The MLB All-Fun Team

Spring is in the air, and the start of the 2021 Major League Baseball Season is not far behind.

As with any preseason, this year’s Spring Training is full of storylines. New faces in strange places, teams entering rebuilds, others going all in. We could break down the new-look Blue Jays or the imminent dogfight in the NL West, but those topics have been beaten to death.

Spring Training also means it’s rankings season. Media folks all over baseball are unveiling their top tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds. Baseball is, after all, a game centered around individuality. I could follow a similar path, but I’m going to change it up. Instead of giving my opinion on who the best players are, I’m going to construct a team – one player at each position on the diamond – that reflects what I as a baseball fan love to watch (Bonus points if they regularly piss off your A-Rods and Mad Dog-type people).

So here it is, my 2021 Major League Baseball All-Fun Team

Starting Pitcher: Shohei Ohtani

Honourable Mention(s): Jacob deGrom, Tyler Glasnow

This is probably the most obvious pick on the list. How can you not root for the first two-way player the game has seen in nearly a century? It’s not like he’s mediocre on both sides of the ball either. We’re talking about a guy that had a 127 ERA+ in his first year in the big leagues, and was in the 96th percentile for Hard Hit Ball % (Baseball Savant). In the last week, Ohtani has crushed a baseball over the batter’s eye and hit 100 mph with the fastball. Injuries have held him back in his young career, but if he ever puts it all together, he is what scouts refer to has a “dynamic talent.”

Relief Pitcher: Josh Hader

Honourable Mention(s): Liam Hendriks

Josh has stuff. He pairs a 94.5 mph fastball with a slider that breaks 7.5 inches on average. He is elite when it comes to missing barrels, and leads all relievers over the pas two seasons with 16.07 K/9. I’m going to say that again. Josh Hader strikes out more than a batter and a half per inning. What makes Hader super-duper fun is that if by some miracle an opponent does make contact, it’s leaving the yard. Over the past two seasons, Hader has surrendered 1.71 home runs per nine innings, which is 23rd among all qualified relievers and way more than you would expect for a guy with 50 saves in that span. Normally, I’m not a big fan of three true outcome baseball, but Hader simply fascinates me.

Catcher: J.T. Realmuto

Honourable Mention(s): Jeff Mathis, Yadier Molina

You could very easily make an argument that J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in professional baseball. But what’s not to admire here? J.T. is a plus-hitter on top of being elite defensively at the hardest (and most important) position in the game. In 2020, Realmuto was the second-best framing catcher in the league (+3 runs), had the quickest throwing time to second base (1.89 seconds), led the league in caught stealing and was second among catchers with a .825 OPS. The dude can frame, block, throw and mash. What’s not to love?

First Base: Freddie Freeman

Honourable Mention(s): Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo

If a Canadian wins NL MVP, you better believe he’s going on the list. In 2020, Freeman ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in almost every major offensive category tracked by Baseball Savant. He hit the ball hard, and hit it often. So it’s really no surprise that Freddie wrapped up the season with a 187 wRC+. This means that when you total up the value of all of Freddie’s plate appearances in 2020 and adjust for the ballpark and era in which he played, he was 87% better than the average MLB player throughout history. This number was second in baseball, trailing another member of the list that we will get to shortly.

Second Base: Cavan Biggio

Honourable Mention(s): DJ LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez

I know, this is a boring pick. You might not even think Cavan Biggio is that fun. But this is my list, and Cav makes it for two reasons:

  1. I wasn’t not going to put a Jay on this list
  2. Cavan is my kind of ballplayer.

What’s my kind of ballplayer? Cerebral. I love guys that think the game well. Let’s start in the field. Analytically, Biggio is not a good defender. In fact, he’s below replacement. But what he lacks there can be made up for in the fact that he is a super-utility man. In his 166 game MLB career, Biggio has played at least nine innings at every spot on the diamond except pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. No one knows where he’ll play this year, just that he’ll play. At the plate, Biggio is as smart as they come. Need a bunt double? He’s your guy. Hit for the cycle? Been there, done that. Biggio posted a .375 OBP despite only batting .250. His 15.5% walk rate led all second basemen.

Third Baseman: Matt Chapman

Honourable Mention(s): Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson

“But Nolan Arenado!” I hear you yell at your monitor/phone/whathaveyou. Hear me out: Matt Chapman is the best defensive player in all of baseball. Not just at third base, but among players at all positions. Matt Chapman has played two full major league seasons. In those two seasons he has led baseball in Defensive Runs Saved twice and Ultimate Zone Rating once. Think about it: a third baseman (who gets a +2.5 positional adjustment) is beating Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor (who get a +7.5 boost). And when you watch some highlights, it makes sense. Matt Chapman is to third base what Tom Hanks is to acting.

Shortstop: Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Honourable Mention(s): Javier Baez, Bo Bichette

Duh. This guy is the undisputable face of baseball. He’s on the cover of MLB the Show. He’s the king of bat flips and breaking your precious, archaic unwritten rules. Fernando Tatis might just save baseball, that’s how freaking cool he is. Plus, he is a true 40-40 threat. According to Baseball Savant, Tatis hits the ball harder than anyone (95.9 mph, 1st in MLB) and runs faster than almost anyone (29.4 ft./sec, 10th in MLB). Super. Star.

Left Field: Juan Soto

Honourable Mention(s): Tim Locastro

Remember when I said Freddie Freeman had the second highest wRC+ in 2020? Juan Soto was the only qualified hitter ahead of him. In fact, he was roughly 14% better, with a 201 wRC+. That’s right, in 2020 Juan Soto was twice as valuable as an average major league hitter. If there is any player in baseball that has a chance to top what Mike Trout has done with the bat, it’s Soto. His Baseball Reference comparables feature the likes of Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey, Jr. And don’t even get me started with the Soto Shuffle. Juan Soto might just be my favourite non-Canadian, non-Blue Jays player in the game today.

Centre Field: Mike Trout

Honourable Mention(s): Ronald Acuna, Jr.

Mike Trout is one of the bet five baseball players to ever walk the earth. Depending on how the rest of his career progresses, he could finish on top. No player in the history of this game has been able to contribute like he has on both sides of the ball. Don’t believe me? Babe Ruth is the all-time leader in Wins Above Replacement at 182.5 over 22 major league seasons. Let’s say (for sake of argument) that Trout matches Ruth and plays 12 more seasons in the show. To catch Ruth’s WAR total, Trout would need to average 9 WAR per season, well within his career high of 10.5 (which he’s done twice). Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Not a chance.

Right Field: Mookie Betts

Honourable Mention(s): Max Kepler

If there is a player that can even come close to Mike Trout’s talent, it’s Mookie. He’ll never be equal to Trout, but he can get close. We all saw what he did in the World Series. The dude has tools. Elite hitter, best defensive right fielder in the game, deadly speed and incredible baseball IQ. I don’t know what else to say other than the Red Sox should be banned from baseball if they can’t keep a talent like this. That’s not even mentioning David Price.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz

Honourable Mention(s): J.D. Martinez

What can I say? Home Runs are fun. Nelson Cruz hits lots of home runs.

