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What’s the Play Now?

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
8 months ago
Back in the days when Glen Sather was calling the shots as GM of the Edmonton Oilers, all a beat writer looking for some inside info during the off-season had to do was pick up the telephone and call him at home in Banff. Of course, you had to have his number.
It was much the same thing after Kevin Lowe took over Sather’s chair as GM leading up to the 2000 Entry Draft in Calgary. Once the season and playoffs were done, the draft was over and the free agency season was looming, you could usually get hold of Lowe at his summer place up in the Shuswap. 
In both cases and likewise with the other front office and hockey ops people with the Oilers, getting hold of them was no guarantee you’d find out what was in the works. Nobody ever said, “Let me lay it all out for you.” I’d get a snippet here, a tidbit there, maybe something to call an agent about to push a story along. As often as not, I was guessing. They let me know what they wanted me to know. Nothing more.
Being at arm’s length from my old gig now with other people asking the questions, it’s no surprise I don’t know what GM Ken Holland is working on. We’re already into the six-week period Holland referenced two weeks ago as being important to putting the next edition of the team together. We know the salary cap room is tight. We know who needs contracts. And it’s still win-now mode despite an early exit, right?

WHAT NOW?

Jan 11, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Kailer Yamamoto (56) handles the puck against the Anaheim Ducks in the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
So, will Holland get busy and do anything to change the face of this team? Trading away Kailer Yamamoto and/or Cody Ceci to create cap room would qualify as that. With Even Bouchard needing a new contract, what’s left for Holland’s other free agents like Ryan McLeod and Klim Kostin, to name just two? Can he afford Nick Bjugstad? 
My guess, and that’s all it is, is we won’t see much change to the roster that finished the season. I don’t see the need for it. While that’s probably the safest bet with what Holland has said and with the money so tight, it’s far from unanimous with those close to the team.
Ryan Rishaug of TSN, as in the know as anybody, said he doesn’t foresee many changes on the blueline this off-season. More are likely leading into the next trade deadline. Quoted in The Journal, Rishaug wonders if Ceci might rebound from a tough season and what we might see from Bouchard and Vincent Desharnais.
“I would probably press pause on any major moves on the blueline and just let ‘er go,” Rishaug said. “This was the best team in the league from February on with that blue line. They didn’t get out-of-this-world goaltending and that was the same blueline that did that. So, I wouldn’t necessarily overreact.”
Another connected guy, Elliotte Friedman, thinks the win-now mode the Oilers are in might prompt Holland to make a bolder move than I anticipate. “I really do think that there is an overall feeling in your organization to be bold because your window is now,” Friedman told Bob Stauffer on Oilers now. “I definitely think that is there. I absolutely believe in that.
“You guys are in go-for-it mode. And if there is something out there (and) you guys think even if it’s, I don’t know if risky is the right word, but its big but you guys think it’ll help, I don’t think you’re gonna be afraid to do it, I think you’re loading up for the next couple of years.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

We’ll no doubt get something more than speculation to chew on between the end of the Cup final between Florida and Las Vegas and the Entry Draft June 28 in Nashville. Until then, it’s status quo. Like you, I’ll keep an eye out for where Yamamoto might end up and check on what, if anything, Holland has happening with Connor Brown, fill-in-name-here and Bjugstad. 

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