10 Ways Ken Holland Can Improve the Edmonton Oilers

The 2021-22 NHL season has to be considered a success for the Edmonton Oilers. Despite losing in four straight games against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final, fans should be feeling positive when looking ahead to 2022-23. Now that the playoffs are over for the team, and almost all of the year-end interviews have taken place, it’s time for general manager Ken Holland to get busy.

Edmonton Oilers Bench
Edmonton Oilers Bench (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Knowing that the Oilers only have $7,130,205 in cap space to work with this offseason, here’s a top-10 list of ways Holland could improve the team for next season and beyond.

1. Get A Starting Goaltender

If I was Holland, I would ask Mike Smith to retire and offer him the goalie coach position with the Oilers organization. Then, I would take the $2.2 million in cap savings and trade Tyson Barrie ($4.5 million cap hit) or Zack Kassian ($3.2 million cap hit) and get another starting goaltender, such as Carter Hart from the Philadelphia Flyers, John Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks or even Mackenzie Blackwood from the New Jersey Devils.

2. Sign Coaches Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson

This one feels like a no-brainer, as interim head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson helped turn the Oilers’ ship around when they were out of playoff contention in early February. From all indications, it seems that signing them is a foregone conclusion, as both are young, bright coaches and are deserving of stability and pay increases.

3. Replace Evander Kane

After posting a heartfelt thank you to the fans, teammates and organization on June 9, it looks as though the productive Evander Kane is saying goodbye to the Oilers organization.

How does a team replace Kane’s toughness, grit, speed and scoring ability? Good question. Maybe it’s Josh Anderson from the Montreal Canadiens as suggested by Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer. Maybe Holland targets Alex DeBrincat or Connor McDavid’s buddy Dylan Strome of the Chicago Blackhawks who is an unrestricted free agent this summer? The Oilers GM definitely has his work cut out for him on this one.

Related: Oilers Should Pursue Alex DeBrincat if Evander Kane Doesn’t Return

4. Sign Brett Kulak

Veteran defenceman Brett Kulak was a very good addition to the Oilers at the trade deadline. He played well throughout the playoffs for the team and is now an unrestricted free agent. If they can get him to sign a value contract of around $2 million per year, that would be just what the doctor ordered for the club. However, because of his strong performance in the postseason, he might be in demand for a significant pay increase this offseason that the Oilers might not be able to afford.

5. Promote Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway & Markus Niemeläinen

Defenceman Philip Broberg was mentioned in Holland’s year-end news conference, and will definitely be up with the big club this fall. There’s a good chance that winger Dylan Holloway can also play his way permanently onto the Oilers’ roster. Defenceman Markus Niemeläinen might be the wildcard in terms of playing with the Oilers this upcoming season.

However, he was impressive and brought a much-needed physical presence in the games played with the team this past season. If I were Holland, Woodcroft and Manson, I would seriously consider having Niemelainen up with the Oilers for the 2022-23 NHL season.

6. Sign Jesse Puljujärvi to a One-Year Contract

I wouldn’t give up on fan favorite Jesse Puljujärvi just yet. With strong analytic numbers, a good attitude and skill, Puljujärvi hasn’t hit his stride and with some confidence, rest for his injuries, he can still be a useful player for the Oilers. You get the feeling that if Puljujärvi were to go to another club, his career would take off.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

If I’m Holland, I give Puljujärvi one more season with the Oilers to realize his potential. He might be a late bloomer and next season could be his breakout year, or he could be another Nail Yakapov. If I’m the Oilers, I’d take a chance on Puljujärvi.

7. Draft a Goalie

According to projections for the 2022 NHL Draft, Prince George Cougars goaltender Tyler Brennan is in the top spot in North America, while Topias Leinonen and Hugo Havelid are among the best European goalies available. With it looking like Stuart Skinner will be promoted to the Oilers from the Bakersfield Condors this season, and Ilya Konovalov returning back to Europe, the Oilers organization needs to restock the goaltending cupboard. Holland should try and shed some salary for a second-round pick in order to draft a goalie for the organization.

8. Go Hard After Free Agent Forward Andrei Kuzmenko

In Holland’s time in Detroit, he had much success in drafting and signing European players. If you’re an Oilers fan, you have to hope history repeats itself with Andrei Kuzmenko. He’s a 26-year-old winger who finished second in KHL scoring this past season with St. Petersburg SKA and is definitely worth looking at.

9. Give Kailer Yamamoto a Slight Raise

Yamamoto, who is an RFA this offseason, played well during the Oilers’ recent playoff run. When Yamamoto went down in Game 2 of the series against Colorado after a questionable hit from Gabriel Landeskog, his presence was missed in the two Oilers’ home games against the Avalanche. Based on his playoff performance alone, Yamamoto deserves a raise.

10. Don’t Overpay for Another Veteran

With cap reserves low, it’ll be difficult for the organization to sign another Duncan Keith this offseason. Keith was a positive addition to the Oilers this past season, but retaining his full salary of $5.5 million has limited Holland’s options this summer. If you’re an Oilers fan, you have to hope Holland can duplicate the Evander Kane signing and pull some magic out of his hat. Holland has done it a few times over the years. He might have some magic left.

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Now that you’ve seen this list, what would you do if you were Holland? Leave a comment and let us know what moves you think the Edmonton Oilers should make between now and the start of the 2022-23 NHL regular season.

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