Edmonton Oilers G.M. Ken Holland tries to balance winning with proper asset management: 9 Things

Edmonton Oilers defencemen Tyson Barrie (22) looks to make a pass in front of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) at Rogers Place in this file photo from Jan 30, 2021.Edmonton Oilers defencemen Tyson Barrie (22) looks to make a pass in front of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) at Rogers Place in this file photo from Jan 30, 2021. Photo by Perry Nelson /USA Today Sports

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Ken Holland is kind of caught in between.

On one hand, his hockey club is near the top of its division and projects as a playoff team. One-half of his brain must he thinking about how he can shore things up. But the other half must be pre-occupied with his expiring UFA’s and how to properly manage those assets.

That and more in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. The Oilers over the 1st 30 games of the 2021 season have more wins (18) than in any year over the past 6.

8. Connor McDavid is the 1st player in the last 30 years to reach 50 points in fewer than 30 games in consecutive seasons. He hit 30 in 29 games this season. The only 2 other Oilers to do it are Jari Kurri (twice) and Wayne Gretzky (7 times, including in just 18 games in 1983-84).

7. Bakersfield’s Stuart Skinner leads AHL starters with a 1.56 GAA and is 3rd in SV% at .940. He was 3.31, .892 last season. What has changed? The Condors don’t even have as good of a Defence this year. Same player. Same Coach and Goalie Coach. Is it perhaps confidence, having started and won in his first NHL game?

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6. Speaking of goalies, Mike Smith’s win over Ottawa Friday was his 28th for this franchise. He is now 14th all time in Oilers wins, passing Ty Conklin. Smith is 2 back of Ron Low, 4 away from Matthieu Garon, 5 from Nikolai Khabibulin, and 7 behind the 10th place guardian, Jussi Markkanen.

5. I watched HNIC panellist Kevin Bieksa explain to the nation on Saturday night how “you have to take runs at (Connor McDavid)”, and “you have to get a piece of him wherever you can”. Then I watched 97 tackled in the O-zone in the 3rd Period and draw no call. Yes, that’s absolutely what the NHL needs more of. Never once did the NBA go “You know…it’d be better of Jordan scored less”, or the PGA muse “fans would like us better if Tiger shot fewer Eagles”.

4. The Winter radio ratings (Numeris R1/21) are in and Oilers Now on 630 CHED continues to attract the most listeners (2+) of any Sports Radio show in Edmonton. Bob Stauffer leads the 2nd place Jason Gregor Show and with 60% more audience than the 2nd place finisher. Gregor’s performance was a relatively bright light in a very challenging rating for TSN 1260. Oilers Now is in rarified air in Canada. Its one of only 2 Sports Talk Radio shows in the entire country that finished Top 6 in their time slot. Mitch Melnick on TSN 690 Montreal was also 6th, but Stauffer edged him out in terms of total listeners.

3. Darnell Nurse has been one of the Oilers 3 best skaters so far this year. He, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. At this rate, he’ll be Top-5 for Norris consideration. Nurse is 5th in NHL TOI at 25:25, and at TOI (EV) at 20:57). He’s 9th in points (20, and only 4 of those were on the Power Play), 2nd in +/- (+15) and 2nd in Defensive Point Shares (2.6). He is going to get paid when his $5.6m deal expires after next season. Remember…Nurse has taken 2 bridges in a row. You can’t argue he hasn’t already given the Oilers a hometown discount. There’s no way Nurse’s next contract doesn’t start with at least a 7.

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2. The talk of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being an expiring UFA has really picked up. Ken Holland would like him back, at the right price. But what is that? When I compare Nugent-Hopkins’ production with others I find he played up to his $6m contract the last few seasons but didn’t exceed it. With the cap flat and revenues down, inflation in the NHL is negative. Maybe with expansion the Oilers calculate that his agent is over-asking and wait until he’s filed for free agency before trying to sign him. But that’s a risk, too. SportsNet’s Mark Spector put it well this week when he suggested that there might be other guys out there that can do all the things for you that The Nuge can. But do they cost any less, and do they even want to come here? Whereas Nugent-Hopkins has made it clear he’d like to stay.

1. Tyson Barrie might be the best offensive defenceman the Oilers have had since Paul Coffey. I had at least one person ask me if I was even alive in 2006? Yep, that would be the one year that Chris Pronger averaged .70 PPG in Edmonton. So far in 2021, Tyson Barrie is at .82 PPG. Paul Coffey was 1.14 PPG in 1986-87. The same guy suggested we dismiss Barrie’s numbers entirely because Pronger didn’t get to play with Draisaitl and McDavid. But he didn’t think we should ignore Coffey’s PPG because he played with Gretzky and Mark Messier. Sheldon Souray did go 0.85 once in 2008-09. Ryan Whitney averaged 0.77 in 2010-11 but played just 35 games. No other player in Oilers history is really that close. Although Darnell Nurse is at 0.69 so far this year. Yet I also have some people tell me that Nurse isn’t a top-pairing D-man.

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The other factor with Barrie is consistency. He has produced 0.63 PPG over his entire career, more than most Oilers D-men not named Paul Coffey could attain more than once in theirs. Yes, Tyson Barrie makes his share of mistakes. But home run hitters strike out and star Quarterbacks throw interceptions. Gifted offensive players see possibilities others don’t and have the skill to execute them. With that comes some misses, and you don’t get one without some of the other. Look…I admire great defensive players too. But most of them do that for a living because they can’t make the plays that a guy like Barrie can. He’s an elite offensive player.

It’s possible that Barrie and his agent ask for money that Ken Holland decides he doesn’t have or needs to spend elsewhere. I’m not saying you re-sign Barrie at all costs. One needs to be prudent. But after waiting 35 years for a D-man like Tyson Barrie, why would this franchise just let him walk?

I like Ethan Bear a lot, but he’s at 0.20 PPG. And I think highly of Evan Bouchard. I think he has a chance to be a star. But he isn’t one yet. Philip Broberg has yet to play an NHL game.

With Tyson Barrie, the Oilers need to ask if a bird in the hand better than 2 in the bush?

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

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