Since you’ve been so good and lasted this long, I’ll reward you by making a lineup for this team. Let me know what you think. Any players I missed? Go yell at me on Twitter: @BayduzaEthan

  1. Tatis, Jr. SS
  2. Soto LF
  3. Freeman 1B
  4. Trout CF
  5. Cruz DH
  6. Betts RF
  7. Realmuto C
  8. Chapman 3B
  9. Biggio 2B

Should the Oilers Try Tyson Barrie on the Wing?

MACKNEY: Three game losing streak? Time to get creative. 18 points in 25 games on defense is cool, but what could Barrie do on the wing, and what could it mean for the rest of the lineup?

Correct. Tyson Barrie moving from the blueline, up to the wing. That’s my idea. He has never tried it before as far as my research has concluded, and I am yet to see this idea proposed elsewhere. However I think it solves a couple of issues that the Edmonton Oilers seem to be facing here at the halfway mark of the shortened 2021 NHL season. I have seen many online voices and thumbs criticizing some of the the ways in which Oilers head coach Dave Tippet has choses to deploy his players, and I have thrown my fair share of shade as well. Some of the main issue’s (aside from which goalie to play, which I am not even going to get into here today) have revolved around the right side defenseman, as well as the top six wingers. As a result of recent developments, this is an idea that I definitely think is worth a try.

The Right Side Defense Issue

For the first time in a while, the Oilers have too many NHL caliber defenseman. While it is a good problem to have, you still hope that the best players are the ones getting the most games.

Evan Bouchard has only played 12 games this season (including only 1/3 vs Toronto this week) which is less than half of the Oilers total games so far. As soon as Tyson Barrie was signed to his one year contract some fans were not pleased with the fact that it may block Evan Bouchard from getting NHL ice time. While you don’t want to force your young top prospects into NHL roles that they are not yet ready for, (like the organization has done before, sorry Schultzy), it was believed by many that Bouchard would indeed be NHL ready this season, especially after seeing how he played in Sweden during the fall.

It wasn’t until the seemingly annual injury bug hit the Oilers blueline that Evan Bouchard finally made his season debut, and he was excellent. In his limited games this season, the 21-year-old has quickly been effective on both sides of the puck. He has had one of the most accurate shots in the league in terms of not missing the net, and he has provided great offensive pressure from the backside. Simply watching him play has impressed me. Looking into some of his analytics, he also has impressive numbers. His offense is rated high, his defense is mediocre (but miles better than Tyson Barrie), and his transition game is rated the best in the league among defenseman (99/100) tied with the likes of Norris trophy winner Roman Josi (per Andy & Rono @HockeyStatsCZ).

So why the heck is he scratched? Tippett has too many right handed defensemen to work with now that they are all heathy with Barrie, Larsson, Bear AND Bouchard. For me, the most frustrating part was that the initial solution (once it was decided we would only play six defensemen), was to play Bouchard on the left side. Playing a right shot D on the left side is a fine idea if it means your six best defenseman get to play. My issue with it was the decision to force the least experienced guy to make the switch, and then when he did not immediately adapt to the new situation he was taken out of the lineup. For example, the Maple Leafs second goal during the March 1st game saw William Nylander beat the entire Oilers team off the off-side faceoff and score top shelf on Koskinen. This play included Nylander going around Evan Bouchard while he was playing on the left side, and watching the play back you have to think that if Bouchard was a lefty there would have been more he could have done.

My point is, there is a better way to use our top rookie, and a permanent opening on the right side would help. Moving Barrie up to the wing leaves a perfect three spots available for Larsson, Bear and Bouchard on the right, and then you can play left handed guys on the left (Nurse, Jones, Lagesson, Russell).

The Top 6 Winger Issue

I have seen suggestions by many Twitter general managers to trade Barrie for either future assets, or a goalie, or a top 5 winger. I don’t like the idea of trading Barrie for future assets unless we are selling, which we should not be this year, and like I mentioned earlier I am not getting into the goaltending in this article. That leaves option three: trading Barrie for a top 6 winger. First, why don’t we try him on the wing?

I am not suggesting that we throw a guy who has never played forward at the professional level on to the top line of an NHL team, but I am suggesting it is something we can work towards trying. What could it look like if we did decide to try Tyson Barrie in the top 6 forward group though?

The line of Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto was elite in the second half of the 2019-2020 season, and was reunited on March 3rd 2021 vs Toronto. They played well, and scored the only goal the Oilers have seen in three games. Does this mean they stay together? No idea. However, if they do stay together it leaves a gaping hole on the top line LW alongside McDavid and Puljujarvi. Last night James Neal was tried there, and I expect Kahun, Ennis, Nygard, Archie, Alex “suspension” Chiasson, Sam Gagner (*cries*), Hunter the Lynx, and maybe even assistant coach Glen Gulutzan to be tried in that spot before Tyson Barrie, but hear me out.

I do not like the idea of swapping forwards between the taxi squad and McDavid’s wing on a nightly basis. While that is a very Oilers thing to do, it really isn’t ideal. Tyson Barrie is someone who has been in the lineup every game, and based on the eye-test alone, seems to have some chemistry with McDavid on the powerplay. Also, Tyson Barrie right shot on the left side could be lethal for one-timers alongside the elite playmaker. If you’d rather Barrie not play on his offside, third and fourth line RW could also work.

One of the main drawbacks of Tyson Barrie so far this season has been his defense. Putting him on the wing can do one of two things for this. Either he takes his experience defending and becomes and solid two way winger, or he completely ignores the defensive side of the game, and we see just how much he is capable purely offensively. If he is on a line with McDavid and Puljujarvi he could really take either approach. McDavid has vastly improved his defensive game this season to the point where he is elite on both sides of the ice, and Puljujarvi is no slouch either as his underlying defensive numbers and analytics suggest he ~should~ be in Selke conversations. The line could hold it’s own in regard to defensive responsibility even without Barrie helping. It could work.


Try it. Worst case it doesn’t work and the Oilers can either make trade of some sort or find another solution (or continue to use players inefficiently). The permanent opening for Bouchard on the right side would be beneficial to him and the team based on results so far, and you could simultaneously help the top 6 forward group. Moving Tyson Barrie to the wing solves more than one recent issue at a time for the Oilers if it works, and while it will probably never happen (and definitely won’t happen before Barrie’s contract here is up) I would really like to see if it works, and just how much it could help the team on both ends of the ice.

Blue Jays: World Series Bound?

TORONTO, ON – AUGUST 30: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros hits a 3 run home run in the fifth inning during a MLB game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on August 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series.

Repeat after me: The Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series. Bold words for a team that has made the playoffs exactly three times in the last 28 years? Definitely. Have I gone mad? You betcha. Nonetheless, the Toronto Blue Jays are going to win the World Series.

The signing of George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract – beating out the New York Mets – indicates that the bluebirds are done playing. They are no longer messing around. They are here, and they are here to win.

I should clarify: I don’t mean the 2021 World Series – although that is a definite possibility – but by the time that George Springer’s contract expires, Blue Jays fans will have celebrated at least one World Series title.

