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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Oilers Results vs Expectations

Happy Monday and welcome to a brand new edition of the Monday Mailbag. As always, I’ve taken the questions you’ve emailed me over the past week, relayed them to our writers, and copied and pasted their words of wisdom right here on the ol’ Internet machine for your education and enjoyment. Today, we’re looking at Dmitry Kulikov, re-signing free agents, defensive pairings, 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.

Dec 1, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Caleb Jones (82) warms up against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

1) Trent asks – With five spots locked up on the blue line who takes the sixth and last spot come playoff time and why?

Jason Gregor: 

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Good question. It is either Jones or Russell. Jones has played quite well of late and will play more down the stretch. I suspect both will play in the playoffs, and it might come down to if they play Montreal or Winnipeg as far as who starts game one. Russell’s health could play major factor after the Tkachuk hit. I’d think he needs to play a few games the week of May 9th if he wants to start game one.

Robin Brownlee:

Kris Russell over Jones, at least to start. Experience.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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It’s got to be Jones for me. Russell has struggled recently and Jones is playing his best hockey of the season. I’m not sure if that is going to change down the stretch here so I’m saying Jones will be playing most of the playoff games.

Baggedmilk:

I would take Jones over Russell because I think the former is the better player right now. Russell is going to be a good seventh defenceman for this team but I think the roster is stronger with Jones on it.

Apr 28, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (70) skate for the puck during the third period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2) Lana asks – It’s only been a few games but what is everyone’s first impression of Dmitry Kulikov?

Jason Gregor: 

He has been solid. He had one tough game with two glaring turnovers, but rest of the time he has been solid. If you don’t notice him in most games that is a good thing.

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Robin Brownlee:

Mixed bag so far. Some good games, some so-so. He’s usually very reliable defensively, solid on the PK and makes a crisp outlet pass. He’ll improve as he’s really just settling in now.  Let’s not forget he’s only played four games here.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

When the Oilers acquired him, one piece of analysis I heard was “when he makes mistakes, they’re big ones” and honestly, we’ve seen that early on. Most of the time, he’s a very good top-four defenseman who isn’t bad at transporting the puck up ice and can break up the cycle. But when he messes up, they’re ‘Grade A’ mistakes. I still like the move and I think he’ll be fine in the playoffs.

Baggedmilk:

Dmitry giveth and Dmitry taketh away. For the most part, I think he’s been quietly solid but when he makes a mistake it is alarmingly bad so it will be interesting to see how the rest of this tenure goes. Overall, I’ve been mostly happy with him so far.

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Mar 27, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) defends the goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Scotiabank Arena.

3) Ed asks – The potential resigning of RNH and Barrie, and Larsson to some extent, has been a major point of discussion. But if Mike Smith continues with his current play throughout the year and playoffs, what money and what term should the Oil offer him? Or do they just count their lucky stars for this year and look for someone younger?

Jason Gregor: 

It would only be a one-year deal and likely similar cash as this season. His age is the risk, but I suspect Edmonton could approach it the same as last season. See what other goalies are looking for in free agency and then decide. Overpaying on term for a UFA goalie would not be a good strategy.

Robin Brownlee:

At age 39, you go no more than one year with Smith, even though he’s in great shape. People change their opinions quickly — look how many were unhappy he was re-signed after he struggled in that first play-in game against Chicago. Let’s see what he does this post-season. If that goes well, you offer him a contract in the same range as what he’s making now.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think if the price is right, and I would assume that Smith won’t ask for a lot, then I think you have to consider bringing him back. If you can find a way to pawn off the Mikko Koskinen contract and pair Smith with a younger and better goaltender (Kuemper, Merzlikins), then that would be preferred. I could see Smith coming back on another one-year, bonus-heavy contract, but I don’t think Koskinen will be the other goaltender in the tandem.

Baggedmilk:

Haha can you imagine if we would have been having this conversation in the offseason? Classic. I think Smith probably earned a new deal and I imagine Holland will give it to him. As for what that looks like, I’d bet on low money and lots of bonuses on a one-year deal.

Jan 6, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Alex Chiasson (39) scores on this shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

4) Scott asks – Does it make sense to you to bring back Alex Chiasson next year? And, if so, what term and cap hit would you like to see on his next contract? The general consensus is that he’s an overpaid depth winger right now (2.15M, 2.6% of cap), but given his continued role on one of the top PPs and effective defensive play in the bottom six, it looks to me like he still has a role that isn’t easily filled internally.

Jason Gregor: 

I suspect they will test the free agent market first. They have Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, Kassian and Archibald on RW. They’ll want to add a bottom-six winger with speed, and Neal and Puljujarvi can rotate in the net-front role on the PP.

Robin Brownlee:

Tough call, one I’m not willing to make until we see what happens in the playoffs. Oilers have depth on the right side and other PP options with Puljujarvi and Neal, if he’s still here. Not going to put McLeod or Holloway ahead of Chiasson in the forward mix yet, but they will be a factor down the road as well. The question is when.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I would consider it if the deal was less than $1.5 million. If it’s going to cost you more than that on a one-year deal then I would walk away. Puljujarvi or Yamamoto can play in front of the net on the powerplay and I just don’t see the need to spend more than $1.5 million on a guy who really doesn’t do a lot at even-strength most of the time. Cheap deal? Sure. Otherwise, I’m letting him walk.

Baggedmilk:

I could see bringing Chiasson back at a deal around $1-1.5 million but anything over that would be too much. I know the Oilers need veterans but I think there will be a lot of bottom six type of guys looking for contracts this offseason, which means that Ken Holland can be a more picky.

5) James in Peterborough asks – I believed the Oilers would finish in the Top 3 in the Canadian division and hopefully win a round in the playoffs. They are poised to exceed those expectations. Have the Oilers exceeded, met, or failed to meet your expectations this year?

Jason Gregor: 

They have been what I expected in the standings, but their improvement in reducing GA has exceeded my expectations. I think their window to be a legit Cup contender begins next season. This off-season will be very important.

Robin Brownlee:

They’ve met them so far. They’re where I thought they’d be and where I picked them. Playoffs will dictate overall.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

They’ve exceeded them. I had hope that they could finish in the top two of the division but I didn’t think they would have a playoff spot secured this early on and I didn’t envision them being this consistent. Aside from a slow start to the year, they’ve been a very tough team to beat most of the time and I just didn’t see that coming. It’s been a really good regular season for a handful of reasons and hopefully, they can roll this into playoff success.

Baggedmilk:

They’re right in line with my expectations. Before the season started, I said they would finish in the top-three in the North Division and that’s exactly where they’re at. It hasn’t been a perfect year, but it has been a fun one.

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