Ken Holland finally put his stamp on the Edmonton Oilers last Friday when he sent winger Milan Lucic to Calgary in exchange for James Neal. The trade rid Edmonton of their worst contract and a player who, quite simply, was unable to produce.
Although Neal is coming off of a disastrous season with the Flames, he has scored 20 or more goals in ten of his eleven NHL seasons. He’s a better fit in Edmonton’s top-six than he was in Calgary’s bottom-six, and a shooting percentage correction should have him close to his usual 20 goal production.
Neal’s addition isn’t the perfect solution, but it is a solid gamble considering acquisition price. It opens up possibilities for Edmonton both in the present and future, with a buyout becoming more palatable next June.
Now that Holland has acquired his forward with the ability to score 20 goals, his summer is looking a lot better. There is still work to be done, but the picture is a lot clearer than it was a week ago.
Nearly a month into free agency, it’s time to revisit Ken Holland’s first shopping list as GM of the Edmonton Oilers.
1.) Add a top-six winger: The Oilers are making a bet on Neal, assuming the veteran will return to form in 2019-20. After scoring 20 goals in each of his first ten seasons, Neal scored less than ten goals a season ago. He’s likely to get time with either Connor McDavid or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and play on Edmonton’s second powerplay unit.
Is Neal going to score 30 again? No, probably not, but I’d be willing to wager he hits the 20 goal plateau this coming season. Neal is the man Holland has chosen to fill this hole.
2.) Rid yourself of Milan Lucic: Somehow, Holland was able to move Lucic while also adding a top-six forward in his deal with Calgary. Although Edmonton got no cap relief in the deal, they did open up the possibility of a buyout moving forward. Neal’s buyout is a straight buyout with no bonuses, meaning Edmonton could get significant cap relief as early as next June.
Moving Lucic out of the room, after a tough two seasons, also could be beneficial to the team. It was time to move on from the veteran, and Holland was able to do so while making a strong bet to improve the team.
3.) Third line center: This is the only thing that Holland has said he wanted to do and hasn’t. The Oilers, as currently constructed, do not have a third line center. Internal options like Sam Gagner, Jujhar Khaira, Gaetan Haas, Colby Cave and Kyle Brodziak could fight for the job, but they all have significant faults.
Holland, to his credit, has done everything he said he would to this point in the summer. The belief is, he’ll also find a way to add a center before camp opens in a little over a month.
The club has shown an interest in Derick Brassard as a free agent, while trade rumors are burning regarding Colton Sissons of the Nashville Predators. Don’t forget about veteran Brian Boyle either.
Something could break here sooner rather than later. All of Holland’s attention is now on filling the 3C hole.
4.) Find a 30-35 game goalie: Holland made his bet on Mike Smith. I don’t think it was a strong one, but Smith did perform quite well in the playoffs and in the second half of the regular season. He’s hoping that Smith and Dave Tippett can rekindle the fire from their Arizona days. It’s a risky bet, but only a one-year one.
5.) