Off-season roundtable

Took part in a Q&A/roundtable over at The Copper & Blue. Below were my responses.

The Oilers exited the play-in round a little more than a month ago, and it’s given us time to think a bit about the year. How do you feel about how the season went? Are you satisfied?

Even though they missed the playoffs, it’s hard to complain too much considering they posted a 0.585 points percentage in the regular season, finishing second in the Pacific and 12th in the league. The team was competitive most nights, special teams were outstanding, their top players did well and we saw a cluster of players transition from the minors and take on important roles. But the Oilers definitely over achieved, and Coach Tippett recognized that at his end-of-season availability. They were badly outscored at even-strength (5v5) relying heavily on their powerplay, posted mediocre shot-share numbers and their goaltending was sub-standard. Aside from their superstar players and the hope that more players will graduate from the AHL, there aren’t many indications that this team is going to be competing for a championship anytime soon. Over the course of the regular season, the team did very little to better position their roster construction going forward. They added a few bad contracts to their books, including signing Kassian to a long-term deal, and sent away much needed draft picks.

So while the results were good, management’s off-ice decision-making has been very concerning.

Who is this team’s top line right winger at the beginning of next season, and why?

Based on how much ice-time he received from the coaching staff at even-strength in the regular season and the contract that management gave him, it’s probably Kassian. He was fourth on the team among forward in total ice time and average ice time per game, even ahead of Nugent-Hopkins, and was McDavid’s most common linemate. Two things the Oilers need to do here: (1) find a better option for McDavid by either adding depth – this should not cost a lot, and (2) come to the realization that you do not pay a premium for players who do well with McDavid. The Oilers can’t be content with their current situation at right-wing.

Mikko Koskinen is signed for another two years in Edmonton, while Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent. What should Ken Holland do between the pipes for the Oilers heading into next season?

First, review the process and methodology or whatever that led the Oilers to sign Smith to a contract last summer and fire it into the sun. Retain Koskinen since he’s provided league-average goaltending and expect him to start half of the games next season. His contract is a little high for the amount of workload expected, which makes it even more critical that they not overspend on the second goalie. Who they find as a second goalie doesn’t matter as long as they’ve posted league average numbers over the last few seasons and the acquisition cost is low. The only way the Oilers can acquire a higher-profile goalie like Holtby, or Lehner or Murray is if they’re planning on moving Koskinen – which I don’t suspect there’s much of a market for considering it’s a buyer’s market this off-season. I do like the idea of acquiring a younger goalie who has shown well recently like Alexander Georgiev, but that would require taking on some risk which I don’t think management is comfortable with. Also – look at goaltender coaching/consulting options and pray that one of the goalie prospects in the system continues to develop.

What do the Oilers do with Ethan Bear’s next contract?

The same thing that the Oilers did with Klefbom when they recognized his abilities early and wanted to see his best years happen in Edmonton. A long-term deal for Bear is ideal to potentially reduce the annual average value, knowing full well that he could be overpaid in the early years, but holding a value contract over the majority of its term. Financial risk is spread between the team and a player that it drafted and developed and deployed, and it’s how things have to be done in a salary cap world.

Is there any scenario where the Oilers can win a deal by moving Oscar Klefbom?

Definitely, as long as the manager isn’t basing his decisions on the NHL Guide and Record Book. The player coming back would just have to be young, on a long-term team-friendly deal and can contribute on the powerplay and penalty kill. Honestly, if the Oilers are so frisky to move a top-four defenceman, show some courage and start creating a market for Nurse whose perceived value is going to be much higher than his actual value.

We are a year away from the next expansion draft, but it’s never too soon to begin thinking about who could be selected. Who do you hope Seattle takes from the Oilers? Is there a player you believe the Oilers ought to keep, but is at risk being selected?

Ideally Seattle takes an older Oiler who’s on a bad contract and under producing, or whose actual contributions might be overhyped. Kassian and Neal come to mind, but it could be someone younger and further down the depth chart like Khaira. Knowing who Seattle has working in their hockey operations department, I suspect they’ll target young players who have shown well at the professional level and whose contracts are under team control.

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