Vegas Golden Knights officially join the NHL

Although Las Vegas was awarded an expansion franchise by the NHL several months ago, the Vegas Golden Knights more or less officially joined the league on November 22nd when the team’s name and logo was first introduced. Majority owner Bill Foley announced the franchise’s moniker during  public ceremony at the city’s Toshiba Plaza. The Golden Knights become the 31st club in the league and will begin play at the city’s new T-Mobile Arena in October of 2017. Foley told the media that he wants his club to exhibit strength, courage, honour, teamwork, dedication and a never-say-die attitude both on and off the ice.

He added that knights are known as elite warriors and are known to protect people who can’t defend themselves. The team colours will be a combination of red, black, gold and steel grey with each colour representing the local community. Strength and durability is represented by steel grey while gold represents the desert terrain and the fact that Nevada is America’s biggest gold producer. Meanwhile, red represents the nearby Red Rock canyons and the city’s skyline while black stands for intensity and power. The team’s logo includes a knight’s helmet with the letter V emblazoned on it with the secondary logo featuring swords.

The franchise didn’t waste any time marketing the club’s name and logos as team gear and apparel, other than jerseys, was already being sold just hours after the announcement was made. The club’s official website can be found at and there’s also an official app. In addition, the Golden Knights can be followed by fans via the team’s official Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat sites. The franchise is owned by Black Knight Sports and Entertainment, LLC. with the Foley and Maloof families being the principle owners. The Maloof family formerly owned the Sacramento Kings NBA franchise and has a 15 per cent stake in the Golden Knights.

Foley originally wanted to name the team the Las Vegas Black Knights in honour of the United States Military Academy, however, he ran into legal technicalities regarding trademarks and domain names. The Golden Knights name was chosen from three finalists, which were the Desert Knights, Silver Knights, and Golden Knights. The team’s general manager is George McPhee and his job will be to assemble a roster from an expansion draft and the NHL Entry Draft and the squad will compete in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. The expansion draft will take place on June 21st.

The Golden Knights will be allowed to select one unprotected player from the other 30 NHL teams during the draft. Vegas will also select no lower than sixth position in the NHL Entry Draft, shortly afterwards. The new franchise has a lot of work to do between now and then as a coaching staff will need to be hired and numerous other details will need to be taken care of. However, there’s no need for fans to sit around and wait for the roster and staff to be announced as tickets for the Golden Knights games are on sale now.

Is the NHL’s 5-day bye week counterproductive?

The 2016/17 NHL schedule is approximately a week shorter than usual this season due to two factors. First, the season faced off several days later than usual due to the preseason World Cup of Hockey tournament. That means each team must play its 82-game schedule in the space of 180 days. But in fact, those 180 days will actually be reduced to 175 days since the NHL has implemented a mandatory five-day bye week for each club during the season. The result of the shortened season is more back-to-back games and scenarios such as three contests in four nights, four games in seven, and five in eight nights etc.

So while the five-day bye was introduced to give players a rest, they might not need the rest if they weren’t playing so many games in such a short period of time. To many observers, the bye week is an ironic situation which may actually be counterproductive. To make matters worse, some insiders believe the condensed schedule could be the cause of so many injuries to star players so far this season. The league has seen several top players miss games at one point or another already and the campaign hasn’t hit the quarter-way mark yet.

Some of the most notable players who have been injured early on in the campaign include Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Quick, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Marian Gaborik, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Matt Duchene, Brad Richardson, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Anton Stralman, Taylor Hall, and Johnny Gaudreau. And let’s not forget Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who may miss the rest of the season as he’s expected to be sidelined from four to six months due to a torn meniscus.

Injuries are part and parcel of all sports and hockey players are used to playing games in quick succession, but there are still those who believe the condensed schedule has something to do with the recent rash of injuries, including Jim Nill, the general manager of the Dallas Stars. Nill has seen six of his club’s forwards suffer some type of injury or another since training camp started. He attributes it to the competitiveness, parity, and speed of the league as well as the condensed schedule.