I’ve definitely lost it.

How they stack up right now:

Forgive my use of fancies here, but they paint a clear picture of why the Jays are in such a good position (plus, baseball analytics are actually useful for predicting future success, unlike *cough* hockey *cough* some sports).

According to Fangraphs’ 2021 Projections, the Blue Jays have the fourth best team in all of baseball. Not bad for a 32-28 team last year. In the American League, they are second to only the New York Yankees. They have the fourth-best lineup in the majors, and the seventh-best pitching staff. As they stand right now, the Blue Jays seem like a lock for at least a wild card spot (according to the numbers).

Youthful exuberance

The big advantage the Blue Jays have is the fact that their young core has yet to play a full season together. They’re still getting acclimated to life in the Big Leagues. In six years, we will be talking about how Toronto has the best infield in baseball, and maybe the best outfield as well. In 2020, the oldest starting position player not named Travis Shaw was Randal Grichuk at 28. 28! Age is simply not going to be a factor for a while in Toronto.

The biggest obstacle for young players playing in big games is a lack of experience. In 2020, the Blue Jays got a gift from the baseball gods in the form of an expanded postseason. Yes, their playoff run lasted less than 48 hours, but the experience of playing meaningful baseball in September is priceless for this young team. They earned their spot in the Wild Card series. They had to beat the Yankees and scratch out a win against Tampa Bay. When they are in the middle of a pennant race this fall, it won’t be new to them. That disadvantage is gone.

Big fish

Last offseason, the Blue Jays spent $109 million on Free Agents – the 10th highest total in the Majors. So far this year, that number is at $166 million – more than any other club this year, and more than all but three teams spent last year.

Think about that: The Blue Jays have outspent the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Mets.

Gone are the days of not even offering David Price a contract. Gone are the days of losing Encarnacion, Donaldson and Bautista. The Blue Jays ownership have shown that they are willing to take advantage of the current financial climate and invest now. And if you think the Jays are done spending this year, you clearly have not been paying attention.

We thought the Jays locked up Michael Brantley, but now that he is staying in Houston, Toronto is going to use that money to upgrade another position. It might be another outfielder, but I believe it will either be a Number Two starter (maybe Trevor Bauer, but I think Canadian James Paxton is a perfect choice) or a utility infielder that can play second and third base (I’m big on Tommy La Stella).

Here are just some of the top-tier Free Agents the Blue Jays have been linked to recently:

  • James Paxton (Jon Heyman)
  • Brad Hand (Robert Murray)
  • Andrelton Simmons (Jon Heyman)
  • Trevor Bauer (Ken Rosenthal)
  • Jake Odorizzi (JP Morosi)

Oh, and multiple writers have reported that the Jays are working on a Kris Bryant deal with the Cubs.

I think it’s safe to say that the Blue Jays have entered their championship window, and it’s going to be open for a long time.

Predicting Point Totals for the 2021 Oilers

Simple premise: How many points will each Edmonton Oilers skater end up with this season?

This isn’t some fancy mathematical model or scientific conclusion. It’s probably not even a realistic expectation. It’s just my gut feeling based on the past production of each player. I’m going to work my way up from lowest to highest scorers.

Also, I am going to assume that each player plays 56 games. I know that three games into the season that’s already impossible, but bear with me. Also also, I’m just going to go through who I believe to be the best 18 skaters Edmonton has. The guys that I think will play on a regular basis. Alright, enough qualifiers. Here we go:

18. Adam Larsson: 2 goals, 9 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 3 goals, 13 Assists (16 points)

Adam Larsson missed a good chunk of last season due to injury, which is why he only managed 6 points. Larsson is an excellent passer in my eyes, but will be relied upon as the team’s best shutdown defenseman. Expect all 11 points to come 5-on-5.

17. Slater Koekkoek: 3 goals, 8 assists (11 points)

82 Game Pace: 4 goals, 12 Assists (16 points)

Koekkoek won’t get anywhere near the amount of ice time Larsson does, but it looks like he could be paired up with Tyson Barrie most of the season on the third pair. Dave Tippett probably wants to shelter Barrie as much as possible from high-leverage defensive situations while also pairing him with a guy like Slater who can cover for him. Both guys move the puck really well, and should have no problem getting it to the big boys.

16. Gaetan Haas: 8 goals, 7 assists (15 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 10 Assists (22 points)

In 58 games as a rookie, Haas managed five goals and five assists. Now that he’s secured a role on this team as their fourth-line centre, I imagine he will only get more and more comfortable as the season rolls on and he plays more games. He’s got the tools to be a driver on the Oilers’ fourth line, so I expect an increase in his production.

15. Caleb Jones: 7 goals, 9 assists (16 points)

82 Game Pace: 10 goals, 13 assists (23 points)

I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Caleb Jones in the first couple games of the season. In the first game vs. Vancouver, he had two shot attempts from the slot and another from the low point. He’s not afraid to work low, and I believe that is a fine complement to his defensive game. He should have no problem adding to his nine points in 43 games last year.

14. Zack Kassian: 8 goals, 11 assists (19 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 16 assists (28 points)

I believe that this is the year we see Zack Kassian decline – from an offensive perspective. It’s not due to age (this is his age-30 season), but rather the options the Oilers have on the wings. In the past, it didn’t matter if Kassian stuggled – he was McDavid’s winger by deafult. Now the Oilers have added Ennis, Kahun, Yamamoto, Puljujarvi and Neal, among others. Kassian will have a short leash and if someone else gets hot, expect them to replace Kassian to play with Connor and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

13. Jesse Puljujarvi: 8 goals, 12 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 12 goals, 18 assists (30 points)

This is easily the hardest Oiler to predict for two reasons: First, we haven’t seen the kid play for two years; second, no player on this roster as as big of a range in terms of where they could slot in. I don’t think anyone would be particularly surprised if Puljujarvi ends the season on McDavid’s wing and as the net-front guy on the top Powerplay unit, but we are not really expecting that from him either. I think a 30-point pace is a fairly conservative estimate for the fourth-highest scorer in Liiga a year ago. We shall see.

12. Josh Archibald: 11 goals, 9 assists (20 points)

82 Game Pace: 16 goals, 13 assists (29 points)

The only reason I have Archibald so high is because Dave Tippett will, at some point this season, play Archibald on the top line with Connor McDavid. He loved the pairing last season, so don’t be shocked when he goes back to it. I’d expect Gaetan Haas numbers, aside from a week where Archie puts up five points in two games. But let’s not forget that Josh Archibald finished 6th on the team in scoring last season despite only playing 62 games.

11. Ethan Bear: 4 goals, 17 assists (21 points)

82 Game Pace: 6 goals, 25 assists (31 points)

Every time I watch Ethan Bear move the puck, I am more and more impressed. Nobody on this team is more calm under pressure. Playing with Darnell Nurse both 5-on-5 and on the Power Play should offer Bear every opportunity to improve on his 21 point campaign last season. He will match his total, only in 15 less games.

