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Draft Diaries: Leaving Montreal with lots of questions

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Tyler Yaremchuk
4 months ago
As I fly back to Edmonton from Montreal, I can’t help but feel like we got more questions than answers regarding the Oilers over the last 48 hours. I’ll get to that in a second.
First, the experience of covering my first NHL Draft was awesome. Canadiens fans brought the noise on night one and the city really bought in. I know I’ve written about that a little bit already, but I just wanted to once again say that the city and league put on a tremendous event. The amount of drama we got on night one certainly helped that as well.
On top of drafting Reid Schaefer 32nd overall, the Oilers made one trade on draft day, moving Zack Kassian and his contract to the Arizona Coyotes. A slight overpay in my opinion but a trade that the Oilers certainly had to make. Surrendering a couple of draft picks to avoid a buyout is worth it.
They also had $5.5 million of cap space fall into their lap when news broke that 39-year-old defenseman Duncan Keith was calling it a career. There were plenty of rumblings that this was going to be the case in the days leading up to the draft and while the extra $5.5 million is great, the Oilers will need to go sign one or two left-handed defensemen.
That’s the first big question: what will the defense look like next season?
Here’s how things stand now:
  1. Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
  2. Philip Broberg – Evan Bouchard
  3. Markus Niemalainen – Tyson Barrie
That’s not a blueline capable of winning the Stanley Cup. I really do think that a deal will get done between Brett Kulak and the Oilers. His reported ask of $2.5 million is very reasonable and he performed very well. He and Tyson Barrie could make a very good third pairing, but that brings me to my second question: why aren’t they still trying to move Tyson Barrie?
Listen, I like the player, but there’s no arguing that he’s overpaid for what the Oilers need from him. I actually think his true value is close to $4.5 million, but he’s a puck-moving defenseman who brings a lot of value on the powerplay. The Oilers have a younger, cheaper version of that in Evan Bouchard. I think they need to not only re-sign Brett Kulak, but also trade Barrie and use part of the cap savings to go find a more defensively reliable player for their third pairing.
Honestly, I think that regardless of whether or not they move, they need to get another veteran defenseman. One option I really like: Mark Pysyk.
Figuring out the blueline is crucial, but it’s not the biggest question that needs to be answered. That would be: who is going to be this team’s starting goaltender next season?
While we didn’t necessarily get an answer to this question, I think we can connect some dots.
First, we saw a lot of movement already. Georgiev is gone to Colorado, Husso has landed in Detroit, and Fleury has re-upped in Minnesota. 
There are two high-end UFA options in Jack Campbell and Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper. There are plenty of reports saying that the Washington Capitals are very interested in Kuemper. They dealt Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey and opened up a spot. Would they really do that if they didn’t have a real good idea of their chances of signing Kuemper?
I think Campbell is the most likely option for Edmonton. That’s not me being an insider or anything like that, but that’s where it appears to be heading. The Oilers have reportedly been very interested in Campbell for a bit now and those rumblings are legit.
There are two things that could change that though. First, there are reports that Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is going to meet face-to-face with Campbell early next week. If the Leafs are willing to pay market value, that could hurt the Oilers’ chances of signing Campbell. 
The other thing is the availability of Cam Talbot. Wild GM Bill Guerin seemed adamant that he wasn’t going to move Talbot, but they’re a very cap-strapped team. If they can get a cheaper, but still reliable, backup for Fleury and move Talbot’s $3.6 million cap hit, they could have a little bit of money to spend in free agency. 
Ken Holland should absolutely go make a move for Talbot. He’s been incredibly consistent with the Wild and he would be cheaper than the options available in free agency. That could give the Oilers more money to go bolster their forward group, which is the next question that exists.
Which forwards will the Oilers prioritize?
I do not think giving Evander Kane a multi-year deal worth around $7 million is not the best route for this team to go. He is probably worth that much when you consider just his on-ice play, but I would like to see the Oilers take a legit shot as signing Claude Giroux first. If you can get Giroux, who is a more versatile player, for around $5 million on a two or three-year deal then you might have enough money to go add a piece like Dylan Strome as well. 
The Oilers will always find ways to produce when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on the ice. Giroux would still give them another elite linemate and of course, they still have Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Kailer Yamamoto should be back too. Those six names would give the Oilers a very good top six and like I said, pivoting from Kane to Giroux in this scenario saves them some money.
Adding a piece like Strome with those savings could give the Oilers even more scoring depth, which they need. Regardless of if it’s Strome playing on the third line with Ryan McLeod or someone from the top-six being pushed down, I think the Oilers are a deeper and better team with a Giroux/Strome tandem compared to just making one big splash with Kane.
Speaking of the forwards, will the Oilers move Warren Foegele or Jesse Puljujarvi?
We know they’re trying to move Puljujarvi, but they didn’t get a deal done at the draft. That really doesn’t mean much considering they weren’t planning to just dump him for a draft pick, but it was still surprising that a deal didn’t get done. I really thought it would happen.
That could happen and while they’ll be subtracting Puljujarvi from the forward group, the deal will likely add a young forward to their roster.
Earlier this week on Oilers Now, Bob Stauffer said the Oilers weren’t done moving out salary and could still trade a player making more than $2.5 million. That’s where Warren Foegele comes in.
He didn’t have a great first season with the Oilers. He struggled to consistently produce offense and didn’t consistently play with physicality. Those were two things he did in Carolina and that’s why the Oilers not only moved Ethan Bear for him, but gave him a three-year extension.
I wouldn’t move him though. I’d sooner move Barrie. I think trading a player like Foegele after a down-year isn’t smart business. I think they should see if he can rebound this year and if he can’t, you can move on next summer.
I’ll wrap up with this: a fun little hypothetical forward group for the Oilers next season.
  1. Hyman – McDavid – Giroux
  2. Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
  3. Strome – McLeod – Puljujarvi/Replacement
  4. Foegele – Ryan – Shore
If Holloway cracks the team, then that means there’s even more depth. They could flip Hyman to the right side and slot everyone down a bit. There’s the potential that the Oilers can build a very deep forward group this offseason.
Lots of questions and in the next week, we should finally get answers.

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