As the NHL trade deadline nears the Edmonton Oilers weight their Top-6 options: 9 Things

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Those using Saturday’s performance against the Calgary Flames as any kind of barometer are way off course.

That game was the 3rd in 4 nights, the 4th in 6 days on the road, re-scheduled as an afterthought due to the unfortunate situation with Vancouver, against another club that was completely rested. The schedule has been tough on all teams at specific pinch points during the season. Even when they can find a little time for rest, players of all colors are stuck staring at 4 walls of a hotel room.

Throw on top of that the fact that just a few hours earlier the Oilers players had said their final and emotional goodbye to their late teammate Colby Cave. The NHL was most-certainly tone-deaf on that decision.

And so, I for one am willing to give that game a pass. More productive to look forward to Monday and the NHL trading deadline. That and more in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. Connor McDavid has the most Game Winning Goals (40) of any player in the modern NHL over their first 6 seasons other than Wayne Gretzky (48). All goals matter. But not all of them are created equally.

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8. While I continue to believe the Oilers need a better faceoff man in their Bottom 6 (Gaetan Haas at 44%, 30% last night, 13& versus Ottawa) I don’t think depth is the club’s issue. There are quite a few useful pros around that can contribute here and there. And there are a couple players in Bakersfield (Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod) that perhaps could as well. Problem is, Ken Holland’s current budget is better suited for a pick-up than a Ferrari.

7. Prospect Raphael Lavoie is off to an encouraging start with Bakersfield. His first North American pro goal was a beauty, using his sneaky speed to force himself into a lane and tip home a shot-pass in front. He added an assist the next game. This, after 23-22-45 in 51 GP for Vasby IK (Sweden). His development is important. Pure scorers like him are not in abundance in this organization. Speaking of which…

6. What one thing would make the biggest, most immediate impact on this particular group of Oilers? A shooting winger. The Oilers have 2 of the best Centers in the game. But none of their present Top-6 wingers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Dominik Kahun) would be considered natural finishers. James Neal was sort of that guy but now appears past his Best Before date.

5. I do not expect the Oilers to acquire another goalie at the deadline. Both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen are delivering the goods most nights. But perhaps a Chris Drieger would be a useful off-season target. Drafted 76th overall (by Ottawa) in 2012, this year in Florida the pending UFA has a 2.05 GAA, and a .930 SV% in 18 games. I think the soon-to-be 27-year old may be a future starter. I have time for Mikko Koskinen but at $4.5m he’s an expensive back-up.

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4, I expect that Oscar Klefbom and his $4.1m contract will likely be exposed in this Summer’s expansion draft. The LTIR part of Klefbom’s injury is pretty straight forward. But I wonder if his deal was insured. Insurance can often cover up to 75% of a contract’s worth on LTIR. And the injury was both chronic and pre-existing which complicates things even further. So, that would be straight cash burden for Seattle and not just cap space. If Klefbom tries to play but can’t or decided not to, The Kraken would be caught holding the bag.

3. It would be a big deal if the Oilers can get Zack Kassian playing like Zack Kassian. When Leon Draisaitl plays up on a line with McDavid, the Nugent-Hopkins-Kailer Yamamoto-Dominik Kahun trio reminds me of Herb Brooks’ 1982-83 “Smurfs on Broadway” New York Rangers line of Anders Hedberg, Mark Pavelich and Rob McClanahan. If you could count on Kassian in the Top 6 (and he has some of that on his resume), his size in the rough & tumble playoffs would be a huge plus. Especially considering he’s already on your roster.

2. Slater Koekkoek’s recovery from a broken collarbone is a little ahead of schedule. Our expectations of how much he may still be able to contribute this season should be cautious. That’s a major injury. And even if he’s able to rehab and his cardio is o.k. Koekkoek will still have missed most of the season. There’ll be significant rust. You can’t expect the same player right away. But Koekkoek is a veteran LHS D-man that you already have in your organization capable (when he’s up and running) of some 2nd pairing minutes. But of course he is better suited to 3rd pairing time where the Ethan BearCaleb Jones combo has too often looked overwhelmed, including last night. Something to watch for.

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1.I get the Taylor Hall to Edmonton rumors. I for one would have no problem with Hall back in Oilers silks. I just think it is more likely that the Oilers may re-visit Taylor in the Summer. At this moment in time, the Oilers are in LTIR, their draft pick cupboard is thin, and there’s no way Ken Holland should spend a high-end prospect (Evan Bouchard, Phillip Broberg) on a rental. Now, I’m willing to bet that Hall would consider coming back in the post-COVID cap era for something like $5m/5. And I actually see that money as being reasonable enough. For the Oilers, though, the issue there would and should be the term.

Most of Hall’s numbers are way off this season. Although his possession stats are at near career highs. He still shoots lots (although admittedly at a rate reduced from his norm). And from the handful of times I’ve watched him this year, he can still really move. If Hall’s skating had caused this drop in his production I’d be really concerned. But it hasn’t and he’s just turning 30 this season. Hall’s shooting percentage is 2.3%. His career average is 10.65%. With his wheels intact I expect Hall can still be a productive NHL-er for another 3-4 years. But yeah…I’d still be a little worried about Year 5.

Maybe its more doable for the Oilers to find a Mike Hoffman type for their Top-6. His off year not withstanding, Hoffman has a long record of being a productive finisher. At $4m he’d come at half the cost of Hall. But Hoffman’s also not as good of player, has issued defensively, and with St. Louis still very much in the playoff picture…

I will say this: The longer Taylor Hall remains on the board, the more likely it is that Buffalo’s asking price will fall…and the more likely it is that he could return to Oil Country.

I still think that’s unlikely. But let’s wait and see.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

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