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Edmonton Oilers place James Neal on waivers, welcome back Jesse Puljujarvi from COVID protocol – Edmonton Journal

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Even as the other six Canadian team take to the ice in Hockey Day in Canada action, the Edmonton Oilers have a well-deserved day off on Saturday. The Oilers did make some news this morning, however.

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Winger James Neal has become the latest Oilers forward to find himself on the waiver wire as GM Ken Holland looks to maximize flexibility up front. Holland reduced the number of forwards on his active roster to 12 some time ago, with game day changes occurring directly from the taxi squad to the active roster. The waiver of Neal will add him to an extended list that already includes Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis, Alex Chiasson, Devin Shore, Joakim Nygard, and Patrick Russell. All of them cleared waivers earlier in the season, even as the 30-day exemption period after a successful waiver starts to apply to some of them. As an example, Khaira, who cleared back on Jan 12, would need to be waived again at this point in the unlikely event that the Oilers felt the need to send him back to the taxi squad.

The first four of those bolded names, along with Neal himself, played in Edmonton’s most recent game, a 3-0 win over the Canadiens right in Montreal. With other forwards including Zack KassianGaetan Haas, and (temporarily) Jesse Puljujarvi on the injury/COVID lists, the Oilers have made extensive use of their taxi squad options.

Some good news on that last front, as Puljujarvi has been cleared to rejoin the team after some ambiguous test results on Thursday.

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For his part Neal actually contracted COVID just before he was slated to travel to Edmonton from Nashville before the season. That caused a late start to his season as he endured an extended quarantine in each city while he recovered from the illness. He was finally activated in Game 6 and has subsequently played 9 of 11 games, posting boxcars of 2-1-3, -2 in a bottom six role with close to three minutes per game on the first powerplay unit. The Oilers have had about 45% of both shots and goals during his 89 minutes of action at 5v5.

Neal moved up the line-up in the Montreal game, taking Puljujarvi’s spot at 1RW alongside Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He managed a couple of decent shots on goal but struggled to keep up to the pace of play, as he has generally done throughout much of the season to date. There has been precious little sign of the lethal hands which have produced 291 NHL goals in his accomplished career.

How much of that is due to his late start and his general health vs. the fact his skills are in decline at age 33 is an open question. But it seems that the team wants to open up the option to sit him out for a given game here or there.

The Oilers technically have a 23-man roster but Holland has chosen to use all three of his “extra” spots on defencemen, in a lopsided 12 F / 9 D / 2 G distribution. But there is method to his madness. With all three of youngsters Ethan BearCaleb Jones, and William Lagesson having graduated from their Entry Level Contracts this season, all would need to clear waivers before being assigned to the taxi squad, and Holland has plenty of reason to believe that they wouldn’t. Same goes for young veteran Slater Koekkoek, another useful defender with a sub $1 million cap hit. The one vet who has been in and out of the line-up, Kris Russell, remains protected from waivers by the No Movement Clause to which he and Peter Chiarelli agreed in 2017. Finally, young Evan Bouchard is on the first year of his ELC and can be moved to the taxi squad freely, but for now he is a regular in the game night line-up.

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That leaves the Oilers in a tight spot at both forward and, famously, in goal, where they have already lost two would-be #3 stoppers via the waiver route. To this point they have been unscathed by waiver claims up front and that is virtually certain to remain the case tomorrow morning.

While Neal is technically available to any NHL team that might wish to put in a claim in the next 24 hours, the chances of that actually happening are effectively zero. The winger is on an expensive ticket of $5.75 million for the remainder of this and two additional seasons. There are few NHL teams with the cap space to even consider it, and frankly zero reason why they should.

From an Edmonton perspective such a claim would be a massive break, but don’t get your hopes up, Oil fans. Time has proven the Oilers can’t get out from under the Milan Lucic contract that easily, even as Lucic himself was moved along for Neal in the summer of 2019. The biggest advantage to that “real deal” — which cost the Oilers in terms of cap retention ($750,000), a draft pick (third round in 2021), and $7 million in actual cash paid out on Lucic’s front-loaded contract — was that Neal’s pact had no restrictive clauses that would force the Oilers to protect him in the upcoming expansion draft, or preclude them from buying it out at some future point. That latter issue will no doubt be a topic for discussion in the upcoming off-season.

The absence of a NMC in Neal’s pact is not only critical to the upcoming expansion, it enables them to place the player on waivers today. The Oilers would have had no such option with Lucic were he still with the team.

