New Year’s Eve is around the corner and one resolution for the Edmonton Oilers might just be to do everything in their power to become a playoff team. Good news, this team is in position already to that (crazy, I know). So the next step is to be more than a team that just makes it in and is happy to be there. This team should resolve itself to add another impactful player.
I’m talking about the notion that the Oilers should try to make a substantial addition in some form or another to the club. The team is much improved from a year ago due largely to good health and the development of key players, but it still has some areas of weakness. The Oilers are good but not some kind of juggernaut.
The problem that the Oilers face, and it’s the same one that all of the other clubs face, is that the expansion draft looms overhead. It’s very difficult to add a quality player with some term on his contract when it means exposing someone else on the roster to selection by Las Vegas.
Oilers Christmas list item #1?
IMO…A shooting winger, with some term left in his deal…preferably a right shot
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) December 22, 2016
My first reaction to this tweet made by Bob Stauffer was an instinctive recoil. Taking a forward with term before the expansion process? Are you nuts? After some thought about Edmonton’s situation in particular, the idea kept making more and more sense.
Now, I think that one of the greatest needs the Oilers have is a puck moving right-handed defender who can log power play minutes. Yes, I think Kris Russell is occupying that person’s spot in the lineup. No, I’m not going to turn this into another Kris Russell article.
The problem with adding a player who has term to the roster (and this also applies to GIVING term to a player like Kris Russell via extension) is that the NHL Expansion Draft is most restrictive on defensive protections.
The format is either seven (7) forwards, three (3) defenders, and one (1) goaltender OR four (4) forwards, four (4) defenders, one (1) goaltender. So opting to protect 1 extra defender means exposing 3 extra forwards. That’s a tough call. Since most teams, Edmonton included, have more important forwards than defenders it will be a lot of clubs going 7-3-1.
Adding an impact defender with term or extending Russell means the Oilers would need to protect Klefbom, Larsson, Sekera, and Russell/New Defender. That means it’s a 4-4-1 and now Edmonton can only protect 4 forwards.
This would be an issue for Edmonton because I can come up with at least five forwards who I want to keep and need to be protected:
1) Lucic. He’s protected automatically but he’s also clearly someone the Oilers need to keep.
2) Eberle. He’s not producing to his maximum abilities and he’s still on pace for a career average year.
3) Draisaitl. Remember when the Oilers made him the 2C at 18 years old? Now he has to be protected.
4) Nugent-Hopkins. He’s soaking up as many defensive responsibilities as possible and there’s no way exposing him to the draft makes a lick of sense.
5) Maroon. Big man, dirt cheap, scores well with McDavid. No brainer.
I think this is an almost universal top 5 for the Oilers. Exposing anyone here to Las Vegas would be giving away a great asset for nothing or impossible because of the rules. The last two names on the list of seven forwards will vary. As of today, I would suggest Mark Letestu is the sixth name and seven could be Kassian or Pouliot depending on your personal preferences.
I’ll be honest, my belief is that Pouliot is significantly better than he has been this year, but I also don’t think the Oilers would be sad to see him move on. Considering Maroon and Lucic seem unshakable from the 1LW and 2LW spots, and the Oilers don’t have anyone banging down the door at 2RW, there’s an opportunity for the club to make an addition at forward who can stick around long enough and be worthy of that seventh protected spot in the expansion.
(Quick reminder that neither McDavid, Nurse, nor Puljujarvi will need to be protected)
Edmonton might not be able to take on more than rental on defense without blowing up their expansion plans, but they can take a run at upgrading their right wing position. Jordan Eberle is doing fairly well but hasn’t meshed with McDavid the way we all hoped he would. Pitlick is injured. Slepyshev has been OK for a rookie. Puljujarvi will be good one day but hasn’t scored since opening night.
The Edmonton Oilers can upgrade a key position, keep the player past this year, retain all of the core forwards on the team, and head into the playoffs a significantly stronger club than they are right now. This team has been in sell mode after the Christmas break for a decade. Right now they might be one of the few teams capable of buying a player who has term and is available.