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Connor McDavid's Oilers add forward depth, primed for big playoff push in 2021-22

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EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have signed up a new supporting cast for Connor McDavid. The question is how far can they go in playoff prime time.

General manager Ken Holland worked the phones in the off-season to deliver depth to a corps of forwards that too often went into passenger mode last season when twin superstars McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were taking a breather.

In are Warren Foegele, Zach Hyman and Derek Ryan while Edmonton said goodbye to Jujhar Khaira, James Neal, Alex Chiasson, and others.

“You can put all the names on the paper you want, you still have to get out on the ice and do it,” said head coach Dave Tippett on Monday. “And you’ve got to do it each and every night.

“We’ve been 12th and 11th the last couple of years and we want to be in that top 10. We want to be in that top 10 and keep pushing forward.”

Hyman is the big prize. The 29-year-old former Toronto Maple Leaf free signed a seven-year free agent deal and is slotted in on McDavid’s left wing. He’s a banger and a crasher with offensive upside. He had 15 goals and 18 assists with a plus-19 rating in 43 games last season.

On McDavid’s right, big things are expected this year from Jesse Puljujarvi, who had 15 goals and 10 assists last season with a plus-6 rating.

McDavid is coming off an all-world season (33 goals and 105 points in the 56-game 2021) securing his third scoring title and second Hart Trophy.

“I think it’s just that, building off of what we did last year,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie. “I don’t think there’s any secrets to trying to build off what we did last year.”

Draisaitl didn’t repeat his Art Ross season of 2019-20, but still scored 31 goals and had 84 points. He will anchor the second line between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto need to bounce back from sub-par campaigns, with both struggling five on five.

The third line will likely be Foegele, Ryan and pugnacious veteran Zack Kassian.

The questions marks start at the blue-line and move in.

Darnell Nurse established himself last season as the No. 1 blue-liner, (16 goals, 36 points) while eating up a team leading 25-plus minutes a night.

He is paired with Barrie, the quarterback of Edmonton’s lethal power play. 

“It’s definitely more comfortable for me and I think I can feel that on the ice,” said Barrie. “Me and Nursey are comfortable with each other and I think we’re working well off of each other.”

Rugged defender Adam Larsson left to sign with Seattle and promising D-men Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear were traded.

The hope is that greybeard Duncan Keith, who was traded to Edmonton from the Chicago Blackhawks in the off-season, can plug the gap on the second pairing and show there is still some high-level play left in him at 38.

Journeyman free agent Cody Ceci is expected to round out the top-four pairings.

Evan Bouchard may be ready to take on a full-time role this year. Veterans Kris Russell and Slater Koekkeok are also in the mix.

“The big thing is not overlooking this regular season,” said Russell as the pre-season wound down.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared early and get some wins in early and get the ball going because it’s a tough league.”

Goaltending remains the big concern and it’s expected Holland will address it during the season or at the trade deadline as needed.

Mike Smith is back as the starter, hoping he can continue the glittering numbers from last season (21-6-2 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .923 save percentage).

At 39 years old, Smith won’t be expected to carry the entire workload for the Oilers in net. Six-foot-seven backup Mikko Koskinen will be counted on as well.

Koskinen has been plagued by erratic play and a leaky glove hand in the past, but he brought his family over for support this season and aims to impress in final year of his contract.

“We’re going to keep both of them going. One guy won’t be out of the net for a long time,” said Tippett.

The big bonus for the Oilers is that a playoff spot is all but assured in the weak Pacific Division. Every opponent save the Vegas Golden Knights is less of an obstacle and more of a speed bump.

The Oilers finished 11th overall last season (35-19-2 record in the one-off all-Canadian North Division).

COVID WOES

The Oilers were hit harder than most by COVID-19. Goaltender Alex Stalock developed inflammation of the heart muscle after contracting coronavirus and will likely miss the season. Keith was late to camp after overcoming vaccine hesitancy, getting the shot in the U.S., then quarantining. The lone vaccination holdout, winger Josh Archibald, is out indefinitely with heart inflammation, likely caused by contracting coronavirus in the summer.

SUPER SPECIAL TEAMS

Led by McDavid and Draisaitl, Edmonton’s power play has finished first in percentage the last two campaigns (27.6 last season and a torrid 29.5 the year before that). They are also good when down a man. The penalty kill was ninth last season (82.5 per cent) and second overall the year prior (84.4 per cent).

SCHEDULE

The Oilers need to get off to a fast start and October is made to order: two winnable games against Vancouver, singles against Arizona, Calgary, Anaheim and Philadelphia, and an early statement game in the Nevada desert against Vegas, the projected division champion. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Regulator lays charges against Tidewater Midstream for acidic water release

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CALGARY — The Alberta Energy Regulator has laid charges against Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. for a release of acidic water in west-central Alberta.

The regulator says the release occurred in Oct. 2019 at Tidewater’s Ram River sour gas processing plant near Rocky Mountain House. 

It says the acidic water flowed into a nearby creek.

Calgary-based Tidewater has been charged with 10 violations under the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, including releasing a substance to the environment that caused or may have caused an adverse effect. 

The regulator also alleges that Tidewater failed to report the release of the acidic water as soon as possible, and failed to take all reasonable measures to repair and remedy the spill.

Tidewater is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 8 in Rocky Mountain House.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 21, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TWM)

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Alberta

Alberta's top doctor says COVID-19 cases receding but vigilance needed at Halloween

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says COVID-19 case numbers in the province continue to recede.

But Dr. Deena Hinshaw cautions that the hospital situation remains precarious given the high number of patients.

And she says Albertans can’t afford to let up on health restrictions, particularly with Halloween coming up.

There were 770 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday for a new total of 10,434 active cases.

There were eight more deaths, bringing that total to 3,014.

Alberta Health Services says there are 912 people in hospital with COVID-19, and that 201 of them are in intensive care.

Alberta remains under gathering restrictions for indoor and outdoor events, and Hinshaw says it’s important to stick to those limits at Halloween.

Hinshaw urged those setting out candy for trick or treaters to not use bowls, but to set out the candy spaced apart on a surface like a blanket.

She says those who want to have a Halloween party should consider a small gathering of vaccinated people.

“This is not the year for large Halloween parties,” Hinshaw said.

“If you’re planning a Halloween gathering try to have it outdoors and make sure the limit of no more than 20 people is observed.”

Hinshaw noted that last Oct. 31 there were 5,600 active COVID-19 cases, about half the current total. There were 141 people in hospital with the illness a year ago.

Alberta continues to battle a fourth wave of the pandemic.

It has more than doubled the normal number of 173 critical care beds and has had to cancel thousands of non-urgent surgeries to handle the surge.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley says with winter coming and COVID-19 still circulating, the province needs to provide stable funding to social agencies for winter emergency shelters.

“All people deserve to live in dignity and have a safe place to call home,” said Notley. “These calls are urgent. It’s getting cold outside, and our northern winter will be here soon.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2021.

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