10. Darnell Nurse: 5 goals, 20 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 7 goals, 29 assists (36 points)

Darnell Nurse was one point behind Oscar Klefbom for the team’s defenceman scoring lead in 2020, and should find himself in a similar competition this year with Tyson Barrie. Nurse saw a slight dip in production last year, but this is a player whose best asset is his ability to jump in the rush. Expect a bounce back in a big way.

9. Tyler Ennis: 12 goals, 13 assists (25 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 19 assists (37 points)

This prediction will be wrong if Tyler Ennis spends significant time on the fourth line. Obviously. However the reason the team went out and acquired Tyler Ennis was because he is a skilled player who has the speed to play with Connor McDavid. It’s why they re-signed him this season. Even if Ennis spends most of his time with Jesse Puljujarvi and Kyle Turris (you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned him yet) and only gets a few looks with the big boys, he is too good not to produce.

8. James Neal: 20 goals, 9 assists (29 points)

82 game pace: 29 goals, 13 assists (42 points)

This is a weird one. James Neal is, of course, the player that scored 58 points in 2015-16 with Nashville. He is also the same player that scored only seven goals in 2018-19 with Calgary. All I will say about this prediction is that last season, in 55 games, he managed 19 goals and 12 assists. I expect him to park his rear end in front of the net and stay there while pucks bounce off of him. It worked for Ryan Smyth.

7. Kyle Turris: 9 goals, 21 assists (30 points)

82 Game Pace: 13 goals, 31 assists (44 points)

It didn’t work out in Nashville. I’d argue that his “lack of success” had more to do with his contract than his actual play, but sure. It didn’t work out in Nashville. Kyle Turris has hit 40 points four times in his career, most recently in 2017-18. Yes, I’m expecting a very dramatic comeback. But the third line of Ennis/Archibald – Turris – Puljujarvi isn’t getting enough love, even from Oilers fans. They will be getting some favourable matchups and once they get rolling, they will be very fun to watch.

6. Dominik Kahun: 15 goals, 21 assists (36 points)

82 Game Pace: 22 goals, 31 assists (53 points)

I think that Dominik Kahun has finally found a home. The Oilers are his fourth team in his 3-year NHL career despite being quite productive for a man his age. The Oilers only signed him to a one-year deal, but he will be a Restricted Free Agent at its conclusion, so they will be free to lock him up long-term. We all know about the chemistry he should have with his childhood friend, Leon Draisaitl. Kahun could very well be the missing link that forms the best second line in the game. Personally, I think this estimate might be on the safe side.

5. Tyson Barrie: 12 goals, 38 assists (50 points)

82 Game Pace: 18 goals, 56 assists (74 points)

OK, now we are getting to the big boys. This is easily my most outlandish projection. I don’t think Barrie will get this high, but it is absolutely possible. This is a guy who was considered one of the league’s elite offensive defensemen until he got to Toronto. It was a bad fit. Edmonton is a dream scenario for Tyson Barrie. He gets to run the point on the best Power Play in the league with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl while not being expected to be a top pair shutdown guy. This is one of the best puck movers in the game, and he will definitely improve on last season’s numbers. Consider this: Barrie’s best season from a production standpoint was 2017-18: 57 points in 68 games. Over a full season? 69. While unlikely, the 50 point plateau is definitely doable for Barrie.

4. Kailer Yamamoto: 20 goals, 36 assists (56 points)

82 Game Pace: 29 goals, 53 assists (82 points)

Not much to say here that hasn’t been said. Kailer has been a point-per-game player since he was called up last season, and revealed himself as the perfect winger to play with last year’s Hart Trophy winner. What I will say is that even if Yamamoto scores zero points (impossible, he already has three), he is still a very valuable member of this team, thanks to his relentlessness on the forecheck.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 19 goals, 45 assists (64 points)

82 Game Pace: 28 goals, 66 assists (94 points)

On the YEG Sports Podcast Season Preview show, I said that one of Nugent-Hopkins or Yamamoto would finish in the Top Ten in league scoring. I don’t doubt Kailer’s ability to do it, but Nuge is the safe bet here. Ryan (27) is the first of the Oilers core to be entering his prime years, and a full season on McDavid’s wing should be enough to propel the product of Burnaby, B.C. to superstardom. His production has improved in each of the last four seasons and I don’t expect it to stop any time soon.

2. Leon Draisaitl: 34 goals, 51 assists (85 points)

82 Game Pace: 50 goals, 75 assists (125 points)

Hard to believe that a 125-point pace is a decrease, but it is a drop of about two points. I expect Leon to follow a similar pattern to his first breakout year – 2016-17. The next season, his goal-scoring remained the same while the assists took a slight dip. Leon is 100% capable of repeating his success last year, but that was downright historic. I think that 85 in 56 is a much more reasonable and down-to-earth prediction.

1. Connor McDavid: 37 goals, 58 assists (95 points)

82 Game Pace: 54 goals, 85 assists (139 points)

Only in Edmonton can a 125-point pace land you second on the team’s leaderboard. Let’s start with the obvious: Connor McDavid is the best player the world has seen since Ovechkin/Crosby, he’s still three years away from his prime, and he’s playing in a league where scoring is increasing. Not to mention that he had an offseason to train and improve rather than rehab an injury. Plus he centres the best Power Play in the League. And now he’s reading articles saying he’s not the best player in the world (see: Michael Jordan). If you are a fan of a Canadian team not named the Edmonton Oilers, cover your butt.

I think that Connor McDavid would be the first to tell you how disappointed he was in his 97-point campaign a year ago. And he will be back with a vengeance.

For the record, 139 points would be the 25th highest single season mark in history, edging out Wayne Gretzky’s first NHL season by two points.

Maybe it’s just me: Helmet Ads

As long as I’ve watched NHL games I only ever remember seeing advertising on the boards. I can say without a doubt that I’ve never paid that much attention to the ads on the boards but if they’re not there man do the boards stick out like a sore thumb. As we plow through the delay in starting the new season we’ve seen classic games shown on the tv and a lot of those games have boards without ads on them and to me they just don’t seem right. I imagine that when teams started selling ad space on their boards there were a lot of purists out there claiming this would be a travesty to the sport. That the selling out of board space to billionaire clients would be the beginning of the end. “Where does it end? Do we replace the names on the back with ads for beer companies?” Well we haven’t hit that point yet thankfully, but there’s a reason we have ads sold on the boards, those superstars we all love to see streaking up the wing and scoring goals don’t come cheap. Also paying to staff a team and a front office, doctors, trainers, buy equipment, pay for travel, hotel costs, etc doesn’t come cheap as well. So with costs rising in the 80s particularity in the salary department owners turned to selling the blank pristine boards to advertisers. As I said earlier I don’t remember watching any games without ads on the boards, but I’m sure the detractors of board advertising today would be happy to know the quality of play has only gotten better and hasn’t affected the on ice product.

