmonton in this situation, since they’re a younger group and they can likely get up to speed quicker.

It’s a five-game series, so anything can happen, but I still like Edmonton’s chances. I wrote an in-depth look at why I feel that way a few weeks ago that you can read here.

You can watch the full clip here…

Are Lehtonen and Barabanov eligible for the NHLs return to play

Are Lehtonen and Barabanov eligible for the NHL’s return to play? The quick answer, probably not.

Alexander Barabanov and Mikko Lehtonen weren’t on the Leafs reserve list, let alone roster at the time of the trade deadline and were signed to contracts set to begin with the 2020-21 season. Odds are they won’t be playing, but that doesn’t mean that we now have reason to question that stance…

The Romanov example is one of a player who was on the Canadiens reserve list, and while he didn’t have a contract, there’s more of a case to be made for him to be part of the organization moreso than the two Leafs we’d consider seeing added to the playoff group. There’s also this cold water…

So, yeah, that’s not exactly a lot of certainty that any of this is happening.

There is no doubt that Barabanov and Lehtonen would be very appealing training camp invites if they are eligible, but there is still no certainty that either would play. You can likely make a case for Barabanov being a better option than someone like Denis Malgin, and I’m sure a lot of the readers of this site like the idea of Mikko Lehtonen bumping Martin Marincin or Cody Ceci further down the depth chart, but neither are roster locks.

The attempts to add players like this to the return to play rosters has been an interesting development and could change the invite list for the Leafs training camp, so we’ll continue to keep an eye on the developments, but for now we’d settle for knowing the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to play and they know what cities they’ll play in.

Three years ago today, Calgary Flames acquire pick used to draft Dustin Wolf

It was three years ago today that the Calgary Flames made a trade that gave them the seventh-round pick used to draft goalie Dustin Wolf, who by all accounts could be the clubs goalie of the future.

Calgary had slung a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes to acquire goaltender Eddie Lack, defenceman Ryan Murphy and a 2019 seventh-round pick for Keegan Danzig and a 2019 sixth-round pick (Kevin Wall).

That seventh the Flames got was used to select Wolf, who was signed by the club at the start of May to an entry-level contract.

Wolf was just named the Canadian Hockey League’s top goaltender playing for the Everett Silvertips. There he led the WHL in every major statistical category – shutouts, wins, goals-against average and save percentage – either outright or in a tie. The only categories he didn’t lead in the CHL was wins where he came in fourth.

Who says seventh-round picks can’t be valuable in a trade?

On Twitter: @zjlaing

NHL History Seven years ago today, Edmonton Oilers draft Darnell Nurse

It was seven years ago today the Edmonton Oilers drafted defenceman Darnell Nurse seventh overall.

In his first year post-draft, Nurse had only spent two games with the Edmonton Oilers before being sent to back to the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, where he scored 10 goals and 33 points in 36 games.

His first full season in Edmonton came in 2015-16 where he scored 10 points in 69 games, but it’s taken some time for him to develop his game.

Now seven years in, Nurse has established himself as a solid top-four defenceman and in the last two years shown the offensive upside he showed in his junior days.

In the last two years, he’s scored 74 points in 153 points in what’s been a welcomed burst to the Oilers lineup. Edmonton’s longed for a point contributor on the back end and Nurse is showing he can be that.

In February, the Oilers signed him to a two year, $5.6-million contract lasting through the 2021-22 season.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

CONSPIRACY ALERT Why the NHL is rigging the lottery for insert team here

It’s very clear that the NHL rigged this year’s draft lottery.

Beyond not wanting Alexis Lafreniere to go to a horrendous franchise like the Ottawa Senators or Buffalo Sabres, the league knew that it would be a good marketing ploy to have one of the play-in teams win the first-overall pick because it would direct a bunch of attention to a second draft lottery at a later date.

All news is good news. Basic stuff.

So we know that this thing was rigged for the placeholder know, as “Team E” … but what we don’t know is who “Team E” is going to be. Let’s do some digging to determine who the NHL actively rigged the lottery for and why they did it.

