Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres: A Trade For Jesse Puljujarvi Makes Sense

Winger depth is an issue for the Buffalo Sabres and adding Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi might be the best way to address those issues.

Last season, Puljujarvi played in 46 games with the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately for the Finnish national, he wasn’t too productive in those 46 games. He tallied 4 goals and 5 assists. 

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When the Edmonton Oilers took him with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, I assume that they weren’t looking to snag someone who’d only register 9 points in their second season in the NHL. You would normally expect better results from a winger taken early on in the first round. But, sadly, the Oilers are in a tough spot. Do they keep Puljujarvi and hope that finally grows into a top six forward? Or, do they pull the plug on the experiment? 

The Oilers have a history of giving up on their prospects. The Oilers gave up on Nail Yakupov and Devan Dubnyk. If the Oilers chose to hold onto those players for a tad longer and give them time to develop, they could have emerged as studs. 

Edmonton’s Front Office

Unfortunately, the Oilers have been mis-managed. Former general manager Peter Chiarelli had no clue what he was doing and run the team into the ground. The Taylor Hall/Adam Larsson trade was one of his worst decisions. But, he also made several ugly acquisitions throughout last season which left a bad taste in many Oilers fans’ mouths. Adding players like Alex Petrovic and Ryan Spooner didn’t help the Oilers move forward. Instead, they set the Oilers back. 

Now, Oilers interim general manager Keith Gretzky needs to make up his mind on how he wants to proceed. Does he try to move on from assets like Puljujarvi and start building his version of the Oilers?

On The Flip Side

On the flip side, the Buffalo Sabres had a rough season. At a point early on, the Sabres were dominating the NHL. Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel were raking goal after goal after goal, but the Sabres failed to play consistent hockey. 

Defense wasn’t the problem. When you have a defensive unit composed of Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour (trade deadline acquisition), Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut, it’s obvious that defense isn’t the issue.

Goaltending was a concern. Many folks across the NHL were unsure if Carter Hutton would put up similar numbers in Buffalo that he put up in his 2017-2018 campaign with the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately, Hutton was awful for Buffalo. He registered a goals against average (GAA) of 3.00 and a save percentage (Sv%) of .908 in 50 games played. The Sabres back-up goalie, Linus Ullmark also failed to impress hockey fans in Upstate New York. In 37 games played, Ullmark posted an abysmal GAA of 3.11 and an ugly Sv% of .905. But, the good news is that the Sabres have a potential elite goaltender in the making. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was outstanding for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves this season and will soon enough be the number one goalie in Buffalo.

But, as I brought up before, winger depth is the real long-term issue in Buffalo. Buffalo’s winger depth consists of Kyle Okposo, Skinner, Jason Pominville, Sam Reinhart, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Johan Larsson, Scott Wilson, Evan Rodrigues, Tage Thompson and Alexander Nylander.

That list isn’t great at all. Okposo is past his prime. Pominville is near the end of his career. Sobotka is a bottom 6 forward/grinder.

Skinner is a pending UFA. Sheary and Reinhart are serviceable, but both wingers have failed to produce consistent results. Nylander and Thompson do have promise and a ton of upside, but haven’t had consistent playing time at the NHL level. Without consistent playing time, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not they will be rock solid producers long-term.

Given the concern around offensive production of the Sabres winger depth, it wouldn’t hurt to make a trade for someone like Puljujarvi. Perhaps, Puljujarvi needs a change of scenery and might fare better if he were playing alongside Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: The Off-Season Goal Is To Sign Eberle

The Edmonton Oilers’ off-season goal should be to sign Regina, Saskatchewan native

Jordan Eberle.

Eberle was previously an Oiler. He played in 7 seasons with the franchise. But, his tenure ran its course when former Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli dealt him to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome.

Unfortunately, Strome wasn’t a good fit in Edmonton and Chiarelli ended up trading him to the New York Rangers for Ryan Spooner. Sadly, Spooner wasn’t a good fit for Edmonton either. So, Edmonton Oilers interim general manager Keith Gretzky flipped him at the deadline for former Oiler, Sam Gagner. 

All-in-all, trading Eberle in the first place wasn’t smart and it backfired for Edmonton. Yet, a re-union wouldn’t be the worst thing. Let me explain.

