With Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi having been a healthy scratch in three of ten games already, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector notes that there is a debate inside the organization as to whether or not it’s time for the 2016 fourth overall pick to spend some time in the minors. Edmonton was hesitant to give him much minor league time last season even when he was struggling but optics aside (it rarely looks good when a high pick heads for the minors), there’s certainly a strong case to be made that this is a good time to send him down. Puljujarvi’s value has sharply eroded over the last couple of seasons and an extended stint with AHL Bakersfield would allow him to work on his all-around game while getting a lot more playing time than he currently is now.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been one of the biggest early surprises of the 2018-19 season with a 6-3-1 record that trails only the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. The team is in the top half of the league in goals for and against, led by top-ten NHL scorer Sebastian Aho and a top-six on defense that rivals anyone in the league. The Hurricanes are certainly not without flaws, special teams and goaltending to highlight a couple, but overall have been very impressive with one of the youngest rosters in the league. Yet, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun writes that new GM Don Waddell is “open for business”. Given the surplus of talented defenseman on the Carolina roster and in the system, Waddell simply has the luxury of fielding offers from D-needy teams and waiting for the right offer. Potentially on the block could be long-time ’Cane Justin Faulk, young Brett Pesce, or reliable Trevor van Riemsdyk. Each of Carolina’s top-six defensemen is signed through at least next season, making these three righties attractive long-term additions. Teams in search of a younger asset could also take a look at AHLers Haydn Fleury or Roland McKeown, long considered by many to be players that should be playing regular minutes in the NHL. Garrioch notes that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are among the teams most desperate for help on the right side of the blue line and adds fuel to the fire by reporting that Toronto GM Kyle Dubas was in attendance at the ’Canes last game. It has been rumored that Carolina could be the leading candidate to land disgruntled William Nylander, while Edmonton could be willing to part with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the right deal. Waddell’s first trade, in which he acquired Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton from the Calgary Flames, has worked out nicely thus far. Can he do it again?
- It comes as no surprise that New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes is drawing trade interest. Despite his insistence that he would like to remain in New York, the one-year extension he signed this off-season said otherwise. The rebuilding Rangers are likely to deal Hayes, one of many younger centers on the roster, before he has the chance to walk as a free agent. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reports that many teams already have their eye on Hayes, implying that he may not last until the NHL Trade Deadline. Kypreos specifically names the Winnipeg Jets as a team in need of a center, after Paul Stastny’s unexpected departure this summer has left them short-handed down the middle. However, the Jets are not alone in that predicament; after losing Riley Nash to free agency and a failed preseason competition for the spot, the Boston Bruins could very much use a rental player at third-line pivot, while the trades of three different centers away from the club this summer has left the Arizona Coyotes thin at the position. These are just three of what is likely to be a list of more than a dozen suitors for the Rangers to choose between. Hayes’ days are numbered in New York.
- One name that could be a sneaky candidate to be the first notable trade victim of the regular season is Los Angeles Kings forward Tanner Pearson. The Kings are floundering this season, holders of the worst record in the Western Conference, and Pearson has been part of the problem. The 26-year-old winger has just one point through ten games and has looked like a shell of himself. In Pearson’s defense, the Kings have also cut his ice time somewhat and relegated him to the fourth line for a while, but only as a result of his poor performance. Yet, Pearson has totaled 36 points or more in each of the past three year and is quietly a very strong two-way player. It would not be a shock to see Pearson right the ship with a change of scenery, but the Kings would have to ensure that they don’t sell too low on the well-rounded forward. Trade inquiries come with the territory of a basement record though and L.A., needing to shake things up, may soon be tempted to give Pearson away for the right price.
The Edmonton Oilers are off to a better start this season, out to a 5-3-1 record in the first month of the season. There has been far less controversy surrounding the team so far, as they look to get back to the playoffs following a very disappointing 2017-18 campaign. However, not everyone is feeling the positive effects of the new year. Forward Zack Kassian has been underutilized and unproductive early this season, a continuing trend from last season, and his frustration has boiled over. According to Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman, Kassian requested and has been granted permission to seek a trade to another team. His time in Edmonton could soon be over.
Kassian, 27, is a big, power forward right winger and was once a top NHL prospect. Selected 13th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2009, Kassian was valued not only for his size and physicality, but also his offensive upside after solid production in the OHL. That scoring ability never quite developed and Kassian has made a living in the league – with Buffalo, the Vancouver Canucks, and now Edmonton – as a part-time player used to inject grit and energy into the lineup. That is until 2016-17, when Kassian earned a full-time role with the Oilers, playing in a career-high 79 games, finishing among the top forwards in hits, and contributing 24 points as well.
