Photo by Rob Ferguson
We’re in the ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ phase of the offseason, and that starts with Oscar Klefbom. There’s $4.16 million tied up in Oscar futures, and we don’t know if it’ll be a three-week vacation at an all-inclusive with swim-up bar and Carlos Santana playing two shows a day, or a giant garbage barge adrift on the ocean. That’s a problem, but it isn’t the only one and it can get away from an organization fast.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here’s the latest!
- New DNB: Ideal Oilers free-agent targets
- New Lowetide: An early look at the Oilers’ options for the 2021 draft
- New DNB: The pressure is on Oilers GM Ken Holland
- New Lowetide: What now for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
- New DNB: Connor McDavid shows his frustration as another year of his prime is lost: ‘We’re a group that expects more’
- New Jonathan Willis: The NHL gifted the Oilers Connor McDavid; six years later, they have yet to adequately support him
- New DNB: The Oilers’ 10 biggest offseason priorities after a disastrous first-round playoff loss to the Jets
- Lowetide: The 5 biggest stories from the Bakersfield Condors’ 2020-21 season
- DNB: How Jesse Puljujarvi’s return to Finland primed him for Oilers success
- DNB: Darnell Nurse is on ‘another level’
- Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi has arrived for the Oilers — again
- Lowetide: Oilers final 2020-21 report cards: A regular season to remember
- DNB:What are the Oilers’ pressing questions ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft?
- Lowetide: An early look at ideal Oilers’ free-agent targets for the offseason
I don’t know Ken Holland but have known people like him. He’s the type of guy who has a great memory, thinks about things, discusses a problem, makes a decision and proceeds based on the decision. Careful. Has a list. Start as you mean to go. He is not a ponderer (Steve Tambellini is a ponderer), he is not a riverboat gambler (Peter Chiarelli).
He is not an analytics guy, he will not trade Anthony Mantha for Jakub Vrana.
Ken Holland is going to work to improve the Oilers this summer and he has more assets at his disposal. I’m going to give you my opinion about how he sees this team and what he could be mulling over in the days to come. It begins in net.
Goalie: This has the potential to be a feature spot over the summer, with significant movement. Holland has already tipped his hand about bringing back Mike Smith, so that’s one slot filled. The NHL backup spot may land with Mikko Koskinen, but Alex Stalock might get the backup spot and that would mean a buyout for Koskinen (or trade). I think Ilya Konovalov will be the Bakersfield Condors starter next year, with Stuart Skinner possible co-starter. Olivier Rodrigue starts in Wichita with the Thunder and moving up for spot starts if he earns it. Dylan Wells not qualified. Sebastian Cossa is high on the team’s list I expect, but we’ll see. He could be gone by Edmonton’s first round pick arrives. Konovalov has a real chance here, he could be on the roster for 2022-23.
Left Defense should be stronger but injuries and struggling youth have to give management pause. Darnell Nurse is the top man on the depth chart, with young Caleb Jones my choice to slot in on the second pair if Oscar Klefbom can’t return. Beyond that, Kris Russell has a contract, William Lagesson has one too and the club spoke well of him last season. The Condors have a strong group who will push, led by Philip Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov. Markus Niemelainen is also in the mix and impressed when healthy in the AHL this season. Slater Koekkoek and Dmitry Kulikov are UFA’s, and Theodor Lennstrom RFA. I can see Holland drafting Simon Edvinsson or Carson Lambos without blinking an eye.
Right defense is about to see a tweak, maybe more. Ethan Bear is the one certain returning veteran, he can play anywhere (including top pair) and has a range of skills, lacking only in size. Evan Bouchard is beyond ready and will be one of the pleasant stories next season in Edmonton. Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie are free agents heading in opposite directions, with Larsson likely to return. His shutdown abilities are quality and badly needed. The AHL team has three players who will play but don’t expect much push. Filip Berglund has miles of SHL experience but is a bit of an unknown as an NHL candidate. Mike Kesselring and Phil Kemp are just getting started in pro hockey, so we could see an additional RH signed over the summer.
Center will once again be the strongest position on the team. Connor McDavid is the best player on planet earth, and Leon Draisaitl is an impact player of the first order. One is tempted to say it doesn’t matter after that, but in truth the club could use an upgrade. Ryan McLeod played well at the end of the season, he’ll be in the mix but could start the season in the minors depending on how things break in free agency. Kyle Turris has another year on his deal and could be moved to wing, Bakersfield or get bought out again. Jujhar Khaira is RFA, I see him as No. 4 center. Cooper Marody is RFA and played much of the season on RW, not sure where he is on the whiteboard depth chart in Holland’s office. Alan Quine is UFA, no idea if he returns. Early rumours have a 3C coming in via free agency, the names Ryan Getzlaf and Brandon Sutter are out in the ether. Gaetan Haas is flummoxing. A UFA, my guess is he does not return.
Left Wing is a mess if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t return. I expect the two sides get it done, based on the way Holland spoke about him at the double-album media avail. James Neal is signed and will occupy a spot unless bought out. Dominik Kahun is RFA, I would bring him back but he has arbitration rights so the club might cut him loose. Holland raved about Devin Shore, suspect the RFA will return. Tyler Ennis is UFA but I don’t see him coming back. Joakim Nygard is already gone. Dylan Holloway is the prime prospect at this position, he should have a clear shot at a roster spot. Tyler Benson is RFA and could help the bottom-six offensively, or he could land in Seattle. He’ll be waiver eligible, so if Benson remains on the Edmonton roster I’d expect him to be on the big team opening night 2021-22. Raphael Lavoie has been playing left wing in the minors and having an impact. Joe Gambardella is locked in Bakersfield. This position is wide open.
Right Wing starts with the feelgood story of the season, Jesse Puljujarvi. His 15 goals in 55 games were a revelation, and his play away from the puck was solid. Kailer Yamamoto had a disappointing year owing to an offensive drought that stretched over the last half of the year. He’ll need to rebound to keep the No. 2 RW job. Zack Kassian’s year was beyond disappointing, some are talking buyout but I’d be surprised (Holland signed him) and believe this is a tradeable contract. Josh Archibald will be back, he’s a useful utility player and the ghastly penalty will be forgiven. Alex Chiasson is UFA and there’s not much room, I’d love to see him return. Patrick Russell is a wildcard, Edmonton should walk him but the coach values what he brings. Raphael Lavoie started on right wing in Bakersfield and could land there, he’s a substantial prospect. Cooper Marody played a lot at right wing with the Condors, he could compete here in the fall. Ostap Safin and Kirill Maksimov enter the year with something to prove. Veteran AHLers Seth Griffith and Adam Cracknell would be a longshot for NHL consideration.