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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Biggest Off-Season Needs

Happy holiday Monday, everybody, and welcome to yet another brand new Mailbag. As per tradition around here, I’ve taken the questions that have come in 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 the Oilers’ biggest offseason needs, which free agents may come back, buyouts, 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.

May 24, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele (55) scores on Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith (41) during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1) Chandler asks – What were your biggest takeaways from the playoffs and what does the team do from here?

Jason Gregor:

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Improve scoring depth. And hopefully, the team learns from the tough lessons. Every play is magnified and crucial giveaways can haunt you even if you dominate most of the game.

Robin Brownlee:

Like the series against Winnipeg, the Oilers aren’t far off despite 4-0 looking bad. The window for the team to contend is wide open so I’d like to see Ken Holland use assets and cap space to bring in proven players who can make a difference now — not blow things up, but build for the next few years rather longer down the road with prospects etc.

Cam Lewis:

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I don’t like to draw a sweeping conclusion based on a small sample size and I don’t think the Oilers were as bad as their four-game sweep indicated. That said, the trends from the regular season (both this year and last) suggest that Edmonton badly needs more scoring depth. They need to move forward with a top-nine that features three lines that can outscore their opponents at even strength.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

That the playoffs are truly a different beast and one bounce can sink you in every game. All four games were tight and the Oilers just didn’t create enough offense and didn’t get the bounces needed to win. It’s as simple as that. They need to improve their depth scoring and if they do that, then they’ll generate more and get more bounces.

Zach Laing:

Biggest takeaway is one we’ve all known for a while: the Oilers don’t have the depth scoring to compete with some of the big teams in the league. I’ll share this excerpt from a piece I wrote the other day:

“Edmonton scored just 32 goals when neither of them was on the ice this year. Compare that to Colorado who scored 90 goals when leading scorers Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon were off the ice. In Toronto, the Leafs scored 89 goals when the top two scorers Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were off the ice. And lastly, how about Vegas who scored 108 (!) goals without leading scorers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on the ice.”

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Baggedmilk:

This team needs more than two players that can score on a consistent basis. Full stop.

Apr 2, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates a second period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2) Jonas asks – The Oilers have a lot of free agents in their forward group and I’d like to know what’s everyone’s best guess on who will be back? The unrestricted free agents are RNH, Chiasson, Haas. (Nygard signed in Sweden) The RFAs are Khaira, Kahun, Yamamoto, and Shore.

Jason Gregor:

Yamamoto is for sure. RNH I’m torn on. Will he test free agency to see what his value is? Will a team offer him $6m? I sense he will remain in Edmonton. Chiasson, Haas, Nygard likely won’t be back. I think Khaira, Kahun and Shore could all be qualified.

Robin Brownlee:

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Nygard is already gone as he signed in Sweden. For me, RNH has to take a cut-rate contract in term and dollars to stay. That’s up to him. He’s a useful player, but if there’s another team out there that’s willing to give him more than 5x$5M, then I say thanks and good luck. None of the RFAs will command a big raise, so I expect Khaira, Yamamoto and Shore to be back for sure.

Cam Lewis:

It seems clear Larsson will be back and that Barrie is gone. Chiasson and Ennis I would bring back on cheap contracts. Nygard is already gone and Haas might follow, though he’s fine as a pressbox depth guy. Nugent-Hopkins is a coin flip. The Oilers might be able to get more for less in free agency. All of the RFAs will be back, I assume, unless Khaira or Kahun is taken in the Expansion Draft, which would be a bit of a shock.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I will say that Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, and Chiasson will be back on the UFA side. As for the RFA’s, I think Khaira, Yamamoto, and Shore will be back.

Zach Laing:

Yes, yes, and yes to RNH, Chiasson and Haas. Nygard signed in the SHL last week, so obvious no there. Khiara, Yamamoto, and Shore I can all see being back. Kahun will be an interesting one to see what happens with and I’m not sure on that one yet.

Baggedmilk:

I think RNH will ultimately be back but not the rest. As for the RFAs, I’ll go with Yamo, Khaira, and Shore.

Apr 19, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a third period goal against /the Montreal Canadiens at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

3) Dale asks – Ken Holland has a very important offseason ahead of him and my question is what everyone thinks is the biggest need for this team and whether or not you believe the hole is fillable this summer?

Jason Gregor:

He needs two skilled wingers to play in the top nine. Wingers who can produce at 5×5. I think there is a good chance he lands them. Also, a right-shot centre who is good on faceoffs and can kill penalties.

Robin Brownlee:

First, the Oilers need scoring upgrade on the wing in the top six for better 5×5 depth. They need at least one proven guy there — not a maybe guy. Top end of blueline up in the air because of Klefbom status and the possibility that Barrie will be gone, so decisions/addition there. Goal remains a question of course. Smith and . . .?

Cam Lewis:

Scoring depth and goaltending. I wouldn’t want to roll with the Smith-Koskinen duo again. I would take another gamble on the cagey vet but I would also like to see Koskinen moved or bought out. The Oilers need a better tandem goalie for Smith. In terms of forwards, it depends on what happens with RNH. If the Oilers let him walk, there’s room to sign two or three guys from the UFA group of Danault, Tatar, Schwartz, Saad, and Coleman. Any of those players would be a nice addition.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

The biggest need is scoring. They need to get two wingers and they need to bring back Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Improving the scoring depth on this team needs to be priority #1 for Ken Holland.