Making McDavid Happy

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There have been a lot of rumours regarding Connor McDavid and whether or not he wants to be with the Edmonton Oilers long-term. While there hasn’t been anything confirmed, there has been a lot of speculation that McDavid is unhappy and might ask the Oilers for a trade. If that happens, the Oilers fan base will be in turmoil. This is the same franchise that dealt Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. The Gretzky trade damaged the Oiler fan base and the Oilers front office can’t afford that to happen again.

So, if the Oilers front office wants to keep McDavid happy, perhaps signing Eberle makes sense. 

Right Wing Issues in Edmonton

Prior to his time with the New York Islanders, Eberle and McDavid were teammates in Edmonton. They played two seasons together and they spent time playing on the same forward line. With the Oilers having a hole on McDavid’s right side, there is a definite need for a strong right-winger. Throughout this season, the Oilers have experimented with many different right wingers on their top line. In the beginning of the season, Ty Rattie spent some time with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Now, Rattie is on the fourth line with Kyle Brodziak and Sam Gagner. Since Rattie has moved down in the lineup, Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock has explored many options including Ryan Spooner, Jesse Puljujarvi, Alex Chiasson and Zack Kassian on the right side. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a permanent fix. So, perhaps, it makes sense to bring back someone who has had solid chemistry with McDavid in the past.

Eberle

Plus, Eberle has been a solid top 6 winger throughout his nine-year career.  In 650 career games, he’s tallied 203 goals, 268 assists, 50 power-play goals, 77 power-play assists and a 13.1 shooting percentage. Eberle has also been a solid even strength possession player. While his corsi-for percentage (CF%) is down this year, from his 2014-2015 campaign to his 2017-2018 campaign, he’s owned a CF% higher than 51.0%. Also, I wouldn’t be too concerned about his CF% decrease this season. It probably has to do with the fact that Eberle’s offensive zone start percentage is a lot less than it was in the past few seasons.

Eberle & McDavid’s Chemistry

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The best part is that McDavid and Eberle have outstanding when they are together. In two seasons together in Edmonton, McDavid assisted Eberle on 17 goals. In addition, 12 of those assists were primary assists. On the flip side, Eberle assisted McDavid on 7 goals and 4 of those assists were primary. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it is a lot. First, Eberle wasn’t always on the same line as McDavid. Eberle missed 13 games in his 2015-16 campaign and there were times where the two were on separate lines. Additionally, Eberle’s ATOI was much lower than McDavid’s. McDavid averaged 6 more minutes a night versus Eberle.

But, if these two were to be paired again, they would likely be very successful together.

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Thinking Outside the Box

The Edmonton Oilers have a big problem with Ryan Spooner.

That’s not news. The sky is blue, Connor McDavid is the most skilled player in the NHL, and you can still find me in the stands cheering on this team. Some things, unfortunately so in some cases, never change.

My weird love/hate relationship with this team aside the Edmonton Oilers find themselves trapped by one of Peter Chiarelli’s final moves (man does typing that feel good!). However now is the time to start correcting those mistakes and I think there’s an outside solution to the Spooner problem.

Buried in the AHL

It was announced on January 23, 2019 that both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Spooner were assigned to the AHL:

The former being there makes sense in the short term, as Yamamoto can play a few games in Bakersfield over the all star break or in the long-term. Personally I feel like Yamamoto should stay the rest of the season on the AHL so he can be a key cog in Bakersfield’s playoff push/run. The latter on the other hand is a different story. Spooner has failed so spectacularly in Edmonton that they no longer feel he is anything but a detriment to the team.

My first ever post on ThePuck77 was on Ryan Spooner and in it I stated that Edmonton needed to find a lineup spot for Spooner that works for him. I won’t go into too much detail on him here but my main points were:

  1. Ryan Spooner is not an offensive driver
  2. Ryan Spooner was, at his most successful, a good 3rd piece of a top 6 line.
  3. He benefited greatly from being on top power-play units
  4. He is a really ineffective possession player.

If you want more in depth analysis on Spooner check out my first piece on him here.

Someone Similar?

You would think this situation would be rare in the NHL. Not many teams employ 3+ million dollar men in the AHL…

But there is another…

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Yes that’s right I’m talking about Sam “8 points in one game” Gagner.

