With trade rumors swirling, there have been questions lately about what the Oilers might look like without the steady, two-way play of center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Nugent-Hopkins broke his hand while blocking a shot in Monday’s 4–2 win over the Florida Panthers. There’s no word yet as to whether he’ll need surgery, but he’s expected to miss six to eight weeks of action.
There is never a good time to lose a player like that, but this might be the worst possible moment. Not only does it remove Edmonton’s top center at a point when the Oilers are still within hailing distance of third-place Arizona in the Pacific Division, it handicaps the ability of GM Peter Chiarelli to explore his options with a player who is considered to be his top trade chip.
If Nugent-Hopkins’s recovery period goes the distance, as it did when Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher suffered a similar injury earlier this season, the Oilers star might not return before the Feb. 29 trade deadline. That timetable essentially pulls him off the market until the summer.
This is just the latest indignity to befall the hard-luck Oilers, who already led the NHL with 192 man-games lost to injury. At various times, the team has played without Jordan Eberle (separated shoulder), Nail Yakupov (ankle sprain) and, most painfully, Connor McDavid (broken collarbone). It’s been a rotten string of luck, one that derailed a season that has, at times, hinted at a possible breakthrough for this beaten-down franchise.
“Would be nice to have a full lineup to see what we’ve got,” said a frustrated coach Todd McLellan.
Nugent-Hopkins has been one of the few constants for McLellan, skating in 46 of 47 games and scoring eight goals and 30 points. While those numbers aren’t dazzling, they don’t fully define his value, either. This is a player who lines up against the opposition’s top unit, who can handle a heavy load of defensive zone starts and penalty kill time, and be counted on to drive possession. Exactly the sort of player who would have led the way down the stretch ... or who might have brought the Oilers the young defenseman they need to shore up their blue line moving forward.
Instead, they lose his presence and have to hope that Anton Lander and Mark Letestu can step up. (Spoiler alert: they can't).
There will also be the temptation now to rush McDavid back into the lineup. The top pick in the 2015 draft is skating with the club and working his way back into shape, but the plan has been to keep him on the shelf until Feb. 2, after the All-Star break, to allow him to fully recover from his injury. At this point, though, there’s no reason not to stick with that. With RNH gone, so is Edmonton’s best chance to break its nine-year playoff drought.
The numbers game
• Jarome Iginla of the Avalanche moved past Hall of Famer Jari Kurri into 18th place on the NHL’s all time goal scoring list (602). Iginla’s goal, his 96th career game-winner, tied Mats Sundin for ninth in that category.
• Sharks forward Joe Thornton’s 927th career assist moved him past Hall of Famer Stan Mikita into 17th on the career list. Thornton has produced at least one point in 14 of his past 15 games (5-14-19).
• Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins has scored at least 20 goals for the eighth time in his 10 NHL seasons. He is now the sixth player to put up eight or more such seasons as a Penguin. The others: Mario Lemieux (12), Jaromir Jagr (11), Rick Kehoe (9), Jean Pronovost (9) and Sidney Crosby (8)
• A Jamaican-born player could be on the verge of making NHL history.
• For just $650, you can live like a New York Islander for a day. Pre-game train ride into Brooklyn not included.
• Who would replace Michel Therrien if GM Marc Bergevin decides his struggling Montreal Canadiens need a change behind the bench? Here’s a rundown of 51 possible candidates. Personally, I think they should give that Ronnie Hortense guy a look.
• How many names will you recognize on this list of the NHL’s top-25 power brokers?