This coming offseason is expected to be a busy one around Edmonton. Once a new GM is hired, expect the trade rumours around the team to really heat up. There’s no doubt that the organization’s goal is to be a playoff team next year and for that to happen they will likely have to be active on the trade market.
Their forward group is desperately thin and I believe that will have to be priority number one. Their defence is below average and probably needs to be improved as well. They simply don’t have a lot of quality on their roster and really, the only way for the Oilers to hit the trade market and improve their team would be to deal future assets or draft picks.
Part of the problem is that the NHL is expanding to Seattle and while the expansion draft isn’t until June of 2021, it’s something that current GM’s need to pay close attention to. When you’re trading away a draft pick or a prospect for an experienced NHLer, it’s important to remember that the future asset won’t need to be protected in the expansion draft.
It’s hard to envision what exactly the Oilers could look like after the 2020-2021 season, but we could do our best to project and see if the Oilers are indeed in a position to trade use draft picks as trade chips.
The rules for Seattle expansion will be the exact same as for Vegas. Teams will have the choice of two strategies. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie or they can protect eight skaters and one goalie. Players with no-movement clauses will also need to be protected. Here are the players currently on the Oilers roster that they will have to protect in 2021.
FORWARDS: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2021 UFA), Milan Lucic (NMC), Cooper Marody (2021 RFA), Alex Chiasson, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto (2021 RFA), Tyler Benson (2021 RFA), Jujhar Khaira, Joseph Gambardella.
It’s obvious that the Oilers would want to protect the big three forwards. After that, it’s a little unclear. Certainly, the organization is hoping that Puljujarvi, Benson, and Yamamoto progress to the point where they will be solid contributors and will warrant protection. Even if players like Chiasson, Khaira, Gambardella, and Marody are still here, I can’t see them being players that the organization would be terribly worried about losing.
Milan Lucic is going to be a story to follow as we head towards 2021. Obviously, the Oilers would ask Lucic to waive his NMC so they could free up another one of their forward slots. I honestly think Lucic would oblige, for a pair of reasons. First, I can’t see an expansion team in Vegas wanting to take on a 33-year-old forward making $6 million a year. If Lucic wanted to stay in Edmonton, I’m sure the Oilers could almost guarantee that Seattle wouldn’t take him. Also, part of me believes Lucic might actually be open to going to Seattle, which is close to his hometown of Vancouver. For those reasons, I believe we don’t need to worry about him counting towards the Oilers seven protected forwards.
Another thing to remember is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be a free agent in the summer of 202. Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t need to do the Oilers any favours, but hypothetically he could stay as a free agent until after the expansion draft and then sign with the Oilers if they agree to a deal. I doubt that happens, but it’s possible.
DEFENSEMEN: Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson (2021 UFA), Andrej Sekera (2021 UFA), Kris Russell (2021 UFA), Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, Joel Persson.
Klefbom and Nurse are locks to be protected, assuming they’re still in the organization. They have three veterans that will be UFAs that summer and I don’t think they will worry about protecting any of those three.
That means they have one spot to use on either Jones, Bear, or a third defenseman that they acquire at some point over the next few seasons. They have some wiggle room. It also helps that Evan Bouchard is exempt.
The expansion draft is a long ways away and obviously, lots can change in terms of roster composition. My final point is that while the Oilers do need to be mindful of the looming expansion draft, they have some wiggle room when it comes to acquiring players. In my opinion, they could squeeze in one or two forwards and a defenseman and still not be too concerned about losing a high-quality player.
Is giving up Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, or Jujhar Khaira for nothing ideal? No. But they shouldn’t let that get in the way of acquiring quality players this offseason. If anything, it might cement the fact that the Oilers could dangle one or two of their young defensemen like Bear, Jones, or Benning as a trade chip in their quest to acquire a scoring forward.