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and his Los Angeles Kings’ counterpart Dean Lombardi agree with Nill and added that most players work out all year long to stay in shape and their bodies may not be getting the rest they need. Yzerman also questioned the equipment today’s players wear and if it’s offering enough in the way of protection, especially when it comes to gloves and skates. He believes players are blocking more shots than ever these days, but skates and gloves are perhaps too lightweight.

Injuries are often unavoidable, but they can also be suffered when players are tired and aren’t 100 per cent healthy. With teams playing as many as five games in eight days and also traveling from city to city between them, the five-day bye week may not be worth it in the long run. It would make a lot more sense if the league extended the season by five days to accommodate it. The good news is the bye week has been negotiated for this season only and the league may say bye-bye to it next year.  

NHL scoring cools off after torrid start

The 2016/17 NHL season got off to a high-scoring start over its first couple of weeks, but has settled down considerably since then. Although it may not seem like much, teams were scoring an average of 3.05 goals per-game to start the campaign, which would have ranked as the 39th-highest total out of 100 seasons if they had kept it up. It also would have been the first time since 2005/06 that the clubs would have averaged at least three goals per-game over an entire season. The highest total recorded was 4.79 goals per-outing back in 1919/20 with the lowest being 1.46 per-contest less than a decade later in 1928/29.

Of course, the style of the game has changed over the years and is sometimes cyclical as we’ve seen high-scoring, fire-wagon hockey in some eras and tight-checking systems in others. In addition, the size of goaltending equipment has been altered several times over the decades and the composite hockey stick was recently introduced. There were several other theories to explain the high-scoring start of the current season though. Some experts believed the number of rookies in the league was a factor since there were 68 first-year players listed to open the season, which represented 10.3 per cent of the league’s players.

These skilled newcomers are seen as being young and fast with a habit of playing an offensive style of hockey. However, most of them aren’t as experienced when it comes to playing in their own end. This leads to mental lapses and physical mistakes which often results in more goals. By mid-November, goals per game for each team had leveled out to 2.77, which would rank just 61st in NHL history. Another reason for the quick start could have been the World Cup of Hockey tournament which was played in September just before the season faced off.

Players were for world-class hockey at an earlier date than usual and many of them entered 2016/17 already in mid-season form. While skaters were setting off the goal light on a regular basis, some of the league’s top goalies struggled. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings suffered a long-term injury in his season opener while Montreal’s Carey Price was sidelined for several games with illness and Frederick Anderson of Toronto missed the much of the preseason and the World Cup with a shoulder problem. Other netminders such as Brian Elliott of Calgary, Ben Bishop of Tampa, Tuukka Rask of Boston and Martin Jones of San Jose all struggled to find their top form.

Goaltenders’  save percentage over the first two weeks of the season stood at 90.3 per cent on average, which ranked 19th lowest out of the 33 years the NHL has been recording the statistic. By mid-November, that number had risen to 91.2, which would rank as sixth-best  in history. Goals per team could have also been up early on since power-play opportunities were 3.68 per-game per-team early in the campaign and that number has fallen to 3.34, which is the 43rd-lowest total out of the 53 years the stat has been kept.

Whatever the reasons were for the high-scoring opening to the 2016/17 season, things quickly cooled down. Rookie scoring suddenly tailed off with Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine being the only first-year player among the top-32 scorers as of November 12th. The league’s top goalies were back in fine form and everything else from power-play opportunities and goals to penalty-killing and goals-against averages were more or less back to average for the NHL, at least for the past decade. Therefore, even with the influx of so many creative, high-scoring rookies this year, fans shouldn’t really expect to see anything out of the ordinary.   

