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Will Holland Make A Move?

The 2021 NHL trade deadline is Monday at 1 p.m. MT. The Edmonton Oilers are securely in a playoff spot sitting 17 points ahead of fifth place Vancouver and sixth place Calgary.

They will be in the playoffs. The only question is: Will it be with the players currently on the roster, or will General Manager Ken Holland add a player or two before Monday?

Three weeks ago Holland said this about his approach to the deadline.

“If there is a player out there who we think can go into our lineup and have an impact more than (just) depth, probably that is something I would look at.”

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But he also added this nugget.

“When you get into the playoffs you need size and depth,” said Holland. “You either wear somebody down or they’re going to wear you down. You’re always looking at the trade deadline for some size, or experience. Guys who have been there before.”

The Oilers currently don’t have enough skilled size in their top six. Size isn’t just height. It is also weight, strength and the style a player plays. Smaller, stocky players, like Brad Marchand or Brayden Point, aren’t small in my eyes, because they are strong and play with an edge. They also have high-end skill so their size is almost irrelevant. But high-end skill is rare.

Edmonton has two elite top-six forwards and a solid, proven top-six player in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Jesse Puljujarvi is a very large human, and a good puck retriever. He is a complementary top-six forward at this point as he still needs to improve his finish to become a bonafide top-six in my eyes. I think he will be one in the future. Kailer Yamamoto is dogged on the puck, has good hockey sense and solid skills, but he is very slight. He needs to play with bigger bodies, which is why he and Draisaitl are a good match. But you can’t play a smaller winger with Yamamoto in the playoffs. I don’t see that as a recipe for success.

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And that is where the big hole is right now on the Oilers. Dominik Kahun isn’t a good fit with Yamamoto, and I don’t see him as a top-six forward on a playoff team. That is just what I see, so I asked a former NHL coach and a current scout to analyze what they think the Oilers need to add, if anything, before the trade deadline.

Former NHL coach…

“Almost every team has one area they want to improve, but that doesn’t mean you will. Look at Tampa last season. They had piles of skill, but added players who could wear down the opposition. (Blake) Coleman, (Barclay) Goodrow and (Zach) Bogosian all contributed in a small way. I think many people underestimate Bogosian’s contributions. He added size and toughness on their backend and an excitement of being in the playoffs. People outside a room never see that, but all those little things add up in the playoffs. He also played 18 minutes, which is more than most forwards. In the playoffs you can’t have any passengers if you want to win two, three or four rounds. You need players willing to enter every puck battle with desperation, especially your non-elite players.

“Your elite guys will show up more on the scoreboard if you want to win, but you need depth players, or complementary forwards, like Coleman and Goodrow last year or Sammy Blais and Oscar Sundqvist with the Blues or Maroon with both of them. They aren’t flashy, and in some cases not the quickest, but they wear down the other team. I don’t think Edmonton has enough forwards like that right now.

“They have too many similar players in Ennis, Kahun, Turris, Haas, and even Yamamoto. Slight players. Yamamoto is feisty though, so I see him a bit different. He at least gets in battles. He gets pushed around, but at least he is in them. I guarantee you Ken (Holland) and Tipp (Dave Tippett) know this. I know it is overused by coaches, but they need another top-six winger who plays on the inside. A guy who engages contact and is comfortable playing in tight spaces.”

Is there anyone on the roster you would put in the top six if Holland doesn’t make a trade?

James Neal is the most skilled, but is he healthy? I liked him in the bubble last year. He has really good hands in close. He has size, experience and an edge to his game. Speed is a concern, but we’ve seen many veterans contribute in the playoffs without being quick — Handzul with Chicago a few years ago. We all thought he was done and wondered why they acquired him (in 2013), but he was a big part of their Cup run and he was not fast. Edmonton has enough speed in their top six. I think you could play Neal there. I just don’t know if he has the conditioning to play there regularly right now.

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“Kassian should be that guy. He has all the tools you want in the playoffs. Big, fast, strong with decent hands, but I haven’t seen that recently. He was bad in the bubble, but in 2017 he was really good for them. His impact won’t usually show on up the scoresheet. I would tell him I don’t care if you score. Just create turnovers and get the puck to those two magicians (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) and then get to the net.

“The other guy they might have to try is Archibald. Tipp has used him up there before and he can play the left side. He won’t score as much as Neal, but he plays fast and with an edge and he can fire up your bench with a hit. He can really pop guys.”

