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What if the Oilers can’t re-sign Evander Kane?

It’s pretty clear what Ken Holland would like to do this summer.

In a dream world, he would clear up enough cap space to re-sign both Evander Kane and Brett Kulak, add a solid depth piece to the bottom-six, and find a reliable, experienced starting goaltender to pair with Stuart Skinner. 

Unfortunately, things rarely ever go as planned. That’s why I’m so intrigued by what the next month will look like for the Oilers. 

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Clearing cap space is a must, and I outlined that in my latest YouTube video…

Even if they do that, there’s no guarantee that they have enough money to sign a player like Evander Kane though, and looking at who else could be available this summer, I’m not sure if there’s a natural backup plan for Holland and the Oilers.

“The hope is to bring Evander back,” said Ken Holland at his most recent press conference.

But what if they can’t? What if Kane gets an offer he can’t refuse from another team and the Oilers need to replace him? It will be tough for Holland to find another player like that on the open market.

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How many UFA forwards have 40-goal potential and would come in at less than $7.5m? Kane really is the only one. If they miss on Kane, it’s because they didn’t have enough money to sign him. So are there intriguing fits on the open market that would come in at $4.5-5.5m? Not really.

Valeri Nichuskin is having a monster postseason but Frank Seravalli hinted that he could get a contract that’s comparable to the Zach Hyman deal. I don’t love the idea of committing that kind of term and money to a player who has scored 20 goals once in his career.

In total, there are 17 pending UFA forwards who scored 20 goals this season:

F. Forsberg (42G/69gp) J. Gaudreau (40G/82gp) N. Kadri (28G/71gp)
D. Perron (27G/67gp) V. Nichuskin (25G/62gp) P. Bergeron (25 G/73gp)
N. Niederreiter (24G/75gp) A. Burakovsky (22G/80gp) E. Kane (22G/43gp)
V. Trochek (21G/81gp) C. Giroux (21G/75gp) P. Stastny (21G/71gp)
R. Strome (21G/74gp) A. Copp (21G/72gp) I. Mikheyev (21G/53gp)
R. Rakell (20G/70gp) E. Malkin (20G/41gp)

There are also players like Mason Marchment, Frank Vatrano, and Reilly Smith who scored at a 20+ goal pace, but just didn’t play enough games to hit the milestone. If you count those players and take out the centremen, there are 13 options outside of Kane on the free agent market. Are any of them great fits? Not really.

I wouldn’t hate the idea of taking a chance on a guy like Mason Marchment, but he’s not a bonafide top-six winger. Niederreiter and Burakovsky would be intriguing as well but I wouldn’t call them perfect fits for the Oilers. The latter would be more interesting but he’ll be in high demand this summer.

What about the RFA market? Well, there are some players who Holland could look to trade for…

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There are three names that I find interesting: Lawson Crouse, Dylan Strome, and Victor Olofsson.

Crouse is a 25-year-old who is coming off a season that saw him score 20 goals in 65 games for the Arizona Coyotes. He’s a middle-six forward with size, which we know Holland likes, and if he can score 20 playing on a poor roster in Arizona, I could see him putting home 25+ playing for the Oilers. He can score goals, he’s average defensively, and he shouldn’t be that expensive.

Strome popped home 22 goals in 69 games this year. A nice season. There is talk that the Hawks may not even qualify him this summer and look to trade his rights. He is a damn fine hockey player for the price he’d likely come in at. He’s proven multiple times that he can score 20 goals. Also, he’s close with Connor McDavid, so that could help him fit right into the Oilers locker room.

Olofsson is the third name I mentioned for a reason. He’s scored at close to a 20-goal pace in each of his three seasons in the league and he’s coming off a two-year deal that carried a $3m AAV. His next contract could come in around $4m and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the most expensive of the three names I’ve listed. I also probably like him the least out of this group. He’s got a high ceiling though so he’s worth including in this conversation.

The Oilers could also go the trade route. I took a look at Frank Seravalli’s Trade Targets list and honestly, while there are some intriguing names, I’m not sure how many are realistic options for the Oilers.

Alex Debrincat, Kevin Fiala, and Blake Wheeler are the top three forwards listed. The first two will likely cost more than Evander Kane would in terms of their next contracts and they’ll cost a few really good assets to acquire. I could see the ask for DeBrincat being something like the first-round pick, Dylan Holloway, and a roster player. Too rich for Ken Holland’s blood I would imagine.

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Jesper Bratt is tenth on Seravalli’s list and while I love the player and I actually think his next contract won’t be too bad, the cost to get a 23-year-old winger who’s coming off a near point-per-game season will also be sky-high.

After that, there aren’t a lot of legit top-six forwards available until we get to Josh Anderson’s name on the list.

Reasons to love Anderson: he’s shown he’s capable of being a 20+ goal scorer, he’d add size to their top six, and he’s under contract for five more seasons.

Reasons to stay away from Anderson: he’s wildly inconsistent, injury-prone, carries a $5.5 million cap hit, and the Habs will reportedly need to be blown away by an offer to move him.

I like the player, but I don’t love him and if Ken Holland is going to pay a big price to get him, like the team’s first-round pick, then he needs to be damn sure it’ll work out. I’m not sold on it but I could see why Holland and others might view him as an intriguing option.

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That’s about it on the trade market and after digging through all of these options I think my final take is this: if the Oilers miss out on Evander Kane the best route for them to go would be to take a chance on one or even two of the young RFA forwards that are on the market. The last thing this team needs is to take a big risk on a player that there are question marks around. If you acquire one of Crouse or Strome, then at least the cap hit should be low enough that if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t cripple your cap situation. You could probably acquire and sign one of those two and then also take a shot on a UFA like Ilya Mikheyev or Mason Marchment and build up some depth as well. 

There isn’t a clear-cut, obvious backup plan for the Oilers if they miss on Kane so Holland will have to be creative with how he fills that hole on his roster should Kane sign elsewhere.