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Off the Top of My Head

Unless Xavier Bourgault develops more quickly than most forwards taken in the bottom-third of the first round in any given NHL Entry Draft, we won’t know what kind of impact he’ll have with the Edmonton Oilers until fans have had two or three seasons to judge the deal that’s going to bring Zach Hyman to our town.

With the Oilers in win-now mode and looking to get something done as we enter the prime years of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, a prospect like Bourgault, selected 22nd overall from Shawinigan Friday, could arrive right in the middle of that push. The plan by GM Ken Holland, meanwhile, is to have Hyman be an important part of getting the climb into contention started.

Hyman, 29, is the here and now no matter what the contract terms turn out to be. Word on Saturday, with the Oilers unable to swing a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is that Holland will ink Hyman to a seven-year UFA contract with an AAV in the neighborhood of $5.5 million. It’ll be official Wednesday. Simply put, Hyman (and blueliner Duncan Keith for that matter) is a far more significant bet by Holland right now than a kid like Bourgault is.

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Holland has to get it right with Hyman, a gritty workhorse with hands and a nose for the net many believe will be the perfect complement to McDavid. The bet is Hyman can help get the Oilers two or three rounds deep in playoffs – maybe more if you dare to dream – consistently over the next several years. If that happens, nobody in a fanbase starved to the bone for success is going to beef about a little too much money or term. If it doesn’t? Yikes!

Of course, it’s going to take more than Hyman to push the Oilers over the top. There are questions about scoring depth, the right side of the blue line and goaltending, but if Hyman can be as good as he has been over the past couple of seasons for the majority of his new contract and help make the Oilers Cup contenders, Holland will have delivered here and now with the future on the way in the form of kids like Bourgault and Philip Broberg.

Like McDavid and Draisaitl, we wait on both timelines.

A BARGAIN

Apr 17, 2021; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets center Mason Appleton (22) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) watch as Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) blocks a shot in the first period at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

When you can get a player who competes and battles and, most importantly, stops pucks at the rate Mike Smith did for the Oilers last season on two-year contract with an AAV of $2.2 million, you have yourself a bargain – yes, even at the age of 39. It’s no small added positive Smith wants to get something done with the Oilers before he’s done.

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“My goal was to come back to Edmonton, to finish my career in Edmonton,” he said. “There would be no better way to go out than bring a Stanley Cup back to Edmonton and finish off my career. I never really explored other options. We’re very close to being an elite franchise and have the right players to make that happen.”

It goes without saying Smith isn’t the long-term answer in goal, but if he can perform next season at anything near the way he did last season while providing experience and imparting expectations that translate to results on the ice, he’s as good as money in the bank. Anything aside from that is up to Holland.

VOTE OF CONFIDENCE?

I wonder if the decision to move down to take Bourgault rather than select Jesper Wallstedt with Sebastian Cossa already picked by the Detroit Red Wings amounts to a vote of confidence in how crease prospect Ilya Konovalov projects.

Konovalov, 23, taken 85th overall by the Oilers in 2019, has 111 KHL games with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv on his resume and has put up impressive numbers through four seasons. I’m not saying that Konovalov ends up in the blue paint in Edmonton next season, but he could get some reps with Bakersfield and will have the chance to take the next step in his development without the likes of Cossa or Wallstedt ahead of him.

WHILE I’M AT IT

May 15, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) carries the puck around Vancouver Canucks defensemen Travis Hamonic (27) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
  • With Holland looking at a replacement for Adam Larsson to bolster a right side that’s a bit thin with Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard, might Josh Manson, going into the final year of a contract with a $4.1-million AAV with Anaheim, be a fit? Manson, 29, has been slowed by concussions in recent seasons, but he’s a tough, edgy right-shot who had 37 points in 2017-18. With the Ducks in rebuild mode. I think Manson could be available and is worth a look.
  • UFA Travis Hamonic is another right-shot option who might fit. He wouldn’t cost Holland an asset in a trade and he’d be on a cheaper ticket than Manson. Like Manson, Hamonic, 30, has seen his stock slip in recent seasons. He made $1.25 million with Vancouver in 2020-21 after coming off a seven-year deal with a $3.85 million AAV. Based on last season, he’s still capable of playing 18-20 minutes a night.
  • Montreal’s statement regarding the selection of Logan Mailloux with the 31st pick Friday is some kind of BS. The runner-up award to Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin for remarkably bad choices goes to Chicago’s Stan Bowman for that photo-op with female staffers. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee