In an unprecedented NHL season, might the Edmonton Oilers have some new faces in new places: 9 Things

In an unprecedented NHL season, might the Edmonton Oilers have some new faces in new places: 9 Things

Author of the article:

Kurt Leavins

Publishing date:

Jan 10, 2021  •   •  6 minute read

Edmonton Oilers left wing James Neal (18) looks to control the puck against Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) during the first period at United Center on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski /USA TODAY Sports

Article content

By this time next week, we will finally be in the midst of the 2021 Edmonton Oilers season.

There’s lot to talk about, both on the ice in terms who will make up the roster and off the ice when it comes to who will describe that play.

So, lets get going with this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. Sports fans in Western Canada will know Warren Woods. The Regina-based veteran broadcaster and jack of all trades (I once hired him to do radio play-by-play at The Brier!) contracted COVID-19 in December. He has been in Regina General Hospital ever since. Warren’s a great guy. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help him and his family.

8. The Oilers placed Adam Cracknelland Seth Griffiths on waivers Saturday night. They’ve released Ryan Stantonfrom his NHL PTO. And the club has assigned Stuart Skinner, Cooper Marody and Markus Niemelainen to AHL Bakersfield. Expect all 6 to end up with the Condors. Joe Gambardella, who was not at camp, was also placed on waivers earlier Saturday.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

7. Jesse Puljujarvi is changing his jersey number from 98 to 13. I’m often the guy to say that too much is made of the numerals on sweaters. But in this case, I’d suggest that Puljujarvi is looking at this new opportunity as a fresh start. The number swap may be an effort to wipe the slate clean. Puljujarvi’s play in camp and has certainly been encouraging. And his body language has been positive, too.

6. I fully expect Evan Bouchard to make the club and start the season in Edmonton. But I don’t see him playing ahead of Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear or Tyson Barrie. And none of those 3 nor Bouchard play the LHS. So, barring injury, I won’t be shocked if Bouchard heads back to Bakersfield in a month once the AHL season resumes play. But the door is cracked for Bouchard. Can he push it open wider in the next 3+ weeks?

5. Kyle Turris and Josh Archibaldhave so far teamed up as 1 Oilers Penalty Kill forward unit, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jujhar Khairaanother. Coach Dave Tippett has suggested that others may also get cycled in. But those 4 seem to be his go-to guys. And why not? The Nuge, Archibald and Khaira were 3-quarters of the NHL’s best PK forwards from 2019-20. Turris is also on the #2 PP. If he ends up contributing 18-19 minutes per night of quality work, the veteran Center may turn out to be an even more important signing than we thought.

4.Slater Koekkoek has looked solid in camp. He was a sharp LHD pickup by Ken Holland. Koekkoek’s resume suggests that at worst he stands to be a solid 7D for the club. But I would not be surprised if he pushes Kris Russell for some playing time. And while Caleb Jones has looked very good in camp so far…prospects rarely develop in a straight line. Koekkoek is great insurance if Jones struggles. But expect Kris Russell to be in the lineup on Day 1. He was the Oilers best D-man against Chicago last Spring and NHL coaches have long memories.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

3. There were various reports that James Nealmay have been injured. I’ve checked around with a few people and I don’t believe that to have been the case, or at least not a serious one. However, Neal did spend 3 seasons in Nashville and made a lot of friends whom I believe he still trains with. The Predators are one of numerous clubs that have had multiple players declared ‘not fit to play”. Neal’s been around the Edmonton rink, so I doubt he was (hopefully/thankfully) ever sick. But it there was a close contact or something like that, then he may have just had to play it safe for a bit. If so, Neal may start the season on LTIR until he’s up to NHL speed.

2. Sportsnethas announced a multi-year extension of its Alberta regional television rights deal. Sources of mine in multiple NHL cities say this deal is not as long as the last one. To fans, the renewal means consistency in terms of where you find Oilers (and Flames) games. But due to a COVID revenue crunch common across all sports and the obvious health & safety concerns that exist, might games look and sound a little different? Rather than TV crews travelling would it not make sense to have each city’s guys do the games for both cities on the ice that night? Fewer travel dollars, no quarantine, etc. More on that in a minute.

1.The radio rights deal for the Edmonton Oilers has also been finalized. 630 CHED will continue to be the home of the Oilers for another 3 years. A typical rights deal would be 5 or 6 years. I have no inside information on negotiations. But it stands to reason that in a COVID economy, a shorter term on a contract is common sense, especially for the club. No financial details have been released but past radio rights deals in Alberta have ranged anywhere from $1.2-$1.5m. This encompasses play-by-play and pre- and post-game broadcasts, but also in the case of the Edmonton market Oilers Now, the Noon-2pm M-F call-in show. There’s a long relationship between club and radio broadcaster. Continuity makes good sense for lots of reasons. But they are also entering un-charted waters.

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

First: With no fans in the arena, what will happen to the normally captive in-car audience that Reid Wilkinsand Rob Brownentertain on The Faceoff Show and after the games? The likable Wilkins is an excellent traffic cop and has tremendous patience during the post-game call-in segment. And I’ve long thought Rob Brown is a straight and insightful X’s and O’s commentator. So, the quality (according to me, at least) of the program is there. It’s good listening. But how much will have COVID changed listening patterns? And will it be permanent? We will just have to see. But I like Reid & Rob and wish them well.

The talk show is integral to this deal. Host Bob Stauffer and his roster of regular guests like Brian Burke, Elliott Friedman and superstar cameos from Wayne Gretzky and others are a prime source for fans. The show’s a big ratings winner. Oilers Now has more audience than the radio play-by-play. That surprises some. But remember: While the show is top-notch it also doesn’t have to compete with the game telecasts. Radio audience declines at night because there are just so many other entertainment choices. And Stauffer’s ratings mean revenue at a time when the sporting world is not exactly flush with cash.

Speaking of which: new contracts are commonly an opportunity for broadcasters to re-assess their product and balance sheets and (if they feel the need to) potentially pivot. The release from Sportsnet did not specify who would be in the booth for games, so it is safe to assume that there will be one or two new faces in new places…at least for Regional broadcasts. Who should that be?

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content continued

To my ears, Jack Michaels and his lift-you-out-of-your-seat play-by-play skills would translate easily and effectively onto television. And I can’t think of anyone better connected to the club than Stauffer. He knows everybody and is an Oilers encyclopedia. We know they’re both back on radio. Might we see more of them on the other medium, especially when they’re already in the rink anyway?

Besides: The Oilers already put their best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice more than most anyone else. Why wouldn’t they also want 2 of their biggest broadcasting stars on more?

Stay tuned.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

Recently, at The Cult…

STAPLES: A potential tweak to the already lethal Oilers Power Play

McCURDY: Opportunity knocks for Oilers’ depth wingers

STAPLES: Which NHL coaches are on the hot seat?

CBD Oil, 9 Reasons To Love The New Cannabinoid
Find out more