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Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings: Klefbom and More

The Edmonton Oilers have many decisions to make in the coming weeks regarding the expansion draft, NHL entry draft, signing free agents and more.

Let’s look at what will occur and what might happen.

— When Oscar Klefbom had surgery on March 26th, his primary goal was to ensure he could live a healthy productive life. He used a simple, but powerful, example of being able to pick up his kids. Anyone who has picked up their child or grandchild knows how meaningful those moments are, and for Klefbom to be thinking that way illustrated how much pain he’d been dealing with prior to his surgery.

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The secondary goal was that he could play in the NHL again. It has been three months since his surgery, and two sources told me that the doctors are confident Klefbom will be able to achieve his primary goal. That is fantastic news, however, a return to the NHL is not guaranteed. In fact it seems unlikely. I believe a return was unlikely prior to surgery, to be honest. I base that on numerous conversations I had with people much closer to Klefbom than I am, and also from Klefbom when he spoke to members of the media.

“I wasn’t sleeping right,” said Klefbom during his zoom meeting earlier this year. “It was a tough way of living my private life. It’s been something that’s been going on for a while. Hockey players usually play through a lot of pain. I don’t want to be on pain meds 24/7. I thought it was a good time to do it because it’s tough when you can’t really get your sleep or live your private life.”

He was very blunt and honest about his situation. He has arthritis in his shoulder, and while surgery can lessen the pain, we’ve yet to find a cure for arthritis. Upon hearing Klefbom’s diagnosis I reached out to a few different medical experts. They all agreed he likely could get relief and live a “normal” life, but the physical toll of NHL training and playing games would likely bring back the same problem. But all three people I spoke with clarified that their assessments were only educated guesses because unless they were treating Klefbom themselves, they wouldn’t have all the information.

Klefbom’s doctor, orthopedic specialist Dr. Anthony Miniaci, and the Oilers team doctors have been in communication, and Oilers general manager Ken Holland said during his season-ending presser he expects to have an update on Klefbom prior to the expansion draft.

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I believe, based on many conversations the past few months, the Oilers never planned to protect Klefbom in the expansion draft. Here’s why: The expectation was that when they spoke closer to the expansion draft there would be two plausible scenarios.

A) Klefbom would tell Holland his career was over. That Miniaci had told him that playing in the NHL again would re-aggravate his injury and possibly lead to more damage.

B) Klefbom would tell Holland he was going to come to training camp and try to play. No one felt that Klefbom would have been able to say, with any certainty, that he was going to play in the NHL again. He hasn’t trained like an NHL player since leaving the bubble. He has spent the past few months rehabbing his shoulder just to get it back to the “normal life” level. So he wasn’t going to call Holland and claim a clean bill of health.

That is why I believe it was never a plan to protect him in the expansion draft.

Right now, based on conversations I’ve had recently, I’d say it is very unlikely Klefbom would be ready to start the season. One source said, “I think it is 95% that he won’t play again.” And I would agree with that. There is a slight chance that rest and more rehab might allow him to play again, but Klefbom has always struck me as someone who was more than a hockey player. He loved hockey, but in our conversations over the past decade, he didn’t view himself solely as an NHL player. He spoke excitedly about other interests. If he is unable to play again, I hope he is able to accept it without much pain and suffering.

No one would say 100% he won’t play again, but it sounds like that might be the more likely outcome unfortunately.

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HERE AND THERE…

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

— There will not be any sort of “verbal agreement” between the Oilers and Adam Larsson and/or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins prior to the expansion draft and then sign them after. There is a legitimate concern from the Oilers and other NHL teams that when Seattle can talk with unrestricted free agent starting at 8 a.m. MT on July 18th to 8 a.m. on July 1st it could alter contracts. The Kraken have more open cap space than any NHL team. They have the ability to spend more.

As one agent said to me last night: “Why would you verbally agree to a deal prior? You either sign a deal and announce it or you listen to what Seattle has to say. What if Seattle offered an extra $1m/year on a six or seven-year deal? You just cost your client six or seven million dollars.”

And why would the Oilers, for instance, agree to it? If Seattle offered significantly more, then RNH or Larsson could back out of the verbal agreement, because the NHL does not want these deals so the Oilers couldn’t complain to anyone and say, “We had verbal agreement.”

Edmonton doesn’t have any major protection issues. They would rather sign both Larsson and RNH prior to July 18th, rather than risk Seattle coming in with a larger offer.

— I don’t expect Edmonton to qualify Dominik Kahun. Edmonton has to qualify Jujhar Khaira at $1.3m. I think they’d like to re-sign him at a lower AAV than that. But they don’t have a lot of centre depth either. It will be interesting to see what happens with him.

— Look for James Neal to be bought out or traded. Holland would prefer to trade him and retain salary, rather than have two years of $1.91m in dead cap space in 2022/2023 and 2023/2024. But a trade will be difficult. I believe a buyout is the most likely scenario.

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— I’d be surprised if the  Oilers buy out Mikko Koskinen. He only has one year remaining and you can’t keep pushing your problems down the road. Edmonton can trade him and retain some salary, send him to the minors and he’d be a $3.4m cap hit, or he is the backup at $4.5m. Not ideal, but I don’t see two buyouts happening.

—  I can’t pinpoint any specific player or team, but I believe Holland will be involved in the trade market in the coming weeks. He has cap space, but he also has no protection issues and for teams like Carolina, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and others who want to get something in return, Edmonton is in a good position to make a deal. I think Holland should be aggressive in pursuing the trade market.

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