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It’s a time to entertain fan theories, speculation, and team-building discourse, for die-hards who want to make dreams come true and for heartbreak and hope.
It’s difficult to predict which speculations will become a reality or decisions will be made. However, we can evaluate the current situation of the Oilers.
Mike Smith had a fantastic final chapter in Edmonton. He held down a starting position for three seasons when many thought he couldn’t do the job. Smith has one year remaining at $2.25million, so if he were to return, it would be a great deal for the Oilers. It is almost impossible to trade or sign Smith for a better value.
Smith could return and be the starter again. He has the skills. Smith shouldn’t be expected to play more than 40-45 games, as he did this season. As Woodcroft pointed out against Markstrom’s difficult series and the Flames, the league trend is to manage net workloads. This was the case with Smith, the oldest goalie in the league.
So the Oilers need to get a young player with potential who is not yet proven and is willing to play. The Oilers have the goalie that fits this description in Stuart Skinner. Skinner’s role as an AHL starter has been consistent over the past two seasons. He went from only two starts in the NHL to 18 in that time.
Although it’s a small sample, Skinner is still a promising goalie at 21. He’s not yet passed every test, but he is improving each time. He has performed admirably in his NHL debuts, and it is great to see him progress into a regular role over several seasons.
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Smith could return, so a Smith/Skinner pairing might work well. However, Smith’s injury history would make it difficult for the Oilers not to find a goalie who can compete with Skinner in the backup role. They may also need to clear waivers. The Russian netminder Konovalov, who has only played one season in AHL Bakersfield, would make a great candidate, but he is now back home.
The Oilers may be more aggressive in purchasing a tandem backup. This will insulate Skinner for at most another season and allow them to use his waiver ineligibility to their benefit, effectively replicating the situation that they had in net this year.
There is a goaltending carnival in offseasons, where GMs hope to find some treasure in the market’s uncertainty. We expect some names to be in play this season, John Gibson, Ville Husso, Jack Campbell and Marc André Fleury. These names have a chance of providing a starter’s-level level of play. There is a delicate balance between paying too much and hoping for the best and underpaying to see if recent poor performances can be repeated.
While goaltending is essential to the game, we have seen how Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy can make a difference in a team’s fate. However, only a few goalies can replicate this quality consistently. Other teams have had success with unknown goalies, such as Ward, Niemi and Binnington. They all came from “nowhere” to help their team win a Cup. Kuemper, a decent starter, was a familiar winner for the Avalanche, often leaving out of Canada’s hypothetical best-on–best team Canadas. This goaltending situation is often frowned upon by many.
Six Oilers defencemen are under contract next season. Some minor players could be factored into their plans in both Koekkoek and Niemelainen. However, action is still to be anticipated before any moves to improve the Blueline for next year.
The Oilers’ Blueline is at a crossroads with various contract situations and rising talent. Despite the high volume of contracts, the volatility within this group is palpable. The blue line is the most significant difference between the Western Conference finalists and the Avalanche.
We hope to learn Duncan Keith’s plans by July 1, or at the very least by mid-July; that is the hope of the Oilers. The Oilers’ trip to the conference final was made possible by the serviceable veteran defender.
Although Keith hasn’t been at an all-star level for a while, his teammates seem to value him and his experience. It’s possible that most Oilers fans hope Keith will call it a career. This would allow Keith to free up $5.5 million of his cap hit and a large portion of the $82.5million cap for next season.
Keith’s departure would leave a spot open on the left side of Nurse, who has an 8-year deal worth $9.25million. Although it’s a generous extension, Nurse is still the Oilers’ top choice on the back end.
Tyson Barrie has been widely speculated as a name on the move. Naturally, a lot of his motivation is salty. Bouchard’s offensive skills, Nurse’s puck-moving abilities, and Nurse’s rising stature make it redundant to have a specialist like Barrie. Many of these players also contribute in the same areas. Barrie has his defensive quirks, but he can still contribute offensively in the form of points.
Barrie’s contributions might be appreciated by other teams, making it more appealing to them than the Oilers. The Oilers can free up his cap hit to sign an Oilers starting goalie or Evander Kane. These are assets the Oilers need more. Players can be considered “negative value” within a cap world. Being freed from Barrie’s cap hit would be beneficial, even if it was minimal to no return.
Barrie’s talent and cost may be a better option than other Oilers problem contracts. This is despite their cap realities. Both Carolina and Dallas have questions about puck-moving right-shot defences. Other teams may be in a similar situation.
Barrie played a more prominent role in the playoffs, thanks in large part to his partner Kulak’s injury and Barrie’s play. His teammates like Barrie, and although it might not be the best thing for them to move him, he could still be a valuable player if he stayed with the Oilers. There are worse things than providing the Oilers forwards and defencemen with the ability to move the puck up ice.
Brett Kulak has been a topic of interest as he moves into the summer. He is a pending UFA and could sign anywhere. Kulak was scratched in Montreal, but he did well with the Oilers and probably earned a raise from his previous cap hit of $1.8 million. It is unknown if the Oilers will make the most lucrative offer or if Kulak prefers to play in Edmonton. However, his contributions on the ice are part of the Oilers’ best-case scenario.
Kulak is strong and agile enough to defend all over the ice. He fits in well on the Blueline much the same way as Cody Ceci. They can both make good plays on the ice but would benefit from being paired up with an offensive partner who is more durable, which the Oilers have a lot.
Philip Broberg is a significant reason to be hopeful in Oiler Country. Broberg has done a great job in the AHL, anchoring a strong team and even showed flashes during brief stints in NHL. While Mo Seider, a 2018 draft classman, has taken the league by storm in 2018, Broberg has maintained pace with many loaded draft classes as they look to take their place at the top of the depth charts league-wide.
While there are still many areas of growth and more strength and contact balance, the early stages of a high-calibre defenceman are already visible. He is a good-sized skater with the puck skills to play well in transition. Although his offensive ceiling is not as high as Bouchard’s or Nurse’s, his contributions to team offence might be comparable to Nurse’s.
Broberg is a natural talent, and he showed up to camp early last season to establish chemistry with his star teammates. He also has an advantage over Coach Woodcroft because he played in the AHL for him. Broberg could find himself in the AHL to star (and start) next season, but that should not be taken as a sign of his long-term viability. Broberg can potentially be an essential top 4 defender for the Oilers by the end 23/24 season.
After going through the details of the Blueline, let’s move on to the two most important players heading into the next season. Darnell Nursing. Both with questions.
It is essential to recognize that Nurse is the Oilers’ best defenseman and an integral part of the team leader. Nurse is also a great teammate. He has exceeded all expectations to be a top 10 draft pick. E will be starting an 8-year extension that could cost $2 million more than fans might imagine. He may not win a Norris Trophy like other cap players. He is also coming off a severe hip injury that can last up to one year.
This could make it a difficult start for Nurse and the Oilers. Although it may be some time before Nurse returns to his dominant form, there is no doubt that Nurse will continue to be the core of the Oilers’ long-term success. As long as the cap continues to rise, this contract should not be too difficult for Nurse for at least another 4 or 5 seasons.
While Nurse is working his way back to elite form, the Oilers may need to take over as a team. Evan Bouchard can be a crucial part of that effort. Bouchard was already in the top four last season and is well-positioned to be an elite player. Bouchard’s offensive abilities are as evident and effective as they are, so it is a mere formality that he is not the best power play option.
Bouchard has a unique aspect of his game that we have seen glimpses of his defensive effectiveness. Bouchard’s size and strength might leave something to be desired in defending old-fashioned and rough-and-tumble styles. Still, he has proven that he is capable of becoming an all-around player and even a penalty killer.
The trio of Nurse, Broberg and Bouchard is a great starting point for the Oiler’s future. While there may be inconsistencies, Bouchard is still on his way to becoming the elite player many believe he can be. It will be challenging to fill in the remaining depth chart efficiently in terms of attributes and cap allocation.
It’s difficult to predict who the Oilers will replace and what they can afford. No matter who leaves or stays, the Oilers should focus more on adding defensive players to complement the many skills.
There may be some solutions in-house, such as retaining Kulak or some growth from Samorukov. However, Holland and the pro-scouting staff might have to look outside for value.
We don’t need to go into too much detail here, as we all know Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. As well as the solid top 6 levels of play Ryan Nugent–Hopkins or Zach Hyman. With three centres, it provides flexibility for the Oilers’ most essential forwards. This group should not have to worry about anyone leaving and maybe even less about their ability to play next season.