NHL witnessing dramatic and exciting youth movement

When it comes to the age of NHL players, the league actually goes to extremes since there are those as young as 18 and as old as 44. In fact, Czech winger Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers is believed to be the oldest athlete in any of the world’s major professional sports leagues at the moment. Jagr is perhaps just a freak of nature though and he’s definitely not the norm in the NHL these days. The league is witnessing a youth movement at the moment with many of its top stars and prospects still even a year or two away from drinking age, at least in the U.S.

The NHL has always been home to a handful of excellent young players each season, but the league faced off for the 2016/17 campaign with over five dozen rookies in the clubs’ lineups. While Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, John Gibson, Shayne Gostisbehere, Artemi Panarin, and Colton Parayko led the way last year and were named to the All-Rookie Team, there are newcomers who may overshadow them this season. These include Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers, Patrik Laine of Winnipeg, Zach Werenski of Columbus, Travis Konecny of Philadelphia and Matthew Tkachuk of Calgary.

As of November 5th, Nylander, Matthews, Laine and Werenski all had at least 10 points to their name from anywhere between nine and 12 games played and a dozen of the league’s rookies were scoring at over a 40-point per season pace. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of fine veteran players left in the league, but just three of the top-20 scorers were over the age of 30. These were Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, Joe Pavelski of San Jose and Montreal’s Shea Weber. Many of the other top players are still under the age of 24, including Mc David, Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado, Jonathan Drouin of Florida, Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary, Seth Jones of Columbus and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad.

It appears that many young players are simply better prepared for the rigors of NHL hockey these days and are more physically developed and mature when they reach the league. This means some of them are ready to help out their teams immediately and have a positive impact on the sport. They’re proving that men as young as 18 and 19 are already good enough to compete with seasoned veterans and established world stars. It should also be noted that most of the league’s youngest players are generally playing for weaker teams since they were taken with the highest draft picks from rebuilding clubs.

This is why Edmonton has been able to stock the cupboards with so many excellent young prospects over the years and Toronto has several in their lineup this season. There’s a lot of pressure on these youngsters to produce and help their team out immediately and most of them are passing the test with flying colours. There’s no doubt the NHL has been is getting younger and younger over the past decade with 25-year-old Matt Duchene of Colorado already skating in his eight season as a prime example.

Some veteran players are finding it harder to stick with their teams these days and older free agents often have a difficult time finding bidders. We are seeing more and more veterans attending training camps on professional tryout contracts while others such as Brooks Laich, PA Parenteau, Ondrej Pavelec, Milan Michalek, Rob Scuderi and Mason Raymond being sent to the minors, placed on waivers or simply released by their respective clubs. This year’s crop of youngsters are bringing some much-needed excitement and scoring into the game and the race for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year should be one of the best in years. We might even see some of them challenge for the league scoring title.  

NHL players who are aiming for league milestones in 2016/17

Several NHL players entered the 2016/17 season with some lofty career milestones within their grasp and there’s a good chance they’ll all be achieved sometime during the campaign. In fact, some of them have already been achieved as veteran forward Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks recently scored the 500th goal of his illustrious career. The winger recently became the 44th player in NHL history to hit the 500-goal plateau on October 18th and started the season 10 assists shy of 600 and 11 points short of 1,100.

The league’s oldest player, 44-year-old right-winger Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers, also made history earlier this season when he scored his 750th career goal on October 20th. The native of the Czech Republic is just the third player in NHL history to score 750 goals, joining Wayne Gretzky and Gordie  Howe. Gretzky is the all-time leader with 894 followed by Howe at 801. Jagr also entered the season with 1,868 points to his name, which is good for third on the all-time list, but just 19 points behind second-placed Mark Messier. Jagr should be able to pass Messier and become just the second player ever to score 1,900 career points sometime this season.

Russian scoring machine Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals reached the 500-goal mark in 2015/16, and entered the current campaign with 966 points. The sniper should easily reach the 1,000 point plateau in the first half of the season. He also entered the year with 195 power play goals. When he reaches 200 he’ll be just the 18th NHL player to do so. Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby are often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to being ranked as the world’s best player, so it’s fitting the Penguins’ centre will also score his 1,000th point this season.