Gagner has been a very nice addition to the Toronto Marlies roster since being sent down. In 36 games thus far Gagner has 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points. He definitely isn’t letting his demotion slow him down any. Even when he has played in the NHL he was not that poor. In 7 NHL games Gagner had 3 points, 1 goal, 2 assists. He has also been very good in terms of possession at the NHL level, posting a surprising 59.9% Corsi rating, and a 15.2 Corsi relative for rating. This, along with his 59.9% Fenwick for rating and 17.4 Fenwick relative for rating, paint a picture of a player who has more to give at the NHL level.

Gagner does a lot of things well that mesh with the Oilers needs right now. While he does have some warts to his game in regards to defending Edmonton at current needs a guy who is an offensive weapon. Gagner is a power-play, overtime, and shootout specialist. Put in the right situation; i.e on the left side of a Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl power-play, should result in increased success for Edmonton’s power-play.

Power-play Prowess

For example in 2016/17 he had 50 points, 18 of which came on the power-play. In 2017/2018, in his first year with Canucks (way lower teammate quality), he had 31 points, 11 of which were on the power-play.

In 2016/17 Gagner played on a unit with Zach Werenski, Nick Foglino, Cam Atkinson, and Alex Wennberg. on a much less successful Vancouver power-play Gagner played with a mix of Alex Edler, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Sven Baertschi, and Thomas Vanek. Vancouver struggled to find the right mix of players and eventually Gagner got lost in the shuffle. He ended up struggling to the point where he was demoted to the AHL at the beginning of this season.

Wherever Gagner goes he always finds a way on to that team’s power-play because that is where he excels. He is an extremely gifted offensive player who has a good shot and is extremely creative with the puck. The thing that he is the best at on the power-play is MOVING. The Edmonton Oilers power-play right now has stagnated. This is mainly due to the same issue that plagued them last year. They are too slow. they do not move the puck around enough to properly open up seams and lanes in an opposing team’s penalty kill. This kills them and they need a player like Gagner that can keep the puck moving on the power-play.

Is This Trade Realistic?

This is always the huge question with the hypothetical articles. It’s why I don’t enjoy making these speculation articles in general, do it wrong and you immediately can ruin your credibility as a writer. 

However in this case I think there’s a realistic possibility a trade like this could work. Right now at left-wing the Canucks employ Nikolai Goldobin, Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel. Goldobin has 23 points, Eriksson has 20, Leivo has 7, Baertschi has 13, and Roussel has 19. It’s safe to say they could use a boost. Edmonton currently employs Alex Chiasson, Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Tobias Reider, and I could go on at wing. Outside of Chiasson none of those players have 20 points, outside of Khaira, none have 15 points. Edmonton needs wingers bad.

So a swap of two players that both make almost exactly the same amount of money, that could potentially re-spark their careers makes a lot of sense. Gagner makes 50k more than Spooner at 3.15 million over the same amount of term. At current neither of Spooner or Gagner are going to see the light of day back in the NHL with their respective teams. It makes sense, at least to me to try to swap the two players in the hopes that they could re-find their offense elsewhere.

Wrap Up

The main reason this probably won’t happen is Vancouver and Edmonton are teams both currently in a dog fight for the last wildcard spot. While it would be an interesting trade as it would create a potential double rental situation if both Spooner and Gagner bounce back, the risk involved nixes that trade.

What do you think? is this trade realistic for both sides? leave a comment or find us on twitter at @ThePuck77 and me personally at @chayzdj.

All stats used in this article came from HockeyReference.com, Capfriendly.com, and HockeyDB.com.

 

 

How the Edmonton Oilers Can Unlock Ryan Spooner

On November 16th, 2018, the Edmonton Oilers made a surprising move. They moved out Ryan Strome in only his second season after being acquired for Jordan Eberle. The ultimate return for these trades was Ryan Spooner. Spooner is an effective forward when he is put in the right situation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, he has not found “the right situation” yet in Edmonton.

Spooner was brought to Edmonton, Alberta because Strome was struggling. In 18 games this season with the Oilers, Strome had only 2 points while playing on the third line. That third line struggled offensively to the point where Chiarelli felt the need to bring in a player who is more offensively gifted. Unfortunately, so far, Spooner has been unable to find any traction whatsoever in Edmonton.

So What’s Been Going on?

Through 7 games, Spooner has registered no points and is currently a -6. That’s not a great showing from the new Oiler. At the 7 game mark, you would think a player would have adjusted to the new systems implemented. After 7 games, Strome has adjusted to the playing styles of the New York Rangers. Since joining the Rangers, Strome has tallied 3 points in 6 games.

