Oilers Should Not Trade Yamamoto to Address Goaltending Needs

The Edmonton Oilers have been successful under new coach Jay Woodcroft with a 5-1 record, but unfortunately, on Feb. 21, their weaknesses were exposed once again against the Minnesota Wild. The team as a whole looked tired in its second game in as many nights. Defencemen made bad decisions in the 7-3 loss, and goaltender Mike Smith let in three goals on seven shots. An upgrade in net is apparent, and NHL insider Frank Seravalli mentioned that Kailer Yamamoto could be available in a trade to acquire a new goaltender.

Despite the loss, the Oilers are on an upward trend, and there are talks that their success could just be due to a coaching bump— which is generally a bump in the win column for a team after coaching change. But by the seeing-eye test, the team as a whole look more structured, and several players are playing considerably better. One of those players is Kailer Yamamoto, who has a history with Woodcroft back with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League (AHL). The head coach believes in Yamamoto, and the Oilers shouldn’t be quick to ship him out. The small-sized winger is an inexpensive top-six option, and could be a big piece down the playoff stretch.

Yamamoto and Woodcroft’s History

Yamamoto played 50 games with the Condors from 2018 to 2020, and tallied 35 points in that span. Woodcroft used the former first-round pick in all situations, allowing him to be an offensive weapon, and also used him on the first unit penalty kill. Oilers colour commentator Bob Stauffer interviewed Woodcroft on the “Oilers Now” radio show back in 2019, when he was with the Condors and they spoke about Yamamoto’s play in the AHL. The new Oilers coach stated he felt that Yamamoto could be a line driver. With that statement, Woodcroft believes in Yamamoto’s offensive ability, and he could be more inclined to give him more opportunity to see if there’s still untapped potential at the NHL level. It’s a small sample size, but the right-winger has looked like a line driver the last couple of games playing alongside Connor McDavid.

When players play with the Oilers’ captain, the game plan is to pass the puck to McDavid while he has speed through the neutral zone, allowing him to attack at full flight. In the last two games, however, it’s been noticeable that the captain has passed the puck to Yamamoto and let him make the zone entry. Not only does Yamamoto look confident doing so, but it’s evident the former Hart Trophy winner has confidence in his small-statured linemate to make the play. On Feb. 19, the pair combined for a goal when they played fetched in the neutral zone, and Yamamoto fought off a check and buried a pass from McDavid.  

In the six games that Yamamoto has played under Woodcroft, he’s only registered three points, but he’s shooting more, recording fourteen shots in that span.

What Would Yamamoto’s New Contract Look Like?

Yamamoto signed a one-year bridge deal this past off-season, and he and fellow right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi are due for new contracts next season. With Mikko Koskinen’s contract coming off the books at the end of this season, without making any moves, they’ll have just under $8 million in cap space to play with to re-sign the right-wingers and acquire a new goaltender, meaning the Oilers will have to pinch pennies wherever they can. Currently, Yamamoto is on pace for 31 points in 82 games. It’s considered low for a top-six forward, and it won’t bode well for him in contract negotiations. At the same time, if the Oilers traded him, they’d be receiving pennies on the dollar, because his value would be considered lower. Even if Woodcroft’s influence doesn’t have an impact on Yamamoto’s point production the rest of the season, from a salary cap perspective, that’s a positive thing.

Kailer Yamamoto Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers could use Warren Foegele as a comparison when negotiating the right-winger’s new contract. Yamamoto has played top-six minutes, either with McDavid or Leon Draisaitl for the majority of the season. Foegele has played bottom-six minutes for the majority of the season, and they’re both on pace for 31 points. Add in the fact that Foegele hits more (78 hits compared to Yamamoto’s 63), plays three minutes less a game than Yamamoto and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Oilers offered a figure less than the $2.75 million a year that Foegele is owed.

If Yamamoto signed for a low cap hit, that would be ideal for the team, because for the most part, he does play well in the top-six despite not having a high point total. He’s dogged on the puck and doesn’t shy away from physical contact. Again, the game plan to play with McDavid is to get the captain the puck, and Yamamoto does a very good job at doing that.

During the intermission break against the Wild on Feb. 20, Stauffer spoke on Sportsnet, talking about the right-winger’s contract situation. He also mentioned that McDavid and Draisaitl really like Yamamoto, and credited his ability to dig, grind and win puck battles. I know hockey is a business, but If you were an employer, wouldn’t you want to keep your top producers happy? If they traded Yamamoto before the deadline, that would interfere with the chemistry the team has created with their ability to roll four lines that can score.

Related: Oilers’ McLeod Benefiting Under Jay Woodcroft

I’ve previously mentioned in another article that the Oilers will eventually have to decide on whether to keep Puljujarvi or Yamamoto in the future, and they’ll more than likely opt to keep the big Fin. I wrote that Yamamoto’s future replacement is Xavier Bourgault because of his cheap entry-level contract, but that is still at minimum two years away. It’d be worthwhile to hang onto Yamamoto for a couple more seasons because he provides top-six skills and he’ll be on a bargain contract. But the Oilers do need a new goaltender and possibly a defensive defenseman. What would you give up in order to acquire the goods?

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