By Lori Bennett
The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past week, swept by the Colorado Avalanche. At no point in the series did the Oilers look like a match for the powerful Avalanche.
GM Ken Holland and Coach Jay Woodcroft met with the media on Tuesday. Several Oilers had been playing with significant injuries – Darnell Nurse had a torn hip flexor dating back to the regular season, Leon Draisaitl was nursing an ankle injury suffered late in the first round, Kailer Yamamoto missed the last two games with a concussion he suffered when he was the recipient of a questionable hit, and both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi were playing through shoulder injuries. Others played through minor injuries.
No other professional sport has such an arduous road to a championship as NHL hockey. Every year as teams are eliminated there is a long list of injuries to report, and it speaks to a degree of luck required for the championship team. It also offers a lesson about the importance of depth for teams wanting to go deep, and raises questions about how teams with expensive generational players manage to maintain a deep roster.
The Oilers have many off-season decisions awaiting them. Can they afford to re-sign Evander Kane, who will command a giant raise? Brett Kulak fit in nicely on their blue line after the trade deadline, but can they afford him?
Holland said he hopes to retain both, but if that’s his intention he has a lot of work to do to find cap space. Something will have to give. Holland also had a Captain Obvious moment, noting the Oilers do not have a bona fide starting goalie. If he’d been able to clue into that last summer, or even at the trade deadline, the story might be a little different for the Oil.
In the other third round series, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a battle with the New York Rangers. The Rangers looked to be in control of the series when they won the opening two games, but it’s never smart to bet against the Lightning.
In Game 3 the Lightning got down by two goals, but then scored three straight to get back in the series. On Tuesday, a more convincing 4-1 win tied it up. The Lightning took their first lead of the series on Thursday night, when Ondrej Palat scored late in the third period and Brandon Hagel added an empty net goal to bring them to one win from another Stanley Cup Final. The teams were due to continue their series on Saturday.
In other hockey news, the Montreal Canadiens were making headlines this week.
On Monday, they announced a contract extension for defenceman Chris Wideman. The veteran defenceman was inked to a two-year deal with an annual average value of $762,500. Wideman had four goals and 23 assists in 64 games for the Habs last season and will provide an inexpensive veteran presence for the young defencemen expected to arrive in Montreal next year.
Then on Tuesday the Canadiens announced the hiring of Marie-Philip Poulin as player development consultant. Poulin is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion. She is expected to work with Rob Ramage, the Director of Player Development, and Adam Nicholas, Director of Hockey Development. Poulin will work for the Canadiens on a part-time basis while she continues her own playing career.
The hire brings a little diversity to Habs leadership, a commitment made by owner Geoff Molson when he relieved GM Marc Bergevin of his duties in November.
The other NHL story to watch is the coaching carousel.
The Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets are all engaged in a head-coaching search. The top names on that list are Barry Trotz (fired by the Islanders), Bruce Cassidy (fired by the Bruins), Pete DeBoer (fired by Vegas), and Claude Julien (fired by the Habs), along with a list of other coaches who have been out of work or are looking for promotions from assistant roles.
The search for the perfect coaching fit will continue leading up to the amateur draft in July, when most teams would prefer to have their new guy on the draft floor.
Blue Jays Babble
After losing two out of three home games to the Minnesota Twins last weekend, the Jays were headed to Kansas City for three games against the Royals. On Monday, Ross Stripling gave them a strong start and the bats were connecting in an 8-0 win. It was Alek Manoah who delivered on Tuesday, and the outcome was a 7-0 win. On Wednesday, Yusei Kikuchi had a very rough start and was pulled early, leaving a long game for the bullpen. The bats couldn’t save the arms, and the result was an 8-4 loss.
After the game on Wednesday night, the Jays reportedly called up top prospect Gabriel Moreno, who was expected to see action on the weekend. Moreno is a catcher and gets his chance after Danny Jansen was diagnosed with a finger fracture. Moreno has been tearing it up in Triple A, and if he can continue that performance in the big leagues it may free up the Jays to move one of their catchers for pitching help. It’s still early in the season, but it is becoming apparent that Toronto management will need to get some help for the bullpen.
Last season Ross Atkins waited until closer to the trade deadline, and it was too little too late. A more aggressive approach is called for this summer if the Blue Birds want to be active in October ball.
The Jays had a rest day on Thursday, holding a record of 33-23 and tied for second place in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays. They were headed to Detroit for three weekend games before coming home to greet the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.