Unlike Strome, Spooner has had to adapt to the playing style of three different head coaches this season. When he first arrived in Edmonton, he was playing for Todd McLellan. Now, with Ken Hitchcock running the show in Edmonton, an argument can be made that he’s still finding his footing. I believe however that the key to unlocking Spooner’s offensive talent is in his line-mates.

Spooner plays a certain brand of hockey, one that makes the skills of his line-mates very important. Last season Spooner had 41 points, his second highest career total, coming close to his personal best of 49 points in 2014-2015. A staggering 16 of those points came in only 20 games as soon as he was traded to New York from Boston, so what changed?

Struggle with Line-mates

In New York, he had more minutes, higher quality line mates, and, most importantly, cover. In Boston, he originally started out his season playing largely with Marchand and Pastrnak. After a cold streak, a lack of chemistry broke that line up. Afterwards, he played with names like rookie Jake DeBrusk, an often injured David Krejci (44 points in 64 games), rookie Anders Bjork, Riley Nash, and Sean Kuraly. While he did not completely disappoint with these players posting 25 points in 39 games, he left much to be desired and was subsequently traded. Why did I list those names? well…

The difference in quality with New York is staggering. In the Big Apple, he played mostly with players like Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello, and rookie Lias Andersson. Minus Andersson, who only had a 7 game cameo, all of the Rangers players listed were at or near at least 30 points (Vesey only had 28). Out of the Boston players listed, Kuraly and Bjork had 14 and 12 points respectively. While all of Nash, Krejci, and Debrusk had 40+ points, keeping Bjork or Kuraly there had an impact on Spooner’s effectiveness which brings me to my main point.

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Ryan Spooner needs to be insulated by two successful forwards in order to succeed, and at times he can struggle adjusting to star players. This doesn’t make him a bad or ineffective player, what it does do; however, is stick him in a role. Spooner is an effective middle 6 complementary player. He is a guy who can play well on a second or third line if he’s surrounded by two players who have an equal or greater skill level compared to his.

In his final season with the Boston Bruins, he had a very good Corsi and Fenwick for ratio of 52.9 and 51.4 respectively. When he was on the ice in Boston, he helped drive possession and played a responsible game, because he had to drag a Bjork or a Kuraly with him. After his deadline trade to New York, his possession numbers tanked while his offensive number sky rocketed, posting a 41.4 Corsi for rating and a 37.9 Fenwick for rating. These numbers paint a clear picture that while the player can succeed at possession and at scoring rates, he can’t do them in tandem.

Can You Talk About the Oilers Now?

Edmonton has a depth issue, a big one. Outside of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers have no proper forward depth. Edmonton’s forward core is filled with prospects, maybes, and PTO surprises.

While it’s nice to see Alex Chiasson doing as well as he is, there is a 0% chance he holds on to his current 38.5 shooting percentage. Drake Cagguila is also seeing an unhealthy bump in offense that would suggest regressing to the mean is imminent. Ty Rattie has all but disappeared (Hitch is not his biggest fan) and Jesse Puljujarvi, while promising in his last game against Dallas, has still struggled to find his offensive stride.

So where does that leave Spooner? I mean, other than between a rock and a hard place? You can try to see if he’d eventually click with McDavid for an extended period of time. You could also see if a line of say Puljujarvi-Nugent-Hopkins-Spooner would work, but I think the easiest answer is moving a familiar face to his and Nugent-Hopkins’s line.

I believe a line that includes Milan Lucic is the answer. Earlier, I mentioned that Spooner’s career high in points was in 2014-2015, wherein he coincidentally spent a lot of time with Lucic. While he’s been unable to score, Lucic boasts a 52.4 Corsi for and a 51.5 Fenwick for ratio suggesting that he can help carry possession. Also Lucic has had success in the past with Nugent-Hopkins, albeit it with Jordan Eberle on the right side.

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If they mesh well together forming a dependable second line, that would be an enormous boost for Edmonton’s anemic offense. It could even help Lucic re-find his scoring touch. So what do you think? do you agree with my ideas? Leave a comment down below or hit me up on twitter at @chayzdj. I love a healthy discussion! stats from hockey-reference and frozenpool.dobbersports.com