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Edmonton Oilers reach a decision on 7 restricted free agents, announce development camp roster – Edmonton Journal

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With the NHL Draft now in the rear view, it remains a busy time on the summer hockey calendar with the annual “Free Agent Frenzy” just around the corner.

First, though, comes the important business of issuing — or not — qualifying offers to restricted free agents. The Edmonton Oilers have 7 such young players on expiring contracts, and have chosen to commence the renewal process with 4 of them and cut ties with the other 3.

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Each is an interesting story well worth following, as indeed Oilers fans have done for years already in each case. Presented above in alphabetical order, so let’s follow that trend, with a brief summary at bottom of the 3 RFA’s who didn’t make the cut.

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Tyler Benson was right on the bubble after a disappointing season spent spinning his wheels in first Edmonton, then Bakersfield. His waiver exemption having expired at the end of his Entry Level Contract, Benson signed a 1-year extension at league minimum last summer, and spent the first 5 months of 2021-22 on the big league roster. He struggled to gain traction, however, playing around half the games and averaging just 8:33 a night.

His was a classic Catch 22 situation, where he projected best as a support player with skilled linemates but never produced enough lower down the line-up to earn such an opportunity. His most frequent linemates on the season? Colton Sceviour, Ryan McLeod, Kyle Turris, Derek Ryan, Devin Shore, Zack Kassian. Not exactly Muderers’ Row. Same can be said about Benson himself with meagre stats of 1-1-2, -5.

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To his credit Benson tried to change his game to that of an agitator, and proved fairly effective at getting under opponents’ skins, even as a couple of untimel;y penalties didn’t help his cause. But by early March with the team getting healthier and Evander Kane added to the top of the left wing food chain, Benson became supernumerary and was waived out of the league. He again proved to be an effective player at that level, but was hurt in Game 1 of the playoffs and that was that. A miserable end to a disappointing season.

Good decision by the Oilers to qualify him in my opinion. Since drafting him high in the second round in 2016, the club has invested 6 years in his development, 4 of them at the professional level. Over that time he has established himself as an excellent player in the high minors who can at minimum help at that level, keeping the team competitive and mentoring younger players. He will also be a depth call-up option for the Oilers, and surely retains hope of catching lightning in a bottle and making that next step when the opportunity presents itself.

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Step 1: sign the qualifying offer outright. Step 2: work his tail off this summer improving his skating. Step 3: make a big impression in training camp and the preseason. The good news is that he is already very well known to coach Jay Woodcroft, but even that didn’t save him last March so he’ll need to take a step.

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Ryan McLeod was a lock to be qualified, and remains one to be signed. Like Benson a high second round pick, McLeod had a much less impressive season as a rookie pro, but then made giant steps in each of Years 2 and 3 of his now-expired ELC.

This past season McLeod had an unremarkable training camp and got caught in a numbers game as the only bubble player who didn’t require waivers to get sent out to Bakersfield. He returned after a 7-game exile a much more focused player, and proceeded to work his way into and up the line-up, where he remained. McLeod spent a lot of nights at 4C but gradually moved up to 3C with the versatility to fill in at 2LW when needed. He averaged 12:46 per game in season and saw that bumped to 14:33 in the playoffs. He also became a regular on the second powerplay unit and a feature player on the penalty kill.

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A truly gifted skater, McLeod excels in the transition game and has become increasingly comfortable carting the puck up ice at speed, demonstrating plus abilities in both zone exits and entries. He’s not a natural finisher, but has shown gradual improvement at that aspect, ultimately notching 12 goals in 87 regular season and playoff games in 2021-22. His scoring rates of 0.56 goals and 1.29 points per 60 minutes at 5v5 put him right on the cusp between 3rd and 4th line rates at 5v5, which squares with his deployment.

He also held his own by underlying numbers like on-ice shot and goal shares, and delivered good value against his ELC-limited cap hit. By far the more exciting news is that he held his own, largely at the demanding centre position, as a 22-year-old NHL rookie. As a Day 2 draft pick he has already established himself as an NHL regular with upside aplenty.

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McLeod is unique among the 4 players receiving QO’s in that he does not have arbitration rights. In theory this should make an extension at a team-friendly price a very likely bet, though it says here the smart play is to sign a bridge deal of 2 or even 3 years at a somewhat higher price which should still prove to be a bargain over the lifetime of the deal.

