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Random Thoughts: Bear, Nugent-Hopkins, Kool-Aid Season and more

With the start of the NHL season just over a week away, I wanted to empty out the random thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain as we finally inch towards hockey finally coming back.

ETHAN BEAR

When I last wrote about Ethan Bear’s contract in early November, I thought it might made sense to bet on himself with a one-year contract since more cash opens up a year from now when a couple of vets like Chiasson and Larsson hit free agency. Here was my thinking:

I wonder if Ethan Bear’s camp might push for a one-year contract rather than a two or three-year deal as a means of betting on himself and potentially scoring a larger sum next offseason when some cap space frees up. In the summer of 2021, Adam Larsson and Alex Chiasson’s deals come to an end, Benoit Pouliot’s buyout comes off the books, and Kris Russell’s contract value drops by $2.75 million, so maybe it might make sense to put a bet down on a one-year contract?

Now that we know it’s a two-year contract with a $2 million AAV, the biggest question I have is how he’ll respond to the challenge of crushing this bridge deal and getting off to a good start in year one. It’s no secret that Oscar Klefbom will miss the entire year and that will be a hefty hole to plug, so it will be up to players like Bear to pick up the slack left in his absence. Off the top of my head, will he have to play much more on the penalty kill than the 1:51 he averaged last year? What about the 19:22 he averaged at even strength? Regardless of how he’s eventually deployed, I cannot wait to watch Ethan Bear’s progression with the Oilers because of how incredibly bullish I am on his skill level and eventual ceiling. Here’s hoping I’m right for once.

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KEEP NUGE FOREVER

Now that Ethan Bear is signed, the biggest item on my own personal Oilers to-do list revolves around getting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed to an extension. As the President and CEO of the RNH Fan Club, I’m declaring that we’ve officially moved from ‘Green’ to ‘Yellow’ on the ‘Keep Nuge Forever Awareness Meter.’ There’s still more than plenty of time to get a deal done, and we know that Ken Holland is interested in bringing him back, but I’m also aware that the contract has to work for both sides if we’re going to get Nuge’s name on the dotted line. I also know that RNH would likely be able to land a bigger deal in free agency than the Oilers will be able to give him, so my heart is already starting to feel the stress of unrestricted free agency which is only a few short months away for my boy since 2011. As I said, there’s plenty of time to get this deal done, but I won’t feel comfortable until an announcement comes out.

ANDREAS ATHANASIOU

This past week, Andreas Athanasiou signed a deal in Los Angeles for only $1.2 million, which is less than half of what his qualifying offer with the Oilers would have been and I’m here to admit I was wrong on how I wanted this to play out. Earlier in the offseason, I was hoping the Oilers would find a way to clear the space needed to keep Athanasiou around, essentially doubling down on the bet they made that sent two second-round picks to Detroit in order to acquire him in the first place. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m ready to admit how wrong I was on that logic and that I’m thankful that Ken Holland decided that he could better spend that money elsewhere, something he did with a plethora of bargain signings that not only improved the team’s depth but also provided one of the best top-nines this team has had in years. Now, we obviously don’t know how this season will shake out or if the bets Holland made will pay out, but I’d be willing to bet Gregor’s farm that the $3 million+ he spent on the likes of Turris, Kahun, Ennis, and Puljujarvi will certainly be able to outscore whatever Athanasiou does with the Kings. Does anybody disagree?

IT’S KOOL-AID SEASON

With less than two weeks to wait until the start of the 2021 NHL season, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m fired up and drinking the Oilers Kool-Aid like its bottomless refills at Boston Pizza. After a year with two extended breaks in action, being this close to a new hockey season feels like it’s Christmas all over again. Anyone else? This close to January 13th, I’m feeling all of the good vibes that come along with some fresh faces from the offseason, hopeful upgrades at varying positions in the lineup, and the promise of another chance at winning the Stanley Cup. These last couple of weeks leading up to the season are almost the best time of the year because it affords you the opportunity to drift off into fantasy land, dreaming of a deep playoff run and actually being allowed inside Rogers Place to watch it. While we don’t know how close we’ll get to either of those goals, now is the time to think about all of the pie-in-the-sky dreams that you’ve been suppressing for the last year or so.