Except for a trade that increases the Oilers’ chances of winning a Cup during their window, there is no reason to believe that Yamamoto, McLeod or Puljujarvi shouldn’t return as important fixtures in this lineup. The top 9 options have proven to be solid, and their skill sets complement the elite talent on the roster. There is no reason to believe that any of these three players have outperformed their value or the Oilers’ means. It is doubtful to acquire a player with their respective talents at their cap hits, especially young players who have proven themselves in this lineup.
Yamamoto and McLeod agree almost unanimously with that opinion, but there are rumours about Jesse Puljujarvi being accepted into this description. Puljujarvi’s criticisms or reluctance to be with McLeod is, at best, confounding. Only Kane and Draisaitl were as successful in McDavid’s wing, while Puljujarvi came in at a lower cap hit. There is no doubt that Puljujarvi has the potential to be even more effective than he has been in converting chances into goals. However, his impact on the game and the group are already strong.
Ryan McLeod’s flexibility as a centre allows the Oilers to use McDavid and Draisaitl however they wish. His defensive skills are likely to be his main strength, but he can also use his speed to make offensive transitions efficiently, making him an excellent linemate for Draisaitl. McLeod also has some offensive upside, especially with his in-zone playmaking skills. However, he is trying to build on a campaign that saw McLeod emerge into a top 9 contributor.
Like McLeod and Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto is not without offence, but he also contributes to the game in many other ways. He is a fast skater and has a great motor. Although he has excellent puck skills and passing abilities, he is most likely a versatile middle-six forward. This means that it is not necessary that he become a prolific offensive scorer but that he can add value to a team.
The current cap situation the Oilers are in is a significant problem. Although I am not a contract expert or capologist, locking up these three players for four years at a combined cap hit of $ 10 million would be a good idea. It would also help to secure the forward depth for many years. There are a few options that could be better for the team.
With his $3.5million cap hit, Zach Kassian is perhaps the worst cap inefficiency on this roster. The Oilers can’t afford to pay so much for a player that can’t be used in more than three-line minutes. Kassian’s abrasiveness is a plus, so his skill set doesn’t disappear in this lineup.
The league doesn’t see any value in his services, so the Oilers may not consider acquiring him without a sweetener. Although it would be ideal for his cap hit to be traded, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to explore another method, such as a buyout or LTIR designation. Knowing his cap hit would allow the Oilers to make more pressing decisions, such as keeping Kane or Kulak or acquiring a significant goalie.
Warren Foegele offers a higher level of play with a lower cap hit. Foegele, a third-liner best suited for the Oilers, isn’t necessarily outstanding in quality or value, but he contributes to the Oilers success.
Derek Ryan, a forward who is versatile enough to occupy any position in the bottom 6, has done little except strengthening the centre depth. Despite his small stature and limited offensive capabilities, the veteran can still play an influential role due to his excellent positioning and on-ice awareness.
Devin Shore has been signed for an additional season at $850,000. He is fully relieved to be sent to the AHL. He is versatile in position and can be used as a low-maintenance player. There is minimal risk for a player best served in a rotational fourth-line role. The Oilers won’t feel pressured to give him more time or a more prominent role than they would for a young developing player.
This forward group’s biggest concern is the fate of Evander Kane. There is uncertainty about Kane’s previous contract with the Sharks and whether it will be re-instated. Will he be able to command the salary and term that his on-ice performance would suggest? Will his off-ice reputation discourage him from attracting those higher numbers? It is impossible to know what the future holds before looking at open market options.
He was a natural fit for the Oilers. He provided speed, toughness and, most importantly, a legitimate scoring touch. The Oilers lack a threat to score at a 30-goal pace other than McDavid or Draisaitl. The Oilers’ cap situation is very precarious. Kane is unlikely to be fit at any Oilers price. However, the Oilers may be able to keep him at a discount because he signed with the Oilers at that rate.
The Oilers’ forward strength was lifted by having a legitimate scorer among the top 6, but it is unlikely they will do so again at the extreme discount Kane received this season.
All of Archibald and Brassard can be used as 4th liners. These forwards should not be overpriced in terms of dollars. However, some combination of these three could be brought back and be useful in such a restricted role.
There are still opportunities for the next generation of forwards to make their mark, even if you’re worried about Kane and Puljujarvi’s possible departures. While not all prospects will reach their full potential, many players could impact the Oilers’ future. The best way to navigate the cap and maximize talent is by signing younger players on lower entry-level deals.
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