Zach Laing:

He needs to find offensive depth that can actually produce. Lots of options will be available in the free agent and trade market. Two names I really, really like are Tomas Tatar and Blake Coleman. They’d be great adds.

Baggedmilk:

He needs to find a top-six winger that can score. That, in my opinion, is the biggest need this team has right now. And if they let RNH walk then he’ll need to find two.

Mar 6, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames forward Matt Tkachuk (19) and Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (18) fight during the first period at Rogers Place.

4) Ed asks – I know many followers are buyout averse, but I think this is the summer to buy out Neale and Koski. One of the plusses in the Neale/Lucic trade is that Neal is buy-outable. If they buy out Neal this summer they will save $3.8M for each of the next two seasons and be on the hook for an additional $1.9M in the two following. If they buy out Koski they will save $3M next season and be on the hook for $1.5M for the following. As long as the Kman is willing to pay the bill these seem like good moves don’t they?

Jason Gregor:

Both make very little sense to me because in 2022/2023 Edmonton will have $4.91 in dead buyout cap space, plus $750K in Lucic retained salary. I could see one buyout. Neal would save you $3.8, but Koskinen saves you $3m. But Koskinen only has one year of dead cap space in 2022/2023, while Neal would have two years (2024 and 2025). I’d lean more towards Koskinen, because I think dead cap space is not ideal. But I see why some want the Neal buyout for the instant savings.

Robin Brownlee:

Who comes in for Koskinen? Need that sorted, no?

Cam Lewis:

Neal’s buyout isn’t bad and that’s pretty much the whole reason Edmonton won the Lucic-for-Neal trade. Sure, it might be dead money, but having Neal on the roster getting torched at even strength for $5.75M is also dead money. The Koskinen one is a bit more difficult because then the Oilers have to go out and find themselves another goalie on top of determining if they want to re-sign Smith. I would probably buy them both out or try to convince Seattle to take one of them on.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think they are. good moves. I would try to move one of them in a trade while retaining a little bit of money and then buy out the other one. Getting an extra $5-7 million in cap space to spend on the team for next season would be huge, Yes, it sucks to have dead money on the books down the road, but having an expensive player healthy scratched is also wasted cap space.

Zach Laing:

I think Holland needs to exhaust all possible options in the trade market with either before a buyout, but I could see both not being with the team next year. The buyouts are palatable, yes, but aren’t an ideal choise. I would rather try and trade them with money retained and a draft pick to someone.

Baggedmilk:

I really hate buyouts because it’s just dead money sitting on the cap, BUT in this case I wouldn’t be opposed to buying out either Kostco or Neal but not both. With Neal, what’s worse having him as a healthy scratch for $5.5 or as a buyout penalty of $1.9 million? Koskinen’s buyout would only be spread out over two years instead of four so he would be my preference since it’s clear he is not part of the future of this team.

5) Colby asks – So with recent talks about Sam Reinhart wanting out and with the Oilers obviously looking for more depth what do you think about trading for him? What would you give up, would you do it, and do you think Holland would even consider it?

Jason Gregor:

Oilers are better off looking for UFA signings where they don’t have to give up assets. Reinhart likely costs you two good young pieces. Edmonton still needs to have a steady pipeline of players. I’d look at UFA before trying to acquire Reinhart. He will cost as much in salary, plus you give up assets. I don’t see him being clearly better than Hyman, Coleman, Tatar, Schwartz and Saad to make it worth giving up assets to acquire him.

Robin Brownlee:

Reinhart is relatively young and productive, so he’d be a fit here.  Talk attached to rumors he wants out of Buffalo is he’d like to go home (Vancouver).  A move to Edmonton would get him closer. Sam falls into the “help right now” category and he’d fit in top six, so the question is what gets it done? I’d pursue it.

Cam Lewis:

Swing for the fences and trade for Jack Eichel. Give yourself the best Big Three in hockey.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I would love to see Reinhart here. I think he would be a near-perfect fit in their top six for a handful of reasons. On top of that, he’s an RFA so the Oilers could get him locked up as well. I would part with a first-round pick and another good asset. I might even throw in a little extra if the Sabres would be willing to take a bad contract back.

Zach Laing:

Reinhart would be a solid add. He’s had good underlying numbers for playing on the Sabres and has been a consistent scorer. He was top-10 in goals last year. According to John Vogl of The Athletic, he speculates “(Sabres GM Kevyn) Adams’ goal would be to find a similar player who has more than one year of team control.” Edmonton has few options that way in terms of a trade. Dylan Holloway and Kailer Yamamoto are the only two young forwards under control for a while but I don’t foresee Holland wanting to move either.

Baggedmilk:

Reinhart would be a really solid add, but the Oilers would also have to trade for him rather than just throw a new contract his way so I’m not sure how realistic that would be. That said, we’re bound to win one of these RFA trades at some point, aren’t we?

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