John Tavares and Maple Leafs, Oilers and NHL Olympics (Puck Daddy Countdown)

(In which Ryan Lambert takes a look at some of the biggest issues and stories in the NHL, and counts them down.)

5 – Tavares to Toronto

Because of how insipidly single-minded the Toronto media is, we’re going to put up with the Tavares-to-Toronto talk until Tavares signs his extension or goes elsewhere. And even then, I bet there’s at least one “sign and trade, though?” column written in a major Toronto newspaper.

Look, everyone has their bugaboos with this thing, right? How long did Calgary pine for any better-than-mediocre defender in the mid-to-late 2000s? The Flyers have been a planned goaltending destination for as long as anyone can remember. The list goes on like this.

Yeah, Toronto has lusted after a high-end guy from, like, Markham or whatever, but it never happens. Stamkos? Nah. Tavares? Gonna be a “nah” soon enough. Next it’ll be Drew Doughty. And he won’t sign there either. Always always.

And that doesn’t even get into the whole thing of exactly why Tavares would be up for a one-year $15-million contract, but that’s almost beside the point by now.

I mean, if being disappointed is your thing, well, maybe that’s why you’re a Leafs fan or whatever. But also isn’t it a thing where you HAVE an elite center? Did I mix up that Auston Matthews season with something else? If your three guys down the middle are Matthews, Kadri, and Bozak you’re in really good shape. Why on earth do you need to add Tavares other than to show off?

Let’s follow through on that, though: Is Matthews your No. 2 or is Tavares? Do you move one of them to the wing?

There’s no such thing as having too many elite players, but this particular issue is getting silly. I’m sure the Toronto media goobers will move the goalposts on this once again in the near future.

4 – Misunderstandings

A thing I think a lot of people have difficulty countenancing is the idea that Edmonton’s window doesn’t necessarily close because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be making a combined $21 million against the cap after next season.

When I said last week that it was okay for Edmonton to overpay Draisaitl a little bit for the next season or two, that didn’t refute what I said around the time of the McDavid extension worrying about their future competitiveness.

The problems were not with the McDavid and Draisaitl deals and never were. To reiterate: You pay your stars to keep them around. You don’t pay your peripheral players because they’re replaceable.

Here’s an object lesson in all that: Remember when the Penguins went to two straight Stanley Cup Finals, and won the second one, like a decade ago? And then they were pretty unsuccessful in the playoffs for a while there, and everyone said, “Ah the window is closed!”

Well hey look what happened: They excised a lot of the overly expensive players on the roster, mostly through attrition, and started relying more heavily on younger guys who could play at roughly the same level as the older vets who were let go. Then they won two more Stanley Cups in a row, and most people seem to have them well-positioned to take another serious run at it again this season.

So what happened? The Penguins started avoiding the pitfalls that landed them in a sort of self-inflicted cap crisis, drafted and developed well, and got a brilliant coach who made the roster play to its strengths. That’s a plan the Oilers could very easily follow in the years ahead, or would be if they hadn’t given some of these mediocre performers such long contracts worth so much money.

And that doesn’t even all-the-way close the window, because damn, McDavid is really that good. But it makes it a lot harder for him to succeed, right?

Not a difficult concept. Or at least, I would have thought so.

3 – Depth up the middle

It is apparently en vogue in the Metropolitan Division to enter the season without a real, solid plan for how you’re going to run guys up the middle of the ice. Maybe, after how bad the Metro bludgeoned the rest of the league last season, this is one of those self-handicapping things just to make the 82-game season more interesting.

Speaking of the Pens, now that they’ve (wisely) let Nick Bonino cash in elsewhere, they’re apparently poised to enter the season with a concrete decision on who’s going to be their No. 3 center. I’d posit that their internal options aren’t great — they mostly revolve around converting a young wing into a pivot instead — but they might be able to get some cheap help on the UFA market.

Honestly, being the No. 3 in Pittsburgh is a sweet gig. “Hey, no one’s signed you yet and Malkin and Crosby are gonna take on the heavy lifting. I don’t know, go skate around for 12 minutes and try not to fall over.”

Now, in New Jersey’s case, this was more of a situation thrust upon them late in the summer. Nevertheless, their center depth goes from “Kind of concerning” to “Potentially a huge disaster” with Travis Zajac on the outs for the first few months of the season.

I have some ideas, guys! Dan Winnik is still out there and still useful. Brandon Pirri can play center a bit. I don’t know. You don’t need someone to drive play that far down the roster. You just need them to not get run over.

Anyway, speaking of Penguins centers…

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

2 – “No, I won’t accept that!”

Saw earlier this week that Evgeni Malkin told a Russian newspaper that he wants to talk to the Penguins about still playing in the Olympics even though the NHL isn’t going.

That’s fun.

It’s almost romantic, I think. These Russian guys are so, so, so invested in winning a gold medal. I love them for it. And look, this is their best chance by far since the collapse of the Soviet Union (not counting the Commonwealth of Independent States team that competed mere months after the USSR fell apart) because no NHLers means Canada and the U.S. will be fielding some pretty rotten clubs.

Obviously guys like Malkin and Ovechkin are gonna have to wake their asses up at like 5 a.m. just like the rest of us to watch Russia maybe-win gold again.

Too bad. But I admire the sticktoitiveness here.

1 – Cap circumvention

It is quite obvious that you try to fool the system. Actually, I may have two years left, but I have also learned to take one year at a time.”

Thank you, Henrik Zetterberg, for saying what needed to be said. I hope Detroit has to eat a huge cap recapture on this one. I hope every team that signed these contracts does. But it would be really funny if Detroit, in particular, did.

(Not ranked this week: Not signing Jagr.

The Flames might want to sign Jagr. Wow, imagine that, a guy who is actually a good right wing playing with Gaudreau and Monahan. A novel approach, but I think it could work better than having bad right wings play with them. Just my thoughts.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)