Oilers and Holland Spent Wisely and Won’t Miss Athanasiou

On paper, Ken Holland had a great offseason. His signings have been well received and his high draft picks are performing admirably at the ongoing World Junior Champion. He has navigated this season’s unusual salary cap circumstances as well as any, filling the holes on his roster without overcommitting in either years or dollars, and he looks to have set his team up well for the 2020-21 season. The question Holland needs to ask himself is if these seemingly positive moves outweigh any negative ones.

Bob Nicholson, Ken Holland, Daryl Katz
Oiler GM Ken Holland, Bob Nicholson, CEO and Vice-Chair of Oilers Entertainment Group Hockey Operations Staff, and Owner Daryl Katz. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

All would agree that the Edmonton Oilers had less success in the 2019-20 postseason than they’d hoped or expected. In February, anticipating a playoff run, Holland acquired several players, the most important being Andreas Athanasiou, for whom he paid the Detroit Red Wings the steep price of two second-round picks, in the 2020 and 2021 Entry Drafts. A restricted free agent, the former 30 goal scorer, who Holland knew well from his time in Detroit, seemed like a great bet for a team looking to win now.

Athanasiou Underwhelmed in Edmonton

Unfortunately, Athanasiou had a disappointing end to his regular season in Edmonton and uninspiring playoffs, ultimately being allowed to walk to free agency rather than signing an extension. With our knowledge of all the cap space Holland saved when he chose not to extend a qualifying offer to Athanasiou, it seems clear that it was the right choice financially. The question that needs to be asked is can we expect those players to produce at or above the rate of Athanasiou who just signed with the Los Angeles Kings?

Andreas Athanasiou Edmonton Oilers
Andreas Athanasiou, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

To get a feel for what Athanasiou might provide in terms of point production we can look at his recent history as well as a few comparables. In the 55 games he played for both the Red Wings and the Oilers last season, Athanasiou managed 11 goals and 15 assists, an average of .47 points per game (PPG). That was down significantly from his 2018-19 career-high of .71 but right in line with his production in the two years prior. With hindsight, this suggests that his 30 goal season was an outlier.

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In the upcoming 56 game season, a similar pace of production will have Athanasiou adding 26 points to his team’s scoresheet. For the $1.2 million the Kings are paying him that’s not horrible value, but not a number he would have said yes to prior to being released. Year over year, with this season having a flat cap, the Oilers saw his full 2019/20 salary of $3 million come off the books. That works out to 3.6% of the $81.5 million cap for the 2020-21 season.

Holland Used His Cap Space Well

Let’s take a look at where Holland spent that money. We’ll only look at forward additions as that’s where the scoring gap created by Athanasiou’s departure would exist. Here is the list of forward signings for the Oilers this offseason:

  • Kahun, Dominik – 1 year at $975,000
  • Puljujärvi, Jesse – 2 years at $1.175 million
  • Ennis, Tyler – 1 year at $1 million
  • Turris, Kyle – 2 years at $1.65 million
  • Griffith, Seth – 2 years at $725,000
  • Quine, Alan – 1 year at $750,000
  • Russell, Patrick – 1 year at $700,000
Dominik Kahun Pittsburgh Penguins
Dominik Kahun, seen here with the Pittsburgh Penguins, will don Oiler silks this season. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Obviously, more than $3 million in spending but a number of these are minor league contracts (Quine, Griffith, Russell), meaning the bulk of their cost, if not all, will be buried in the American Hockey League. Turris is a center, and so we can move that aside as well and focus on scoring from the wing. Our shortened list is now Kahun, Ennis and former problem child Puljujärvi and the salaries of these three individuals conveniently add up to just a hair over $3 million ($3,150,000 to be exact).

Kahun has scored at a fairly consistent pace in each of his NHL stops, putting up 37 points in 82 games as a Chicago Blackhawk, 10 in 50 as a Pittsburgh Penguin and finding four points in his six appearances as a Buffalo Sabre. So while one might ask why he hasn’t stuck with any of his previous teams, we can safely assume he’ll score at a pace of .45 PPG. We are already looking at matching Athanasiou’s output and we’ve only spent a third of our cap space. Kahun could find the score sheet 25 times over the 56-game shortened season.

Related: Puljujarvi Needs to Play in Oilers’ Top-6

Ennis is known as the NHL version of a Swiss army knife and we saw that versatility in his short Oiler stint last season. He produced in the stretch prior to the season being placed on hold and was one of the few depth Oilers to score in the playoffs before his unfortunate injury. Ennis’ production has varied over the years and he is coming off of a significant injury so a conservative estimate of his upcoming production is probably best. The winger/center has scored 180 points over his 613 NHL games (0.29 PPG) so let’s dial that down to 0.2 PPG. Ennis should add 11 points in 56 games as a worst-case scenario.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi will rejoin the Edmonton Oilers this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now for the wild card. Former fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujärvi. While he may not have lived up to his draft-day hype, he wasn’t as awful a performer the last time around as one might think. The young Finn had 29 points in 111 games over his two most recent NHL seasons (0.26 PPG). Playing for Karpat in the SM-liiga since 2019-20, his point total is 65 in 72 games. Using an NHL equivalency calculator we can work that out to about 0.4 PPG. We in Edmonton have a history of over-expectation so let’s dial that one back as well, to 0.3 PPG or around 17 points in 56 games.

The one thing this math doesn’t include is the future cost to the Oilers of the two lost second-round picks but, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their prime years, the team’s window to win is unquestionably now and it’s doubtful that the players selected with those picks will make any sort of impact in the next two to four years. Combining the predicted point totals for our three new additions we get 53 points. Even if Athanasiou were to have a career season he is unlikely to hit that point total on his own so it certainly looks like Holland made the right call.

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