Both Ovechkin and Crosby made their NHL debuts in 2005 and Crosby entered 2016/17 with 938 points under his belt. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion and missed the first few games of the campaign. However, he’s back in the lineup now and if he can remain there he should also hit the 1,000 point mark before the playoffs. Another forward about to reach 500 goals is Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks as he started the year with a franchise record 481. He scored 25 last year and has managed to bag a minimum of 19 every full season since back in 2000/01.

Arizona Coyotes’ captain Shane Doan should soon be the first player in the history of the franchise to reach 400 goals. The roots of the Coyotes can be traced back to Winnipeg, where Doan started his career. He passed Dale Hawerchuk last season to become the all-time club leader in points and goals and needs just four this campaign to hit 400. Former first-overall draft pick Rick Nash of the New York Rangers needs just seven goals this season to also make it 400 for his career even though the winger struggled last year with just 15 goals.

Out in Vancouver, Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks could both reach the 1,000-point milestone quite soon. Henrik, the team’s captain, entered 2016/17 at 970 points while Daniel had 942 points. Also on the west coast, centre Joe Thornton of San Jose has the chance to reach a trio of achievements. He entered the year with 964 assists and will soon become the 13th NHL’er to reach the 1,000 mark. He also needed 59 points to reach 1,400 and become the 20th NHL player to do so and was 23 goals short of 400 for his career.

As far as 300-career goals goes, forward Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild reached the mark on October 23rd, while Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel of Pittsburgh, Michael Cammalleri of the New Jersey Devils, and Joe Pavelski of San Jose are all within striking range of 300. Malkin needed five more, while Kessel was 27 shy, Cammalleri was 23 short and Pavelski needed another 34. Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche is 27 points away from becoming the 34th player to score 1,300 points and needs 10 more power play goals to reach 200 for his career. Defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, of the St. Louis Blues will play in his 1,000th NHL game this season as he entered it with 990 under his belt.

Other players who should reach that milestone are the Ottawa Senators’ Chris Neil with 973 games, the New York Islanders’ Jason Chimera with 951, Chicago’s Michal Rozsival at 941 and Radim Vrbata of Arizona at 934 games. And let’s not forget the goalies, Roberto Luongo of Florida Panthers will move to fourth on the all-time list if he can win 20 games this season and reach 456 victories. He’ll also be the 11th NHL goalie to record 75 shutouts if he can post three this season. And it’s probably pushing it, but Luongo needs 70 more appearances to reach the 1,000-game mark. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will become the 12th netminder to win 400 games if he can manage to lead his team to victory 26 times this season. In addition, he needs just one more shutout to reach 60 for his career.

Los Angeles Kings need a Quick goaltending solution

The Los Angeles Kings’ season got off to a dreadful start and it wasn’t just their early 0-3 record that had the team’s brass and fans concerned. The club lost their top goaltender Jonathan Quick in the opening game of the season due to a groin injury and it appears he’ll be on the shelf for at least three months. even after deciding against surgery. Quick is a workhorse who has played over 60 games a season five times since earning the starting role back in 2009/10. In fact he twice appeared in more than 70 contests and also backstopped the Kings to a pair of Stanley Cup championships during that period.

With Quick on the injured list, Los Angeles turned to 29-year-old backup Jeff Zatkoff to take over in the crease and also called up 34-year-old Peter Budaj from their Ontario Reign farm team of the American Hockey League (AHL). Zatkoff allowed just one goal against when replacing Quick for two periods in the season opener. However, he then allowed four goals against in a defeat to the Flyers and was pulled in favour of Budaj after allowing five goals in two periods in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota. His goals-against-average for the season stands at 4.38 with a save percentage of 83.9. Budaj then managed to beat Dallas 4-3 in overtime to lift the team’s record to 1-3.

