Fear not Oilers fans, all of your questions about what will happen this off-season are about to be answered. Reader beware: I have no inside information… I’m just a fan with an opinion and a keyboard taking a stab at what the roster will look like in October. I’m likely going to be wrong with everything that I guess, but it doesn’t matter!
If you didn’t get a chance to see what I think the roster SHOULD look like, I highly recommend checking it out! On to the good stuff.
Nicholson suggested that the team might be looking to add a top offensive RHD during the season ticket holders events IIRC, but Holland had this to say to Daniel Nugent-Bowman Monday on the subject:
“If you look at our defence, we have seven defencemen on one-way contracts… So, I’m not looking to add anything on defence. I’m hoping that we can have a little better luck with injuries to our defence.”
If I’m looking at the big picture with the defence, I see the left side as being awesome. Klefbom, Nurse, and Sekera with Jones, Lagesson, and Samorukov coming… that’s pretty damn good. The right side isn’t ideal yet. I view Larsson as a top pairing defender similar to Vlasic (not quite as good as Vlasic, but I like that comparison). However, I think Larsson would be a 2RD on a championship team. Russell isn’t going to produce a lot of offence for you, but he is a hard-nosed defender that sacrifices his body every night. On a championship team, he’s likely not on your 2nd pairing, but he’s not a bad stop-gap at 2RD in the meantime while Bouchard is developing. Benning has developed in to a legitimate 3RD, so long as he has a stabilizing presence like Sekera as a partner. The Oilers have Persson, Bouchard, and Bear coming up on the right side, which is also exciting. The current defence group got the Oilers to the playoffs in 2016-17, so I see no reason why they CAN’T do it again. Whether they WILL or not remains to be seen.
Holland might not be looking to add anything to the defence, but he said nothing about not subtracting anything either. He did say that he expects one of two young defencemen to make the team this coming season while talking to Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now recently. If I’m adding that up, I’m guessing that means that one or two defenders could be moved out. Klefbom isn’t going anywhere. Nurse isn’t going anywhere. Larsson is the best RHD on the team right now, and there’s no replacement for him internally right now, so he had better not be going anywhere.
Then there are the two pricey veterans: Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell. If you move Sekera out, you remove $5.5 million from your bottom pairing, and you could replace him with Caleb Jones at $720,000. The problem there is that Sekera will fetch a return of some kind, and there needs to be a spot for that player. I would imagine the return being a bottom 6 forward on a less than desirable contract. Sekera is a decent puck moving defenceman and his veteran presence is appreciated by the team. Holland has said that he likes Sekera as well.
If Russell were to be moved, I would anticipate a similar return of a bottom 6 player on a less than desirable contract. The other issue with moving Russell is that it would open up a hole at the 2RD spot. I really don’t think any of the young RHD in the system are ready for 2RD duty yet. Benning hasn’t shown me enough consistency to warrant that promotion yet in my opinion. Bouchard and Bear aren’t ready yet. Unless there’s something I don’t know about Persson, he’s not likely to be a 2RD this fall. I certainly don’t think it would be wise for Holland to pencil him in to that spot right now. Like I mentioned in my other article today, if 26-year old SHL goals leader Nygard is ready for NHL duty, then I imagine that the 25-year old that has been one of the best (if not the best) offensive defencemen in the SHL for the last two seasons is ready for NHL duty too.
That leaves Benning. I think Benning is as good as gone. His destination remains to be seen. There has been a rumour about Benning going to Toronto for Connor Brown. Brown is a bottom 6 RW, and no more than that. I’ve seen too much chatter about Brown having scored 20 goals once and that might mean he can play with McDavid since they were on the same team in junior… no. Just no. If Brown is here, Holland and Tippet can’t just place him in the top 6 and expect that to work out well. I have no problem with Brown if he’s slotted properly on the 3rd line. If Brown enters the fold, it means that one of Kassian, Gagner, or Puljujarvi will need to be moved out at a minimum.
We all know the wing situation is dire right now. Holland has taken one step to address the speed and depth scoring by signing Nygard. I don’t think the changes will end there. This is what he said to Nugent-Bowman on Monday regarding the wing situation:
“When you look up front, I’ve gotta try to build the bottom six. We’ve gotta do some work up front on our forward lines. I don’t have a ton of cap space, but I’ve got some cap space… We’ve gotta find some cheaper players that contribute whether it’s through entry level or they’re free agents that have been playing pro and bouncing around or are Europeans like Nygard.”
He went on to say this about the wingers:
“Oh, we need help. We have to make some decisions. You need eight wingers. Between Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins, that’s one winger. I don’t know which one, but one of them’s a winger. You’ve got Kassian. You’ve got Khaira. You’ve got Gagner. You’ve got Lucic. I might have missed one or two. I think Cave can play wing or centre. Nygard’s a winger. Certainly, I’m exploring the market for forwards. We’ve gotta build up the forwards.”
I find it interesting that he talked specifically about the bottom 6. Yes, they were brutal last season; but the way I see it, the Oilers have too many bottom 6 wingers already. Lucic, Khaira, and Nygard on the left; and Kassian, Gagner, and Puljujarvi on the right. That’s 2 too many already, and he wants to build that group. He could also be talking about the centre ice position in the bottom 6 when he talks about building that group. That is a far cry from good enough right now when you consider that Cave and Brodziak are the 3 and 4Cs.
My greater concern is the lack of reliable top 6 options. Outside of the big 3, I see nobody that should be expected to put up 40 or more points, which isn’t good. They need one more that you’d expect 50 points from and a couple more that you’d expect to at least push for 40 points, not more guys that you hope can maybe push for 35 points.
He mentions 6 wingers in this quote, and talks about Cave potentially playing both centre and wing as well. Being listed in this quote is a good indicator that you are in the GM’s head as a positive asset. Not being listed here isn’t a good sign for a player’s future with the Oilers. I see two notable omissions from Holland’s list: Chiasson and Puljujarvi.
He said that he has talked to Chiasson’s agent a couple of times briefly and that they have had initial conversations, but that’s it at this stage. That in itself means very little. It is still too early to decide Chiasson’s fate. It may come down to the numbers.
The concerning quotes to Nugent-Bowman came when Holland talked about Puljujarvi:
“I don’t know a lot about Jesse Puljujarvi. I do know that he was picked fourth overall. To be picked that high in the draft, he was a talented, young player in his draft class. I like that he’s a big guy. He’s got skill. He’s still relatively young. He’s 21 years of age. In terms of re-signing, I’ve had one conversation with his agent. I haven’t talked to him since. Am I confident that we’re going to get him re-signed? I’m going to do everything I can to get him signed. Certainly, it takes two to tango… I’m hoping that myself and Dave Tippett can provide some stability. I hope he wants to be an Oiler. When I get curveballs thrown at me, then I’ve gotta deal with the curveballs. What would the curveball be? If he doesn’t really wanna be an Oiler. I haven’t really dug that deep. I know it’s been a tough go for him.”
That quote combined with Puljujarvi saying that he expects there to be a “jersey change” this summer doesn’t leave me feeling optimistic about Puljujarvi being an Oiler come training camp. I don’t think a trade would happen until after the draft happens and there is more time for negotiating. I see a GM with no attachment to the player, I see a log jam at his position, and I see a player that seemingly wants out. I truly want Puljujarvi to succeed as an Oiler and I have said that he isn’t going anywhere, but my mind is slowly changing on that front. This is all conjecture on my part. The noise surrounding this would need to be louder before I will believe that Holland would make such a rash decision on a young player that is under team control. I expect Holland to take his time on this one, and it would still surprise me if Puljujarvi is dealt this summer, but my level of concern is growing.
If Puljujarvi is going to get moved, I see one of two scenarios playing out. He could be included in a package for a top 6 winger from a cash strapped team (such as Tampa Bay). The other option would be him being flipped for a prospect experiencing similar struggles. I see two of them with the Islanders, a familiar trading partner for Edmonton. Those two are Michael Dal Colle (5th overall in 2014) and Josh Ho-Sang (28th overall in 2014). I’m not brave enough to call a Puljujarvi trade right now though.
The rumours of Lucic going to Vancouver for Loui Eriksson are quite loud right now. If you remember, Lucic reportedly asked for a trade last summer, and it was suggested that Chiarelli’s asking price for Lucic was too high (if such a thing was imaginable). Lucic hopped on a Vancouver radio show recently and talked about how much he would love to play for his hometown Canucks at some point in his career. Eriksson suggested that he and coach Travis Green don’t see eye to eye, so there’s clearly an appetite to move on from his perspective.
The AAV on both contracts is the same. Lucic has 4 years left, and Eriksson has 3. According to CapFriendly, their new teams would have the choice to allow the players to keep their NMCs or NTCs, assuming that the players agree to waive the clauses to facilitate the trade upon refusal to sign a document saying the clause will travel with the player. That means that both players could be exposed in the Seattle expansion draft if this trade were to happen.
From a hockey perspective, Eriksson produced more than Lucic last season and produced at a higher points/game rate than Lucic two seasons ago despite Eriksson’s being injured. That’s a win for the Oilers. Eriksson can PK as well. Lucic cannot. That’s a win for the Oilers as well.