There was no turning back after that, as Kassian was convinced he had proven himself to be an NHL starter. Rumors of his dissatisfaction began last season, when Kassian saw his ice time slip, unsurprisingly along with his performance. However, the situation has come to a head this year, as Kassian has been a healthy scratch for a third of the Oilers’ games, has skated under ten minutes per night on average, and has been held scoreless to boot. This may simply be the new reality for Kassian, who is better suited as a match-up player to be used when toughness is needed or he’s showing flashes of offense, but it will likely take a change of scenery for him to realize that. With plenty of players who could fill a role on the fourth line, Edmonton has little reason not to take what they can for Kassian and rid themselves of two more years of his nearly $2MM cap hit. With mutual interest in a separation, this seems like a situation that will be resolved via trade in short order, although don’t expect much of a return for the Oilers or a breakout for Kassian with his new team.
Rivalries are set to renew tonight, with the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens set to square off for the first time this season and the St. Louis Blues looking to bounce back from two early losses to the Chicago Blackhawks. Teams in action tonight as well as teams adjusting from a particularly painful slate of games last night will be making roster moves throughout the day. Keep up with the changes here:
- One of those aforementioned injuries last night was sustained by the Ottawa Senators’ Zack Smith, who sustained a facial fracture in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche. With the Sens currently on a road trip and set to face the Vegas Golden Knights tomorrow, the team has worked quickly to replace Smith’s roster spot. The team announced the recall of forward Jack Rodewald from their AHL affiliate in Belleville. Rodewald skated in four games with Ottawa last season and was held scoreless, but is off to a hot start in the minors with seven points in eight games.
- The Edmonton Oilers have activated defenseman Matt Benning from the injured reserve. Benning was placed on the IR last week with an undisclosed injury and has returned as soon as possible from the mysterious ailment. In a corresponding move, the Oilers have returned Kevin Gravel to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. Gravel had been called up to replace Benning, but saw very limited ice time in two games with Edmonton. The free agent addition will have to return to the minors, where he had played well, and continue to show that he is worthy of an NHL roster spot.
- Veteran forward Ryan White has signed a PTO with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, the team announced. White, spent the entire 2017-18 season outside the NHL – split between the AHL’s San Diego Gulls and Iowa Wild – for the first time since his first pro season in the Montreal Canadiens’s system in 2008-09. The experienced grinder has had trouble locking down a job at all for this season, attending camp with the Minnesota Wild and then returning to Iowa, but to no avail. The owner of 313 NHL games (and 447 penalty minutes) could bring leadership and grit to Manitoba if he can prove that he can still skate at a pro level. White is the type of player who could even earn a pro-rated NHL contract late in the year with Winnipeg as fourth line depth. Only time will tell how this latest stop works out for the veteran.
- The Jets have recalled defenseman Tucker Poolman from Manitoba, who makes his return to the Winnipeg lineup. The 25-year-old skated in 25 games with the Jets last year in his first pro season, but failed to break camp this year. The University of North Dakota stalwart is a more than capable defender, but suffers from playing in a deep organization. Blocked by Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers on the right side of the blue line, Poolman is not guaranteed to see the ice on this recall, but will make the most of the opportunity if he does.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning decided to go with a veteran minor league defenseman to replace Victor Hedman in the lineup for the next week until he is re-evaluated while the all-star is forced to sit out with an upper-body injury. The Lightning announced they have recalled Cameron Gaunce from Syracuse of the AHL who likely will be used as an extra defender for the team. The 28-year-old has already played eight full seasons in the AHL, while only having appeared in 32 NHL games during that span. He currently has a goal and an assist in six games with the Crunch.
- Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard is quickly approaching the games played threshold where a decision will need to be made regarding whether or not to keep him up. Based on his performance thus far and the current state of Edmonton’s back end, Postmedia’s Derek Van Diest suggests that it’s likely that the 19-year-old will stick around past the ten-game mark, officially burning the first year of his entry-level contract. Bouchard has a goal in seven games so far this season while averaging a little over 12 minutes per night of ice time. If he does stick around, the next key threshold will come a couple of months from now when he approaches 40 games on the active roster as reaching that will accrue a season towards UFA eligibility.