Bad luck struck again as Zatkoff joined Quick on the injured list on October 22nd after suffering a groin injury during the morning skate while preparing to meet the Vancouver Canucks. This resulted in 24-year-old Jack Campbell also being called up from the Reign as the new backup. Budaj got the start against Vancouver and played well enough to win his second straight 4-3 overtime game even after watching his teammates blow a 3-0 lead. In past years, Los Angeles had some depth in goal with capable netminders such as Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, Martin Jones and Jhonas Enroth filling in admirably for Quick when needed.

However, all four of them are now with other teams while Zatkoff won the backup job this season with just 35 games of NHL experience to his name. The injury situation leaves Budaj as the starter by default and the Kings are hoping he can bring his AHL form with him to the NHL level. Budaj posted a 93.2 save percentage down on the farm last season along with a 1.75 goal-against average, but his start against Vancouver was just his fourth NHL appearance in the past two years. The Kings thought they had a good goaltending prospect in Patrik Bartosak, but he was let go last season after being charged with domestic violence. At the moment, it looks like Los Angeles will have to see how they fare with Budaj and Campbell between the pipes.

If they begin to falter, the franchise may have to look for some help via a trade until Quick returns. They may also regret not re-signing last year’s backup Enroth, as he inked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Budaj could be a capable fill-in for Quick since he has 300 games of NHL experience with a record of 127-107 along with a 90.3 save percentage and 2.76 goals-against-average. However, Campbell has just one game of NHL experience under his belt with Dallas and he allowed six goals against in 47 shots during it.

If the Kings decide to trade for a goalie they need to follow the salary cap rules for long-term injured players and it doesn’t look like they have much cap space left. The Winnipeg Jets recently place goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on waivers and sent him to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, so he could be an option. Also, with Las Vegas entering the NHL next season the league will be holding an expansion draft for the newcomers. This will result in several goaltenders being made available to the Vegas franchise and some clubs will be trying to negotiate trades before it takes place. If they’re lucky, the Kings may be able to land a suitable veteran via some creative trade activity. No matter how you look at it, the Kings best solution will likely need to be a Quick one.

Auston Matthews displays his powers in historic NHL debut

There have dozens of superstars in the NHL over the years but none of them, including Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid were able to achieve what Auston Matthews did in debut. The just-turned-19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs centre, who was drafted first overall this summer, managed to score four goals in his very first NHL contest on October 12th. But in typical Leafs fashion, they managed to spoil the historic occasion somewhat by losing the overtime game 5-4 in Ottawa to the Senators.   

To set the record straight though, Matthews became the first player to score four goals in his NHL debut in the modern era. Both Joe Malone and Harry Hyland managed to achieve the feat close to 100 years ago when they pulled it off back in 1917. When Matthews scored his third goal of the contest he became just the fifth player in history to record a hat trick an NHL debut. The previous players to set this record were Alex smart, Real Cloutier, Derek Stepan and Fabian Brunnstrom. However, Matthews is the first Leaf to do it. Matthews also became the 12th first-overall draft pick to score in his first encounter.

Perhaps Matthews’ red-hot debut shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock to fans who are familiar with his career. The teenager spent last season playing against fully-grown men in the Swiss league and led his Zurich SC squad in scoring with 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 36 outings. However, he did slow down in the playoffs with just three assists in four games. Leafs’ fans shouldn’t get carried away with the youngster’s scoring exploits though as it was just one game. Matthews knows this as do the rest of his teammates and head coach Mike Babcock. It was definitely an historic night, but it was just that, one night.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 210 lb. power forward won’t be expected to lead the team in scoring this year and the franchise will be happy with what he can produce for it. Scoring goals isn’t something that can be taught so the Leafs’ coaching staff will be focusing on teaching Matthews how to become a better all-around 200-foot player. They’ll be teaching him faceoff skills along with fore-checking and back-checking habits and how to play his position without the puck. In fact, Babcock may have been more pleased with Matthews’ play in his second NHL game as the player made more of a defensive effort in the Leafs 4-1 home-opening win over Boston.

