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Off the Top of My Head

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
4 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers got the player they wanted at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft when they selected local lad Reid Schaefer from the Seattle Thunderbirds with the 32nd pick Thursday, but they returned from Montreal with more than the big winger from Spruce Grove.
While Schaefer might prove to be a valuable addition up front a year or two down the road, GM Ken Holland and the Oilers draft contingent packed their bags for home with something they can use here and now to try to build on a 2021-22 season in which they made it all the way to the Western Conference final. 
With Zack Kassian traded to Arizona Thursday and word Friday that Duncan Keith had decided to retire, Holland and the Oilers went from being squeezed in a salary cap crunch to relatively flush with cap space – $20.57 million, according to PuckPedia. Talk about great timing with players to sign and the free agency season set to open Wednesday.
“Talking to many managers, lots are in the same situation that we’re in,” Holland said. “The cap has only gone up $1 million. Restricted free agents, they’re obviously looking for salary increases. The market’s tight. It’s going to be an interesting next seven to 10 days to see what’s going on.”

BUSY DAY

May 23, 2022; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Blues goaltender Ville Husso (35) defends the net from the Colorado Avalanche during the first period in game four of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports
When the Detroit Red Wings got things started by acquiring Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues first thing Friday, the Oilers and a handful of other teams in the market for a goaltender were left eye-balling pending UFA’s Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell as the best stoppers still available.
Not long after, Colorado GM Joe Sakic made it known he was offering up Kuemper’s rights for a late-round draft pick. No need for Holland or anybody else looking for a goaltender to wait until Wednesday. If Holland hasn’t already put in a call to Sakic, he will. He won’t be alone.
With Kassian already off the books, Keith’s decision to retire added $5.54 million in cap space. Factor in Mike Smith joining Oscar Klefbom on LTIR next season and Holland finds himself with room to move when it seemed things would be tight.
So, the to-do list. Will it be Campbell, Kuemper or somebody else in tandem with Stuart Skinner? What will that cost? What about Evander Kane? Can Kane get the term and money he wants here? UFA defenceman Brett Kulak is worth re-signing. Does four years with a $2.5 million AAV get it done? Might Kulak look around? We don’t know what’s going to happen with Jesse Puljujarvi, who needs a contract, as does Kailer Yamamoto. 
For me, the first priority has to be goaltending. The second is seeing if there’s a deal to be made with Kane or with somebody who can take his spot in the line-up. I don’t know if Holland sees it the same way, but we’re going to find out soon enough. At the very least, having meaningful cap space to work with means having options.

CUTTING BAIT

Mar 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Kassian was a better player for the Oilers when he had big sideburns than he was with a big contract, so credit to Holland for getting out from under his mistake – a four-year deal worth $12.8 million inked in January 2020 – by sending Kassian to Arizona.
“I guess in life you make the decisions based on the information you got at the time and when the information changes, you have to roll with the punches,” Holland said. “When I signed him to that contract, my first year here, Yamamoto was in the AHL. Puljujarvi was in Finland. Kane was somewhere else. (Zach) Hyman was in Toronto. (Ryan) McLeod was in Bakersfield. In the last two years our team got deeper and (Kassian’s) role was really diminished.”
To state the obvious, Holland overpaid. Kassian was never going to live up to the contract. Better to admit the mistake and free up cap space than get stubborn and refuse to recognize a bad deal. Best of luck to Kassian in Arizona.

AND . . . 

  • Holland finished fourth in voting for the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award behind Sakic, Julien Brisebois of Tampa Bay and Chris Drury of the NY Rangers. It’s the first Gregory award, presented since 2010, for Sakic, who garnered 109 points in voting. Brisebois had 87, Drury 53 and Holland 41.
  • Former Oiler Mike Grier was eloquent talking about friend and teammate Bryan Marchment Thursday. A tough first few days for the new San Jose GM with the sudden passing of Marchment, a scout with the Sharks.
  • Shane Wright won the first day of the draft with the hairy eyeball he directed at the Canadiens table after being taken fourth by the Seattle Kraken. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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