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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Thoughts on the Ethan Bear contract?

Happy New Year, Internet friends, and welcome to a fresh Mailbag where I’ve taken your questions about life, emailed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their answers right here on this very website. This week, we’re looking at Ethan Bear’s new contract, defensive makeup, Oilers prospects, and a whole lot more. If you’ve got one, email it to me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1) Taylor asks – What were everyone’s thoughts on the Ethan Bear contract that came down last week?

Jason Gregor:

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Good deal for both sides. Bear gets $4m over two years and the Oilers have two seasons to see how he progresses and where he fits in going forward. The cap hit is what I expected.

Robin Brownlee:

A $2 million AAV is a touch more than I expected, although not by a lot, and the two years makes sense. No need to hammer Bear on this contract just because you can — no arb rights — when he’s growing into being an important player on your team. Two more years at the level he’s playing at now will get him more dollars and more term even with a flat cap.

Cam Lewis:

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I was hoping that they would be able to sign Bear long-term (like Oscar Klefbom was) but it’s clear that wasn’t going to happen with the salary cap coming in lower than expected. For a bridge deal, it’s fair value. Can’t complain here.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I really like the deal. The cap hit is relatively low which certainly helps the Oilers, as does the second year, which gives them a little bit more cost-certainty as they go through next offseason. From Bears perspective, he now gets two more years to prove that he is a legitimate top-four NHL defenseman and if he does that, he’ll get a big contract when this current one expires. It’s a win-win deal.

Zach Laing:

Love the Bear contract. I think it’s a tremendous value for the Oilers right away and will likely be even better value in year two. It also gives Bear a chance to further prove himself and cash in in two years.

Nation Dan:

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Uncle Ken does it again. A simple little contract at a number just north of what I hoped, but gives the player some room to breathe and really come into his own. This also gets him through the 2021 offseason which is full of contract money to be handed out. It’s a good time to be an Oilers fan.

Baggedmilk:

I actually expected a one-year deal so I was happy to see him get the second one on the back end. I really believe in Ethan Bear and I cannot wait to see how he keeps progressing.

Feb 15, 2020; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Slater Koekkoek (68) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

2) Jacob asks – Do you see Slater Koekkoek as a guy that will play regularly for the Oilers or do you think he will be an extra defender on most nights? How does he fit on the roster?

Jason Gregor:

Good question. He will compete with Jones and K.Russell. With a  short camp, he might start out in the pressbox, but I think he will be in the lineup when injuries, fatigue or subpar play occurs. Considering the Oilers have used 10, 12 and 9 D-men in the first 56-games of the past three seasons he is going to play.

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Robin Brownlee:

Tough to say, although he’s a nice insurance policy to have and I expect he’ll platoon a fair amount with Russell, given the schedule. He’s a safe player built for duty in the third pairing.

Cam Lewis:

I see Koekkoek as a quality depth addition. If all goes well and the team doesn’t see many injuries, we likely won’t see all that much of Koekkoek this year. But if (when) injuries do hit, he’s a very good insurance policy for the team to have.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

He’ll be an extra defender on most nights but I like that he’s a capable top-six defenseman who they can throw in the lineup when someones hurt or needs a night off. With the compressed schedule, it’s very important to have competent veterans who can slide into the lineup.

Zach Laing:

I think he’ll be a 6/7 defenceman for the Oilers. I like the player and Dave Tippett had good things to say about him and how he played against the Oilers. He’s a solid shutdown guy.

Nation Dan:

This is an absolute gauntlet of a season. So many games packed into a tight schedule. The reality that some of our players are going to contract the virus before the season is done. It all adds up to the 7/8 D men and the 13/14/15 forwards playing some meaningful games. He is an absolute get for the team in that sense.

Baggedmilk:

I’m a big believer in having organizational depth and that’s exactly what this signing is meant to do. He may play a little bit or a lot or not at all, but the point is that the Oilers have an NHL calibre player available when they need it.

3) Trent asks – In a general sense, can a team be comprised of six two-way blue or is it imperative to have a mix of two-way, shutdown, and offensive defenders?

Jason Gregor:

I believe you need different types of defenders. There simply isn’t many D-men who excel at elite levels at both ends. The rare ones who do are elite #1 defenders. If you had six of them you’d win the Cup every year. But you need guys who are good on the PP, others who are good PK guys, others who can break up a cycle and be physical and others who can move the puck up quickly and accurately. Very few excel in all those areas.

Robin Brownlee:

Good question. You have to work with the players you have, but I tend to lean to pairing the go-guys with the whoa-guys. That’s what I see going into this season with what I perceive to be the top six. With Nurse and Bear, Nurse tends to jump up more and Bear is more calculated when it comes to moving up ice. With Jones and Larsson, Jones’ ability to skate and move up is a good match with Larsson, who stays home most often. Barrie is the go-guy whether he plays with Russell or Koekkoek. I like the mix.