Lucic being younger is a win for the Canucks. Lucic’s obvious trait is his size. He is near the top of the league in hits, and he is still an intimidating figure out there; but let’s not pretend that he has been stepping up to the plate to defend the Oilers’ stars every chance he gets because that hasn’t been true. He took exception on Mathieu Joseph last season, and he got in Mike Smith’s grill at the end of the 2017-18 season… aside from those instances and a few fights, he hasn’t been the policeman we hoped he would be. If the Canucks think that’s what they would be getting in Lucic, then bonus for Edmonton; but I haven’t seen it often enough to view that as a legitimate reason to trade for the guy.
I think there are more positives for the Oilers to gain from this trade than there are for the Canucks. If one team has to throw in a sweetener here, I’d say it is the Oilers; but I would not be adding much of a sweetener. Adding Khaira would be too much of a sweetener in my eyes. It would have to be a prospect in my opinion, and it would have to be a weaker one.
Holland has already said that he will be going to the UFA market for a back-up goalie. Brian Elliott and Mike Smith were suggested as possible options on Oilers Now recently. I have already said that I like Kinkaid, but I can’t help but think Elliott will be the man here. Smith will be too expensive. Elliott is not a starter anymore, but he could be a decent back-up at this stage of his career. My concern with Elliott is the injuries, but injuries can happen to anyone at any time.
When DNB asked if he would consider buying out any players, Holland replied “I am considering. I haven’t made any final decisions.” The two buyout options that I can think of would be Kyle Brodziak and Brandon Manning. Both only have one year left on their deals, which minimizes the length of time the deceased contracts would be on the payroll for (2 years in both cases).
I don’t think buyouts are the best way of doing things because the player ends up on the payroll for twice the amount of the duration of the contract. The Oilers are still paying $1.33 million per year for Benoit Pouliot, and they will be doing so through the 2020-21 season. If you go to CapFriendly’s Buyout Calculator, buying out Brodziak this summer would carry cap hits of $350,000 for this coming season and $400,000 for 2020-21. That is certainly more appealing than buying out Manning, who would carry cap hits of $916,667 for 19-20 and $666,667 for 2020-21.
The more appealing option would be to bury them both in the AHL. The savings for doing so this coming season will be $1,075,000 for players making more than that amount. Burying Brodziak in the AHL would change his cap hit to a whopping $75,000. Burying Manning would cost $1,175,000, which really isn’t all that much more than his cap hit after a buyout would be. The smart play would be to look for a trade for both players, but bury them in Bakersfield if you have to.
I do think that Brodziak is tradable though. I also don’t think that Manning needs to be bought out.
Let’s get to it… my prediction for what I think WILL happen this summer:
EDM gets: Loui Eriksson
VAN gets: Milan Lucic and Philip Kemp
I think this trade will go through. There have been too much smoke surrounding this deal recently. I do think Eriksson is a more useful player than Lucic at this point. He’s also got one less year on his contract. Lucic is younger and tougher. That makes the deal close if it were straight up, but I still think that Holland would have to add a little bit of something here. A lower end prospect like Kemp is all that I think would be required here.
EDM gets: Nate Thompson and a 2019 5th round pick
MTL gets: Sam Gagner
I’ve got nothing against Sam Gagner. I just think that the Oilers need to spend his $3.15 million elsewhere if they really want to improve their wing situation. Thompson wasn’t great in MTL last season. Thompson would be a veteran 4C at a reasonable $1 million cap hit for next season. That would be needed here because of the next trade…
EDM gets: Insert weak prospect here
PIT gets: Kyle Brodziak
I stand by my trade proposal from the other roster I put together. I think Jim Rutherford would value Brodziak, especially now that Cullen is likely done. It doesn’t matter which prospect the Oilers get in return because the real benefit would be getting out of Brodziak’s deal without using a buyout or having to bury him in Bakersfield.
EDM gets: 2019 3rd round pick and Nikita Scherbak
LA gets: Matt Benning
I’m standing by this trade proposal as well. LA needs an upgrade at 3RD, and coach Todd McLellan has a familiarity with Benning. They have an extra 3rd round pick this year, and Nikita Scherbak doesn’t appear to be in their plans going forward after having spent most of his time with the Kings organization in the AHL after being picked up on waivers from MTL.
TB gets: Caleb Jones and a 2019 3rd round pick
EDM gets: Ondrej Palat
In my article about Oilers trade chips, I suggested that one of Jones, Bear, or Lagesson would get moved this summer because they are all entering the last year of their ELCs and there is a log jam on defence at the AHL level. I suggested that Jones and Bear would be the most enticing to other teams, and I suggested that Jones would make the most sense to move since the Oilers have such great depth on the left side. Klefbom, Nurse, Sekera, Jones, Lagesson, and Samorukov is a strong left side for the organization. Sacrificing Jones, the most NHL ready of those prospects, for a top 6 winger is a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.
