Ken Holland signed three key pieces on day one of free agency, signing Jack Campbell for five years and re-signing Brett Kulak and Evander Kane for four years. Kulak ($2.75m AAV) and Kane ($5.125m) look like excellent value contracts while Campbell is league average salary for a starting goalie. Campbell’s $5 million AAV has him tied with Linus Ullmark, Robin Lehner, Juuse Saros, Thatcher Demko and Cal Petersen for 14th highest paid goalie. Essentially those seven are the 14th-20th highest paid goalies.
Ken Holland paid $12.875m for a starting goalie, first line left winger and their second pair defenceman. Pretty good value for three key positions.
Kulak hasn’t been a second-pair D-man for long periods of his career, but when he was asked to take on more minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs he performed well. If he continues that strong play, he’ll be excellent value similar to Cody Ceci at $3.25m. Edmonton didn’t have to pay Kulak like a regular top-four defender, but he will start the season getting second pair minutes and matchups, and as he enters the prime of his career this signing could be great. Even if he is only an excellent third pair defender the salary is solid.
Kane has scored 30 goals twice in his career, and he had 22 in 43 games after joining the Oilers in late January. I’d mark him down to score 35 goals, and if he stays healthy 40 seems realistic. The Oilers could become the third team ages to have three 40-goal scorers. Tampa had three in 2019 when Steven Stamkos had 45 and Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each scored 41. This past season the Calgary Flames had Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk with 42 and Johnny Gaudreau with 40. Tampa was the first team since 1996 to have a trio of 40-goal scorers.
The Oilers are the only franchise in NHL history to have three 50-goal scorers in the same year. Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky all scored 50 in 1984 and again in 1986. No team has had two 50-goal scorers since the Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) did it with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996. If the Oilers had two 50-goal scorers next season it would be amazing. Re-signing Kane gives the Oilers a realistic shot to have three 40-goal men.
The only potential concern about Kane’s signing is how he interacts with his teammates off the ice, but the Oilers core is now signed for the next three seasons.
Leon Draisaitl and Cody Ceci have three years remaining on their contracts.
Kane, Kulak and McDavid have four.
Campbell has five.
Zach Hyman has six.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has seven.
Darnell Nurse has eight.
Holland and the Oilers had a very good day one of free agency, and Holland told me he isn’t done. “The answer is yes,” said Holland yesterday when I asked if he wants to add to his bottom six and another depth defender. “I don’t think it will happen today, as other teams have cap space, but when the dust settles we will see what is there.”
WHO IS AVAILABLE?
Holland made good value signings on day one, usually day two, three and later is where teams can get great return on their investment. The Oilers still need to sign Ryan McLeod, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto. The three of them will come in somewhere around a total of $6.2m to $6.8m. Let’s say they sign at $6.8m that would put the Oilers at $80,718,333 with 12 forwards, six D-men and two goalies and with Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith going on LTIR.
The forwards would be McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Kane, Puljujarvi, McLeod, Yamamoto, Warren Foegele, Devin Shore, Derek Ryan and Dylan Holloway, with Nurse, Ceci, Kulak, Evan Bouchard, Tyson Barrie and Philip Broberg on the back end.
Edmonton doesn’t have much cap space. Shore could go to the minors without counting against the cap, while Ryan could be sent down and only count $125K against the cap. Ryan likely is on the opening night roster, but Edmonton can sign a few players at $1m and mix guys in and out if they choose. Edmonton currently has 37 contracts, so they have room to sign 13 more players to one or two-way deals. They obviously won’t sign 13 players, but total contracts isn’t a concern.
As we get deeper into July players will likely take less money. Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg will still get hefty salaries, but for bottom-six forwards who want to sign with a competitive team there won’t be many big paydays.
The Calgary Flames have lots of cap space due to the departure of Johnny Gaudreau, but they still need to sign Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington. Those three will eat up a big chunk of the Flames’ $18m in cap space. Not many other competitive teams have cap space. The Islanders do, but they missed the playoffs last year.
The next few weeks present a great opportunity to find some good value deals. Evan Rodrigues is very intriguing, but he will command more than a $1m AAV.
Players like Dylan Strome, Danton Heinen, Sonny Milano, Calle Jarnkrok and Mattias Janmark will likely be taking pay cuts, and in some cases a significant one, from last season.
Edmonton’s bottom six currently has Foegele, McLeod, Puljujarvi, Holloway, Ryan, Shore and Brad Malone battling for spots. I think the fourth line is wide open, and Holland might try moving one of his wingers to create more cap flexibility.