On ice though is where the next stage of open space for advertising transitioned. Again the big anti money generating fans couldn’t wrap their heads around why these billionaire owners needed to sell ice space to other billionaires to advertise on! “We won’t be able to follow the puck! It takes away from the purity of the sport…….baaaaahhhhh humbug!” Again I point to the rising cost of employing a fully staffed team to put out on the ice. I’ve noticed the ice ad spots seem to be standard, Centre Ice circle. 4 in the neutral zone, and now 4 outside the trapezoids in each end zone below the goal line. Apparently having a sports team in the top league in the world isn’t cheap so we continue to see advertising put wherever owners can find the place to put them. This upcoming season sees the largest revenue generating source for each team not in the building. Yes that’s ticket holders, so the NHL has allowed owners to seek out companies that wish to advertise on the teams helmets. “Ok now this is going to far!” Our intrepid protectors of the purity of the game are saying. “We allow this on helmets then they’ll be pasting ads on the jerseys next, then the socks, and the pants, then the front of the jersey!” Ok. I get you all worry about the over abundance of advertising on the players as they skate around the ice. I’m here to say it won’t matter. You’ll still cheer for your favourite team just as passionately as you did any other season without ads all over the place. You’ll continue to watch the games on tv or at the rink and yell at the top of your lungs when your team scores. Not one of you will cheer less loudly because there’s more advertising out there because we cheer for our teams no matter the advertising on the front, back, shoulder, pants or anywhere else they get money from a company to advertise themselves.

Look no further than over the Atlantic. Football teams all have a major sponsor that pay a lot of money to be front and centre. Let’s take a look at the jersey of Man Utd. The current sponsor on their jersey is Chevrolet and they are paying the team a measly 64 million Great British Pounds for the 20/21 season alone. That’s about 110 million Canadian dollars, HELLO! Here’s the amount Chevrolet spent to sponsor the jersey each of the past 6 seasons since taking over as the premiere advertiser on Man Utd jersey.
19/20 64 Million GBP
18/19 47 Million GBP
17/18 47 Million GBP
16/17 47 Million GBP
15/16 47 Million GBP
14/15 47 Million GBP
(From: Statista)

Including this season that’s 363 million GBP to have the Chevy logo emblazoned across the front of the Man Utd jerseys! Wow! There is a search underway for next years sponsor as Chevy extended this year for this one season, I can only imagine what that sponsor will pay going forward. Note that the Chevy logo far outsizes the team shield, the team is more noted for the colours then the logo on the front. The change of sponsors also drives jersey sales as when a team changes sponsors every 4-6 years all the fans have the desire to get the newest kit. Millions of fans shell out money and buy the newest jersey, which is a great way to always keep the jerseys flying off the shelf. The same happens in my beloved sort of rugby, the teams have advertising on the jerseys, shorts, socks etc, all in the name of increasing revenue for the team and therefore the owner. Now hold your horses! You’ll say I’d never shell out for a New Jersey every 4 years! Right that’s why at every Oilers game I go to 90 percent of you are wearing the new silks! If we could go to games this season how many of you would be rocking the slick new white reverse retro’s. (There’s a reason each team has four jerseys this year, so you’d buy them to increase revenue)

I get it, we’d hate to see our little NHL league “sell out” but if we want to continue to see our little league first survive, then thrive, we have to accept adverts on helmets for now, and eventually elsewhere on our favourite teams uniforms. We shouldn’t forget that the owners of sports teams are businessmen and businesswomen that have other companies that make money for them and the sports team ownership is just their shiny toy. If the shiny toy loses its shine, well crazy things happen, like the sale of a really good player, or the relocation of a team, or it up and folds. All things none of us fans of the NHL or any sport would like to see happen. So we need to come to terms with more and more advertising on our favourite teams and players as the years move on so that the teams we love stay profitable. I’m not afraid to say that I’m perfectly fine with the direction the NHL is taking in the advertising department but maybe it’s just me?

Nels Nelson is an occasional guest on YEG Sports, he also is a playwright, podcaster, referee of hockey and Rugby, fan of a lot of sports, a proud husband and proud father. He also works tirelessly cleaning up the streets of YEG.

NELSON: Maybe its Just Me?

PHOTO: Calgary Flames (


Ok first things first. I’m a fan of sports! I get angry (irrationally or rationally) when my teams don’t do well or get shafted by professional officiating. I yell with joy when my teams do well!(even if it wakes my wife and kids) I’m a huge fan of stats, when I understand them, and a huge fan of observation too. In this article I’m going to try and incorporate both stats and observation to put forth a point and ask you the reader if you see it to or maybe it’s just me?

What is irking me at present is the whole Jacob Markstrom signing in Calgary and my fellow Oiler fans and pundits worrying over our current goaltending duo here in Oil Country. I get the concern over Smith, he’s going to turn 39 in a couple of months, his save percentage is in the range of Grant Fuhr’s in the 80s, and his reaction ability isn’t going to get better with age. As for the big Finn Mikko Koskinen, well his glove hand is suspect (actually he improved last season and will this season) he doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience (basically two years) and his save percentage isn’t as good as Markstrom’s. All concerns and comments I hear from people all over the capital region but I’m ok with Ken Holland betting on these two in net for the Oilers this shortened season. I mean they were the goalies of record on the highest place team in the NHL last year. Edmonton had 83 points to Toronto’s 81 points as the second best Canadian team. Edmonton’s win percentage .542 was significantly better than Toronto in second at .521. Wait you say? That’s only 2 points in the standings and .021 points better that’s not very much. (More on not very much in percentage later) Also the Oilers had that horrible December! That’s right that December was atrocious in a variety of spots but even with that the Oilers topped the Canadian teams. As for that minuscule points percentage people are pointing to, well let’s dive into percentages between the Flames new starter and who we are all pretty sure will be the starter for the Oilers Mikko Koskinen.

Jacob Markstrom posted a save percentage of .918 and Mikko Koskinen posted a .917. That’s about as close as you can get to being even in my opinion. Let’s look at it this way, if you were going to go on a trip in your vehicle and needed gas, you whip your car into your favourite gas station and pay .918 per litre and as you’re pumping the gas you see across the street it’s .917 per litre, you’d live with that and continue on your trip not worrying about the thousandth of a cent per litre you could’ve saved right? I know I’d be travelling worrying about other things. Or if you took a penny which is 1/100th of a cent and cut it into 10 equal pieces and gave me that penny minus one piece and said here’s a penny for your thoughts, I’d just look at you and say “you can’t afford that last 1/1000th of a dollar for my wisdom?” That’s the difference of the hairs people are splitting in the Ken Holland missed out on the goalie market debate! I’ll take Koskinen over Markstrom for the cheaper contract and less term. I think every fan of the Oilers should sleep well on the eve of training camp knowing we have the better end of the starting goalie debate. WAIT Nels what about Goals against average? Really? Well they both posted 2.75 GAA last season. But the playoffs, the Canucks did better then the Oil? Yes well you’re right there except I think the Canucks liked Demko better and that’s why Markstrom went to Calgary. A brief aside, I think Vancouver may not do as well this year as everyone predicts. (Remember the excitement over the Oilers little run in 2017 this sounds the same as it did back then) Ken Holland took a swing at Markstrom and when it didn’t work he grabbed Smith and moved on to a very successful signing period for the Oilers. Proof that when one door closes five or six others open.

So to all the readers reading this article I ask you now, are the Oilers not better off without Markstrom? Or maybe it’s just me?