Ryan McLeod is exactly the sort of player the Oilers need more of: a Day 2 draft pick, internally developed, and projecting as a solid role player at a reasonable cost for years to come.

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Jesse Puljujarvi is by some distance the most discussed player among the Oilers’ current group of RFA’s, and the one who produces the most sharply-divided opinions. He represents the continental divide between the numbers and the eye test.

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By eye, many saw an awkward, at times clumsy player who increasingly fought the puck and struggled to finish his own scoring chances.

On the production side his numbers were good-not-great: 7th among Oilers forwards in points, 6th in goals, 5th in assists, 4th in shots, 3rd in plus. All this in just 65 games, Excellent value for a 23-year-old with a cap hit below $1.2 million, but underwhelming to those who expected more from a 4th overall draft pick whose most frequent linemate was Connor McDavid.

His on-ice numbers, on the other hand, were universally fabulous. The Oilers outshot, outchanced, and outscored their opponents by a wide margin with JP on the ice, a trait that held true no matter who his linemates happened to be. Those results were provided in some detail in this late-season post so won’t be repeated here even as they changed a bit down the stretch. We subsequently compared him to another gangly but effective winger in Colorado, Valeri Nichushkin, back on April 22, a comparison that subsequently went viral (here is one example of many) even as Nichushkin’s star rose in the playoffs while Puljujarvi’s faded with a disappointing post-season.

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Our own work here at the Cult of Hockey analyzing scoring chances managed to find areas where the eye test and the numbers largely agreed. In his season review on Puljujarvi, colleague David Staples zoomed in on the player’s ability to contribute to Grade A shots by through hard plays at net. He was particularly effective winning battles for or around the puck leading to or continuing a possession and leading directly to scoring chances, with 23 such attributions, 6 more than any other Oiler.

After an outstanding start, J.P.’s season was compromised by both illness and injury. In particular he never seemed to bounce back from a late season “non-COVID” illness that forced him out of 3 games. And ever since, a swirl of rumours about possible trades and trade requests, but to date no actual trade.

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The club has now performed the necessary next step by qualifying the player, who now has arb rights. Likeliest outcome from this distance is a trade followed by a new (bargain) contract elsewhere, though a compromise 1-year extension is not out of the question. This is a player with plenty to prove and with time to prove it, given he turned 24 during the playoffs. Will that time be here in Edmonton? Aye, there’s the rub.

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Kailer Yamamoto is in a superficially similar position as Puljujarvi. Another ’98 birthday, another first-round pick, another right winger, another youngster achieving arbitration rights on the heels of an inexpensive bridge contract. Even had the identical cap hit, at $1.175 million.

But there are important differences. Principle among them, Yamamoto has 4 years remaining under club control, Puljujarvi just 2. Leaving plenty of room for another bridge contract for K.Y., albeit at a nice pay raise after the 20-goal, 21-assist season the young winger posted in 2021-22.

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We reviewed Yamamoto’s season in some detail here with the major takeaway being his improved play and production in the second half, coinciding with Jay Woodcroft’s time behind the bench. On the season as a whole he was a saw-off player by any metric from on-ice shot attempts to scoring chances to goals (+54/-57 at 5v5), but the upward trajectory down the stretch was encouraging indeed.

Recency bias if nothing else make Yamamoto’s bid for an extension more likely to be successful. Best guess here is a 2-year bridge at a healthy but not exorbitant increase.

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Not qualified

The only man still in the running for a QO who didn’t get one is Brendan Perlini, who fired before falling back not once but twice. Signed from the Swiss A League last summer to a 1-year deal, Perlini rolled through training camp with 6 goals in 6 games and made the team outright. Once the games started counting for points, however, his production immediately dried up. He and Benson split time at a single position, a Dave Tippett “solution” that didn’t work well for either man.

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Sent down after 0 points in 13 games, he got a second chance during the COVID crisis in late December. He proceeded to score 4 goals in the next 7 games, primarily through his lethal shot. But then LW Evander Kane arrived in Edmonton, and it was essentially curtains for both Perlini and Benson.

Despite a decent showing in Bakersfield (18 GP, 11-7-18, +5), the 26-year-old Perlini again finds himself on the outside looking in. That lethal shot has earned him a very respectable 50 NHL goals with 5 different teams, but the rest of his game has been found lacking, and by more than 1 judge.