There wasn’t really too much difference in Matthews’ game otherwise than his scoring outburst when comparing his first two outings. His ice time actually fell from 17:37 in the first contest to 16:51 in the second. He recorded six shots on goal against Ottawa and had a pair against the Bruins even though he received an extra minute of ice time on the power play against Boston. He’s also recorded three takeaways in his first two games and been charged with one giveaway. The level-headed Matthews realizes he’s not going to dominate the league and even stood up and took the blame for the Senators overtime winner in his debut.

While his stick should be headed to the Hall of Fame after making history last week, Matthews himself may also one day be inducted along with it as he certainly passed the audition. If he can remain focused and blossom together with the rest of the Leafs’ young prospects such as Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev, then Toronto should be headed back to the playoffs in the next year or two. 

Will the Edmonton Oilers snap their 10-season playoff drought in 2016/17?

Even though the Edmonton Oilers have had numerous top-10 draft picks over the past decade they’ve still managed to miss the NHL playoffs every season since 2005/06. In fact, the Oilers have had the first-overall draft choice four times between 2010 and 2015 and have selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid with those prized selections. Edmonton also chose another top prospect in this summer’s draft when they selected forward Jesse Puljujärvi of Finland.

There has been a light at the end of the tunnel for Oilers’ fans in the past few seasons as the franchise has stockpiled the cupboards with some fine young talent. However, the that light has burned itself out year after year as the club’s streak of utility never came to an end. Once again there will be optimism in Edmonton when the 2016/17 season faces off as McDavid has already shown he’s one of the best players in the league and he’s just 19 years old. In addition, the 18-year-old Puljujärvi was a worthy first-overall pick in this year’s draft by according to many experts.

Peter Chiarelli, the Oilers’ general manager and president of hockey operations, stated the team is headed in the right direction, but some fans have questioned this due to his recent moves. Chiarelli had a habit of trading away young prospects while he was GM of the Boston Bruins as he shipped out Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. He’s now done the same thing in Edmonton since being hired in April of 2015 as the GM has shipped out former number-one picks Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov.

Critical fans aren’t particularly questioning why Hall and Yakupov were sent packing, but are questioning the minimal return the Oilers got for the two young forwards. Chiarelli took defenceman Adam Larsson back in return from New Jersey for the 24-year-old Hall who scored 328 points in 381 contests. The 23-year-old Larsson was the fourth-overall pick in the 2011 draft and has played just 274 regular-season games since then with nine goals and 69 points to his name. However, compared to the Yakupov trade, the Larsson deal looks like a steal.

For some reason, Chiarelli decided not to give Yakupov another shot at playing with McDavid to start the 2016/17 season after the two created some chemistry together last campaign. The 23-year-old Yakupov was traded to the St. Louis Blues for a conditional third-round draft pick in 2017 and forward Zach Pochiro. The Oilers will receive a second-round pick in 2018 instead of a third-rounder in 2017 if Yakupov scores at least 15 goals in 2016-17. Yakupov managed to score 50 goals and 61 assists for 111 points for Edmonton in 252 games.

The return was very little though for a good young forward who has the skills and potential to break out at any moment. Pochiro is a 22-year-old American-born centre who was drafted 112th overall in 2013. He’s yet to play an NHL game and had just nine goals and 17 assists in 44 games with the Quad City Mallards of the ECHL last season and was held pointless in one game in the AHL. Oilers’ fans are having a hard time believing that Chiarelli offered Yakupov to all other 29 teams in the NHL and this was the best deal he could get in return for Yakupov.