Nels Nelson is an occasional guest on YEG Sports. He also is a playwright, podcaster, referee of hockey and Rugby, fan of a lot of sports, a proud husband and proud father. He also works tirelessly cleaning up the streets of YEG.

Okay, But Was Peter Chiarelli Great at the Draft?

The time of Peter Chiarelli as general manger of the Edmonton Oilers was largely a misadventure. The trade history, and the contract signing negotiations looked bad at the time and aged poorly as well. However the third main responsibility that a GM of a National Hockey League team has in regard to building a roster is drafting.

This past NHL season (2019-20) for the Edmonton Oilers included the development of several prospects that were already in the organization when Ken Holland inherited this team, and it got me wondering if Pistol Pete was actually elite at the draft table during his time here. I have decided to further investigate the matter and attempt to reach a conclusion based on the draft history of Peter Chiarelli to see if he was all around a terrible general manager, or if we actually need to give him credit in this area. Chiarelli was in charge for four Edmonton Oilers drafts, and we will look into the selections he made at the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 NHL entry drafts.


Peter Chiarelli’s first ever draft pick as the GM of the Oilers was first overall in 2015 in which he selected Connor McDavid. While this was obviously the right choice, I will not award any credit to Chiarelli on this one. Literally anyone would have selected McDavid at this slot.

It is of note that the Oilers possessed another first round pick in this draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins after the David Perron trade the season prior, however the Oilers did not use this pick as Chiarelli packaged it in a trade to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. New York then selected Mathew Barzal. This is another awful trade on Chiarelli’s resume, however I will not be considering it when looking at Chiarelli’s draft record as this falls into the trade category.

In the latter rounds of the 2015 draft, are the picks that inspired this article. First, in the 4th round with the 117th pick the Oilers acquired Caleb Jones, and seven picks later in the 5th round took Ethan Bear. While these defensemen made their NHL debuts under Chiarelli’s regime, they did not make a significant impact until after he was fired. Caleb Jones played well over half the season (43/71 games) in the NHL for the Oilers this past season and notched nine points. More importantly he was trustworthy and sound defensively, and his fancy stats are unreal. He is primed to made another jump and an even bigger impact this upcoming season as he is expected to slide into a full tine top-four role with the Oilers due to the injury to Oscar Klefbom. Then there is Ethan Bear. Bear really came into his own this past season in a contract year and leapfrogged over several players in the depth charts on D for the Oil. He played all 71 games last year and scored 21 points in the process. He also just signed an extension worth two million dollars annually for the next two seasons. Getting top-four talents this close together, this late in the draft is remarkable. While there was other steals late in the draft following these picks (Nutivaara to CBJ at 189, Mangiapane to CGY (ew) at 166, and Dominik Simon to PIT at 137. Also of notes Kaprizov to MIN at 135 could turn out really well for them) none of them I believe would have as much of an importance to this team today. Needless to say there was plenty of players drafted around and after Bear and Jones that have never seen NHL action, which is the important part here.

The end of the 2015 draft saw Chiarelli select John Marino in the 6th round, who looked spectacular for the Penguins this past season in a small sample size, so I will give some credit there too.

After that the Oilers got a couple of what we at YEG sports like to call JAG’s, meaning “just a guy,” with Miroslav Svoboda and Zigyat Paigin in the seventh round.


Here is comes. Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall at fourth overall ahead of Matt Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev, and 208 other hockey players. While we are yet to see if Jesse Puljujarvi is going to be an impactful NHL player this upcoming season following a return to the Oilers, it is safe to say that this pick did not age well. I am a big fan of Jesse Puljujarvi and I hope he finds success in Edmonton in the near future. He is not a bust (yet), but he is also not looking to be a great selection with this high of a pick. I have to dock some points there.

In the second round, 32nd overall Chiarelli took Tyler Benson who has only played a handful of games at the NHL level thus far. There is still a solid chance he becomes an NHL regular in the future and this picks could look great, but so far it is underwhelming. especially considering some of the players that went after him. Alex DeBrincat was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks at 39th overall in this draft and I really wish Chiarelli would have went with McDavid’s former Eerie Otters line-mate with this pick instead. The relationship with the Oilers captain should have drawn attention to him at the draft board, but Chia didn’t care about “relationship with McDavid” when making acquisitions as Oilers GM… (see the Drake Caggiula for Brandon Manning trade). Not to pour onto the Tyler Benson pick further, but Sherwood Park Product and rookie goaltender sensation Carter Hart was taken later in this same second round as well.

Unfortunately the rest of the 2016 draft just looks like JAG’s at this point despite having seven other selections (including three in the third round). I’ll apologize if Markus Niemelianen (63rd overall) or Filip Berglund (91st) become solid blueliners for this club someday but so far no NHL games from them. Some of the other picks included Matthew Cairns (84th overall), Graham McPhee (who has really nice hair at 149th overall), Aapeli Rasanen (153rd), and Vinny Desharnais (183rd). On the bright side, there wasn’t many steals taken by other teams late in this draft either. The only notables being Victor Mete to the Habs at 100th, and Jesper Bratt to the Devils at 162.

The interesting late pick for me in this draft is Dylan Wells at 123rd overall. He is still in the organization as this point but seems be around 7th in our goalie depth chart. There is still a chance this picks ages well, but overall the 2016 draft, unlike 2015, was a setback. I like Puljujarvi and Benson, but I’d swap them for Tkachuk/Sergachev and DeBrincat/Hart in a heartbeat.


Following a successful playoff run, the Oilers had their first pick of the 2017 entry draft at 22nd overall in which Chiarelli took Kailer Yamamoto. Like Bear and Jones, Yamamoto waited until after Chiarelli’s departure to make his NHL impact, despite making his debut during Chiarelli’s time. Yamamoto had 26 points in only 27 games last season following a New Years Eve call up, and is slotted into the Oilers top six from this point onward. This finally looks like a great selection. None of the picks closely following Yamamoto hold much significance at the NHL level yet either.

The next pick the Oilers held was in the third round (Aside: I feel like the Oilers rarely keep second rounds picks) in which they took Stuart Skinner 78th overall. This goalie prospect is believed to be above the aforementioned Dylan Wells on the depth chart, and also could look like a great pick if he develops into a solid NHL tendy. The other third round pick the Oilers had (84th) was used on Dmitry Samorukov, who has been impressive in overseas play and has very high potential on this Oilers blueline in the future. These two guys have high ceilings in the organization and are worth revisiting once they have developed further and have been given NHL opportunity.

While players taken in this draft are still young and can still develop and surprise us, I am classifying the rest of the picks as JAG’s at this point in time, but by no means should they be written off altogether. They are: Ostap Safin (115th overall), Kirill “The Thrill” Maximov (146th), Skyler “Son of 2006 Stanley Cup Champion” Brind’Amour (177th), and Phil Kemp (208th). There has also not yet been any significant late round steals that the Oilers missed out on with these picks.

2017 is a win in my books. Yamamoto is huge for the Oilers, and the other guys can still make NHL impacts one day. There is also no standouts NHL stars we missed out or passed on.


