Quick Shifts: Will Oilers’ big spending squeeze out Maple Leafs?

Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli joined Prime Time Sports to talk about the new eight-year contract he signed Leon Draisaitl to and why it was in the best interests of the team.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.

1. So many Toronto Maple Leafs fans are looking at it wrong.

When Leon Draisaitl re-upped with the Edmonton Oilers this week for an average annual value of $8.5 million, a logical theme was to discuss the most handsomely paid duos in the sport.

“Wait a second,” Toronto collectively gasped. “We have not two but three young awesome forwards to pay! Can we keep afford to them all?”

In short: Yes.

Let’s look at the collective long-term cap hits of championship(-hopeful) NHL teams built on elite up-front talent, in terms of their three highest-paid forwards.

Chicago’s Toews, Kane, Saad: $27 million

Edmonton’s McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic: $27 million

Pittsburgh’s Crosby, Malkin, Kessel: $25 million

The Leafs’ current trio of top-paid forwards, if you discount LTIR4Lifers Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul, are Patrick Marleau, Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk. That triumvirate amounts to a total cap hit of $15 million. Chump change.

So when super sophomores Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner come knocking on Lou Lamoriello’s door asking for raises, the top end of the forward payroll will skyrocket — but not to a level that forces the Leafs to trade one of them.

The hefty McDavid and Draisaitl deals certainly helped lined the pockets of entry-level studs (anyone check on Don Sweeney’s pulse lately?), but Toronto capologist Brandon Pridham should be OK.

Keeping Van Riemsdyk ($4.5 million cap hit) and Tyler Bozak ($4.25 million) beyond 2017-18 will be near-impossible, but there are enough cheap forwards in the system to help fill the void, and the removal of JVR, Bozak, Lupul and perhaps Leo Komarov ($2.95 million) off the books next summer gives Lamoriello plenty of room to wiggle.

We wonder if the GM steals a page from Peter Chiarelli’s book and takes care of Matthews before negotiating with Nylander.

Nylander and Marner play the wing and shouldn’t command as much as Draisaitl. Let’s high-end estimate these 61-point guys at $8 million per year each, and give Matthews $11 million a season. Max term all around.

Those are upper-end values that don’t account for a possible drop-off in production.

Add it up, and Toronto’s elite threesome would cost $27 million per season — the same as Chicago’s and Edmonton’s. All prime years.

Only one of those seasons, 2019-20, would overlap with Marleau’s too-expensive $6.25 million hit, and the Leafs are not afraid of buyouts or burying money if necessary.

The tricky part — and it’s a good problem to have — is if/when Connor Brown or Kasperi Kapanen takes another giant leap. Then the Leafs may be forced to trade from strength, the way Chicago shed Artemi Panarin or Tampa dealt Jonathan Drouin.

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Sportsnet Today with Ben Ennis
Draisaitl contract may force Bruins to overpay Pastrnak
Originally aired August 17 2017

P.S. Showtime John deserves credit for breaking the Draisaitl signing. He had it two-and-a-half hours before the Oilers’ announcement:

2. The 2017-18 rookie class is devoid of its Matthews. There is no clear leader heading into what should be a compelling Calder race.

Since the award seldom goes to a defenceman (props to 2015 Ekblad), we see Charlie McAvoy, Mikhail Sergachev and Thomas Chabot as long shots.

Instead, look toward young forwards on mediocre or bad teams who secure top-six minutes and power-play time. That clustered pack could include Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome in Arizona, Brock Boeser in Vancouver, Josh Ho-Sang in New York, Tyson Yost in Colorado, and Kyle Connor in Winnipeg.

In light of New Jersey centre Travis Zajac’s injury, which could sideline him for up to six months, we really like No. 1 pick Nico Hischier’s opportunity.

With the Devils starved for goals, the door is open for Hischier to earn PP minutes and feed the puck to Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson.

The rookie scoring race and Calder race will go hand in hand.

3. Mike Babcock has outlined his top D pairs for the upcoming season.

Jake Gardiner will begin skating alongside Nikita Zaitsev. Morgan Reilly will be matched with newcomer Ron Hainsey, a man with 13 more years of life/hockey experience.

“We feel Rielly’s a real, real good player. We want him to be upper-echelon in the league, so we needed a partner for him,” Babcock told NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy.