Chiarelli has also come under fire for naming McDavid as the team’s captain after just 45 games of NHL experience. He became the youngest fulltime captain during the preseason at the age of just 19 years and 266 days. Critics feel the move sums up the franchise’s problems as McDavid doesn’t have enough experience at this stage of his career and the club should have waited until naming a new captain. There’s no doubt McDavid is a world-class player though and he’ll have to prove it year in and year out if the Oilers are to make the playoffs on a consistent basis. Edmonton will also be relying on Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, Puljujärvi, Jordan Eberle, Leon Draisaitl and newcomer Milan Lucic.

McDavid played just 45 games as a rookie last season due to injury, but racked up 48 points. Draisaitl scored 51 points last season as a 20-year-old and the 26-year-old Eberle has scored an average of 28 goals over the past four seasons. Defensively, Larsson will be a key player along with fellow blueliner Kris Russell, who signed year-long deal for a reported $3.1 million as a free agent a week before the season was set to begin. There’s also no doubt that goaltender Cam Talbot will also have to be at his best. Over the past three season, teams needed an average of 92 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

This means the Oilers need to improve by 22 points over last year’s total of 70, which was second-worst in the league and just one ahead of last-place Toronto. Minnesota reached the postseason with 87 points last campaign, but that’s still 17 more points than the Oilers had. For Edmonton to reach the playoffs they need to improve on last year’s losing streaks as the team lost at least three games in a row on 11 different occasions. They also surrendered the most goals five-on-five goals last season. If the Oilers improve in those areas and still fail to end their 10-season playoff drought, perhaps Chiarelli should start looking over his shoulder.

Five NHL coaches in the hot seat this season

There will be several coaches on the hot seat once the puck drops on the 2016/17 NHL season as club owners will be expecting a lot from them. There will also be several other head coaches who will be given a little leeway since they’ll be taking over new teams and the expectations may not be as high. For example rookie coaches Glen Gulutzan of the Calgary Flames and Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche will be given some time to get their feet wet while veteran bench bosses such as Randy Carlyle and Bruce Boudreau may also be given a grace period with their respective new clubs the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild.

The coaches with the most pressure on them will be those returning to their teams after disappointing and underachieving regular-season and/or postseason campaigns in 2015/16. We’ll take a look at five coaches who will be depended upon to produce better results for their respective franchises this year.

Michel Therrien
Montreal Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien placed himself in the hot seat in the offseason and buckled the seatbelt after he influenced the trade that sent Norris Trophy winning defenceman and fan favourite P.K. Subban packing. Subban was shipped to the Nashville Predators for fellow blueliner Shea Weber after Montreal missed the playoffs and most fans were up in arms over the deal. It’s well known that Subban wasn’t one of Therrien’s favourites and was often the team’s scapegoat following big losses. If the Habs fail to improve with Weber in the lineup and all-star goaltender Carey Price back in net after missing most of last year with an injury, then Therrien may be the next one packing his suitcase.

Claude Julien
Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins became an overnight sensation back in 2010/11 when he led the team to its first Stanley Cup in 39 years and then took them back to the final two years later. He’s won the Jack Adams award in Beantown and is now the franchise’s all-time leader in coaching wins. However, the Bruins have watched the playoffs on TV for the last two seasons as they’ve fallen just short of making them. Fans and ownership won’t sit idly by if it looks like Boston is about to miss out on playoff action for a third straight year. It’s probably safe to say Julien’s job will be up for grabs if his squad falls out of the playoff this season.

Darryl Sutter
Los Angeles Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter has been quite successful during his reign on the west coast with just over 60 per cent winning records in both the regular season and the playoffs. The Kings have won a pair of Stanley Cups in the past five years with Sutter at the helm, but the last two seasons have been rather quiet with a grand total of one playoff win in that period. Those Stanley Cup triumphs mean the team’s ownership and its fans expect big things from the team on a regular basis and Sutter has fallen short of that goal in the last two years. His team even managed to miss the playoffs in 2014/15, a year after winning the Cup.

