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Some may compare Ken Holland’s job as General Manager to putting together a puzzle. Which pieces fit where in order to complete the picture?
But as the summer months start to drag on toward the dog days of August and with three specific pieces on his roster still unsolved, his situation has suddenly started to look more and more like a that of a gambler…
…overseeing a game of odds and chance, where patience and poise are required and more often than not rewarded.
That and more in this edition of…
9. Winger Tyler Benson has signed on with the AHL’s Henderson Silvertips. Kailer Yamamoto has a deal with Seattle. Both guys overcame significant odds to become Oilers and NHL players. While neither fits the bill in Edmonton anymore, I certainly wish them both well with their new clubs.
8. Ryan McLeod’s arbitration date is scheduled for August 4th. While hardly ideal I do suspect the outstanding Evan Bouchard file and 4C questions swing significantly on that result (including if it gets to the hearing, which I do not think it will). McLeod took a team-friendly deal last season and then earned a raise. The critical question now is: How much of one. The upper end of an arbitration award would probably be $2m. The Oilers cannot afford that.
7. Weeks separated from the Oilers playoff loss to Vegas if find myself continuing to reassess that series loss in my head. In the end, I felt the Oilers roster was good enough to win. What they failed to do was elevate to that next level, whereas it is fair to give Vegas credit for doing just that. And they were rewarded. At the NHL awards ceremony, Connor McDavid used the phrase “unfinished business.” I am willing to bet that is how that entire dressing room feels.
6. It is hard to imagine Leon Draisaitl elevating his lofty point totals yet again. 52-76-128 in 80 games is a stunning achievement especially when you consider that the big German was not 100% healthy for much (if any of) the past season. He was transparent that the injury which occurred in the L.A. series 2 years ago had lingered somewhat, at least in that he was not able to enjoy his usual off-season training regime. If we assume he is back to “normal,” physically, then what might he accomplish in 2023-24?
5. Four new jersey numbers for four new Oilers: Connor Brown will done #2828, 24 different Oilers including Craig Muni have previously worn it. Drake Caggiula will be back in #8, 27 have worn it in Edmonton, perhaps the most notable being Joe Murphy. Mattias Janmark will switch to #13, a dozen past Oilers have pulled on that number including Ken Linseman. Lane Pederson will wear #19, 22 others have carried those digits on their backs including the legendary “Cowboy” Bill Flett in 1980.
4. 24-year-old Center Jesper Boqvist has signed for $775k in Boston. That probably helps Ken Holland in his hunt for a proven 4C. Provided the General Manager can make the numbers work in the Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod files (thoughts on the Bouchard contract coming up), Holland will only have the league minimum available…if he is lucky…to fill the 13F slot. Some may wonder why Holland did not go after Boqvist. I would argue that he is not a perfect fit for Edmonton anyway: Not especially big, abrasive, and is NHL faceoff stats have been weak. All of those are boxes Ken Holland is looking to tick.
3. Last week, I wrote about how the Bowen Byram contract in Denver may inform us as to what Evan Bouchard will eventually attract in a bridge deal here. That contract for Byram was 2 years at $3.85. Since then, K’Andre Miller has also inked a deal with the Rangers worth $3.87m. Byram and Miller are reasonable comparables when considering the Bouchard file. I continue to believe that anything under $4m should be considered a win for Ken Holland, at least for now. I also continue to hear that 2-year contract for Bouchard is the most likely. With Evan Bouchard on the Oilers PP all season he stands to win big on his next deal. As such, a 2-year contract would probably be the most club-friendly outcome.
2. There is a commentary out there in some camps that age and injuries have already started to catch up with Evander Kane. That is a little-too-easy theory considering the nature of his two injuries since coming to Edmonton. One was a deep gash on his wrist and the other a broken rib. Neither had anything to do with age. If anything, Kane recuperated faster from the former incident than anyone expected. Now, if it were a knee or a back issue, then I might agree with the injury concern. But it isn’t. Evander Kane has always been in terrific physical condition. And he has been a 40-goal man over an 84-game sample in Edmonton. Lining up with either McDavid or Draisaitl and with 2nd unit PP time, I think he has chance to equal those results this season.
1.Prospect Raphael Lavoie has accepted his qualifying offer from the Edmonton Oilers. It results in a 1-year, 2-way contract at $874,125 ($70k in the minors). On one hand, I do not hold it against any player to get the dollars that they can. Pro hockey careers can be short and exposed to injury. You need to make hay while the sun is shining. And Lavoie did score 25 goals in 61 games after finally finding his range and converting some of that promise into points. But surely the team would have hoped to negotiate something a little more palatable for their salary cap crunch than this. The books are tight. If Lavoie does not make the Oilers out of camp, he would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to Bakersfield. And under the circumstances, the extra 100-grand in that QO may make it very hard for him to stick. So, if it comes down to him and another player a at a fee thousand bucks less this could be forcing the Oilers’ hand.
What Lavoie and his agent Philippe Lecavalier are doing is betting on themselves. And look, in some ways that is admirable. But the other way to look at this is a little more suspect. The agent will have known full well what the Oilers cap situation is. Having drafted Lavoie and investing considerable time and effort into his (up until now) uneven development, the club now faces potentially losing the player on waivers if he does not make the big team this Fall. From the outside looking in, it does not exactly appear to be the team-friendly approach that some others have taken in pursuit of a Stanley Cup…does it?
Lavoie cracking the Oilers roster is no more certain that it was for a much more battle proven Mattias Janmark last season. In fact, I would think it is considerably less so. Janmark got sent out for cap reasons. His performance in camp which was unspectacular but not demotion-worthy. I would argue Lavoie taking the additional $100k as opposed to a more cap/club friendly deal hurts his own chances to make the team because there may not be the cap space for him. No room at the inn, as it were.
Further, if I am Ken Holland, I am not making one ounce of allowance for Lavoie while negotiating the Bouchard and McLeod files. I do not mean any disrespect to Lavoie. But Bouchard and McLeod have helped the Oilers win Stanley Cup Playoff series. They have built up considerably more capitol than a kid with a good half-season in the AHL. The other two guys are the priorities.
Perhaps agent and player are hoping that if Lavoie does not make the cut, then a “second opinion” would be the better option. Only, I have some doubts that Lavoie would get claimed in this cap-crunched climate, his somewhat limited resume and a suddenly more expensive price tag. Then again, maybe the agent knows something we do not. We will see.
Betting on yourself can be a good thing. Unless you do not have the cards.
Then, that bet can also backfire.
Now on Threads @kleavins. Also, find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and Mastodon at KurtLeavins@mstdn.social
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