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Ken Holland has delivered on his promise to acquire a potential 20-goal scorer for the Edmonton Oilers. He is making the bet that James Neal, who scored at least 20 goals in ten of his first eleven NHL seasons, is simply coming off of a down season. Holland is betting that Neal will rebound and fill a massive hole in Edmonton’s top-six.
With that done, the attention now turns to the final hole that Holland discussed earlier this summer. Edmonton needs a replacement for the departed Ryan Strome, someone to fill that third line center spot.
According to Cap Friendly, the Oilers have $2,433,001 remaining under the $81,500,000 upper limit. That’s more than enough to sign a player or two on the face of it, but a deeper dive suggests that Holland is all out of room. The veteran GM wants to allocate at least $1,000,000 for potential bonus payments to Mike Smith. In addition, Holland admitted earlier this summer than he likes a $1,500,000 cushion for adjustments during the season.
The Oilers, in Holland’s perfect world, would enter 2019-20 with $2,500,000 in space. That’s essentially where they sit today. Barring a salary dump, it appears the Oil are done.
Decisions Still To Be Made:
With Neal now in the fold, the roster picture becomes far more clear. Neal will join Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton’s top-six, leaving two spots up for grabs as camp approaches.
The assumption is that Zack Kassian, who showed well with McDavid and Draisaitl, will fill one of the holes. The other, likely with Nugent-Hopkins, will be up for grabs in camp.
Alex Chiasson, re-signed after a 22-goal season, Swedish free agent Joakim Nygard and prospect Tyler Benson are all candidates to make the team and play with Nuge. A PTO, perhaps Thomas Vanek, could also be an outside candidate for a job here.
Holland wanted to rebuild the bottom-six forward group and find a couple of potential value contracts. With Markus Granlund and Josh Archibald on board, he’s done just that. Both can help with the penalty kill, add to the team speed and can contribute double digit goals in a depth role. Edmonton didn’t have pieces like that last season.
The bottom-six has more speed, skill and PK ability than it did a season ago. Lost in the frustration of Oiler fans this summer has been Holland’s work in this area. He’s added to the overall skill while also creating a level of competition that hasn’t been there in previous years.
No spots are being handed to prospects, a welcomed change as well.
Granlund, Archibald, Nygard, Sam Gagner, Jujhar Khaira, Gaetan Haas, Tomas Jurco, Cooper Marody and even Chiasson all could fill roles in Edmonton’s bottom-six. That will be an improvement over what the club started with a season ago.
The biggest decision remaining for Holland will be at center. Internally, the club could shift Gagner back to center, but he’s proven to be far more effective on the wing.
The unproven Haas, Colby Cave and veteran Kyle Brodziak could also make a play for the third line center role, but none of those players carry the offensive capability to fill a top-nine role.
Cave was solid in a fourth line role last season, but he’s ideally a 13/14th forward. Haas is completely unproven, while Brodziak has lost a step and looked done as an NHL’er in 2018-19.
With Neal on board, the Oilers are in better shape. A volume shooter and pure sniper, Neal is a good candidate to rebound and score 15-20 goals with Edmonton. That will help immensely.
Although far from perfect, Edmonton’s wing depth will be better with Neal, Nygard, Gagner and Granlund in the picture for a full season.
The biggest hole left is at third line center. Riley Sheahan presents a strong UFA option that could come cheap and provide a value contract. Sheahan would be the ideal center for a shutdown line for Dave Tippett, and he can also help on the PK.
JG Pageau could be moved out of Ottawa and he too represents a strong fit. Pageau, as a third liner, brings depth scoring, speed and two-way ability to the table. A rebuilding Senators club could have interest in Jesse Puljujarvi, and if they were willing to take a bad contract back there could be a fit.
Derick Brassard is still a free agent and Edmonton has shown interest at times this summer. Same with Brian Boyle, who is likely a better fit in a bottom-six role than Brassard.
Ken Holland has done everything he has said he would. He’s rebuilt the bottom-six, added a potential 20-goal scorer and added stability to the organization with the hiring of Dave Tippett.
Holland said he wanted a third line center, and we have no reason to doubt that he’ll make good on that word. Common sense would suggest that is next now that James Neal is on board.