The Edmonton Oilers head into the offseason with a ton of work to do and not a lot of cap space to work with. This means trades, players going unsigned, and retirements may be in the cards for this organization as the team looks to come back even stronger than 2021-22.
What will pique your interest is the news that the Oilers have asked Mike Smith and Duncan Keith to let them know by around July 1 if they plan on retiring this year or if they will be back with the team next year. Both players are signed for one more season and combine for a cap hit of $7.738 million. That is a lot of money that they could use on other much-needed areas as they have three young restricted free agents (RFA) to sign, two unrestricted free agents (UFA), and definitely want to upgrade their goaltending to get an actual starting goalie.
Mike Smith’s Comments Hint at Future
Smith was much more open about his future than Keith was and he gave everyone more of an indication of his future. Elliott Friedman described Smith as “really banged up” in his end-of-the-season talk with the media and Keith didn’t say much. Smith is 40 years old and Keith is 38. The Oilers would like to and would also benefit from getting younger at both positions as they have the prospects pushing to take those spots.
Smith spoke to the media and said, “I don’t know where I’m going to be four months from now, but obviously I got a lot of stuff to deal with.” He may know where he is going to be a little sooner than that considering the Oilers have asked for a decision in less than a month so they know what they have to do by the 2022 Draft and free agency in the first half of July.
Smith also said, “I have no idea at this point” on whether he can come back and be the number one guy at his age. “I’m not getting any younger and it’s been a lot more difficult this year than in years past.” He dealt with three injuries throughout the course of the season and it really affected his play in the first half. He turned his season around, as did the Oilers, when Jay Woodcroft came aboard and Smith was 100%, helping the team get to the Western Conference Final.
As a netminder who has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons to come out and say it was difficult, hints that he is strongly considering retirement from playing after 16 seasons.
Oilers May Have Much-Needed Cap Space to Work With
Either or both of Smith and Keith’s retirement would mean a contract of an old veteran off of the books and more money available to work with. Atop the list of priorities is keeping the RFAs in Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod, and Jesse Puljujarvi around, bringing back UFAs Evander Kane and Brett Kulak, while getting a goaltender who doesn’t have as many health risks and can be the starter while Stuart Skinner finally gets his full-time shot as the backup.
There is already tons of talk as to what the Oilers are going to have to do in terms of trading away players in order to free up cap. Tyson Barrie, Puljujarvi, and Zack Kassian are names that are the most likely to be traded off of the active roster considering where they play in the lineup and their production.
Kane is going to cost the most as he could be given north of $7 million on his next contract. The discussion as to whether giving a veteran a long-term deal worth that much money is worth it on a team like Edmonton who already has stars and skilled prospects coming is for another place. But the Oilers also have to use a bit of cap space to fill their depth. Kulak did very well and was everything the Oilers had hoped for when they acquired him and Ken Holland has begun contract discussions with him.
The most important need for the Oilers is a starting netminder to get them further than the Western Conference Final in years to come. Smith spoke on the saves he couldn’t make at the right time and we all know about the weak goals that inevitably killed the Oilers’ season in the end. The three starting goaltenders on the other teams in the conference finals were Andrei Vasilevskiy, Igor Shesterkin, and Darcy Kuemper, all of who you can consider elite goaltenders. Don’t expect the Oilers to just find one of them laying around, but a consistent goaltender who’s younger would help.
Replacements to Fill the Holes
The Oilers already have replacements of sorts in their organization for both players if they were to retire. It is uncertain if Smith returns whether he would even be able to give the Oilers 50-plus games or not, as he’s played 28-39 games in each of the three seasons with the team. There’s no doubt with Skinner not being waiver exempt anymore that he has to stay with the Oilers, but he too shouldn’t be expected to start 50-plus games. Skinner will be in the mix and has been the goaltender of the future in the organization’s mind for a few years now.
The player to replace Keith on the back end would fall to one or both of Kulak, if the Oilers can bring him back, and Philip Broberg. Kulak did wonders for Barrie and the rest of his linemates when he was paired with them to end the season. But it may be a little much to ask him to move up and be a top-four defenceman, especially if the Oilers plan on saving money by paying him like a third-pairing defenceman.
As for Broberg, it is very likely he will be with the Oilers next season and be impactful in the NHL soon (from ‘He’s a good young player”: Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcoft on Jesse Puljujarvi,’ Edmonton Journal, June 8, 2022). He can play both sides of the ice, but he shoots left, so the hope would be to eventually move into that second pair behind Darnell Nurse. Holland can’t make the mistake of signing a defenceman for three or more seasons as they wait for one of their young players to develop only to have him break out immediately like Evan Bouchard did this season.
We likely won’t get any more news on what the future holds for Smith or Keith until July, so despite the contributions they made to the Oilers this season, it may be time to call it a long and successful career for both.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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