Everyone knows that the Oilers have to try to improve their roster for the 2018-19 season and everyone knows that management has minimal cap space to work with.
There are a few routes they could go, such as, moving one of their no-movement clauses or bridging Darnell Nurse to save some space. No matter how they choose to construct this team for next year, it’s clear that every dollar counts and they should look at moving every player who could be overpaid.
Which brings me to Zack Kassian.
I loved what Kassian brought to the table in 2016-17, especially in the playoffs (with the exception of a few dirty hits). He was a fast, physical presence in the bottom six and even contributed some offence, scoring 24 points in the regular season and adding three more in the playoffs.
This year, I didn’t see the same impact from Kassian. While he did score seven goals, the same as in 2016-17, I didn’t feel like he had the same impact in other areas of the ice and the number of offensive chances he created actually went down.
This past season, his SCF% (scoring chances for compared to chances against) was second worst amongst regular forwards.
He was third last when you look at how many 5v5 goals he was on the ice for, even though he played 14 games more than Mark Letestu and 24 more than Anton Slepyshev who are the two players below him on that list.
To be fair, only Letestu started in the offensive zone less than Kassian, which certainly hurt his ability to produce numbers. That fact may lead some to the conclusion that his numbers are only bad because he wasn’t given a good opportunity. I’ve even seen some suggest that he should be given a chance on either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl wing.
During this past season, Kassian saw 46 minutes with Connor McDavid. While Kassian’s possession and scoring chance numbers both got a bump up, McDavid’s dropped a sizeable amount.
The sample size with Leon Draisaitl is much smaller, only 26 minutes, and the numbers were actually decent. There was a big bump in both players possession and scoring chance numbers. So there could be an argument that those two players fit fairly well together, and I’d have time for that, but with their sample size being so small, I’d say it’s a long shot.
As far as special teams go, Kassian has had no impact on the powerplay but has helped the penalty kill. He played the second most forward minutes on the PK and was rather efficient when you compare him to the rest of the Oilers penalty killers.
Now, remember that their penalty kill was awful this year, so it really isn’t a high compliment to say he was one of their best killers.
In all likelihood, what the Oilers have with Kassian is a good bottom six player. He can play all 82 games and give you solid minutes and apart from a few big hits, won’t do anything overly special. They’re paying him $1.95 million for the next two seasons.
Dustin Nielson wrote about some bargain bin options the Oilers could look at this offseason. In the list, he mentioned Derek Ryan and Tommy Wingels, both of which can play centre, which Kassian can’t. He also listed Matt Calvert, who has been a good penalty killer for Columbus in the past. Blake Comeau and Tim Schaller were also there, and both of them have higher offensive upside than Kassian.
If the Oilers deal Kassian but grab two guys off that list for under $3 million, wouldn’t their roster be better?
I understand that Kassian is a fan favourite. I personally love the style he plays and don’t doubt that he’s a great guy in the locker room as well. I would be more than happy for the Oilers to keep him on the team because there is a part of me that values the intangibles he brings to the lineup.
At the same time, I can see the Oilers are in a cap crunch and Kassian probably makes $0.75 – $1.0 million too much money. If losing Kassian means that the team can squeeze in a bottom six centre and a better penalty killer, then I think they need to think long and hard about it, even if it upsets the fan base.
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