The TSN Hockey Insiders Pierre LeBrun, Chris Johnston and Darren Dreger discuss the build up of frustration for the struggling Oilers, why the change to COVID-19 protocol should reduce postponements, whether Claude Giroux could be available ahead of the trade deadline, and more.
Things are spiraling in Edmonton right now, they’re losing ground in the battle for a playoff spot, players are getting into heated battles with reporters, what are you hearing out of Edmonton right now?
Darren Dreger: It feels like the frustration spilling over into media availability should be the least of the Edmonton Oilers’ concerns. There are many who believe that [Leon] Draisaitl lashing out at veteran journalist Jim Matheson comes from a place of protection. He’s the leader of the Edmonton Oilers and he’s defending his teammates and in some fashion perhaps specifically the goaltending struggles of Mikko Koskinen. Well, goaltending remains a priority for the Edmonton Oilers – It needs to be better. Ownership and management, I’m told, are still on the same page. They believe in the group. You talk to anyone around the NHL who has played the Edmonton Oilers, they will tell you the Oilers simply need to be tougher to play against and they haven’t been that. So, is it on Dave Tippett to demand more to make sure these players are tougher individually to play against? And if he’s not willing to enforce it, then there are some around the league that look at management to say ‘all right, find somebody who will.’
As it is, it’s going to be a jam-packed schedule down the stretch to make up for all the postponed games already, so the league is trying to take steps to prevent further delays.
Chris Johnston: They are and they’ve finally got all the rescheduling done for February, expect to see word on that at any moment now. And as they do that, they’re taking steps to make sure the second half goes off a little bit more smoothly than the first half of the season did. Mainly the way that will be happening is that players and staff members that are asymptomatic will not be tested once they return from the All-Star Game. Around February 7, give or take, essentially players will not have to be doing that. The reason that the NHL and NHLPA were comfortable making that change right now is that 73 per cent of NHL players have actually tested positive for COVID-19 this season. The vast majority of those guys are still in what’s called a "90-day window" where they don’t have to test – the holiday period. So this was a time they felt it’s important. They’ll still be testing for cross-border travel and those with symptoms, but it should mean that fewer players enter protocol.
The Flyers are the only NHL team that Claude Giroux has ever known, but he doesn’t have a deal for next season. Any news on that front?
Pierre LeBrun: Right and that was by design that both himself and the Flyers’ management led by GM Chuck Fletcher, in the off-season where it was a mutual decision. They were comfortable going into this year and seeing how things played out. But in the meantime, his name is coming up more and more in the rumour mill and for no real reason. I can tell you that, for one, the Flyers have not talked to teams about Claude Giroux. The Flyers have not talked to Claude Giroux about the trade deadline yet. Claude Giroux has not gone to the Flyers about the trade deadline and he hasn’t even gone to his agent yet – veteran Pat Brisson – and having that kind of discussion either. Why? There are nine weeks until the trade deadline, people. Everyone take a deep breath. I know it’s mid-January, but there’s a lot of time to go. When it comes to Claude Giroux, yes, that discussion has to happen if the Flyers don’t turn around their season. He’s got a full no-move. He controls his fate closer to March 21.
It’s nice to bolster your roster through the trade route. It’s nice to build through the draft. But sometimes you can find a gem in free agency from overseas. Might that happen with a 25 year old out of Russia?
Darren Dreger: Yeah, Andrei Kuzmenko. There have been reports of the interest that clubs have, primarily the Ottawa Senators, very public in disclosing their interest in him – a soon-to-be 26 year old starring for St. Petersburg in the KHL. As we talk about this - 53 points in 45 games – his agent, says he is focused on the Olympics, wants to win gold for Russia. He’s focused on the men’s worlds and he’s focused on the Gagarin Cup and he is not going to consider any of the NHL interest until his season has concluded. His agent says virtually every team in the NHL has interest in Kuzmenko.
There’s a job opening that’s drawing a significant amount of interest right now.
Chris Johnston: Yes it’s in Toronto with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and basically after news of Michael Friisdahl – the president and CEO stepping down from the organization – they’re anticipating huge interest from across the sporting world, across the business world as well. So this will be a long process. It’s a big off-ice opening at the top of this organization, above Brendan Shanahan and Masai Ujiri in that organization and MLSE thinks it will take a couple months before they are able to fill it.