Palat can get 50 points. He has speed, and he is defensively responsible. I love the idea of him with Nugent-Hopkins on the 2nd line. The addition of Palat would give the Oilers a legitimate 2nd scoring line, and he comes with cost certainty for three more seasons. I did pose the trade of Lagesson, Marody, and a 3rd in my piece on what the Oilers SHOULD do, but that was only because I had Bear going to Minnesota in a package for Spurgeon already, and I didn’t want to part with both Jones and Bear.
If it’s not Palat, I still think that there will be a deal made between Edmonton and Tampa Bay for one of their $5 million forwards (Palat, Johnson, or Miller).
I have the Oilers re-signing Khaira, Puljujarvi, and Chiasson here. I’m not pumped about Chiasson because I fear paying for major regression in 2019-20 with Chiasson, but choosing Chiasson over keeping Sam Gagner was one reason why I was able to squeeze Palat under the cap. We saw that Kassian can cameo on the top line with 97 and 29 if need be, and Eriksson might be able to play pretend up there for stints throughout the season.
I also have the Oilers re-signing Kevin Gravel. I think Gravel is a dependable 7D that won’t cost very much. He’s a good insurance policy in case of an injury.
I have Holland hitting the UFA market for a veteran 3C, and Filpulla was my choice. He has a familiarity with Holland from his Detroit days, and I believe that he can still put up 30 points, which I would be happy with from a 3C. He was just a part of an Islanders team that allowed the fewest goals in the entire league last season, so he clearly isn’t a total liability out there defensively.
Gambardella was given an NHL contract this summer, and I think he is a prime candidate for one of the extra forward spots. Cave will get the other. He won’t hurt the team if he plays, but I don’t see him as a full-time centre that can produce enough offence to stay in the line-up on a nightly basis.
I also have Holland picking up Brian Elliott on the UFA market as the new back-up goalie. He’s a veteran goalie on the back nine of his career. That means that he isn’t a starter anymore, but there’s no reason that he can’t take the reigns for a short stretch if Koskinen falters or gets hurt.
After all of those moves, here is what I think the Oilers roster will look like on opening night:
Draisaitl ($8.5M) McDavid ($12.5M) Chiasson ($2M)
PALAT ($5.3M) Nugent-Hopkins ($6M) ERIKSSON ($6M)
Nygard ($925,000) FILPULLA ($2.5M) Puljujarvi ($1.25M)
Khaira ($1M) THOMPSON ($1M) Kassian ($1.95M)
Gambardella ($700,000) Cave ($675,000)
Klefbom ($4.167M) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Nurse ($3.2M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Persson ($1M)
Cap Hit: $80,133,666
Buyouts: Pouliot- $1,333,333, Gryba- $300,000
Buried: Manning- $1,175,000
Let’s start with the wingers. If the Oilers can land Palat, they would finally have two legitimate scoring lines. The right side would be just as weak as ever, but the left side would be strong enough to make up for it. I think that between the four guys on the right side (Chiasson, Eriksson, Puljujarvi, and Kassian), there’s enough there to get by IF Palat or someone similar is brought in. The nice thing about there being no real studs on the right side is that there is still an opportunity for Puljujarvi to emerge and work his way up the lineup.
If I look at the forward group as a whole, I notice a big increase in overall team speed. Chiasson isn’t all that fast, and Eriksson won’t blow anyone away with his speed; but the rest of them are all fast. I also see more production from this bottom 6 than the Oilers got last season. I see more quality at the 3C spot, which is really what I think was a huge issue last season. I also see a solid 4th line. It’s a 4th line that Tippett could trust, which would take a lot of the burden off of the top line. The stars on the Oilers looked utterly exhausted after most games last season. That can’t happen again next season.
The defence here is largely unchanged, which Holland hinted at in DNB’s piece on Monday. Persson gets the nod as the one young D to make the team in my opinion. I can’t say that I’ve seen Persson play, but I believe that he will be an upgrade over Benning in terms of mobility and offensive production. The biggest reasons to move Benning and go with Persson are the cap savings and to alleviate some of the traffic on defence in Bakersfield by opening up the roster spot.
The goaltending in this scenario would be about as good as it was last year. The hope would be that some of the mental ghosts that plagued Talbot here late in his Oilers career would stay away from Elliott as the back-up. The greater hope would be that Koskinen can have far more brilliant nights than horrific ones. We know he will have both types of nights, but the good ones need to happen on a more consistent basis next season.
For those wondering what I think will happen with the 8th overall pick, I think that Holland will keep it. If you want to find out who I think the Oilers will take, you’ll have to watch out for my mock draft, which will be coming next week.
I will likely be entirely wrong with my predictions for this summer, but this is all in good fun! I’m just excited for the fireworks to begin once Wednesday happens. Go Blues! I’ll be cheering for former Oilers Patrick Maroon and David Perron to win the Cup. I’ll also be happy for local products Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko. Enjoy game 7 everyone!