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At such time as Neal is placed on the taxi squad, only marginal salary cap savings can be achieved and even those are uncertain. A maximum of $1.075 million of any contract can be buried off-roster, while any replacement called up to the roster will have at least the league minimum cap hit of $700,000. There are further complications due to the fine print of Long Term Injured Reserve legalese which the Oilers invoked when they placed Oscar Klefbom on LTIR at season’s start.

For now James Neal will surely remain an Oiler, even as he seems destined to join the rotation of depth forwards who can be cycled in and out of the line-up based on team need and recent form. Nothing saying such a move is imminent; the Oilers waived Chiasson a couple of weeks ago, then placed him right back in the line-up. I frankly expect the same respect is shown to Neal next game as a sign he is still in the team’s plans even after enduring the indignity of the waiver wire.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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Monday Finish: Bryson DeChambeau wins with two legends on his mind – pgatour.com

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The crowd loved it as Bryson DeChambeau ascended to pole position in the FedExCup with his eighth PGA TOUR victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.

DeChambeau’s soaring drives at the sixth hole maxed out at 377 yards Sunday and brought howls of delight as he turned the par 5 into a par 4 at most. And after he’d made a testy five-footer to secure a final-round 71, edging Lee Westwood (73) by one, he flexed and screamed.

Not lost amid all the fireworks, though, was that DeChambeau also won in large part due to his work on the greens, namely by making his two longest putts of the week. First came his birdie from just over 37 feet at the fourth hole, which seemed tame by comparison to the nearly 50-foot bomb he would make to save par at the 11th hole. He joins just four other players to make multiple putts from over 35 feet in the final round en route to victory in the ShotLink era:

• Vijay Singh (three such putts), 2008 Dell Technologies Championship
• Ben Crane (two), 2010 Farmers Insurance Open
• Tiger Woods (two), 2008 Farmers Insurance Open
• Craig Stadler (two), 2003 B.C. Open

After his U.S. Open victory last fall, DeChambeau – the first American winner at Bay Hill since Matt Every in 2015 – becomes the first multiple winner of the 2020-21 TOUR season.

Here are five other stories you may have missed:

1. DeChambeau remembers those who paved the way.

The champion had some legends in his corner on Sunday.

For one, he always has revered the tournament’s namesake, who was kind enough to extend an invitation to DeChambeau to compete at Bay Hill when DeChambeau was still an amateur. As the 2015 U.S. Amateur champion (Palmer was a U.S. Amateur champion 61 years earlier), DeChambeau played the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 27th, his week highlighted by a closing 66. For a young kid dreaming of one day playing the TOUR, it was a significant week.

If the first player who comes to mind at Bay Hill is Palmer, then the second would be Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner there. Sunday before his round, DeChambeau received a text from Woods, who was injured in a single-car accident in Los Angeles on Feb. 23. 

“Well, it was obviously personal, I would say, for the most part, but pretty much to sum it up … he texted me this morning out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting anything,” DeChambeau said. “When I got that text, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing that he is thinking of me when he’s in his tough times that he’s going through right now.’ So I just texted him. I said, ‘Keep moving forward, keep going forward. You’re going to get through it. You’re the hardest working person I’ve ever met and you’ll persevere through this pretty much.’

“One of the things that we talked about was, it’s not about how many times you get kicked to the curb or knocked down. It’s about how many times you can get back up and keep moving forward. And I think this (champion’s) red cardigan is not only for Mr. Palmer, but I would say it’s a little bit for Tiger as well, knowing what place he’s in right now.”

Read more about Dechambeau’s meaningful victory here.

2. Westwood hangs tough.

Although he didn’t win, ultimately collecting his seventh runner-up finish on TOUR, Lee Westwood made hard-working pars on 17 and 18 to at least make DeChambeau earn it. That included Westwood’s gritty 4 from a divot in the middle of the fairway at the last.

The only hiccup: His failure to birdie the short, par-5 16th hole after splitting the fairway.

“Yeah, I mean I’m not short myself,” Westwood said. “I think I hit it about 350 yards down 16. I only went in with wedge into that par-5.” Yet with DeChambeau up against the lip of a fairway bunker, Westwood missed the green and couldn’t get up and down, walking off with a par.

Still, the veteran from England wasn’t hanging his head at the end of a very, very hard day.  

“You can’t want for more than that,” he said. “I thought we had a really good battle, we were never, it was never really more than one in it all day and there were tough conditions out there and it wasn’t going to be a day where – I don’t think anybody was going to shoot 68 or 67.

“It was a day for playing sensible and hanging on and grinding out the pars.”