The Taylor Hall Factor

The Arizona Coyotes are an obvious choice to be given the first-overall pick. They’re Gary Bettman’s starving, dying project and, if they fail, it reflects poorly on him. This team needs a major boost in order to become a playoff team.

But if Bettman wanted Arizona to thrive, why didn’t they force a Coyotes lottery win in 2015 when they tanked for McDavid or in 2016 when local hero Auston Matthews was a possibility? Maybe the NHL isn’t trying to help the Coyotes, maybe there’s another factor at play here.

Taylor Hall has been involved in five lottery wins in his career. The Oilers won in 2011, 2012, and 2015, and then the Devils won in 2017 and 2019 with him on the roster. Does he have incriminating photos of Bettman that result in him winning over and over again? Maybe that’s why the Coyotes traded for him, to ensure this draft lottery win after missing out in 2015 and 2016.

The Francophone Factor

The Montreal Canadiens haven’t had a French star on their team in ages. Their current star right now is goaltender Carey Price, from British Columbia and before that it was P.K. Subban, from Toronto. The Habs tried to make Jonathan Drouin that guy, but it hasn’t worked.

You have to go all the way back to the 1990s when the Habs had Vincent Damphousse to find a legitimate Francophone star. You’d have to go back a little further to Patrick Roy to find their last true French-Canadian superstar.

Alexis Lafreniere is the first surefire first-overall pick to come out of Quebec since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998 and the Habs absolutely couldn’t let this chance pass by. The team is also in purgatory and the league knows that it’s better to have a strong Montreal Canadiens franchise than whatever the hell it is they have right now.

The Arena Factor

There’s nothing more important in professional sports than land development. Teams are frequently used as chess pieces for businesses to get public funding to build extravagant new facilities loaded with things like restaurants, hotels, and apartment complexes.

Both the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders are in the midst of new development projects to replace their horrible, broken-down old areas. And, of course, both teams want to be good when the new stadium is set to open.

In exchange for under-the-table cash from these projects, either the Flames or the Islanders (I’m guessing the latter because they just recently lost a star in free agency) demanded the first-overall pick.

This is how Edmonton got Connor McDavid, of course. They gave Gary Bettman millions of dollars worth of shares in the city’s Ice District. It’s also how the Penguins got Crosby.

The Big Market Factor

The NHL was having a blast in the early part of the 2010s when the Chicago Blackhawks were at the top of their game. Now, with the Hawks reeling from their prolonged Stanley Cup hangover, the league badly misses their key influence in the West.

Having Vegas doing well is great, but the NHL needs a big-market team back on top in the Western Conference. Having Colorado or Calgary or St. Louis just isn’t going to cut it. The league needs the Blackhawks to come back to life.

Giving Chicago the first-overall pick and Los Angeles the second-overall pick would certainly help the NHL’s plan to bring things back to the way they were 10 years ago.

The Relocation Factor

Houston has the ninth-biggest TV market in the United States, making it the biggest city that the NHL doesn’t currently have a team in. The Carolina Hurricanes are a struggling franchise and they’re in a small market.

As a favour to owner Tom Dundon, whose business is based in Texas, Bettman rigged the lottery in favour of the Hurricanes, giving them another elite young player to add to their strong young core. As Vegas showed, the best way to get a fanbase up and running is by having a strong team right off the hop, which the Houston Aeros can do.

Jun 21, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs player Auston Matthews wins the Calder Memorial Trophy during the 2017 NHL Awards and Expansion Draft at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Grand Desert Conspiracy

The NHL has always wanted Matthews in Arizona, but they couldn’t execute another lottery rig in 2016. It was too soon after Edmonton had won McDavid, which was chaos, and the Leafs had felt scorned, so everyone was watching closely. Now Bettman has his chance.

Bettman wants the Leafs to send Matthews to Arizona, but, predictably they haven’t been receptive to the subject. But as part of a sweetener this year, Bettman offered to build a weird playoff structure designed specifically to have the Leafs lose in the first round and get the first-overall pick.

In return, the Leafs will send Matthews to Arizona for a massive combination of picks and prospects and they’ll say it was for cap savings because the upper limit isn’t going up for three years.

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