Who’s coming back and who’s moving on? A quick look at Ken Holland’s upcoming off-season decisions
By Cam Lewis6 months ago
One minute you’re asking yourself whether you’d prefer to see the Dallas Stars or Seattle Kraken in the Western Conference Final and the next minute you’re thinking about the off-season. Life comes at you fast.
The Edmonton Oilers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday so the focus now shifts to next season. General manager Ken Holland is going to have a busy summer as the Oilers enter the off-season with just under $7 million in salary cap room and a handful of players in need of new contracts.
Let’s go through which players on the Oilers are in need of a new contract and speculate who might be coming back and who might be moving on…
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Restricted Free Agents
Evan Bouchard is one of the players on this list who will be talked about a lot this summer. The Oilers would probably like to lock up their power-play quarterback and top right-handed defenceman to a long-term deal but they’ll need to open up quite a bit of cap room to make that possible. A bridge contract seems most likely here.
Ryan McLeod did Holland a big favour last summer when he signed a one-year, $798k deal following the conclusion of his entry-level contract. After setting career-highs with 11 goals and 23 points over 57 games, McLeod will be looking for a nice raise this summer. He’s also eligible to go to salary arbitration, so McLeod has more leverage this year than he did last.
Klim Kostin was found money for the Oilers this season. Holland flipped defence prospect Dmitri Samorukov to the St. Louis Blues for the former first-round pick and Kostin delivered 11 goals and 21 points over 57 games at just $750k against the cap. There was talk during the season that the Oilers and Kostin were working toward a multi-year deal with a low cap hit but nothing transpired. Like McLeod, Kostin is arb-eligible.
Raphael Lavoie had a breakout season for the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL with 25 goals and 45 points over 61 games. The team’s second-round pick from Holland’s first draft in Edmonton is now knocking on the door for a role on the big league club. Edmonton needs cheap wingers who can produce offensively and Lavoie fits the bill.
Noah Philp did well in his first professional season with the Condors this year. The former U of A Golden Bear scored 19 goals and 37 points over 70 games in the AHL and impressed with his sound defensive play. Philp will challenge for NHL playing time next season, especially if the Oilers aren’t able to retain some of their bottom-six veterans.
Phil Kemp took on a larger role on the Condors’ blueline this season as Vincent Desharnais started off the year with an injury and was later called up to the NHL team. The 24-year-old Yale graduate will continue to play big minutes for Bakersfield and will likely be a call-up option next season.
Olivier Rodrigue found his groove this season after a couple of difficult years to start his professional career and posted a 0.912 save percentage over 29 games for the Condors. The Oilers traded up to select Rodrigue at the 2018 draft so him turning a corner is a nice win for the organization.
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Unrestricted Free Agents
Nick Bjugstad was acquired ahead of the trade deadline from the Arizona Coyotes and chipped in four goals and six points over 19 games while also featuring prominently on Edmonton’s penalty kill. He’s coming off of a one-year, $900k show-me deal and will be able to earn more than that on the open market this summer. The Oilers would surely like to have Bjugstad back but the money is tight. Ken Holland might try to get him to accept a lower annual salary for multiple years of security.
Derek Ryan has reached the end of the two-year, $1.25 million deal he signed with the Oilers in the summer of 2021. Ryan scored 23 goals and 42 points over 155 games for the Oilers over those two seasons and plays a very sound defensive game. The Oilers have an interesting option with Ryan since he’s over 35 years old. They could sign him to a one-year deal with performance bonuses and kick the cap hit of the bonus to the following season’s salary cap picture to open up more wiggle room in 2023-24.
Mattias Janmark was a salary cap casualty at the start of the season and cleared through waivers. He came up when Evander Kane got injured and scored 10 goals and 25 points for the Oilers over 66 games. He’s another depth forward worth bringing back at the right price.
Devin Shore has been with the Oilers for three seasons over the course of two different contracts. His one goal and nine points over 47 games this season was his lowest output as an Oiler but Shore has carved out a role as a versatile depth forward who can go back and forth from the NHL to the AHL. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him back on a cheap deal.
Tyler Benson signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Oilers last year and will be eligible to hit the open market as a Group VI free agent this summer. The team’s second-round pick from the 2016 draft hasn’t been able to break through with his hometown club and will surely look for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Justin Bailey was brought in on an AHL deal and his solid play with the Condors earned him a contract with the Oilers in January. The 27-year-old scored 19 goals and 32 points over 58 games for Bakersfield and could come back on another cheap two-way deal.
Ryan Murray inked a one-year, $750k contract with the Oilers but only wound up playing in a few games with the team before his season was derailed by a back injury. It would be surprising to see the oft-injured Murray back next year.
Jason Demers came to training camp on a tryout contract and inked a one-year, two-way deal with the Oilers in December. He spent almost all of the season in the AHL but was called up when the Oilers played the San Jose Sharks in April so he could dress for his 700th NHL game. Demers isn’t an NHLer anymore but he could return as a veteran presence in Bakersfield.
Slater Koekkoek stepped away from hockey this season in order to work on his mental health. He spoke in March that the anxiety of being a professional hockey player led him to be unable to eat ahead of games. Good on Koekkoek for being open about his experience and we wish him the best of luck in the future.
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