The Nation Notebook: Edmonton advances, Hawks swept, and Ilya Kovalchuk

Christian Pagnani
April 24 2017 07:00AM

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The Nation Network Notebook is a regular feature that rounds up interesting news, stories, and rumours from around the NHL that don’t quite deserve their own article. 

The first round of the playoffs are over. The Edmonton Oilers advance to the second round for the first time since 2006. The Blackhawks get swept by the Nashville Predators. The Leafs lose to the Capitals, but their future is bright. Ilya Kovalchuk is looking to return to the NHL.

OILERS ADVANCE

The Edmonton Oilers defeat the San Jose Sharks in six games and move on to the second round of the playoffs. It feels a little weird to say to call this an upset, although you can certainly make the arguement. The Oilers had home-ice advantage, and a 100-point season to their name. They were the hotter team down the last stretch of the season, but it was still the San Jose Sharks. The same Sharks who were just in the Stanley Cup Final last season, and have Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. OK, maybe Thornton and Couture were not as healthy as they could have been, but this still feels like it can be considered an upset with a playoff green Oilers team that still needs to work on its depth this offseason.

For the Oilers, this is nothing but good experience for the future. Not many expected them to be in the playoffs, let alone win a round, so any success is just gravy. The Oilers have some obvious holes, but the Sharks limited Connor McDavid and still fell to the Oilers in six. They got some depth scoring from Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, and Anton Slepyshev, and that was enough to sink the Sharks.

The Oilers move on to play Anaheim, and will probably be shadowed by Ryan Kesler and Hampus Lindholm just as much as he was by Vlasic last series. The Ducks haven't lost in regulation since March, so this will be a big test for McDavid and the Oilers, although I'm not sure any team wants to play Connor McDavid for a extended period of time either.

CHICAGO SWEPT

No, there will not be a Chicago-Washington finals this year. The Blackhawks didn't win a single game this playoffs, and go out in the first round for the second consecutive year.

The Blackhawks couldn't figure out Pekka Rinne, and Nashville surrounded him with some strong play. Unsurprisingly, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman did not sound happy at all with his team's results, but this also highlights how difficult it is to win in the NHL consistently. Chicago was rolling into the playoffs, but couldn't score when it mattered.

Chicago could just as easily come back next year and make a deep run again, but they have to manage the salary cap better and play their younger players more. No one is touching Brent Seabrook's massive contract barring a huge overpayment, but they still have Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson signed to sweetheart deals, which might help make up for the the huge chunk of money spent on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Marian Hossa is still a useful player and Corey Crawford is a great goalie. There's still a lot to like about Chicago's roster.

LEAFS LOSE

Much like Edmonton, basically anything except a humiliating defeat would have been considered for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs fought it out with the Washington Capitals for six games, and this could have easily gone seven games, and possibly even in Toronto's favour.

Toronto made a fairly even series of it when a lot of people didn't think it'd be even close. The Leafs showed they can hang with one of the best teams, and could look very scary as early as next season. They have a decent amount of cap space to improve their defence and surround their young scorers with more reliable, two-way forwads. They have the next couple seasons to capitalize on the cheap years of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and can make a serious run as the current contending teams get older.

A KOVALCHUK RETURN?

Ilya Kovalchuk is reportedly interested in returning to the NHL.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman broke this Saturday night, and brought up an interesting scenario that would allow Kovalchuk to return to the league without the approval of all 30 NHL teams. Friedman discussed how Kovalchuk can simply sign a contract with New Jersey without needing any other permission, but if he wants to play for another team they will likely have to work out a sign and trade or trade for his rights.

Ilya Kovalchuk should still be in high demand. There doesn't seem like a fit in New Jersey if Kovalchuk wants to play for a contender (sorry, Taylor Hall), but he just had 78 points in 60 games for SKA St. Petersburg, which more than suggests he should still be able to play productively in the NHL. Maybe Chicago performs some salary cap magic to bring him in, or Buffalo's new general manager hires him to ride shotgun with Jack Eichel, or what better spot than playing on Connor McDavid's wing? Kovalchuk will have plenty of options this summer.

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I like to read and write about sports. I'm @chrispagnani on Twitter.
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