The other 2 players not qualified by the Oilers, Filip Berglund and Ostap Safin, have already skedaddled back to Europe with an eye to continuing their careers there. Berglund, a 2016 third-round draft pick, waited the maximum time to sign an NHL deal, then promptly negotiated a load back to Sweden for the first of the 2-year pact. He spent just 1 season on this side of the pond, and while he displayed a decent all-around game in Bakersfield he was never in the conversation as a recall.

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Safin played in North America for 5 years after being drafted by the Oilers in 2017: 2 in junior, then 3 evenly split between the AHL (58 GP) and ECHL (62). His size and speed off the wing reminded this observer of a modern-day Roman Oksiuta. Alas, his chance to make it was undone by injury.

The other side of this coin is RFAs not signed by other teams who subsequently hit the open market. Every year there are a few juicy candidates, with Chicago’s Dylan Strome an early candidate to be one in 2022. Stay tuned.

Summer Development Camp

…takes place this week, the first since 2019. The Oilers have announced a 37-player roster for the behind-closed-doors event. 17 of those hopefuls are Oilers draft choices, let by 2021 and 2022 first-rounders Xavier Bourgault and Reid Schaefer. Surprisingly, 2020 first-rounder Dylan Holloway will not be present.

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The other 20 camp invites are undrafted players, including the likes of netminder Ryan Fanti and forwards James Hamblin and Noah Philp who have already signed NHL-class contracts with the Oil.

A few players of interest among the invitees:

  • F Brayden Schuurman (18), 25-29-54 in 68 games with Victoria Royals
  • D Hudson Thornton (18), 14-31-45 in 65 games for Prince George Cougars
  • D Charlie Wright (18), 1-18-19 in 58 games with Saskatoon Blades
  • D Keaton Dowhaniuk (18), 1-21-22 in 64 games for Prince George Cougars
  • D Logan Dowhaniuk (20), 8-28-36 in 62 games with Edmonton Oil Kings
  • F Justin Hall (21), 34-40-74 in 62 games with Lethbridge Hurricanes
  • F Colton Young (23), 15-17-32 in 38 games with Colgate University Raiders

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Listed here in inverse order of age, topped by 4 teenagers passed over in the recent NHL Draft. A good showing at a camp like this, and they are free to be signed. At least, that’s the dream.

The Oilers’ release informs hardcore prospectophiles that the traditional finale for this event, the Joey Moss Cup, will be live streamed in multiple formats on Thursday evening at 6pm MDT.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

LEAVINS: A critical week upcoming for the Oil — 9 Things

McCURDY: The biggest addition for the Oilers at the draft was cap space

STAPLES: Twitter reacts to Keith retirement

LEAVINS: Duncan Keith set to retire

McCURDY: Reid Schaefer Oilers 2022 1st Round pick

LEAVINS: Zack Kassian dealt to the Desert Dogs

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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Rafael Nadal announces he will not be playing at the Canadian Open

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Montreal, Canada- 22 Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, has announced that he will not be playing at the Canadian Open which kicks off this weekend.

Nadal cited that the reason to abandon the Canadian Open was a result of an abundance of caution regarding injury concerns.

“From the vacation days and my subsequent return to training, everything has gone well these weeks. Four days ago, I also started training my serve and yesterday, after training, I had a little discomfort that was still there today.

We have decided not to travel to Montreal and continue with the training sessions without forcing ourselves. I sincerely thank the tournament director, Eugene, and his entire team for the understanding and support they have always shown me, and today was no exception.

I hope to play again in Montreal, a tournament that I love and that I have won five times in front of an audience that has always welcomed me with great affection. I have no choice but to be prudent at this point and think about health,” said the Spaniard.

Last month, Nadal was forced to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has also withdrawn from the Canadian Open as his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19 means he cannot enter the country.

Djokovic is also unlikely to play at the US Open after organizers said they would respect the American government rules over travel for unvaccinated players as the United States (US) requires non-citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.

The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens,” read a statement from the US Open which is set to take place in New York from the 29th of August to the 11th of September, 2022.

Nevertheless, Novak Djokovic will be joining Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup.

The event, which pits six European players against six from Team World over three days, will take place in London between 23 and 25 September 2022.

“It’s the only (event) where you play in a team with guys you are normally competing against. To be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy, three of my biggest all-time rivals, it’s going to be a truly unique moment in the history of our sport,” said Djokovic.