3. Spieth pleased with T4 finish.

Although he didn’t make anything on the greens Sunday, Jordan Spieth (75, T4, five back) had a great first start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It started with a tour of Palmer’s office and ended with his third top-five finish in his last four starts. This one, Spieth said, was his best effort yet in his comeback (T3/AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; T4/Waste Management Phoenix Open).

“I thought I played better today than I did any of those Sundays,” said Spieth, whose streak of 389 holes without a double bogey or worse marks his longest on TOUR. “At the beginning of the day if you told me I was going to be even through 10 and be in – hit driver in the middle of the fairway on 11 and on 12 – I would have thought I was going to win the golf tournament.”

Spieth has climbed from 92nd to 52nd in the world this year, and his finish at Bay Hill pushed him up to 43rd (from 59th) in the FedExCup standings. The 2015 FedExCup champion continues to inch ever closer to the form that saw him reach No. 1 in the world.  

“Again, I put the ball exactly where I wanted to on just about every single shot and putt,” he said, “and it came out to 75 somehow. But that’s not going to happen every time; if I do, if I play the way I did today. It’s going to be really good going forward.”

Learn more about Spieth’s memorable first trip to Bay Hill here.

4. McIlroy buoyed by fans’ return.

Rory McIlroy, who will be defending his 2019 title at THE PLAYERS Championship this week, went into the final round just four back but struggled with a 4-over 76 (T10). Although he was one of many who struggled, he had trouble accepting the lackluster final result.

“I don’t know,” McIlroy said. “I need something, I need a spark, I need something, and I just don’t seem to have it. Some days it’s good, some days it’s not.”

One thing he did feel optimistic about: The return of on-site fans.

“I’ve missed this a lot,” he said. “Even though it’s only, whatever, 25 percent capacity this week, it feels so much more than that and it’s great to play in front of that. I’m looking forward to doing it again next week. I think that it is, I think we’re all sort of now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel where things can at least get back to some sort of normality pretty soon.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” he continued. “It’s going to be surreal looking back in 20 years’ time and sort of seeing what we lived through.”

5. Corey Conners’ wild finish.

The good news for Canada’s Corey Conners was that he eagled the par-5 16th hole to get within one of the lead. The bad news is he bogeyed 17 and 18 to shoot 74 and finish 8 under, three back.

Still, the solo third was his best result of the season.

“Yeah, it was a challenge,” Conners said of a day in which the field averaged 75.486. “Definitely a battle out there. I made some nice saves at the start of the round, just didn’t get the putts to fall today, the greens were rolling really fast, ball seemed to never stop.

“So it was very challenging,” Conners continued. “Gave myself a shot, made a really great eagle on 16 that felt pretty good, and bogeyed the last two holes, wasn’t great. But really challenging golf holes. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.” (There were no bogey-free rounds.)

TOUR TOP 10

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Flames plagued by inconsistent play again in loss to Senators – Sportsnet.ca

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You could see it in Mark Giordano’s strides as he successfully chased down a player 15 years younger on an overtime breakaway.

You could see it in the diving leg save made by Juuso Valimaki late in a 3-3 game.

Unmistakable signs of desperation.

Finally, after two periods.

It was almost as if players started hearing reports that a combine driven by an infuriated farmer was spotted racing south on Hwy 2.

Darryl Sutter’s actual arrival at the Dome is slated for Tuesday’s practice, at which time nothing can be done about the Flames’ 4-3 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

However, you can bet the latest in a season of inconsistent outings will be brought up by the 62-year-old holding the straight-bladed Sher-Wood.

“That’s the tough part – you want to see that all the time,” acting coach Ryan Huska said of the team’s inspiring third period play, which erased a 3-1 deficit.

“There were a lot of good showings from a lot of different players (in the third), but at this time of year you can’t just be talking about one good period.”

But we are. Again.

And that’s why Geoff Ward was fired Thursday, to be replaced by Sutter on Tuesday, following two more losses and an odd handful of days without him courtesy of COVID-19 protocol.

As Calgary’s third loss to last-place Ottawa illustrated, the Jolly Rancher can’t get here quick enough to try saving a season rapidly getting away from the Flames.

“Obviously it’s a unique situation when you have a coach who’s not there, but we’re trying to control what we can,” said Noah Hanifin, whose second goal in as many games completed an emotional comeback with eight minutes left in a final frame in which the Flames enjoyed a 16-3 shot advantage.

“Obviously he demands success and everywhere he’s went he’s won. That’s something we’re looking forward to having in our locker room. I’m excited to see what he brings and what he expects from us. It’s going to be good for our team.”

