The Top off-season moves Edmonton Oilers G.M. Ken Holland needs to negotiate: 9 Things

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Hello, Oilers fans!

We sit uncomfortably in-between the realities of the NHL these days, not still in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but neither a contender for the draft lottery.

And while it’s good to be past the latter, the Winnipeg series taught us that we are also still soberingly short of the former.

How to take those next steps? Some thoughts in this edition of…

9 Things

9. The Bakersfield Condors are bringing back veteran Adam Cracknell on a 1-year AHL deal. Anyone associated with the Oilers farm club would testify to how good of a fit Cracknell was with the young prospects in California. Good organizational depth.

8. Connor McDavid is officially a finalist again for the Ted Lindsay Award. Given the dominance of his season, I’ll fall over backward if the players don’t choose him again. I’m more confident of that than the Hart Trophy, which is voted on by the hockey writers. No, I don’t have a vote, nor should I. And while I think Darnell Nurse deserves a Top-3 Norris finish, my guess is he won’t get it.


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7. The Oilers have 15 pro free agents this summer, including both RFA’s and UFA’s. Which ones do I see returning? Adam Larsson and Mike Smith are close to sure things for me. Pretty sure RFA Devin Shore comes back, Kailer Yamamoto too. But that could be it. Maybe’s? RNH (50-50), Jujhar Khaira (40-60) and Tyson Barrie (20-80). Alex Chiasson (20-80) would be a dark horse although I’d have him again.

6. I doubt most Edmonton fans have deep-seeded issues with Maple Leafs players. Auston Matthews may be the NHL’s premiere goal scorer over the next 5-7 years. Mitch Marner is one of the very best 2-way forwards in the league, a terrific player most Oilers fans would have on their team anytime. So, why do so many Oilers fans end up cheering against Toronto? I blame the breathless, over-the-top, ratings-driven hype that comes out of the East.

5. Dominik Kahun traveled to Europe to play for his native Germany in the World Championships. They battle the U.S. for Bronze today (Sunday). Over an 82-game schedule Kahun would have had a 15-goal season in Edmonton. That isn’t chopped liver in today’s NHL. But if the Oilers bring in a Top-6 winger and re-sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (more on that in a minute), does Kahun make sense as a Bottom-6 winger? I suspect that consideration is a major factor in whether the pending RFA gets brought back.

4. Yes, Seth Jones has had a couple un-Jones-like seasons for the Blue Jackets. But I’ve seen John Tortorella’s act for long enough that I consider putting an asterisk beside those years. And would you not take a pairing of Nurse-Jones in your Top 2? The problem to me is a combination of the price tag Columbus attaches despite the inferred trade demand from Jones and the resources available to trade from Edmonton. The Oilers have the prospect depth to get a deal done. But that’s assuming the Jackets plan a rebuild. And I think that’s a big assumption.


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3. Pending UFA Zack Hyman played over 150 games at the University of Michigan from 2011-2015. Ken Holland, then the General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, would have had ample opportunity to watch Hyman grow and develop. While no doubt Toronto would like to keep him, Hyman’s going to command $5m+ on his next contract. And I’m just not sure the Leafs have the space. Hyman and his relentless fore-checking abilities would seem a great fit on Connor McDavid’s left wing. But Hyman would not come to Edmonton cheap, if at all, and he will have many suitors.

2. As the 2020-21 Oilers season wore on, I commented to a couple people close to the team that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looked just a bit “off” to me. Still a very good player but perhaps not looking like a former over-all #1. I had also inquired several times whether or not Nugent-Hopkins was injured. Sometimes that’s the case but it’s just not public knowledge, so you assume it’s performance based when in fact it may be physical. But I never got a “yes” to that query. And at 28, Ryan’s skating should not yet be showing signs of tailing off. The one other possibility that entered my mind was whether the stalled contract situation in Edmonton was bothering him? As I reported in this spacfe in the fall, one had been offered. But negotiations got hung up. Some players carry those sorts of issues heavily upon their shoulders, others not at all. And I won’t pretend to know which one of those personalities Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is. But I can guess.


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And what if a deal with The Nuge in Edmonton doesn’t get done? Could Columbus or Seattle be possible landing spots for Nugent-Hopkins as a UFA? Sure. But after investing 10 years with the Oilers why would he go somewhere where he’s likely to be even further away from the Cup than he already is? And to a franchise that doesn’t have a McDavid or Draisaitl to play with? That all doesn’t quite add up to me. Time will soon enough tell.

1.You’re not alone in your disappointment of how the Oilers season ended. But as the distance between the Game 4 loss and the present stretches out, I have begun to see the defeat through a different lens. There are lots of teams as good as the 2021 Oilers and better that don’t make it past the 1st Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That in itself is not a sin against the Hockey Gods. It’s what the organization learns from that defeat and what it does to address those shortcomings going forward that separates “just o.k.” franchises from cup winners. So, which lessons (on the ice and off) are vital for the Oilers to learn from and improve upon in order to reach the next level? And that, at a bare minimum, would be to reach the 2nd Round in 2021-22? I see 3 areas as essential to upgrade along to path to doing that. I don’t include goaltending. Mike Smith helped the club win in 2021. And Back-up Mikko Koskinen didn’t lose it for you. I agree an upgrade is needed in goal, but for those reasons it is not Top 3 in my mind. Which are?

-At 3, a “real” 3C. And given the current makeup of the roster, it probably needs to be a right-hand shot that can win faceoffs. I’m a big fan of Ryan McLeod. But if you’re doing it right, he starts off as a 4C and works his way up. Most rookies of McLeod’s pedigree will take 2-3 seasons to really hit their stride.


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-At 2, one more legit Top-4 D-man. Darnell Nurse is one. Adam Larsson (if he re-signs) is one. Tyson Barrie, even with his defensive warts, is one. But here’s where the club starts to run int trouble. It’s highly debatable the Oilers can re-sign Barrie. And while a healthy Oscar Klefbom is one, we don’t know if he’ll even play again. Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg and Kris Russell can likely contribute in 2021, but none of them have proven that they are yet or still are a Top 4 guy. So, for right now, all Dave Tippett can really count on for certain is Nurse.

-At 1, at least two more proven Top-6 forwards. There still isn’t enough talent on this club to say that the Oilers have 6 “locks” in the Top-6. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins (provided he returns) are. Jesse Puljujarvi looks like he may turn out to be a consistent Top-6 performer, but the sample remains small. And everyone else was probably punching a bit above their weight class. And yes, I include Kailer Yamamoto in that category until he proves differently. His long dry spell to finish the season and his diminutive stature pose question marks. Good player? Yes. But as a legit Top-6…there’s much more to prove.

So, if I’m right on all of the above…then this club enters the off-season 4 key skaters plus an upgrade in goal from being a “much” better team. That is one long, pricy shopping list for Ken Holland.

And the stakes are high.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

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