Chiarell’s last draft as the GM of the Edmonton Oilers was in 2018 and the Oilers first selection came early at 10th overall following missing the playoffs by a significant margin. Evan Bouchard was taken with this pick, and while he has only played seven NHL games he is expected to be a very successful NHL defenseman. He has an extremely high ceiling as soon as this upcoming season and is expected to be a Ryan Ellis type at his floor, able to run a powerplay and play solid defense. I, along with most Oilers fans, are excited about this kid (who looks 40 years old somehow).

In the second round in 2018 the Oilers selected forward Ryan McLeod at 40th overall. McLeod is yet to make an NHL debut at 21 years of age, but he very well might do it this upcoming season with the expanded taxi squad rosters. He has been one of the final cuts at training camp in each of the last two years and looks like he is on the brink of being an NHL player.

Following the Chiarelli trend of taking a goaltender, we have Olivier Rodrigue at 62nd overall. Another goalie to add to the depth chart we keep bringing up. Out of the goalies we have mentioned here today, it is thought that he has the highest ceiling and most NHL starter potential. Whether or not he gets there is yet to be seen and we have no way of really knowing how it will go because of the unpredictable nature of goalie prospects.

2018 JAG’s (so far at least): Michael Kesselring (164th overall) and Patrik Siikanen (195th)


The draft history of former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is spotty all things considered. However credit is due in some places.

Hits: Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Kailer Yamamoto are absolute wins. Especially the former two being taken so late in the draft. They are all huge reasons why the near future is bright for the Oilers and why they look “scary good” next season as my partner Ethan Bayduza put it in a previous article here on the YEG sports website. It is worth mentioning again that these players did not make their NHL presence meaningful until after Chiarelli’s departure. It could be argued that the credit for making these players the NHL studs they will soon become should go to the Ken Holland development team. While I see that point, these three players made their impact so soon into the Ken Holland era that I still think some credit is due to the previous management under Peter Chiarelli for their success.

Potential: There are still many players selected by Chiarelli that have lots of potential as well. Evan Bouchard leads the way as a lock in my opinion to be an NHL regular, and likely even NHL star. Other notables include Rodrigue, Samorukov, and McLeod, who could all look like steals one day best case scenario. However when these players reach the NHL (assuming they all do) it will be much in part due to the Ken Holland system.

Misses: 2016 stands out as the off year for the Chiarelli draft team. While the players selected still have potential to make an NHL impact in the near future, there is bonafide NHL All-Stars that the Oilers missed out on and could really use now.

Overall Peter Chiarelli does deserve some credit, and I would go as far to say that he was great as the draft table with his selections of players that have either made it as NHL impact players for the Oilers, or appear as if they will soon get there. He provided Ken Holland lots of projects and potential to work with as the next Oilers GM. Most of the ruling on Chiarelli’s draft success is still up in the air due to the young age of these players, but I am excited to see how they develop under the new management.

Breaking Down the 2021 Edmonton Oilers Schedule

EDMONTON, AB – FEBRUARY 06: Edmonton Oilers Center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal with line mates Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Darnell Nurse (25) and Edmonton Oilers Defenceman Ethan Bear (74) in the first period during the Edmonton Oilers game versus the San Jose Sharks on February 06, 2020, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB.(Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s do that hockey.

The Edmonton Oilers will kick off their 41st National Hockey League season on January 13th with a back-to-back against the division rival Vancouver Canucks. What follows is 56 total games in 115 days (approximately one game every other day) against Edmonton’s other division rivals, both traditional and otherwise.

With the closure of the Canada-United States border due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the NHL decided to re-align their four divisions so that as many teams as possible were able to play out of their home rinks. The Oilers will partake in the brand new North Division, where they will see the usual suspects – your Canucks and your Flames – but will also see plenty more of the other Canadian teams.

The Opponents

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, because the re-ignited (pun intended) Battle of Alberta between your beloved Oilers and the evil savages to the South will occur TEN TIMES this season. 18% of Oilers games in 2021 will be against Calgary. The highlight of this series is a pair of games on back-to-back nights in February with the latter scheduled for Saturday Hockey Night in Canada. Expect blood.

The Vancouver Canucks are the other team the Oilers will square off with ten times, starting with the back-to-back curtain raiser on January 13th and 14th in Edmonton. While Vancouver-Edmonton pales in comparison to the Battle of Alberta, the Canucks are still a rival, and these are two teams that will be right in the thick of the playoff race. Besides, any time you play a team ten times in less than six months, it will get heated. Expect blood.

As for the other four Canadian clubs, the Oilers will play each on a total of nine occasions each. Again, I don’t care what team you’re playing, if you play them this many times in a season, it will get out of hand quickly. Expect blood.

The Format

I really like the decision made by the NHL to construct the schedule the way they did. To explain what I mean by this, let’s take a look at the Oilers’ schedule in the month of March:

To start the month, the Oilers play the last two of a three game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. Then Calgary makes the three hour drive north for a single game, followed by three against the Ottawa Senators. After two weeks at home, the Oilers take the short trip to Vancouver to play a single game. Then two in Calgary. Back home for two against the Winnipeg Jets. Then they travel east of Lloydminster for the first time in over a month. Three in Montreal, two in Toronto, and then it’s back home for the Oilers.

In a month, the Oilers play seventeen games, but they only get on a plane five times, and three of those trips can be completed in an hour and a half or less.

That’s the first reason I really like this schedule from the NHL. In the COVID Era, you want to limit travel as much as possible because it eases the strain on the players, and it reduces the risk of a potential outbreak. If a player in an Edmonton-Montreal game tests positive, it won’t affect the Ottawa-Winnipeg game because you’ve isolated the incident. We are less likely to see MLB-esque cancellations of games because of this schedule.

The second reason I really like the schedule is related to the first section of this article. It builds hate. Sure, the Oilers might not have any hard feelings towards the Canadiens now, but you can’t tell me that playing Corey Perry three times in a week doesn’t end with a spear job. Expect blood.

How Does it Affect the Oilers’ Chances?

I’m not going to get into the “Which Division is the Best” argument here, because I don’t want to waste your time. I just want to look at how the Oilers might fare playing Pacific Division teams vs. their new division opponents. (I’m using Regulation Win Percentage to measure the quality of each team. The reason boils down to the fact that overtime is essentially random.)

Regulation Win %, 2019-20

Statistics from

There you go. The overall quality of teams that the Oilers are facing are exactly the same that they would face in the Pacific Division (obviously this is a very crude measure. It doesn’t take into account offseason additions or internal development). If these numbers seem low, the league high RW% last season was the Boston Bruins at .543.

You may be wondering what the Oilers sat at. By this metric, the Oilers were the best team in the Pacific last year, and the best of the Canadian teams. Their regulation win percentage was .437.

If they’re the best team, then should strength of opponent matter? Perhaps not. Still, I want to compare how well the Oilers play against these teams head-to-head over the last three seasons (for a larger sample size):

Edmonton Oilers Head-to-Head Regulation Win%, 2017-2020

Statistics from and Stathead

Asterisks indicate teams that the Oilers have played well against (RW% above .336, which is Edmonton’s RW% against all teams during that span).

