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Fantasy Nuggets Week 18

Evander Kane

Evander Kane

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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The Edmonton Oilers showed a glimmer of light from Jan. 22-Feb. 2, going 5-0-1 before kicking off their post-break schedule with back-to-back losses to Vegas and Chicago. That would be bad enough on its own given that Edmonton really does need every point they can get right now, but what’s particularly troubling is the way they lost. Vegas and Chicago limited Edmonton to just one goal. Meanwhile goaltender Mike Smith was asked to start on back-to-back days, which was a questionable decision that didn’t pay off.

On the one hand, I do sympathize with the position coach Dave Tippett (who at the time of writing hasn’t been fired yet, but reportedly will be) was in. Netminder Mikko Koskinen was in the COVID-19 so he wasn’t an option. At the same time, Smith is 39-years-old and prior to Tuesday’s contest he had been out of the lineup since Jan. 5 due to a thumb injury, so asking him to start in two straight nights wasn’t exactly putting him in a position to succeed.

Now Edmonton is 23-18-3. They’re five points behind the Calgary Flames in the battle for the final Wild Card spot and the Flames have played in one fewer contest. On top of that, Edmonton isn’t even the closest team to Calgary with the Dallas Stars in between them. The Oilers are very much in the playoff race, but what looked like a given earlier this season is anything but at this point.

So what’s the answer for Edmonton? Get another goaltender? That’d certainly would help. Even when healthy Smith hasn’t been great this season – though again, he got a rough assignment last night – and Koskinen isn’t inspiring either with his 3.15 GAA and .900 save percentage. Acquiring someone like Marc-Andre Fleury wouldn’t solve Edmonton’s long-term issue, but he’d be a solid stopgap and maybe enough to push them into the postseason.

What’s particularly troubling though is how Edmonton’s offense just kind of comes and goes. For a team with so much offensive talent, Edmonton has been held to one or no goals on eight occasions over their last 22 games. Because of that, Edmonton has averaged just 2.59 goals per game over that span, which puts them in 27th place in the league offensively during that stretch. No wonder they’ve been struggling.

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Adding Evander Kane did provide them a boost, but it hasn’t completely solved the problem if Edmonton’s last two games are any indication. Is Tippett the problem for not getting the most out of his players? I suppose we’ll find out given that the Oilers are reportedly going to replace him.

It is worth noting that Tippett is/was their ninth coach since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, so it’s not like Edmonton hasn’t tried switching up their coaching staff. Plus, the Oilers did have some success under Tippett. They did well during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 regular seasons, even if their playoff runs were disappointing, and they did get off to a 16-5-0 start this season under Tippett. That said, coaching is very much a “what have you done for me lately” gig and while Oilers GM Ken Holland doesn’t like midseason coaching replacements, there are stories of talented, but struggling teams replacing their coach midseason and then winning a championship. Literally just off the top of my head, some examples include the 2012 Los Angeles Kings under Darryl Sutter, the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins under Dan Bylsma, the Penguins again in 2016 under Mike Sullivan, and the St. Louis Blues in 2019 under Craig Berube. So midseason coaching changes clearly can work. That’s not to say that the only thing standing between Edmonton and a championship is a coaching change but given how badly they’ve underperformed for about a quarter of the season now, it’s worth a shot.

As much as the Oilers’ struggles are noteworthy though, they haven’t been the headline team over the last week. That would have to be the Boston Bruins. It’s been a rough time for the Bruins with Tuukka Rask’s comeback bid ending with him announcing his retirement, Patrice Bergeron suffering an upper-body injury that will keep him out of Thursday’s game, and Brad Marchand making unforced errors that resulted in him being handed a six-game suspension.

When it comes to Marchand in particular, it’s telling that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t come to his player’s defense. Not it would have been easy to defend Marchand for punching Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry after the play had ended and later hitting Jarry with his stick even as the referees were trying to escort him away, but most of the time coach’s will defend their players regardless. Not this time.

“It’s a lack of discipline obviously on Brad’s part,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, per NBC Sports Boston. “Brad’s a leader on our team and he needs to control his emotions.”

That’s really what it comes down to. Marchand is a great player and when he crosses the line, he’s hurting his team. There’s a difference between being tough, getting under the other team’s skin, and being selfish. First off, you can’t even make the argument that Marchand was possibly doing this for any tactical, getting under the opponent’s skin, reason given that these actions took place within the final 30 seconds of the contest of a game that was all-but decided. Boston won’t be playing Pittsburgh again until April 16 either, so this was hardly making an effective statement for an upcoming game either.

All he accomplished was to take himself out of the lineup at a time when the Bruins are fighting to maintain their hold on a Wild Card spot. It was a mistake plain and simple and while you’d like to think that Marchand will learn from this incident, his history unfortunately makes me doubt that he will.

As for Rask, you have to feel for him. To have to end his career at the age of 34 because of an injury is rough, but even if his career was cut short, he certainly accomplished a ton. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2014, the Jennings Trophy in 2020, and posted a career 308-165-66 record, 2.28 GAA, and .921 save percentage in 564 contests. Although he didn’t start during the 2011 playoffs, he did win the Stanley Cup that year as Tim Thomas’ understudy.

Rask deserves serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. He was one of the best goaltenders of his generation and the Bruins were far better for him. Now the Bruins will need to move on with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. They’ve been a somewhat mixed bag so far this season, but they’re decent and Swayman in particular has a ton of potential. Honestly the fact that the Bruins can transition from Thomas to Rask to Swayman is something that other hockey franchises would naturally be jealous of.

We might as well close this out by noting that Rask’s retirement also officially closes the book on Toronto and Boston’s Rask-for-Andrew Raycroft trade back in 2006. That deal was one-for-one and neither were traded again so…yeah, I think we can safely say Boston thoroughly won that deal without doing any deep analysis.