After a slow start to the 2021-22 season, Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto turned things up in the second half, scoring 12 goals and 25 points in 39 games after the All-Star break. The hope was that he could carry that hot play into the 2022-23 campaign, but that hasn’t been the case.
Yamamoto has struggled in many areas this season, but mostly with his health. He was out of the lineup from the get-go after getting banged up in exhibition play, and he has struggled to get healthy since then. When he has played, he’s also struggled to produce, registering just four goals and 12 points over 31 games, and any hope of him picking it up down the stretch took a big blow with the recent reports that his latest injury might have prematurely ended his campaign.
Yamamoto Looking At Extended Absence
Oilers reporter Daniel Nugent-Bowman, recently noted that despite still being around his teammates, Yamamoto may be done for the season. According to the report, the 24-year-old hasn’t been right for most of 2022-23, which could very well explain his disappointing play (from ‘Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Bo Horvat? Jonathan Toews? What I’m hearing on Oilers’ trade deadline plans’, The Athletic, 1/21/23).
Yamamoto’s last game was on Jan. 11 in a 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, one in which he registered an assist. While nothing stands out as the cause of the injury, he is believed to be suffering from a neck/concussion issue, which, as we all know, can be very difficult to predict in terms of recovery time.
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What this means, at least for the short-term, is that Yamamoto’s $3 million will remain on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). While it isn’t ideal to lose him, if he is unable to return before the end of the regular season, it may make life somewhat easier for general manager (GM) Ken Holland.
Injury Eases Oilers Salary Cap Burden
When Evander Kane neared his return, many questioned how the Oilers would activate him and his cap hit off LTIR, given that they didn’t have the space. However, Yamamoto’s injury took away that problem by opening up the space to re-activate Kane.
The issue then became about how to re-activate Yamamoto and his $3 million cap hit off LTIR when he was ready to return. Holland had several options, but most agreed that he should either trade or waive one of Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, or Jesse Puljujarvi. It would have been a very tricky decision for the Oilers’ GM.
While Foegele may have been the easy answer at one point, he has picked up his play and is contributing to the team’s success on a nightly basis now (from ‘Derek Van Diest: OILERS NOTES: Warren Foegele providing valuable minutes’, Edmonton Sun, 1/19/23). As for Ryan, he can slot in up and down the lineup and both kill penalties and provide secondary scoring. Last up is Puljujarvi, who has really struggled in 2022-23 but is a right winger on a team who is lacking in that position.
Who should have been the player to go would have changed depending on who you asked, but it wouldn’t have been a fun position for Holland to be in, though, with this latest Yamamoto news, he may no longer have to fret about it.
This situation might also allow Holland to be more aggressive at the trade deadline. It won’t be easy for him, given that his team is right against the cap, but he might now have the power to bring in a player – if he moves one out in the same breath. He might still have to move one of Foegele, Ryan, or Puljujarvi, but moving one of them for a player in return, likely a defenseman, who could help right now, is far better than dumping salary for nothing.
Oilers Could Look to ‘Kucherov’ Yamamoto
One way the Oilers could activate Yamamoto without shedding salary would be to wait until the playoffs. This is what the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Nikita Kucherov two seasons ago; Kucherov was on LTIR for the entire regular season, but the Lightning activated him for the playoffs when the salary cap is no longer in effect.
Of course, we don’t know if Yamamoto will be good to play by the time the playoffs roll around, but a healthy version of him would be a welcome addition to the Oilers’ roster, and all the better if he can return without Holland having to move another player from the lineup.