David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils shoots the puck into the offensive zone against the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on April 20, 2013.
Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Q: As a longtime Edmonton Oilers fan, here’s what I think new general manager Craig MacTavish should do: (1) Trade the Oilers’ first draft pick at the entry draft in Newark, N.J., on June 30, trade both rookie Nail Yakupov and veteran winger Ales Hemsky, if required, to get the first overall pick Seth Jones; (2) try to sign David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins winger Nathan Horton, even though he’s had injury problems; (3) try to sign Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin to give Edmonton’s No. 1 Devan Dubnyk some competition.
(Jan Malcolm, Halifax)
A: If the Florida Panthers, the worst team in the NHL right now, win the draft lottery and get first pick on June 30, the Oilers would be dealing with everybody else. I’m sure the Panthers would listen to an Oilers pitch if Yakupov was included since he plays like Pavel Bure and the Panthers used to have Bure on their roster. But the Panthers would not listen if the Oilers’ first-round pick was past No. 6 because they would have to get a defenceman — Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds or Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights — at that spot in the batting order to make up for not taking Jones, who’s the consensus top choice Jones plays for the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League.
Every team is looking at Clarkson, a younger version of New York Rangers winger Ryane Clowe. But he’s born and bred a Devil, and he’s playing for Pete DeBoer, his former junior coach. I don’t see him leaving New Jersey. Horton is a possibility since the Bruins likely aren’t going to re-sign him unless he takes a healthy pay cut from his current $4 million a season. But Horton hasn’t been the same player since his bad concussion in the 2011 playoffs. Buyer beware.
The Bruins seem to feel that Swede Niklas Svedberg, the American Hockey League’s top goalie playing for the Providence Bruins, can make the jump to back up Tuukka Rask in Boston next season. This would mean Khudobin, a Russian, would be on the market. Khudobin is built along the lines of retired goalie Andy Moog and has a 2.20 goals-against average, .925 save percentage and a 9-3-1 record in 13 games. This one might have some legs. Dubnyk is part of the solution in Edmonton, he’s not a problem. He’s a good goalie, but the mistakes in front of him on many nights would betray any netminder. If Nikolai Khabibulin, who still has some game left at age 40, isn’t back as the No. 2 guy next season, the Oilers will be looking to get younger to help out Dubnyk. All good questions, Jan.
Q: Oilers GM Craig MacTavish is on record as saying he’s going to make some bold moves. I know the Oilers could get into position to draft centres Aleksander Barkov or Sean Monahan, but they can’t help the team right away. Could they make a play for Evgeni Malkin if the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to shed some salary, offering their first-round draft pick, centre Sam Gagner and this and that?
A: Sure, the Oilers could try, but Penguins GM Ray Shero would just say, “what are you smoking?” Malkin’s five-year deal ends next season with a salary-cap hit of $8.7 million and, the word is, he’s looking for more than that in a new eight-year (maximum length) contract. That’s a chunk of dough, but they’re not trading Malkin. There’s no way, no how. Gagner is probably in play for any trade possibility because he is an unrestricted free agent after next season, and he’s never been more marketable. But there’s a better chance of the Anaheim Ducks trying to get him, or the Washington Capitals if Mike Ribeiro leaves, or Florida. As for Barkov, a Finn, he might be able to play right now. He’s 17 and was one of the best Finnish Elite League players, with 48 points in 53 games for Tampere. “Plays like a young Mikko Koivu,” said Finnish national team coach Jari Kurri. Monahan plays for the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League and is six-foot-three, 205 pounds — a good size for the NHL — but he’s not as highly rated as Barkov.
Q: With the Oilers missing the playoffs, does head coach Ralph Krueger get another shot next season?
A: Yes. GM Craig MacTavish has a greater empathy for what coaches go through than most GMs because he was a head coach for nine years. Krueger comes across as a nice guy, but everybody I’ve talked to says he has a hard edge behind closed doors. He calls a spade a spade. He doesn’t throw guys under the bus publicly. There are no quotes from Krueger about underperforming players. Former Oilers head coach Pat Quinn, on the other hand, as colourful as his quotes were, went on about some of his charges being “flyby players,” a reference to their penchant for staying out of harm’s way. Or he called some players “morning glories,” referring to players doing their best work at the morning skate — long before the puck drop. Krueger will be back with Edmonton next season, despite the talk of some people mentioning that former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff is available. The Oilers just have the wrong mix of players, they don’t have a coaching problem. They’re top heavy on skill, but there’s not nearly enough grit — the team has just 12 fights all season, fewest in the league — and not nearly enough ill-humour in scrums after whistles, for example. They don’t get mad enough, but that’s not the coach’s fault, it’s because of the mix of players.
Q: Will the Oilers send players who were with the Oklahoma City Barons during the NHL lockout back to the American Hockey League for the Barons playoff run? Would they rather have their young guys in Oklahoma City or playing at the world championship in Sweden and Finland?
A: Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Schultz spent three full months in the AHL during the lockout, but that was it. It was one-time thing. Nugent-Hopkins, of course, is gone with shoulder surgery, maybe until November, so he’s out of that equation. They said Schultz, the AHL’s top defenceman, doesn’t need more work in the AHL. He has looked fatigued, but he certainly wouldn’t turn down a world championship invite. Eberle and Hall? Both would have to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL because they have played at least 160 NHL games. Same with Magnus Paajarvi, who has played 161 games for Edmonton. The Oilers will send Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen back to Oklahoma City, but that’s it. Eberle, Hall and Schultz stand a good chance of playing for Canada at the worlds, which start May 3 in Stockholm and Helsinki. In the past, the Oilers have always wanted their young European players to be involved in a playoff situation in the minors, rather than go to the worlds. Lander (Sweden) and Hartikainen (Finland) might not even be on their country’s radar to play on their national teams because both have played much of the year in the AHL, not the NHL.
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