The Edmonton Oilers had a great offseason and an even better free agency. There’s not much more you could ask of general manager (GM) Ken Holland, who covered all the bases. The Oilers re-signed their top two unrestricted free agents (UFA) to great deals, signed other players to fill areas of need, and moved money around effectively.
The Oilers took a big step in 2021-22 and are more than ready to compete for a Stanley Cup this season with their best-looking squad in 30 years. Here’s a look at what made the Oilers’ offseason so great.
Oilers Brought Back Two Key UFAs for Cheap
The Oilers picked up three players last season. Two of them became free agents who drew lots of interest around the league, Evander Kane and Brett Kulak. In terms of their value to the team, signed for well below market price, the Oilers got themselves two steals.
Kane popped immediately, playing alongside Connor McDavid. He finished the regular season with 22 goals in 43 games, on pace for 42 through a full season. That would have ranked ninth in the NHL, tied with four other stars. Among wingers, he ranked fifth. Here are some price comparisons for reference.
The six other players who play on the wing, all left-wingers, consist of Chris Kreider ($6.5 million average annual value (AAV)), Alex Ovechkin ($9.5 million AAV), Kirill Kaprizov ($9 million AAV), Kyle Connor ($7.143 million AAV), Matthew Tkachuk ($9.5 million AAV), and Filip Forsberg ($8.5 million AAV). Kane signed a four-year, $20.5 million contract of $5.125 AAV, and it works great for both sides. He is also the perfect mix of goal-scorer and physical player the Oilers and McDavid desperately needed on his line to finish plays.
As for Kulak, the market for defencemen was high this offseason, but the Oilers came out big winners with this signing. Ben Chiarot signed for $4.75 million AAV for four years at age 31, while Erik Gudbranson signed a four-year, $16 million contract. Both are significantly higher than Kulak ($2.74 million for four years), who is arguably the best defenceman of the bunch. He certainly is the best skater, even if he isn’t the most physical presence on the blue line. The impact he had on Tyson Barrie and will have on Evan Bouchard and any other partner will be worth the money alone.
In Edmonton, where players have been less willing to sign because of the harsh winters and taxes, Holland did an excellent job in negotiations.
Oilers Finally Got Their Starting Goalie
It has been a while since the Oilers had a legitimate starting goaltender. Their last was Cam Talbot in 2016-17, but Jack Campbell is ready to take over the crease and build on his previous two break-out seasons. The one thing that has really hindered the team has been goaltending, and Holland was put in a tough spot when he arrived as GM, but he has finally shaped the goaltending to his liking.
With a legitimate starter on the roster, the Oilers have managed to do something special. There was the heartbreaking and controversial loss in Game 7 of the second round in 2017 and the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 before Dwayne Roloson was injured in Game 1.
Given the strength of the Oilers’ squad, from front to back, and the coaching to guide them, Campbell and the team are set for success.
Trading Zack Kassian
Trading Zack Kassian had to be done. Some GMs are hesitant to move bad contracts and take advantage of free agency. The Philadelphia Flyers, for example, didn’t move James van Riemsdyk to capitalize on signing Johnny Gaudreau. But for the Oilers, they wouldn’t have been able to bring back both players they landed in free agency this season and would have had to move one of their restricted free agents if Kassian remained with the team.
Not only would keeping Kassian for two more seasons at $3.2 million hurt the team’s chances this season, but it would also have had an impact in 2023-24. What people don’t like about this move is that it cost Edmonton a future second and third-round pick. The Oilers also only moved down three spots in the first round of the draft. But the Arizona Coyotes alleviated the team’s cap hit, and there is more than one season left on Kassian’s contract, which upped the price. For a fourth-line player who is overpaid to that degree, it’s a win for the Oilers that they held onto their first-round pick.
There was no situation where keeping Kassian would have helped the team. The Oilers would have lost out on re-signing at least one of their key players (Kane, Kulak, Campbell, Kailer Yamamoto, or Jesse Puljujarvi) if an extra $3.2 million was still on the books. Maybe the price would have dropped from a second-rounder to a third or fourth-round pick next offseason, but every player I mentioned above is worth much more than that.
After these great and much-needed moves this offseason, Edmonton is primed to be a top team for years ahead. How do you think Holland did this offseason? Is this is his best work as GM so far?