Strome has skill, but can he play with the pace the Oilers want? His biggest assets are his smarts and vision and he can move into the top-six if injuries occur. Would he sign in Edmonton knowing he’d likely start on the third line?
Heinen scored 18 goals and 33 points with the Penguins last season. He wasn’t qualified because they were worried what he’d command in arbitration. They didn’t have the cap space to sign him at $3m. I could see him looking for a multiple-year deal and some stability after playing on three teams the past three seasons. He’d be a solid addition in the bottom six, but might be too expensive for the Oilers.
Milano bounced back last season with 14 goals and 34 points after playing eight games, between the AHL/NHL, in 2021 due to injury. Last season was his most consistent to date, but Anaheim opted not to qualify him after he made $1.8m last year. He could re-sign there. Milano played mostly with Trevor Zegras and had some solid possession numbers. He could be a complementary top-six winger, but on a competitive team he’s a third liner. He doesn’t kill penalties, however, and if you are in the bottom six in Edmonton and don’t kill penalties it is difficult to get much icetime. He did average 2:08/game on the PP in ANA, but they split their two units equally. That doesn’t happen in Edmonton. He’s a skilled player, but does he, like Strome, fill a role in Edmonton?
Jarnkrok has scored between 30-35 points in each of his last seven seasons and scored 10-16 goals. He’s a right shot who can play centre or wing and he’s posted solid possession numbers for years. He just finished a six-year, $2m AAV deal, so maybe he is just looking to go to the highest bidder, but he is a someone I’d strongly consider. Would be sign for $1.4m?
I mentioned Janmark prior to free agency, and he’d still be an option, but I like Jarnkrok’s ability to play centre and take faceoffs. He is 50.3% over the past five seasons including 51.2% last year split between Seattle and Calgary.
The Oilers have Dmitri Samorukov, Markus Niemelainen, Vincent Desharnais and Slater Koekkoek set to battle for the #7 spot. Samorukov and Koekkoek require waivers, while Niemelainen and Desharnais can be reassigned without risk of being claimed. With Broberg likely starting in the top six, I’m not sure the Oilers want a rookie in the #7 spot, so I could see them looking for a veteran D-man. However, they could just wait until close to the trade deadline to add a blueliner. The Oilers will be a playoff team next season, and Holland doesn’t have to add every piece this off-season.
Holland was close to acquiring Connor Brown from Ottawa, but couldn’t agree on a final price. Brown’s $3.6m cap hit would have forced Holland to move one, possibly, two wingers out. Washington acquired Brown for a second round pick in 2024. Brown is a two-time 20-goal scorer and a very versatile player. It illustrates how little trade return the Oilers might get for Jesse Puljujarvi. Holland has no issue bringing Puljujarvi back to camp, rather than moving him for a draft pick, but I wonder if a deal happens closer to training camp. I keep hearing Puljujarvi wouldn’t mind a fresh start. Many players feel that way at times, some get dealt, and others return and play well. So we’ll see what happens this summer, but anyone expecting a huge return for Puljujarvi should re-adjust their expectations.
When you look around the Pacific Division right now the Oilers are the favourite to win the division. Calgary lost Gaudreau, Vegas gave away Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan for nothing just so they could be cap compliant, and they aren’t sure if Robin Lehner will be ready to start the season. Vegas will still be competitive, especially if they stay healthy, but they aren’t the favourite to win the division like they have been in recent seasons.
Vancouver added Ilya Mikheyev at a pricey $4.75m and added former Oil Kings player Curtis Lazar. I heard Edmonton offered him a similar contract, but he picked Vancouver as he felt there was more opportunity to play there. The Canucks should be better. They can’t start much worse than they did last season, and I expect Elias Pettersson to have more than 15 points in the first 30 games.
Kevin Fiala gives LA a solid top-six, and if Drew Doughty stays healthy they will be competitive. Mike Grier and Doug Weight are revamping how the Sharks play. They have moved out some smaller forwards and added bottom six guys who are bigger and play harder. They had to salary dump Brent Burns, which hurts them a lot. The Sharks will be more competitive than last season, but I don’t see them contending. Same with Anaheim and Seattle.
The Pacific is the Oilers to lose. Holland will likely add another player or two this summer, but I think his next big addition will come closer to the trade deadline. This will be the year to make a few key additions to round out the roster at the deadline.
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