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Canada beats Sweden to claim gold in Hlinka Gretzky Cup – Sportsnet.ca

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RED DEER, Alta. — Canada scored early and often and also stayed out of the penalty box en route to a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal final of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Tanner Howe, Ethan Gauthier, Calum Ritchie and Brayden Yager scored for the Canadians, who held period leads of 2-1 and 3-1 at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Saturday. Riley Heidt also chipped in with two assists for the champions.

Hugo Pettersson scored for Sweden, who were outshot 36-26. Each team received eight minutes in penalties.

Canada had beaten Sweden 3-0 on Aug. 3.

“Three weeks ago, we put this roster together and I felt right away this was a tight group,” said head coach Stephane Julien. “It’s not easy when you have this much talent, but everyone accepted their role and I’m so happy for them.”

The win is Canada’s first gold medal since 2018, the last time this tournament was held in Canada.

“I’m so happy for this group,” added Julien. “They haven’t had it easy in their careers the last two years with the pandemic, but now they have this, a gold medal and something they are going to remember for the rest of their career.”

Canada advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Finland, while Sweden defeated Czechia 6-2. Finland beat Czechia 3-1 in Saturday’s bronze-medal final.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will shift to Europe in 2023, returning to Breclav and Piestany, Czechia for the first time since 2021. 

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Hockey Canada’s board chair Michael Brind’Amour steps down

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CALGARY — The chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors has resigned.

Michael Brind’Amour has stepped down effective immediately, Hockey Canada said Saturday in a statement.

The organization is under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations against members of previous men’s junior teams.

“I have listened carefully and intently to the comments of Canadians about the culture of our sport and our organization, and about our actions and leadership,” Brind’Amour said in the statement. “I understand that the actions we have taken in recent weeks are part of the solution.

“My final term ends in November 2022, and I know that there is no need to wait for a new era. Immediate action is essential to address the important challenges facing our organization and our sport, which our Action Plan works to accomplish.

“I would not be able to see this renewal through.”

Brind’Amour was elected board chair in 2018.

The federal government froze Hockey Canada’s funding after it was revealed the organization had quietly settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 men’s junior team at Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont., that year.

Since then, Hockey Canada has said members of the 2003 junior team are under investigation for alleged sexual assault in Nova Scotia.

Canada’s sports minister Pascale St-Onge is withholding funds until she’s satisfied Hockey Canada meets her conditions, which were a financial audit of the organization, producing the recommendations of a third-party law firm review and an action plan for change, as well as signing onto the office of the new sports integrity commissioner.

Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player and victim rights advocate, was among those calling for Hockey Canada leadership to step down.

Brind’Amour is the first to do so.

“We’re starting to see cracks in the fortress, and that’s how the light gets in,” St-Onge said Saturday in Niagara Falls, Ont., where she met with provincial and territorial sports leaders on the eve of the Canada Games.

“Canadians have sent a clear message to Hockey Canada that real leadership change is needed and this is at all levels within the organization.

“I agree also with Michael Brind’Amour’s statement today . . . that there is no need to wait for a new era and immediate action is essential.

“I still believe, as many do, that more diversity is needed to address the culture of silence and toxic masculinity within the organization and the sport.”

Brind’Amour’s resignation also follows Hockey Canada’s appointment Thursday of former Canadian Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to review the governance of the country’s governing body of hockey.

The review is expected to provide interim recommendations before Hockey Canada’s annual general meeting in November.

Brind’Amour said he leaves confident that Cromwell taking on that work “will help us make the changes that are needed. I am confident the recommendations will guide the organization into a future of desired change.”

Also, Canada’s 13 provincial hockey federations requested earlier this week an “extraordinary meeting” with the embattled national body.

Led by Hockey Quebec, the 10 provincial and three territorial associations want more information on the handling of the sexual assault allegations.

Hockey Canada had maintained a fund drawing on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

The organization has stated it will no longer use its “national equity fund” to settle sexual assault claims.

The provincial and territorial hockey associations have threatened to withhold payment without answers.

“It’s not my job to speak on behalf of the Ontario Hockey Federation,” Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport Neil Lumsden said at Saturday’s news conference.

“But it is as (St-Onge) said, it is our jobs to eliminate unacceptable behaviour of any kind in sport. Our job, and as we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, is to find ways to do that and to do it in the right way.”

Hockey Canada’s board of directors will meet in the coming days to determine next steps following Brind’Amour’s resignation, and appoint an interim chair, the organization said in its statement.

The next board election is scheduled for November’s annual general meeting.

“The board needs to reassess whether the people that are on the directors board are the right people to implement that change,” St-Onge said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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