“We like our D better than I read about. I thought our D really improved last year.”

Hainsey and Rielly are both left shots, which is not Babcock’s dream scenario, but the veteran is comfortable playing his off side.

Most important here is that Rielly should now be blessed with considerably more freedom to wheel. For the first time in his NHL career, the defenceman failed to increase his point total in 2016-17. Rielly’s 27 points over 76 games marked his worst points-per-game-rate ever.

Part of his low production can be attributed to seeing just the 11th-most power-play time on the team (0:58 per night), but mostly it’s because he needed to think defend first. With Hainsey holding the fort, expect more highlight-worthy rushes from Rielly.

One of the more interesting debates in Leafland is whether Marleau (a consistent scorer) or Zach Hyman (an insatiable forechecker) is better suited to skate on Auston Matthews’ right side. Babcock says he’s given the topic plenty of thought and believes Marleau is versatile enough to make an impact anywhere within his top nine.

If the chemistry works, the talent on a Nylander-Matthews-Marleau trio could make a case for Most Productive Line in Hockey. All three can finish.

Ever the happy soldier, Hyman told the Toronto Sun Thursday it’s a good problem to have and he’d be ready to shuffle down the lineup.

“My role, that’s for the coaches to decide. They send you out there, but when they do, that’s what you can control, doing the right things, helping your team win,” Hyman said.

“I played with [Matthews] pretty much every game last year, and we had some good chemistry, but whatever happens, happens. The thing about our team is that we are really close. Whoever you play with, you have a good relationship with that person.”

4. I enjoyed talking all things Canucks this week with the team’s new radio colour man Corey Hirsch.

I fired Corey a few one-timers on this summer’s goalie carousel as well. Here are his opinions of some of the old faces in new places.

On whether Mike Smith can take the Flames deep in the playoffs: “That’s a good question. I really hope he can. Mike Smith was great in Arizona and has that ability, but he’s really, really streaky. He’ll go 15 games where you can’t score on him, then he’ll go five where you wonder where Mike Smith went. If he can put it together at the right time, that team’ll be good.”

On Steve Mason being able to solve the Jets’ gaoltending woes: “I like their goalie coach, Wade Flaherty. He’s a friend of mine. So I think he’ll do some good things. But this is up to Steve Mason. He’s been quite outspoken in the past, and he was outspoken when he left Philadelphia. If he can just go and stop the puck, he can be a really good goalie. But I also think Winnipeg may be throwing a dart and the dartboard right now. An interesting one to keep an eye on.”

On Arizona’s Antti Raanta being a true No. 1: “Off the hop, no. That team is not going to be good enough, for one. Two, he wasn’t able to do it in Chicago or New York. He’s a good backup. Now he’s on a team that’s not very good and will give up a lot of shots. I hope he does well, but I don’t think he’s the answer in Phoenix. No.”

On whether Anaheim’s John Gibson might be looking over his shoulder with the Ryan Miller addition: “I don’t think it matters. They’ve probably explained to Ryan Miller and John Gibson what their roles are. Miller has some good hockey in him, but he’s not supplanting John Gibson. If they need Miller in the playoffs, they’ll use him, and he had a great year last year.”

On which goalie’s improvement (no Vezina winners allowed) impresses him most: “Cam Talbot. He put himself among the top five goalies in the National Hockey League with that playoff run. I expect more to come from him. The Battle of Alberta is back on, and both teams have good goalies.”

5. Nathan Walker likes to be known for his speed and his pestering style of play, but this fall he could be known foremost as a maker of history. Again.

The Washington Capitals‘ 2014 third-round pick was the first Australian drafted into the NHL, and he’s stood out in AHL Hershey for four seasons as one of the Caps’ top forward prospects.

With so many veteran Capitals forwards off to new adventures, this is the year young forwards get their shot.

Bears head coach Troy Mann can see Walker sliding into Daniel Winnik’s vacant spot on the bottom six and become a serviceable, 200-foot NHL utility winger.

“All my friends back home, the hockey community there, they’re all rooting for me.” Walker once told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “Every time I go home, they keep asking me when that first [NHL] game is gonna happen. It’s a really close hockey community back home, so it’d be pretty big.”

