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Monday Mailbag – Is the Oilers’ depth chart good enough?

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Photo credit:Tom Kostiuk
baggedmilk
6 months ago
Happy Thanksgiving Monday, fair Nation Citizens, and welcome to a fresh edition of the Mailbag to help get your week started and keep you up to date on all things Edmonton Oilers. This week, we’re talking about Ekholm and McLeod’s injuries, the organizational depth chart, revisiting the Duncan Keith trade, and much more. If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask, email it to me at baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.
May 10, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN;The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) during the first period against the Vegas Golden Knights in game four of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place.
1) Yves asks – How worried should we be that Mattias Ekholm and Ryan McLeod haven’t played a single pre-season game? Both guys said they would have played if it was a playoff game, but that’s not exactly reassuring given that each is an important piece to the team’s success.
Jason Gregor:
I think taking more time rather than rushing to play a preseason game is wise. They might be a bit behind in pace for a game or two, but I’d rather they have that, than rush them back and have the injury issue linger for weeks or months.
Robin Brownlee:
Not worried. No reason to rush either of them.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
I’m a little worried about each guy for different reasons. First off, Ekholm is on the back nine of his career and if there’s one knock on his game, it’s his speed. If he’s going to have to deal with a nagging lower-body injury all year, that could slow him down even more and that’s not good. As for McLeod, he was banged up a decent amount last season and if he struggles to stay healthy this year, you wonder about what that could mean for him in the long-term. I would have loved to have seen them in one preseason game to quiet the concerns, but that didn’t happen. Now, we wait until Wednesday.
Liam Horrobin:
I think we’ve just got to take the team’s word on this one. Mattias Ekholm seems to be on track so its actually Ryan McLeod that would worry me most out of the two. However, it’s a long season and players are going to miss time. Its just unfortunate that these two are coming at the start of the season.
Baggedmilk:
I’m worried about how hurt Ekholm is because he is important to making the blue line work. Without him for a long time, the Oilers’ defensive depth is not nearly the same. I am worried about McLeod, but I think he’ll be able to bounce back and slide in more quietly.
Mar 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak (27) skates with the puck against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
2) Mason asks – Do the Oilers have enough organizational depth? Having Mattias Ekholm and Brett Kulak both out for Friday night shows just how close this team is to having real problems on the back end.
Jason Gregor:
Very few teams have eight D-men who are NHL calibre. They played with five against Seattle’s NHL forwards and only allowed one goal. I think they will be okay for a few games. It could be an issue if it was months, but as I pointed out earlier this year, the Oilers blueline was incredibly healthy last year. The top-five defenders missed two games combined. That is unlikely to happen again, but it will give Philip Broberg more opportunity, which is good.
Robin Brownlee:
No it doesn’t. Take two top-six defencemen out of any line-up and you’ll notice it. If anything, seeing Gleason, Kemp and Niemelainen at this camp showed there are guys who can step in lower in the line-up here and there if needed.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
The depth isn’t so much an issue for me as the salary cap. If both Ekholm and Kulak are out for Wednesday and aren’t going to be out long enough to be put on LTIR, then the Oilers might not have enough money to recall the best available option. That’s worrisome. I’d trust a blueline of Nurse, Bouchard, Broberg, Ceci, Gleason, and Desharnais in the short term though.
Liam Horrobin:
If any team in the NHL were without two of their top six defenceman, they’d have a problem. The Oilers have Markus Niemelainen and Ben Gleason, who have had a great pre-season, available in Bakersfield. It’s not ideal, but it could be much worse. Additionally, it wasn’t that long ago that both of those guys might’ve been on the team anyway, so I believe the team has good depth.
Baggedmilk:
 
