The playoffs can be cruel. In a blink of an eye the Oilers 2017 playoffs ended in Anaheim. Oilers fans were completely engrossed with playoff fever, but suddenly you woke up and the season was over.
In an instant, the great ride Oilersnation endured is over.
Now the focus turns to the expansion draft, the NHL entry draft, free agency and possible trades.
The Oilers had a great season, and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future. I’d say it is a guarantee the Oilers will be a playoff team for the next few seasons, however, history tells us it is far from certain the Oilers make it to the Conference Finals or to the Stanley Cup Final.
It is extremely difficult to win in the postseason. You need a good team, you need to be disciplined, you need some breaks and sometimes you can have all of that and still lose.
With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl driving the bus the Oilers are poised to be a legitimate contender for years to come.
Cam Talbot provides solid goaltending.
Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning are a good foundation on the blueline.
But there will be changes and they need to improve in some areas.
If the draft was tomorrow, I’d guess the Oilers would lose Griffin Reinhart or Laurent Brossoit. The Oilers have to expose two forwards who played at least 40 games this season or 70 over the past two seasons. Benoit Pouliot will be one, and that leaves Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and another veteran who in October I doubt anyone would have expected to be exposed, Jordan Eberle as possibilities. (They could also re-sign Pakarinen and expose him.) Anything is possible, but losing a player who has averaged 26.6 goals/season over seven years would be risky. There is no arguing Eberle had an off-year, and a very unproductive postseason, but are you certain they have someone in the system who can play RW and score that often?
Anton Slepyshev had good stretches, but asking him to score 25 right away would be foolish. The most goals he’s scored in any pro season is 15. To expect him to regularly be a 20-goal score in the NHL would be asking a lot. Is Jesse Puljujarvi guaranteed to be ready next year and be your top RW? Again, asking a lot. The Oilers aren’t in a major cap crunch next year, but when the 2018 season begins and McDavid’s new contract kicks in, they will need to shed some salary. Maybe Peter Chiarelli does shed salary this summer, or maybe he waits to see if Eberle can rebound. Eberle needs to get stronger. He doesn’t need to add weight, but he needs to get stronger and quicker. He looked slower this season than in the past. He was never fast, he was more quick in and out of spots, but we didn’t see that this year. Can he regain it? I don’t know, but I’m sure that is a question Chiarelli and Todd McLellan will be discussing often.
Vegas would take Eberle for sure, but is that a wise move for the Oilers to lose him for nothing? Chiarelli has to be calm and rational. He won’t make a knee-jerk decision and while I’m sure he is upset with Eberle’s season today, how will he feel in a month?
If I’m betting, I say they lose Reinhart in the expansion draft.
If my calculations are correct, the Oilers will have the 22nd pick, which is where they chose Jordan Eberle in the 2008 draft. Minnesota, Columbus, Montreal, Chicago and Washington all finished the season with more points than the Oilers, so they pick 23-27. The final four teams will be 28-31. I haven’t looked into the draft very much at all, which was a nice change to be honest, but now that the Oilers are out we can start looking at possibilities at #22. Unlike the past seven seasons, it will be much harder to predict who the Oilers select. Regardless of who they choose, this pick won’t be in Edmonton for at least two more seasons. I see them taking a forward, because they don’t have many high-scoring forwards in the system.
Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian are RFAs. Both will be signed. If they want to lock Draisaitl up for seven or eight years then they will need to pay him $7.5 million, similar to Vladimir Tarasenko’s extension. If they are looking at a five-year deal, which I think Draisaitl might be leaning towards, then he is in the $6.5-$6.8 million range based on comparables of the past few seasons.
I’d sign Kassian to a three-year deal around $2 mill/season.
Kris Russell is an UFA and he was solid all season. He was a great signing at $3.1 mill/year. He likes Edmonton and they like him. The negotiations sticking points will be how long of a deal. I’d sign him for three years between $3.5-$4 million. He will likely want more, and the challenge for Chiarelli will be avoiding a longer deal. Russell plays the game very hard, and for a smaller player I think when he starts to slow down, it will be quick. He turned 30 on May 2nd. So a three-year deal ends when he turns 33. If he wants four years, then the cap hits needs to be lower. His negotiation will be interesting. The free agent crop isn’t very deep this year and that might allow Russell to get a bigger payday somewhere else.
Tyler Pitlick is a Group IV free agent. He is unrestricted, but I could see them signing him after the expansion draft. He had a breakout year, but unfortunately he was injured again. He likely gets a another one-year deal.
Eric Gryba is also a UFA. He likely will be in the same position as last season. They will wait until after the first few weeks of free agency to see how things unfold. He is a solid depth defender and I could see them bringing him back on a two-way deal again, if no other team signs him.
Jujhar Khaira and Iiro Pakarinen are both RFAs. The Oilers don’t have a lot of depth forwards and with Matt Hendricks and David Desharnais unlikely to return these two will have more of a chance to play. Khaira has all the tools, he just needs to be more consistent. Pakarinen is fourth line guy who can kill penalties. He’d be a cheaper, younger version of Hendricks.
Jordan Oesterle is also a Group IV UFA. It is always good having defensive depth, and if they lose Reinhart in the expansion draft, I would re-sign Oesterle to maintain some depth on the blueline. But, at this point he looks like a depth guy more than someone who will be an NHL regular in Edmonton.
Will they buy out Mark Fayne? He is a big cap hit to play in the minors, but if you buy him out then you have dead cap space in 2018. Every cent counts at the trade deadline when you are a contending team, and if they buy him out then they have around one million of wasted cap space in 2018/2019. I’d try to trade him and eat half his salary rather than buy him out.
I suspect McDavid will get his extension sometime in July. It will be an eight-year deal. My guess is a cap hit of $10 million. If he wants to win a Stanley Cup he won’t need more.
With no major cap concerns until the 2018 season, will the Oilers be patient and look for Pouliot-RNH-Eberle to be the third line and have favourable matchups all year? Would it be crazy to think those three could produce against weaker competition than they faced in 2015, when they were productive? I’m sure it will be a question the coaches and management ponder this summer.
If the Oilers re-sign Russell, which likely occurs after the expansion draft, they would bring back the same six D-men. Russell and Sekera aren’t going to improve much at this stage or their career, but you know what you are getting from them. Consistency and experience is a welcome combination. But how much improvement is there between Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning? All four are young and have room to grow in various areas. I think it is plausible to see all six return and the Oilers hope the improvement to their D corps comes with maturity from the youngsters under the age of 24.
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