Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers are going to have a busy next couple of months that is also very important for the future of the team, starting now as the trade deadline is just over a week away. Even if the Oilers can’t or don’t bring in anybody significant to help the team, it can be helped in other ways by freeing up space on the roster and in cap space.
There have been too many signings and players who haven’t played to their worth and a number of other players that can be seen as ahead of schedule, forcing the original plans to go out the window and making it so management should call an audible and make moves. Impactful young players that are a part of the Oilers’ future are stuck in the minors due to lack of space and blind loyalty to players with bad contracts despite the change they could make in helping the team right now. We will go through the list of players that Holland needs to move on from by the trade deadline and offseason.
The first name on this list is blatantly obvious and that’s Mike Smith. He is not anywhere close to the level he was at for the Oilers last season when he helped turn the season around after a tough start. It’s looking like that season was a flash in the pan and it’s just going to continue to go downhill from here.
Smith can’t seem to stay healthy and that further holds him back from having a positive impact on games. Rarely this season has he given the Oilers a chance to win while has been in net and often lets in a couple goals on a few shots early in the game.
Smith being in the lineup and posting numbers as bad as an .891 save percentage and 3.57 goals-against average forces the Oilers to score and feel like they have to score many more goals, therefore taking more chances offensively, sacrificing the defensive side of the game. He also stands in the way of Stuart Skinner who has more than deserves his shot to remain with the team.
Loyalty shouldn’t lay in bad contracts. Holland has repeatedly gone back to Smith after too many chances and has continuously sent Skinner back down to the American Hockey League (AHL) whenever both Mikko Koskinen and Smith have been healthy. The best chance for the Oilers to win and get good goaltending is with Skinner as the backup at the very least and Smith gone. The team can’t afford to keep him around for another year of his deal that pays him $2.2 million.
Tyson Barrie, unlike Smith, is still easily an NHL-caliber player. The reason the Oilers need to part ways with him is he has quickly become unneeded in the lineup with others stepping up and doing what he can do — man the point on the power play and giving the Oilers offence from the blue line.
When Holland inked Barrie to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million average annual value (AAV), he assumed it would take about that long for Evan Bouchard to adjust to the NHL and be an impactful player by that time. He was very wrong, as Barrie didn’t look like the same player that led all defencemen in points the season before and was making mistakes on the once very dominant Oilers’ power play.
Early into the season, Bouchard had assumed a top-pairing role beside Darnell Nurse and Barrie had been forced to the third line. It’s been rotation of right defence on the top line this season based on performance and a numerous number of man games lost as well as Barrie, Bouchard, and Nurse all getting looks on the power play.
Since the power play hasn’t been the same as it was very early in the season, all three have continued to get time there. Bouchard is essentially a younger and more all-rounded Barrie making much less money and in the Oilers’ long-term plans. Since there are a number of players that need to be signed for next season, the $4.5 million off the books would go a long way and the spot can be filled by a free-agent addition or young player already in the Oilers’ system. There are teams out there that would be willing to take him on, and not just as a cap dump.
Zack Kassian has recently returned from injury and was surprisingly throwing the body around and playing like the player we thought was gone. He may have played one of his best games this year, but it doesn’t completely cover the fact that he makes too much money to be playing on the fourth line.
He earns $3.2 million annually for two more seasons, and Derek Ryan has secured that third-line right-wing spot in his absence. At the end of the day, the Oilers don’t have enough money to keep him around playing so low in the lineup when they have players to sign and prospects knocking at the door.
Kassian’s stats don’t suggest he should play higher in the lineup and he is held exclusively to the right wing. Plus he has missed a number of games each of the past three seasons and the Oilers need healthy bodies consistently if they are going to sink money into them each season.
Josh Archibald is another fourth-line player for the Oilers who has yet to play a game for them this season. It appears he is back and should draw into the lineup, but how effective will he be after being off for so long? A huge knock on why the Oilers should look to move him to an American team by the deadline for anything is because he is unvaccinated and therefore can’t travel with the team, play in the United States because the quarantine would be too long, and would be limited to certain games (from ‘Unvaccinated Josh Archibald back in the Edmonton Oilers line-up’, Edmonton Journal, March 11, 2022).
Having another player in and out of the lineup doesn’t help much, and Archibald would only be able to play in 15 of the remaining 24 games that starts tonight, barring he’s in good enough form to stay in the lineup. As an unvaccinated player, the best bet for him is to play in America since there is a lot less travel across the border and he wouldn’t miss nearly as many games.
His stats don’t pop out at you and he is a role player whose spot can and has been filled all year. The best bet for Holland is to free up that $1.5 million before the deadline, sending him south, and get back whatever he can, if anything, in return. Archibald will be gone before the start of next season anyway, but freeing up that roster spot and a little bit of cap could help execute a different deal.
In an attempt to find a third-line centre last season, Holland brought in Kyle Turris on a two-year deal that paid him $1.65 per season. That experiment has failed and Turris has spent time in each of the past two seasons in the AHL. At best he has been a fourth-line player for the Oilers where they have many better options. That’s one of the reasons why he was one of the first forwards sent down when the team started to get healthy and bring in new faces.
Turris has been placed on the long-term injured reserve but could be included in a deal to send any of these other players to a team that would be willing to eat some cap this season. It’s still undetermined exactly what plans for the deadline Holland has, but Turris would most likely be one of the names at the top of the list being shipped out. He is in the last year of his deal, so either he gets moved within the week or he’s gone either way in the offseason.
Duncan Keith has been a solid addition this season, but the fact that Holland didn’t ask the Chicago Blackhawks to retain any of his cap hit in the deal will hurt the Oilers. A $5.538 million AAV for a 38-year-old defenceman who is on the second pairing at best is pushing it. He has been a solid pairing with Cody Ceci, but Ceci is the one who has really impressed of the two and carried more of the load.
We wouldn’t be talking as much about Keith if he didn’t take up so much of the cap space, and for another year on top of that. Again, a bad estimation of the timeline of the Oilers’ young defensive prospects costs more money and will likely force the Oilers to buy him out or stick with him for one more season if he doesn’t agree to waive his full no-trade clause.
With all of the injuries throughout the year and more prominently in December, it allowed a number of the young defencemen in the system to get a chance in the NHL, including Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen, and William Lagesson. Of the three, the first two are the ones who appear to be the future in Edmonton and the left side is shaping up to look like Nurse, Broberg, and Niemelainen. Both of these two players have impressed, elevated their games, and stuck around.
Devin Shore has stepped into the third-line centre role while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out with an injury, but with a healthy squad, he is a fourth-liner at best. He makes the least amount of any player in this list, but has also taken time away from players like Tyler Benson to get into the lineup on many occasions.
The Oilers recently signed and added an impactful fourth-line physical presence with a jump to his game in Brad Malone who has already potted his first goal and assist in over six years. He is expected to be in and out of the lineup, but he brings elements to the Oilers that they have been sorely missing, something Shore does not. The team has a number of players who are more than capable of killing penalties, so the best asset he brings can be covered with more skilled players.
It’s unrealistic to hope that all of these players can be moved by the deadline and would surely cost a ton to pull, but to get perspective, in doing so they would free up $19.5 million in cap space this season and over $16 million for next season. I don’t expect every name on this list to be gone, but most would be a great start to continue to turn this franchise around and allow them to build for the future.
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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