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Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: Is Kulikov Addition Enough?

The great part about the buildup and hype surrounding the trade deadline is the varying opinions on which trades were good, bad or negligible. Emotions and opinions get amped up more than most days and you are either on one side or the other. There is very little middle ground, which makes the debates more entertaining.

Let’s start with what we know for sure.

“There was never anything close with Edmonton,” is a text I received this morning regarding the chatter surrounding Taylor Hall. Ken Holland said in his press conference at 1:30 p.m. that he was not really in on Hall. So Oiler fans will either think trading a first round pick would be worth it, or that keeping the pick is the more prudent move today. No doubt Edmonton needs another top-six left winger, but I think the only way Holland would part with a first is if he got someone with term. In my eyes, Edmonton doesn’t have enough top prospects to throw away a first rounder on a rental. Their bigger hole is still on defence. They still allow too many goals at 5×5.

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Realistically, how many of their forward prospects will play in the next three years? How many will be impact players? After Holloway, can any of Lavoie, Benson or McLeod play in the top six? How many are going to be top-nine players on a winning team? Remember: playing on a bottom feeder is easier than being on a legit Cup contender.

Holland did make one move, acquiring left defenceman Dmitri Kulikov for a conditional pick in 2022. It is a 2022 fourth round pick that becomes a 2022 third if the Oilers win one playoff round this year. He has played quite well in New Jersey this season. He was paired with PK Subban and they faced more elite competition than either middle or bottom line players. He faced 45% elite, so I expect him to be the second pair LD in Edmonton, at least in terms of TOI.

Kulikov won’t bring much offence, but is more a defensive-minded D-man. He is best when paired with a puck mover. I’d play him with Bear or Barrie. The only risk I see with this acquisition is his back-injury history. If it flares up that is a problem.

Looking at the Oilers schedule, he won’t play until Monday, April 26th. He needs to quarantine for a week so he will miss their next three games — Friday v. Vancouver, Saturday in Winnipeg, and next Monday v. Montreal. And he wouldn’t have enough practice time to be ready for Wednesday, April 23rd against the Canadiens. The realistic debut will occur in Winnipeg on the 26th. The Oilers have four days off between the 22nd-25th so he will get ample practice time with the team before he plays.

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I don’t think the Oilers have enough skilled size throughout their lineup to go deep in the playoffs. They could win a round or two, but going really deep — I don’t see it just yet. I think this summer and the next few trade deadlines is when the Oilers will take a few bigger swings. Some will think Holland should have taken a bigger swing this year. I see that, but I think Edmonton’s next four years will provide a better opportunity to win — as long as the Oilers don’t overpay on free agents. Term has to be their main focus when looking at re-signing their own pending UFAs, and signing new ones. They need to opt for more Tyson Barrie-like contracts. He has been excellent value this season, and I firmly believe shorter term is usually the best plan unless you are signing a truly elite player.

OTHER TRADES…

Mar 6, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) in action during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

— Toronto paid a lot for Nick Foligno. They gave up a first and fourth rounder in 2021 and a fourth rounder in 2022 to acquire him and Stefan Noesen. Noesen was part of the deal so San Jose could retain 25% of Foligno’s salary. Will they play him in their top six? I assume to start they will try, but if he doesn’t stick there, giving up three picks for a guy to play in your bottom six is a lot. When Tampa added Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow for a first rounder, they at least had them for more than one season. The Leafs also added David Rittich and Ben Hutton for a third and fifth in 2022 respectively. The Rittich acquisition makes you wonder if Freddie Anderson will be available in the playoffs.

— The Winnipeg Jets made a depth move adding Jordie Benn. The Oilers and Jets seem destined for a first round playoff matchup. The Oilers play Winnipeg three times in their next five games, and those games could go a long way in deciding who gets home ice advantage in the first round. Without fans home ice won’t be the same as a normal playoff year, but it still gives the coach the last change option. It still matters.