Cam Lewis:

That’s an interesting question, sort of an argument about being a generalist or a specialist. I think it’s important for teams to have players with varying skillsets because they’re more difficult to match that way and the coach has more options for tactics and strategies, but there’s also a virtue in having players who feature a complete game and can go into a variety of situations. You’d also rather not have players who are limited to having a glaring weakness in their game, so I think I would roll with six solid two-way players.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think a healthy mix is important. You certainly want to have six defensemen who can competently move the puck up the ice but you need to have a few who are also tough to play against in their own end, can shut down the other teams’ best players, and can kill penalties.

Zach Laing:

Great question. I think you can definitely have a two-way mix with an emphasis on players who can move the puck and have solid positioning. I think the true “shutdown” defenceman is going the way of the dodo bird as the league continues to transition to a more offensive-focused game.

Nation Dan:

I love balance. Most of the teams that have been successful in the last few years have had it. That said, you kind of have to go with what is available to you. Klefbom being out means we really lack a “1D” type of player, but the sum of the parts Holland has assembled should be enough to be playoff-bound. That’s not so much a prayer as it has been in the Chiarelli years, which is refreshing.

Baggedmilk:

I think you need a balance between two-way and defensive-minded defencemen, but I also don’t know that there have been many teams able to ice a squad of purely offensive-minded guys. I love offence so it would be fun to watch, but I also think this approach would be a disaster in their own end.

Feb 16, 2020; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) celebrates his second period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

4) @Turpin19 asks – Who do you think the next breakout player will be after the season Yamo and Bear had?

Jason Gregor:

Caleb Jones will have the best opportunity with Klefbom out for the season.

Robin Brownlee:

Don’t see anybody outside of Jones in the traditional sense of “breaking out” — as in a young player reaching a new level. Jones looks ready to make some noise. He’s a gifted athlete. As for established players, I won’t be surprised to see Barrie return to the productive form he’s shown in the past.

Cam Lewis: 

I think Jesse Puljujarvi will look like a totally different player in 2021 than the one we saw in his first go-around in North America. I also think we could be pleasantly surprised by William Lagesson if he can manage to get any playing time.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The two most likely candidates are Jesse Puljujarvi and Dominik Kahun. Puljujarvi certainly has a higher ceiling but Kahun is going to get a great chance to be a regular top-six winger this season.

Zach Laing:

Caleb Jones. I think he’s going to turn some heads this year and he’ll have a season comparable to that of Ethan Bear last year. He’s a really good young defender on a tremendous contract.

Nation Dan:

It has to be Bouchard, right? I think Turris will have a “breakout year” in the sense he is going to be chipping in some offence. But for me, I think this is the year Mikko Koskinen really steps into that number one role.

Baggedmilk:

I actually don’t think there will be a breakout season for anyone based on the depth Ken Holland put together throughout the lineup. I hope it will be Evan Bouchard, but I don’t think that will happen this season.

5) Vetinari asks – If you could be GM for any NHL team in the 2021 season other than the Oilers, which roster would you most want to take on and why?

Jason Gregor:

Tampa Bay. They have the deepest and best roster. They have an elite goalie, the best D-man in the NHL, three elite forwards and a lot of really good forwards and defence. They also have a nice mix of youth and experience.

Robin Brownlee:

I like Toronto’s talent up front, but not their salary structure. No room to move. Seattle would be the most fun, but we’re a season away from them getting started. I’ll go with Vegas. Really good roster that should contend if they can get past Colorado, fun place to play.

Cam Lewis:

Long-term? Probably the Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has himself a pretty nice base with limitless flexibility in coming years. Right now? I think it would be fun to try to get the Leafs over the top. Either that or Vegas, where it seems you can trade for or sign a huge name every single off-season no matter what.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

It’s the Colorado Avalanche and I don’t see how there’s another possible answer. Their roster is flush with talented young defensemen, solid veterans, and they also have the second-best player in the NHL, Nathan Mackinnon. On top of that, they have almost $2 million in cap space right now so there is a little bit of wiggle room. I’ll take the core of Mackinnon, Makar, and Rantanen over almost any other in the NHL.

Zach Laing:

Probably the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have a ton of talent upfront and are a few players away from being a cup contending team.

Nation Dan:

It has to be the Tampa Bay Lightning, right? Kucherov’s injury gives them all the space in the world to make moves and be geared up for his return in the playoffs. That team is sitting pretty this year.

Baggedmilk:

It would be Calgary. First order of business would be to extend Milan Lucic at a sizeable cap hit for the next eight years.

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