For some time now, the landscape of NHL contracts has been changing, trending away from short and relatively inexpensive contracts for young restricted free agents. These “bridge deals” had long been used by teams to keep promising young talent on a reasonable price tag after their entry-level contract expired. While teams have been complicit in the movement away from bridge deals, players have simply begun to produce at a much higher level far sooner than in the past and, in turn, agents have demanded more term and salary than they ever had the leverage to command previously. The bridge deal is not yet extinct, but players and their representatives are having a much easier time landing expensive, long-term deals as early as possible in recent years.
While the beginning of the end for affordable youth can be traced back to superstars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – whose cap hits now look like bargains some years later – it is within the last few years that young players of a lesser caliber than the all-world exception have been able to land similar pacts. The architect of multiple recent deals of great length and value has been Mike Liut of Octagon Sports. A former NHLer himself, Liut is the director of Octagon’s hockey division. Forbes reports that Liut manages 22 clients and over $325MM in player salary. His efforts to eliminate the bridge deal have played no small part in that impressive total. Liut negotiated the eight-year, $60MM contract signed by the St. Louis Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko back in 2015, when Tarasenko had less than 200 NHL games to his credit. He then put together the eight-year, $49MM contract of the Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele in 2016, before he became the point-per-game player he is today. However, the crown jewel of Liut’s collection has to be the massive eight-year, $68MM contract belonging to the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl. Signed last year, Draisaitl’s deal carries an $8.5MM cap hit that is among the top fifteen players in the league. Yet, Liut somehow landed Draisaitl that deal after just two and half seasons, only one of which was truly impressive.
Now, Liut has a chance at a repeat performance of the Draisaitl deal not once, not twice, not even thrice, but with four different prominent players this off-season. Liut counts Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Brock Boeser, and Jake Guentzel among his clients and each of those four is set to have their entry-level contract expire this off-season. Winnipeg’s Laine has finished in the top ten in goal scoring in each of his first two seasons and was second only to Ovechkin for the league lead last year. Colorado’s Rantanen recorded 84 points in 81 games last year and currently shares the NHL lead in points and assists. Vancouver’s Boeser finished second in Calder Trophy voting last year and led the Canucks in scoring. Pittsburgh’s Guentzel is a Stanley Cup champion and a proven clutch scorer. Liut has shown an ability to bypass the bridge deal before and has an excellent chance at landing each of these players an expensive long-term deal. Other restricted free agents like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Sebastian Aho are also certain to land similar deals. As such, in an off-season with an abnormal amount of high-profile RFA’s, each one could end up with an expensive, long-term extension. The effect, as Liut hopes, that the bridge deal dies as a result.
The NHL has released the Three Stars for the third week of the season, and Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog has found himself in the top spot. Landeskog makes up part of one of the most dangerous trios in the league alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and finished last week with six goals and seven points in just three games. Landeskog is still just 25 years old despite this being his eighth season in the league and still has the potential to breakout and become a point-per-game player. That’s what he is so far with ten through his first eight games, and is an early bet to break his career high of 65 points this season.
Connor McDavid and Marc-Andre Fleury round out the stars of the week, taking home second and third respectively. Fleury especially bounced back from some early season struggles and is once again playing at a high level for the Vegas Golden Knights. The 33-year old goaltender is now tenth all-time in wins, and should pass Tony Esposito by season’s end to climb another spot.
- Robert Bortuzzo won’t be suiting up for the St. Louis Blues in Winnipeg tonight, as he’s flown back to St. Louis to be evaluated for a lower-body injury. The defenseman played on Saturday night, but is now apparently dealing with something serious enough to leave the team. The 29-year old has one goal through five games for the Blues, and is coming off the best season of his career in 2017-18 when he suited up for 72 contests. The team will have to go without his physicality and penalty killing for the time being, and will re-insert Jay Bouwmeester into the lineup for tonight’s game.
- It’s similar news for David Backes, who has left the Boston Bruins to return home and “have some tests done.” Backes didn’t play in Vancouver on Saturday night, and was limited to just over six minutes of ice time against the Edmonton Oilers after taking an early hit and being checked for a concussion. The 34-year old forward hasn’t scored yet this season, and could be on his way out of the Boston lineup on a long-term basis if he both can’t stay healthy and can’t produce. Unfortunately for the Bruins, he’s still has two more years after this season at a $6MM cap hit, and currently has a no-movement clause.
Sunday: The Oilers announced they have placed Rattie on injured reserve. The team has recalled Cooper Marody from the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL to replace him on the roster. The Oilers acquired Marody’s rights from Philadelphia in March and were able to sign him away from the University of Michigan. The 21-year-old already has two goals and six points in the Condors first five games.