As part of the team’s precipitous drop in emotion and intensity from Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Edmonton, the Flames failed on three first-period power plays in a game led 2-0 by Ottawa after one.

Zac Rinaldo’s fight with Austin Watson injected some life into the Flames, who scored soon thereafter when Giordano’s point blast tipped off a defender’s skate and found its way through traffic.

Jacob Markstrom made several big saves in the second but surrendered a goal to Colin White, setting up a third in which Johnny Gaudreau’s power play goal (the only conversion in eight tries) kick-started the comeback completed by Hanifin.

“Marky stops two breakaways in the second that help us get the point, but we’ve got to find a way to get two,’ said Giordano, who tracked down Drake Batherson in overtime to help send the game into a shootout eventually won by the 22-year-old Senators sensation.

“It stings right now — we know how important every point is. In the third we had a great push, but we’ve got to find a way to come out with two points. The effort is there and guys’ hearts are in the right place. But the desperation really has to be from the drop of the puck.”

Valimaki helped preserve the lone point late in the third after Markstrom misplayed a puck behind the net that squirted out to a wide-open Connor Brown, whose shot at the empty net was stopped by the diving defenceman, earning a hug from his netminder.

However, after Matthew Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle traded goals in the shootout, Batherson cast another pall over the Flames’ season with the winner as Ottawa’s fourth shooter.

We’ll start to find out Thursday, when Montreal comes to town, if Sutter’s arrival has come too late.

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Batherson’s shootout winner lifts Senators over Flames – TSN

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CALGARY — The Ottawa Senators emerged victorious in their fifth battle of the season with the Calgary Flames Sunday night.

Drake Batherson scored the game-winner in a four-round shootout to give Ottawa the 4-3 decision at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

“I thought we played a good game even when (the Flames) made their push in the third,” Senators forward Colin White said.

“We hung in there and won it.”

The Sens have now won three of five against the Flames this season. Ottawa also has five wins in their last eight contests.

Calgary earned just one point from the game, leaving them three behind the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place in the North Division.

“It stings right now,” Flames defenceman Mark Giordano said. “We know how important these points are. We’ve got to come out better than we did. Obviously, in the third we had a great push. But we’ve got to find a way to get two points in games. That’s the bottom line right now.”

Connor Brown, Ryan Dzingel and Colin White each scored for the Senators (9-17-1) in regulation. Tim Stutzle also tallied a shootout goal.

Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, and Noah Hanifin scored for Calgary (11-12-3), while Matthew Tkachuk added a shootout goal in the loss.

Matt Murray made 31 saves for Ottawa, earning his seventh win of the season.

“He was solid. He looked calm back there tonight. He was seeing everything. The only goals (Calgary) got were a deflection and a rebound goal that came right back to the guy. He gave us every opportunity to win,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said post-game.

Jacob Markstrom made 19 saves for Calgary.

Brown scored the first goal of the game with 6:12 to play in the first. He fired the puck from behind the right face off circle. The puck redirected off a Flames defenceman before sliding through Markstrom’s legs.

Dzingel scored for the second consecutive game to give Ottawa a 2-0 advantage before the intermission. He finished a two-on-one play, taking a pass from Chris Tierney before tapping the puck past Markstrom.

Senators forward Austin Watson and Flames forward Zac Rinaldo dropped the gloves within the opening three minutes of the second period, in hopes of sparking their respective teams.

It worked, briefly, for the Flames. Giordano scored his third of year 88 seconds later, firing a shot that deflected off Sens’ forward Josh Norris before beating Murray.

But Ottawa would restore their two-goal advantage thanks to Colin White‘s seventh goal of the season less than four minutes later.

Gaudreau scored in the third period to bring Calgary, once again, within a goal. It was his 11th of the season. The Flames would finally even the score thanks to a goal from Hanifin with over eight minutes left in regulation. It was the second goal in two games for the defenceman.

Calgary thought they had the game won later in the third as Brown tried to give the Senators the lead with his second of the night. With Markstrom out of position, the puck struck the right leg of Flames defenceman Juuso Valimaki and missed the net.

“It was an important time to keep the puck out of our net,” Valimaki said.

The Flames and Senators hoped overtime would decide things, but to no avail. Batherson’s shootout winner finally ended the battle in Ottawa’s favour.

NOTES: The Flames had eight power play opportunities Sunday night, but only scored once with the man advantage. The Senators were 0-for-2 on the man advantage…Sunday night’s game once again saw Ryan Huska coach for the Flames. Calgary hasn’t yet won a game since firing head coach Geoff Ward before the weekend. Incoming head coach Darryl Sutter will officially take over Monday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2021.

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