Despite struggling against Toronto and Winnipeg, the Oilers are roughly as successful against the Canadian teams as they are against the Pacific teams. The difference is .984 regulation wins over an 82 game season (.672 over 56). This is to say that the Oilers were a good team last year, should be a better team this year, and that the schedule isn’t offering much to change that. In fact, you could say that the Oilers were granted a very slight advantage from the schedule.

Facts & Figures

While diving deep into the Oilers schedule, a few interesting tidbits presented themselves:

  1. The Oilers are scheduled to play 11 back-to-backs, tied with Ottawa for the most in the North Division, and second in the NHL only to San Jose (According to Travis Yost of TSN). They played eight in 2019-20.
  2. 12 Oilers games are scheduled on Saturdays, compared to 17 that were scheduled over 82 games last season. We won’t know how many will be part of Hockey Night in Canada until the game times are released, but one can only assume that a lot of games in the North Division will be nationally televised.
  3. With divisional playoffs in effect this season, we could see a maximum of SEVENTEEN Battles of Alberta if the two should meet in the first or second round.

The NHL has set the stage for what should be the most entertaining regular season of NHL hockey we have ever witnessed.

The NHL is Going to Play this Year

I know, I’m crazy.

With all the balls up in the air and the reluctance from both sides to negotiate, you might be wondering how I can be so confident that the National Hockey League is going to complete the 2020-21 season. Well, dear reader, let me elaborate.

While the NFL started their season on time because they’re the NFL and nothing was going to stop them, the NHL is operating from a position of desperation. The damage that could be done to the sport if they don’t play (read: financial losses), will be ten times worse than any damage done if they do play.

To put it simply, they can’t afford not to play.

So here it is, my list of reasons why I am confident the NHL will commence and complete some semblance of a season.

1. Gary wants to play

I know this sounds contrary to my previous article in defense of Gary Bettman, but recent history has shown that what Gary (really majority of NHL owners) wants, Gary gets. He has a knack for getting a vocal minority of owners on board with whatever the Board of Governors is pursuing. So when Gary says that all 31 teams are going to play, it means we are more than likely getting a season.

2. Legally, they have to play

The owners and players have already signed a legally binding agreement that prevents a labour stoppage until at least 2026. Check out this beauty of an excerpt from the Collective Bargaining Agreement:

Neither the League nor any Club shall engage in a lockout during the term of this
.” – CBA between NHL and NHLPA, Article 7.1 (b)

Obviously the NHL was able to shut down back in March to protect the health of it’s players. But the current negotiations aren’t about health, they’re about money. This means that if the owners decided to call it a day and go home, they would be locking out the players – a clear violation of the agreement they extended, regardless of whether or not they read the details.

If the owners choose not to play, the Players’ Association has clear grounds for legal action against the league.

3. The TV Contracts

The NHL (based on incredibly rough estimation) makes about 10% of its revenue from its two national TV contracts with Sportsnet and NBC. This number gets magnified when the NHL has lost about half of its total revenue in the form of ticket sales. If the 2021 season doesn’t happen, the TV money will be in danger as well.

The NBC deal expires at the end of the 2021 season. A contract with the NHL looks like a good investment right now, but that’s only because hockey was played this summer. If the NHL isn’t present on televisions at all this winter, no TV executive in their right mind is going to want to hand the league a bag of cash.

I wouldn’t count on the Canadian deal being safe, either. The rumour is that Sportsnet was regretting their $5.2 billion deal before hockey disappeared from our screens. Imagine how they feel after the 61% decline in ratings for the Stanley Cup Final.

I’m not a legal professional, so I can’t speak to whether or not Sportsnet has a way to get out of that contract. What I do know is that if the upcoming season doesn’t happen, the NHL should expect a call from Sportsnet’s lawyers.

4. Future Ramifications

This leads into my final argument, easily the most significant. Let’s say we get the nightmare solution: No season, no new TV deal. All that growth they’ve seen in the U.S? hasta la vista. The NFL’s in full swing, the NBA has their plan in place, MLB got their season in, and soccer hasn’t missed a beat. Aside from Canada and a handful of northeastern American markets, the fans might not come back this time. They will spend that year watching sports that are on TV.

Not playing this season could mean the death of hockey as a major sport.

When the NBA was struggling in the late 70’s, the players and owners came to the negotiating table with one goal: forgoing short-term minor revenue increases for significant, long-term growth that ensured there would be a league in the future.

The NHL needs to change the way they think about money. Instead of screwing over your partner and taking a larger share of the current revenue, let’s focus on creating revenue and ensuring there is a league to profit from in 20 years.

Don’t Blame Gary

I had a Social Studies teacher in high school that was not a sports fan, and took issue with some of the ludicrous salaries paid to professional athletes. One day we discussed the topic, and my argument in favour of paying the hundreds of millions of dollars to these people (a good number of whom shouldn’t have graduated high school) was this: Sports is big business. People pay to see it, so there is money to be made. It’s only a matter of who gets that money.

Who would you rather give your money to – the people responsible for the product you enjoy, or the owners of the teams? You know, the same owners that were too stupid to read the agreement they signed.

Owners of sports teams (for the most part) fall somewhere on the spectrum between diabolical and incompetent. If the last hundred years of North American pro sports has taught us anything, it’s that owners would sell their own mother to a rival team for a 5% increase to their profits. They are (again, for the most part) greedy, selfish, and incomprehensibly brainless, which is a dangerous combination.

“So what,” I hear you scoffing at your screen, “The commissioners of the leagues are to blame. After all, they’re the leaders.”

That’s not how this works.

Commissioners in the modern day, such as Gary Bettman, have one job: to represent the interests of the owners. If they fail in that one directive, the owners will fire them and find someone else. The fact that Gary has kept his job for 27 years is downright impressive.

So while the NHL seems unlikely to play hockey this decade, it’s important to remember that it’s not Gary’s fault. Gary was not the one that agreed to extend the new Collective Bargaining Agreement without reading the fineprint. That was the owners. Gary wasn’t the one that asked the players to take a pay cut on top of the pay cut that was already agreed to. That too, was the owners. Gary didn’t push a salary cap, or eliminate NHL Olympic Participation, or implement an ‘anti-Canadian’ agenda.

It. Was. The. Owners.

Let’s talk about what Gary Bettman did do. He championed a program that gave assistance to the teams in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa while they were struggling in the late ’90s. Hell, Bettman can be given quite a lot of credit for keeping the Oilers in Edmonton after a Houston-based billionaire made a bid for the team in 1998. Bettman is responsible for the Sportsnet and NBC TV Deals, which in addition to making the league piles of money, has vastly increased hockey’s exposure in the United States.

While I will continue to participate in booing Mr. Bettman (it’s tradition), I am a firm believer that his impact on the league in over two decades has been a net positive. For all we know, he’s probably keeping some of the league’s most eccentric owners in check. He is adamant that all 31 teams play hockey in some form this season.

So let’s lay off of Gary. If anything, he deserves our begrudging respect. Let’s put the real villains on blast. If you have a problem, take it up with the owners.