Gaetan Haas bids adieu to NHL dream, signs five-year deal back in Switzerland


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Two years ago, incoming Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland identified lack of team speed as an issue and made a pair of small, smart bets on a pair of swift-skating Europeans in their later 20s. A year later, he had seen enough promise to extend both men for a further season.

But now, there is nothing left to show of the experiment in Edmonton. First Joakim Nygard, now Gaetan Haas have signed long-term pacts in their respective domestic leagues, in each case ending an NHL dream that showed hints of promise but never really took hold in either case.

Let’s start with Haas, who has today signed a five-year deal with EHC Biel-Bienne, his original club in the Swiss National League.


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Haas came up through the Biel-Bienne development program and spent eight seasons with the men’s club before taking his talents to Bern in 2017. After two fine years there he made the jump to the NHL, which is where most of us in Oil Country picked up his story.

He proved to be a compelling player to watch, bringing speed and defensive reliability to the bottom six and penalty killing unit. Alas, his offensive game didn’t make the transition to North America. He scored 5-5-10 in 58 games in 2019-20, then just 2-1-3 in 34 appearances in 2021.

Haas was the epitome of a low-event player. Over his two seasons in North America opponents averaged just 25 shots per 60 minutes he was on the ice, and just 1.81 goals, both the best of any Oilers forward with at least 400 minutes of 5v5 play. Alas their goals for rate of just 1.23 per 60 was also the lowest on the team.

In 2021 his most common linemates were Alex Chiasson and James Neal who formed a nearly NO-event line for a time. He played exclusively with bottom-sixers throughout his time in Edmonton.

Haas was a fine penalty killer who in 2021 was on the ice for just 4 goals against in 61 minutes, the best goal suppression rate among PK regulars on the team. Whether at even strength or shorthanded, his defensive positioning was a standout skill, as was his fearlessness; he led all Oilers forwards with 4.5 shot blocks per 60 minutes and frequently skated (fast) into areas where angels fear to tread. Lots to like in the player; unfortunately offensive output wasn’t one of those things, and at 29 wasn’t likely to take a sudden surge forward.


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Much of the same narrative applies to Joakim Nygard, who lest we forget, beat Connor McDavid in the Oilers’ fastest skater competition last season. Which means squat other than to confirm that he was, as advertised, a lightning fast skater. He too wasn’t afraid to get his nose dirty, competing hard for the puck in all three zones. Alas, just when it seemed he was finding his NHL wings in January of 2020, he was hit in the hand by a slapshot and just like that, his first season was over. The busted hand continued to bother him, ultimately requiring two surgeries and still being cited as cause for his being sidelined after a couple of games this past April. In all, Nygard played just 9 games in 2021, scoring 0 points, after 3-6-9 in 33 games a season ago.

Like Haas, the now-28-year-old signed a long-term deal in his home country, signing a six-year pact with Farjestad BK of the SHL. He rejoins the club where he played seven full seasons and the early part of 2020-21 while on loan from the Oilers.

Besides adding to team speed, both players brought one other important trait to the Oilers, the ability to draw penalties where the top rates over these past two seasons were 1. Nygard 2. McDavid 3. Haas. That’s a valuable skill for any team but especially one that has the league-leading powerplay, as the Oilers had in both of their seasons here. Neither guy played much of a role on the powerplay unit itself, but they did contribute opportunities.

The departure of the two Euro speedsters opens the door for other, perhaps internal replacements. Indeed, Haas may have seen the writing on the wall when swift-skating youngster Ryan McLeod not only made the team down the stretch but frequently took his spot in the line-up. Others such as recently re-signed Devin Shore and pending RFA Tyler Benson have one fewer body competing for a spot on left wing.


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Ideally the Oilers will make further progress in developing depth/role players from within the organization, where Jujhar Khaira has been stone alone among bottom six forwards for several years. Ideally guys like McLeod and Benson will take the next step in the near future, if indeed McLeod hasn’t already.

But you’ll hear no criticism from this corner of Holland’s attempts to find stopgap solutions from the European market. Both Haas and Nygard brought intriguing skill sets that for various reasons didn’t quite pan out.

McDavid named MVP finalist

In other Thursday morning news, Oilers superstar Connor McDavid has been named a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. He is joined in final three by Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Toronto’s Auston Matthews, but there is little doubt that when the award is announced, McDavid will stand alone on the podium.

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy


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