“The priority was to get deeper on the back end” — Oilers' GM Ken Holland on his lone deadline-day move

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Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland addressed the media shortly after the close of the NHL trade deadline on Monday afternoon. He talked at some length about the club’s one acquisition — veteran defenceman Dmitry Kulikov — while brushing aside a number of queries about the deals he didn’t make.

The one trade that was consummated was straight out of the Holland playbook: a low-stress trade between a “have” and a “have not” team, future assets for a present one, with a veteran defenceman right at the top of his shopping list. He acquired the Kulikov from also-ran New Jersey Devils for a fourth round pick in 2022 which will be upgraded to a third rounder should the Oilers win a playoff round this spring.

Holland on Kulikov:

“He’s a left shot defenceman who’s played over 700 games. He’s 30 years old, he’s an experienced guy, I think he’s played a little over 20 playoff games [actually 24]. He’s got good size to him. He can skate, he can make a good first pass, he’s defensive minded, he’s got some edge to his game, he can kill penalties. We think he’s going to make us better defensively, give us more depth, provide an edge and get the puck moving forward. I don’t think he’s an offensive-minded defenceman, but certainly he can get the puck moved up to our forwards, and defence first.”

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“He won’t be available for any of the next four games [due to quarantine and possible work visa issues], then we play in Winnipeg two weeks tonight; the hope is he’ll be available for that game.”

While Holland would not take the bait as to where in the line-up Kulikov might play, saying that was Dave Tippett’s decision, he did address the overall situation at left defence behind workhorse Darnell Nurse.

[Caleb] Jones and [William] Lagesson have played really good for us, but they don’t have a lot of NHL experience. They’re just learning the National Hockey League and doing a good job at it. Kris Russell has played really well. Slater Koekkoek, we think he’s going to be back in early May, but when you’ve been out two to three months and trying to catch up heading into the playoffs, we’re not really sure where his game is going to be at until he plays. So I felt we wanted to get somebody on the left side who can make us a little bit deeper.”

Kulikov played top four minutes in Jersey, averaging 19:33 per game, primarily with P.K. Subban. That would also rank fourth on the Oilers, just behind potential partner Adam Larsson (19:36) in a similar role.

Holland was specifically asked if he was involved in the talks for former Oiler Taylor Hall, traded last night to Boston Bruins. He at first demurred as to whether he was allowed to talk about another team’s player before deciding it was safe enough to say “no” he hadn’t really pursued it.

He gave a similar one-word response about whether he had given any though to being creative and involving a third team for cap relief on a big-ticket forward as Toronto had done with Nick Foligno or Tampa Bay with David Savard, blurting out “no” before the question was even completed.

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He later elaborated on what was surely one underlying reason: the lack of draft capital at his disposal. Both of those teams had needed three draft picks to complete those complex transactions. The Oilers, already down a 2nd, 3rd and 5th round pick in 2021 because of previous Holland trades, were short in this department, as well as in cap space generally.

“I made a decision last year at the deadline to spend lots of futures. When you make decisions in life they’re going to affect future decisions in life.” In the end the Oilers gave up no further picks in 2021, the one for Kulikov taking effect in 2022.

He briefly discussed his pursuit of lower-end forwards:

“I talked to some teams about some forwards, I don’t know if they were impact forwards but they were NHL forwards. Money was tight, assets were tight, I felt the priority was to get a little bit deeper on the back end.”

As for money being tight, he addressed the Oilers roster going forward, including possible stresses on the cap.

“We’re going to have 12 forwards on our roster, the 3 goalies, and now we’re going to have 8 defencemen. We have about $2 million left to access our taxi squad. Slater Koekkoek is ahead of schedule, he makes $850. If we want to have Koekkoek and a player from the taxi squad, the money’s all spent.”

He also spoke briefly about two important defencemen, Oscar Klefbom and Evan Bouchard. No real news on the former since addressing the media last week. Klefbom needs time to recover from shoulder surgery, and the protected list for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft doesn’t need to be submitted until mid-July. That gives the player, the medical staff, and ultimately the team three solid months to make progress and, eventually, a decision.

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As for Bouchard — who last played a game six weeks ago today — Plan A is to keep him on the taxi squad, for now. Holland doesn’t anticipate sending the prized prospect to Bakersfield, but if he continues to sit out games, he will reassess in a couple of weeks.

We’ll take a deeper dive on Kulikov and his possible impact on the roster in a future post.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Oilers add veteran d-man Dmitry Kulikov for mid-round pick

STAPLES: Does Oleksiak make sense for Oilers?

STAPLES: Will Oilers do nothing at deadline? If so, why?

LEAVINS: 9 Things, including that Edmonton’s biggest need is a top line winger

STAPLES:  Oilers talk looks low in 5-0 loss to the Calgary Flames

McCURDY: Ken Holland plays his deadline cards close to his chest

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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