— I like Vegas’ acquisition of Mattias Janmark and a 2022 fifth for a 2021 second and a 2022 third. He played well in Chicago with expanded opportunities. I could see them slotting him in with Alex Tuch on their third line. He gives them more depth down the middle. That is Vegas’ weakness in my eyes. Chandler Stephenson is their top centre right now playing with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, while William Karlsson centres Jonathon Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Decent centres, but neither Karlsson or Stephenson are a number one centre. Janmark might get some time in the top-six.

— Boston getting Hall and former Edmonton Oil King Curtis Lazar for Anders Bjork and a second round pick is a good value bet for the Bruins. Hall had a no-movement clause and that played a factor in him going to the Bruins. Hall will play with David Krejci and should give the Bruins more offence on their second line. Lazar is a hard working bottom-six forward and I think Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will love Lazar’s constant work ethic. Hall and the Bruins were close to signing a contract in the summer, but it fell through. Hall wanted to go there, and if they have success I won’t be surprised to see him sign an extension in Boston.

The Bruins also made a nice addition of Mike Reilly for a 2022 third round pick. They need help on the blueline, and if they get healthy on the blueline they have a shot in the very competitive East division.

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— Tampa Bay made the biggest splash among the top teams in the USA. They gave up a first and fourth in 2021 and a third in 2022 to acquire David Savard. The Lightning will also get Nikita Kucherov back for the playoffs. They are the favourite in my eyes, but as we all know the favourite doesn’t always win. They have incredible depth up front and on the blueline and have one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the NHL. Beating them will be difficult.

— Florida added Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett (pending RFA) and a sixth rounder in exchange for a third, second and Emil Heineman (second round pick, 2020). They gave up a lot, but they could re-sign Bennett so that might soften the blow a bit. The Panthers are a good team, and it is too bad Aaron Ekblad is out for the season. The race to finish first in the Central should be very exciting as whoever finishes first out of Tampa, Florida and Carolina avoids the other two in the first round.

— Carolina, who currently leads the Central, didn’t make any major moves. They traded defenseman Haydn Fleury to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Jani Hakanpaa and a sixth rounder in 2022. I thought they might do more. Don Waddell said on the DFO Rundown he was looking to add, but it never transpired.

— Colorado added Devan Dubnyk and Carl Soderberg. Dubnyk gives them a veteran backup, while Soderberg returns to the Avs. He gives them some depth. I thought the Avs might make a bigger splash as they are a legit Cup contender. Joe Sakic opted to be patient, and when you see his roster it is understandable why he didn’t make a big add. I thought they might add a veteran blueliner, especially with Erik Johnson only playing four games. Maybe they think Johnson could be ready at some point in the playoffs, and if so that would be a big addition.

— Washington must really like Anthony Mantha. They gave up a good player in Jakub Vrana and a first, second and Richark Panik. Mantha is a big body with skill, but Vrana has produced similar goals and point totals recently. To give up Vrana plus the first and second for Mantha shows the Capitals must really like him.

They have loads of skilled size with Ovechkin, Mantha and Wilson. Are the Capitals now the team to beat in the East? They were right there before this trade, but this will make them a tougher out. The Islanders added Kyle Palmeiri and Travis Zajac and the Bruins added Hall. The Penguins added Jeff Carter, but that doesn’t seem like as big of a boost as the other three teams.

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Each division has some great matchups. I can’t wait.

Parting Shots…

Yesterday I tweeted out how I felt Edmonton was four players away from taking a real run, and why I wouldn’t have made a big splash at the deadline. Many pointed out how the 2006 Oilers as an example of how any year can be your year.

I think many forget how much depth the Oilers 2006 team had.

They had nine forwards who had scored 18+ goals that year (or a few years earlier) in Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Samsonov, Dvorak, Peca, Pisani, Stoll, Torres and Moreau.

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They had one of the best D-men in the league and their top-four was Pronger/Spacek along with Staois/Smith.

The Oilers got hot at the right time, but they had a lot of depth, and they had a great mix of skill, toughness and physicality.

I just don’t see the same depth up front. Of course McDavid and Draisaitl are better than any forwards from 2006, but Edmonton doesn’t have the same overall depth right now.

Edmonton should be competitive in the North playoffs, but the coming years are when I expect Edmonton to become a real Cup contender.

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