Willie Desjardins
Many Vancouver Canucks’ fans point the finger at general manager Jim Benning for their team’s relative lack of success lately rather than head coach Willie Desjardins. Vancouver missed the playoffs last season, which was Desjardins’ second behind the bench, and the club had the NHL’s overall third-worst record. The only teams below them in the standings were fellow Canadian franchises Edmonton and Toronto. This came as a huge disappoint after making the playoffs the year before. With Vancouver’s star players the Sedin twins entering the twilight of their careers, the Canucks can’t afford to be on the outside looking in again in 2016/17. The window of opportunity for the Sedin’s to win a Stanley Cup is slowly closing and it’s up to Desjardins to get back in the playoffs as soon as possible.

Jeff Blashill
This is Jeff Blashill’s second full season in charge of the Detroit Red Wings after former head coach Mike Babcock bolted for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Blashill is in charge of one of the league’s most successful clubs over the past couple of decades and even though the Wings aren’t as good as they were 20 years ago, they’ve still managed to make the playoffs season after season. Much of the credit has to go to the scouting steam and general manager as Detroit always seems to draft well and attract useful free agents. However, Pavel Datsyuk has left Motor City to finish his career in his Russian homeland and Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg are getting older and dealing with injuries. The pressure is on Blashill to make the playoffs once again since he doesn’t want to become the first Red Wings’ coach to miss the postseason in the last in 26 seasons.

Defenceman Nikita Zaitsev has one season to prove himself with Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t really had a legitimate all-star defenceman since Borje Salming back in the 1970s and 80s, even though Tomas Kaberle came close to it just over a decade later. The future looks a bit brighter though with American Jake Gardiner and Canadian Morgan Rielly in the lineup, but the best prospect could be 24-year-old Nikita Zaitsev of Moscow, Russia. Zaitsev ended months of rumours and speculation earlier this year when he signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs after deciding to leave CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

The 6-foot-2-inch, 195-lb. right-handed shooting defenceman has been playing top minutes for Russia in the current World Cup of Hockey and impressing those who matter. Zaitsev’s big-league career began in 2008/09 when he played for the second-division Soviet Wings men’s team when he was just 17 and also earned a spot on his homeland’s squad at the Under-18 World Junior Championship in 2009. He racked up 18 points on six goals and 12 assists for the Wings that season in 31 games and served 24 minutes in penalties while going minus-4. He also chipped in with a goal and four assists at the World Junior Championships and was a plus-7 in seven contests.

The youngster was so impressive he was selected fourth overall by Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL Draft. He made his debut for the team in 2009/10 and skated with the Russian Under-20 team at the World Junior Championship.  Zaitsev took a while to learn the ropes and scored just seven points in his first three seasons with Sibir. However, he was named to the squad that won a gold medal World Junior Championship in 2011. Zaitsev ended up being ranked 43rd overall among international players by the Central Scouting Bureau in 2011, but was somehow overlooked in the NHL Draft.

His breakthrough season came in 2012/13 when debuting for the Russian national team and scoring seven goals and 11 assists for Sibir while playing an average of 24 minutes per game. He signed with CSKA Moscow the next season as a free agent and averaged 23 minutes of ice time per game. He then contributed 32 points in 57 games the next season and was a plus-27 and added eight points in 16 playoff outings. Zaitsev was named an alternative captain last next season and scored 26 points in 46 games and was a plus-21 while adding 13 points in 20 postseason encounters.

There’s no doubt that Zaitsev has improved each season and at the age of 24 has plenty of potential as well as seven years of top-level experience under his belt. He’s a fine positional player who has the talent to move the puck out of his own zone and contribute in both ends of the ice. He’s rarely caught out of position, but will need to adapt to the smaller ice surface in the NHL. If he lives up to his potential, Zaitsev may be one of the finds of the 2016/17 NHL season and could very well end up on the Leaf’s first defensive pairing with Rielly. Zaitsev is more or less fluent in the English language and should adapt to the North American game quite quickly. However, he needs to prove his worth right away since he’s got just one season to earn a contract extension.