Anything else you think they need?

“More size on their blueline. Nurse and Larsson are big, but that is it. It is much easier to create offence against 5’10 and 5’11 guys than it is defenders who are 6’2″ and bigger. They just take up so much more space. Their reach can disrupt things. Edmonton’s blueline is quite mobile, and they can move the puck decently, but they don’t have many guys who can slow down or stop a cycle. If I could only add one piece I would add a bigger D-man to that group. They at least have some players you could try in the top six, but they have no bigger, strong, experienced defenders to slot in.”

Scout…

Mar 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates a first period goal assisted by forward Connor McDavid (97), his 100th point of the season at Rogers Place.

“Edmonton has impressed me this year. They are better than I expected, but I think they are three or four players from being a real Cup contender. But they could win a round or two. The challenge is the holes in their roster are at key positions: another top-four left defender, a big third pair defender who can defend and stop the cycle, a more skilled third line centre and a left winger to play with McDavid. I don’t think Nugent-Hopkins is a good fit. He doesn’t go to the net enough or in the greasy areas, and he isn’t a quick shooter. If he has time his snapshot is excellent, but how many goals does he have around the crease? Tippett should show wingers film of how many goals Maroon and Kassian scored when playing with McDavid. I bet they had 25 goals combined where they shot the puck less than two feet. They need a winger who can shoot from distance and is good at finding the soft spot away from defenders, or a guy who will be around the net all the time.

“Mike Hoffman is a great shooter. He could work with McDavid because Puljujarvi will go get pucks. Hoffman knows how to score. You won’t put him on the ice to protect a lead, but if you want a guy who can score he’s the best option. At least among players we’ve heard might be available. I haven’t looked closely to see if Edmonton has the cap space to take on his salary though. That’s not my job (laughs).

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It isn’t realistic to fill all those holes at once, so if you could only fill one before Monday, which player would you acquire?

“The left D-man. Edmonton still gives up too many goals at even strength. The problem is the cost to get that now is too high. If Edmonton was one player away then I’d say go for it, but not now. I guess that is a bad answer (laughs), because the spot they need most is the one that will cost too much.

“If Edmonton could make the salary work, then I’d go after Hoffman. If he likes it — and why wouldn’t he playing with those two centres? — maybe you re-sign him. Hoffman at least gives you a chance to score more. I’m not sure Edmonton can play good enough defence to win low scoring games. Their blueline is quite small after Larsson and Nurse.”

OPTIONS…

It was good to get opinions from people outside of Edmonton.

Do you agree with their assessments?

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I would agree this is not the year to go all in, but I do think Holland makes at least one move. One addition likely won’t lead them the Cup finals, but if it helps them win even one round it is worth it. Right now it seems they will face Winnipeg in the opening round, and if the Jets make a move for a top defender, will Holland feel he needs to respond to give his players a better chance?

Is Hoffman a good fit? He has produced in the playoffs. He had six goals and 11 points in 2017 with Ottawa when they went to the conference finals and lost in game seven. Five of his goals came at 5×5. Last year in the bubble he had 3-2-5 in four games for the Panthers. The $4m cap hit is the challenge. There would have to be come salary cap gymnastics to make it work.

Yesterday on our DFO Rundown Podcast Frank Seravalli mentioned Flyers forward Scott Laughton. We spent 30 minutes discussing trade possibilities. Laughton plays the tenacious style the former head coach described. Would he make sense for Holland?

It should be an interesting next three days.

Parting Shot…

Kyle Turris was placed on waivers today, which will free up the Oilers to recall a forward from the taxi squad later if they like. Turris hasn’t panned out. Outside of a few games he hasn’t looked comfortable and last night he struggled to make simply passes. Twice he could have sent line mates in on breakaways but missed the pass. That is a lack of confidence. Making simple passes is something NHL players, regardless of their speed, can do, and him missing both last night tells me his confidence is shot. That combined with his lack of speed and tenacity makes it hard for me to envision him playing many games down the stretch and into the playoffs.

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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will not play on Saturday. So I don’t see them actually sending Turris to the TS. It will play, but when the Oilers want to move guys up and down him clearing tomorrow will allow that. It is important to remember that starting next Tuesday teams are only allowed four recalls from the TS/AHL. So who is on the roster on Monday is something to monitor.

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