Saturday: The Edmonton Oilers announced that Ty Rattie, who was forced to leave Thursday’s game against Boston with an apparent injury, will be without the promising winger for a couple of weeks with a muscle injury in his midsection.
The 25-year-old winger made a name for himself in the preseason when he led the league in goals with seven. That string of performances won him a spot on the team’s first line next to Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Rattie has not been able to continue his goal-scoring streak into the regular season. He has a goal and an assist in five games. The injury is a big blow to a player who has been working hard to earn a full-time role in the Edmonton lineup. He has played 54 games in the NHL, but spread out over six seasons.
The Oilers intend to promote 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto to the top line while Rattie is out. The fast-skating 20-year-old has a goal in five games, but if he can find some chemistry with McDavid as many people have predicted could happen, that could end Rattie’s time on the first line, one of the best lineup opportunities in the NHL.
Long-time NHL grinder Jordin Tootoo is set to be honored tonight by his junior team, the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, and again by the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow. Well, the 35-year-old got the weekend’s festivities off to a hot start this evening by officially announcing his retirement from pro hockey. The veteran of 723 NHL games missed all of last season due to injury and had not signed with any team this off-season. He now sets his sights on a new venture.
Tootoo, a long-time Nashville Predator, was selected in the fourth round of the 2001 NHL Draft. A two-way standout with the Wheat Kings and a member of Canada’s World Juniors team, Tootoo entered the league with high expectations. Although he never quite developed into a scoring threat at the NHL level, Tootoo made a living doing the dirty work: forechecking, winning battles along the boards, fighting for space in front of the net, and of course fighting. Tootoo’s hard work kept him in Nashville for eight years. In his final season with the team, his hard work earned him a career-high 13 minutes of ice time per night, which he turned into a career-best 30 points. That off-season, Tootoo signed with the Detroit Red Wings. He would suit up for two seasons apiece with Detroit and the New Jersey Devils before closing out his career in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks. In fact, Tootoo earned an extension from Chicago that would have played out last year, had it not been for an upper-body that kept him out all season. At the end of a 13-year NHL career, Tootoo totaled 65 goals, 96 assists, and over 1000 penalty minutes.
However, it is not Tootoo’s statistics that most will remember him for. It won’t even be his grit, his loyalty, or his work ethic. Instead, Tootoo will always be known for the impact he had on the indigenous populations of Canada. The first native Inuk to play in the NHL, Tootoo has devoted his career to advancing the game of hockey for indigenous peoples. It is an effort that has earned him respect and recognition across the league, even with a team he never played for – the Oilers – honoring his work. Tootoo will now turn his full attention to the mission that means so much to him. Tootoo has already done so much, but just as the hard-working veteran played on the ice, there is always more to do.
The Edmonton Oilers are set to make some changes on the back end, at least for the time being. The team announced today that they have placed defenseman Matt Benning on the injured reserve. The nature of Benning’s injury has not been disclosed and the team gave no timeline for a return, but the injury did occur in last night’s game against the Boston Bruins and his IR assignment means Benning will miss at least ten days and the Oilers’ next five games. In a corresponding move, Kevin Gravel has been recalled from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
Benning’s injury is somewhat ironic. The 24-year-old blue liner was actually the aggressor on a questionable hit up high on Boston forward David Backes early in Thursday night’s 3-2 overtime win for Edmonton (video). Benning received neither a penalty nor a second look from the league on the hit, which sent Backes to the locker room for the the remainder of the period. Backes returned later on, yet it was Bruins draft pick Benning ruled out not long after with an undisclosed injury. Now, Benning lands on the injured reserve even though he nearly landed a serious head shot on Backes. It is worth noting that Benning, teammate Ty Rattie, and Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller all left last night’s chippy contest.
Benning’s absence will allow free agent addition Gravel the chance to re-establish himself at the NHL level. A signing from the Los Angeles Kings, Gravel fully expected to have a role in Edmonton to begin this season. However, the emergence of rookie Evan Bouchard and a successful tryout from veteran Jason Garrison forced Gravel down to the AHL to begin the year. A physical, stay-at-home defender, Gravel has skated in 70 NHL games over the past three seasons and contributed 93 hits and 84 blocked shots as a gritty presence on the back end. The 26-year-old brings a different skill set from Benning, but should provide an edge and a solid game in his own end for the Oilers while he replaces his injured teammate. A strong showing could earn Gravel a long-term stay in Edmonton.