6. Forty-year-old free agent Matt Cullen’s emotional decision to return home and play his final final final NHL season with the Minnesota Wild has left the Pittsburgh Penguins with a gaping hole at 3C.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the best one-two gut punch in the East, but with Nick Bonino and now Cullen gone, the depth chart falls off a cliff from there.

Carter Rowney and Dominik Simon are next up. Perhaps moving winger Scott Wilson is an option. The Pens are disinclined to give Jake Guentzel, who developed Kunitz-like chemistry with Crosby overnight, a centre gig.

Joe Sakic’s asking price for Matt Duchene — who could become world’s best third-line centre in the blink of an eye — is too high.

According to GM Jim Rutherford, who spoke to the Post-Gazette, the club is ready to fill its 3C role from within, but the Penguins won’t stop looking at options outside the organization. (A Kessel-Bozak reunion, anyone?)

“There’s a couple of guys I could acquire right now,” Rutherford said. “I feel like there’s another group of guys that could possibly be available here soon. Kind of just waiting to see if that happens. Something could happen in the very near future or this could drag on for a little while.”

Mike Sullivan told his boss he “could make it work,” and the coach’s track record suggests he can.

7. Evil can spark good people to good things — fast.

Tony Dungy and wife Lauren donated $5,000 toward relocating a Confederate statue out of downtown Tampa and challenged the Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning to chip in.

They all did, and the GoFundMe project’s $140,000 goal was met within four hours, according to Dungy.

“I was just thinking to myself, how was I going to explain to my daughter if she was old enough, how would I explain why someone doesn’t like her? Or why is this going on in the world today? For me that kind of re-motivated me to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure the community is a better place for her and everyone,” said the Bolts’ J.T. Brown (via Tampa Bay Times), who donated $1,500.

“I don’t think Confederacy is something that should be downtown in front of the courthouse. You talk about dividing a community, that’s a very big symbol right there in the middle of the city.”

8. Does the name Matt Pfeffer ring a bell?

The former Montreal Canadiens analytics consultant “made a passionate case in favour of P.K. Subban” prior to the Shea Weber trade. His contract was not renewed after the blockbuster he advised against went through.

Pfeffer’s small role in the hysteria around that franchise-altering trade got more press than he wanted.

Well, Pfeffer is now working for the Nashville Predators. His title is hockey ops research and development data engineer.

9. We must tip our cap to the job Vegas has done building hype around a highly suspect collection of hockey players.

The Golden Knights are currently on a well-documented bus tour to raise awareness for the game, and a scan of a few ticket-selling sites shows seats for their Oct. 10 home opener going for as little as $174 for a cheap seat and as much as $4,000-plus for prime position.

They play the Coyotes that night.

10. Myself and Joshua Kloke were invited by the Toronto Sun‘s John Matisz to talk hockey on his “Off the Post” podcast (listen in full below).

Among other topics — “The NHL’s Most Interesting Man” was a fun one — we wondered why Jaromir Jagr can’t find work.

Jagr once made as much as $11 million for one season. He’s never taken less than $2 million; that was with the Devils, and it ended badly. Last season he made $4 million.

I have a hunch his price is too high, and he may be being a bit picky. Mike Cammalleri took $1 million in L.A.

Jagr might be too proud to sign a deal that small, and there’s no way we see him trying out to make a team in camp like some other veteran UFAs have done in the recent past.

11. The exhaustive reporting on where Will Butcher ends up (guilty as charged) is probably misaligned with how great of an NHL player he’ll become, but the defenceman’s emergence on the free agent market at age 22 does make you wonder why more drafted prospects don’t go this route.

It would take incredible confidence for a young draftee to turn down an entry-level deal if it’s offered, but if a player knew he was good enough, think of the advantages of going the NCAA route over the CHL route: Free education and the chance to have a say in which team you join afterward.

The case for college looks better with the level of coaching in Division I gaining more respect.

12. Mac Lethal is a super-talented rapper from Kansas City who’s been dropping a series of gimmicky but impressive themed fast raps on YouTube. They fetch millions upon millions of views. Now Ellen knows who he is.

There’s the pizza one, the alphabet one, and the one while he’s making pancakes.

Today he dropped a rap in which he name-drops the name of every team in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS.

Nice that the Expos get a shoutout.

He says a couple NSFW words, but you can check it out here.