Oilers Should Do Whatever it Takes to Move Kassian’s Contract

The Buffalo Sabres have only five players signed to contracts for the 2022-23 season. Hockey analyst David Pagnotta recently reported that the team is looking at multiple scenarios heading into the trade deadline, and that includes taking on other teams’ contracts. They have the most cap space in the NHL, and they’re willing to use it as an asset.

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Taking a look at the Edmonton Oilers’ roster, a player they should consider moving to Buffalo is Zack Kassian, who was originally a draft pick of the Sabres in 2009. He’s currently in the second of a four-year contract worth $3.2 million in average annual value (AAV). His deal ends when he’s 33 years old, and over the last couple seasons, he’s missed substantial time due to injuries. At this point in his career, it seems like his best days are well behind him.

Kassian Has Been Injured Far Too Often

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Kassian would have a big year before the season started, as I predicted he would bounce back. He’s an emotional player that feeds off the energy of the crowd. Back in 2017, he endeared himself to fans with his rambunctious playing style in the playoffs. By hitting and scoring timely goals, he quickly became a fan favourite. With the return of fans in the stands for parts of this season, I felt that would be a motivator and in turn, have a positive impact on his play.

Zack Kassian
Edmonton Oilers’ Zack Kassian celebrates a goal with the bench. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Statistically, Kassian is having a decent season, his problem is his inability to stay in the lineup. His 14 points in 35 games have him on pace for 33 in a full 82-game season. He’s also still a physical presence. Despite missing 21 games, he’s still second on the team in hits (95). However, that could also be a sign that the Oilers simply don’t hit nearly enough.

When Kassian is at the top of his game, he’s a very valuable player. He hits, agitates, chips in on the score sheet and drops the gloves. Although, at this stage of his career, for his safety, it’s probably best if he avoided fighting entirely. He actually had a scare in the preseason when he fought Zack MacEwan when he was a member of the Vancouver Canucks. The two squared off, and unfortunately, Kassian lost his helmet, hit his head on the ice, and briefly lost consciousness. He laid motionless on the ice, but eventually only missed the first regular-season game.

Kassian also missed 17 games last season when he fought former Ottawa Senator Erik Gudbranson, breaking his hand in the process. This season, he fractured his jaw when he took a puck to the face on Feb. 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks. In the previous two shortened seasons, he’s missed a combined 41 games, and this year he’s already missed 22 and counting.

What Should the Oilers Do With the Cap Space?

As it stands right now, the Oilers have 15 players signed for next season with just under $8 million in cap space. They still need to re-sign Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and sign a goaltender. If they got rid of Kassian’s $3.2 million AAV, they could use the money and attempt to re-sign Evander Kane. The newest Oiler has come as advertised. He scores, hits and agitates— bringing all the elements that Kassian should, but at a higher level.

At the same time, I feel the Oilers should pick up a true enforcer. In Monday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, forward Milan Lucic drilled rookie defender Philip Broberg late in the game. The play stopped, and no one answered the bell. Yet, I don’t blame them. Lucic is still one of the most feared players in the game, and there’s likely no one on Edmonton’s roster that could match up with him. Still, it’s a bad look for the team that no one stepped up to have Broberg’s back.

If they’re not able to re-sign Kane, they should still beef up their lineup and sign forward Nicolas Deslauriers of the Anaheim Ducks. He’s in the last season of his contract that pays him $1 million AAV. He averages over 10 minutes a game, has 10 points in 55 games and he’s not afraid to drop the gloves. He’s fought nine times this season, twice against Lucic. He’ll cost roughly the same as his current $1 million AAV, and the Oilers could use the extra cap space to address other areas of need.

What Would a Trade Look Like Between the Oilers and Sabres?

I recently wrote that the Oilers should target Sabres’ defenseman Mark Pysyk. He’s a right-shot defensive defenseman who has a good first pass. He’s not overly physical, but his 81 blocks on the year show he’s willing to put his body on the line. He’s also a versatile player, as he plays third pairing but can jump up to the second pair too. He also had stints playing forward last year with the Florida Panthers.

The Oilers are without defensemen Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard in the lineup, and they could use a dependable defender on their right side. Pysyk is in the last year of a contract that pays him $900,000 AAV, and without sending Kassian the other way he could probably be had for a third or fourth-round draft pick. But if the Sabres were to take on Kassian’s $3.2 million AAV contract, I’d be comfortable sending a second-round draft pick their way to free up cap space. It’s a steep price, but it’s a remedy to rectify general manager Ken Holland’s overly generous contract.

Related: Oilers Should Focus On Retooling Roster at 2022 Trade Deadline

In a perfect world, Kassian returns from his injury, steps up his game under new head coach Jay Woodcroft and overachieves on his $3.2 million AAV. But the odds of that happening are unlikely and it’s best if Edmonton cut ties with him while there’s a team willing to take on bad contracts. He’s been too injury-prone, and as he gets older, his play will likely decline even further.

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