Jun 21, 2019; Vancouver, BC, Canada; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks before the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
3) James in Peterborough asks – The Oilers, like many other teams, are really up against the salary cap limit. Do you think that teams should be able to negotiate additional cap space when it impacts the roster, significantly, in the sense that the team cannot currently maintain a full roster of 23 players? As a follow-up do you feel that the hard cap is doing what it is supposed to do here, and in other circumstances, when teams blatantly circumnavigate it until playoff time?
Jason Gregor:
I do not. The cap is the cap. Being flat for four years is why teams are in this spot. When it jumps up next year in in the following years I don’t see an issue. An easy solution is to have a salary cap in the playoffs. The roster you ice for a game has to be cap compliant. Vegas, was, FYI, so they didn’t circumvent the cap as much as some believe.
Robin Brownlee:
Negotiate? No. No. And no. It’s not a matter of “cannot.” Teams can maintain a full roster if they don’t overpay and spend like drunken sailors. That’s the whole point of a cap.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
I’m not sure about negotiating a better cap situation, but I’d love to see something where players making league minimum don’t count against the cap or you get two free “league minimum” spots on your roster just to cover for injuries. I don’t love the hard cap system and would prefer if the league softened up a little. Give me a franchise player exemption or something like that.
Liam Horrobin:
We’ve spoken about this a few times on various shows but the NHL should bring in a contract renegotiation rule. It would benefit both the players and the teams. It’s been done in the NFL for a while now and looks to be successful.
Baggedmilk:
I’ve said it on Oilersnation Radio a few times but I’d love to see the NHL bring in a franchise tag or something like that to give a little bit more flexibility. That said, the hard cap is supposed to be equal for everyone and I guess it’s doing its job.
May 20, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Duncan Keith (2) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the third period in game two of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
4) Ed M. asks – I see that Caleb Jones was put on waivers today (Friday). I assume he will clear. So the Keith trade can be distilled down to one year of Duncan Keith for Caleb Jones (now confirmed to be a AHL/NHL tweener) and a 3rd round pick.
The Hawks pick turned into Jeremy Langois and we don’t yet know if he is trending like a star or a bust, but typically a 3rd rounder has about a 25% chance of playing 100 NHL games. In retrospect was it a good trade?
Jason Gregor:
Nothing about retrospect. It was a very good trade the day it happened and it worked out great for Edmonton. Keith played well, helped mentor Bouchard and others and they went to the Conference Final. He retired (which was the main reason CHI didn’t retain salary, for that exact reason). The trade was a clear win for Edmonton.
Robin Brownlee:
It was a good trade no matter how you look at it. Jones couldn’t play here. Keith for a third-rounder? Easy call up front, not just in retrospect.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
It was a fine trade in retrospect, but it was still an overpay at the time and I won’t back down from that. Keith requested a deal to Western Canada and the Oilers were basically the only realistic option. They did the Hawks a huge favour by not having them retain any money in that deal. The deal worked out, I’ll admit that, but it was still an overpay simply off the cap hit.
Liam Horrobin:
Yes! Even without everything that happened after Duncan Keith retired, the Edmonton Oilers went to the Western Conference Finals. I don’t care what everyone’s advanced stats say about Keith but the impact he had during his short time in Edmonton was impactful and vital. Caleb Jones would have never brought that to this organization. Should Ken Holland have tried to get Chicago to retain cap? 100% but the Oilers came out of the trade as a better team and thats what matters.
Baggedmilk:
The trade was fine in retrospect even though I do wish Holland would have been able to get Chicago to retain some salary. I will die on that hill.
Apr 1, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner (74) celebrates with goaltender Jack Campbell (36) after his 6-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks. The win was goaltender Jack Campbell (36) first shout-out as an Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
5) @OilersPain asks – Who do you see as the top 5 goalie tandems in the Western Conference?
Jason Gregor:
Dallas, Minnesota and then I’d go with best goalies so Nashville, Winnipeg and Vancouver. But goaltending is highly volatile year by year. Georgiev was great in Colorado last year and if he repeats it then COL is in the mix. If Markstrom from 2022 and 2020 shows up Calgary is in the mix. If Skinner stays the same and Campbell plays like he did in Toronto and LA at times, then EDM will be solid. It is a great question, because there are few goalies who we can say, “This guy is a lock to have a great year.”
Robin Brownlee:
Good question, but three of the top five WC teams in goal-against last season — Dallas, Colorado and Winnipeg — weren’t tandems in the true sense of the word. They each had starters with 60-plus games played. I’d look at Minnesota and Vegas based on last season as top-five tandems this season.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
I really like Vegas. They have Hill and Thompson, who both could be capable of being number ones and they’re making under $6m. The Wild would be #2 on my list with Fleury and Gustavsson. After that, I’d have the Stars and Predators just because of the strength of their number ones and then my five spot would either be Edmonton or Calgary. The Flames duo (could almost call it a trio with Dustin Wolf) has strong bounce back potential this season.
Liam Horrobin:
1) Winnipeg Jets
2) Dallas Stars
3) Nashville Predators
4) Minnesota Wild
5) Vancouver Canucks
I am not sure the Winnipeg Jets are happy to be #1 on this list.
Baggedmilk:
I’ll go with Winnipeg for as long as Hellebuyck is around. Then I’ll go with Nashville and Dallas because their starters are legit. Then Minnesota at number four, and finally Edmonton at five assuming Campbell can bounce back.

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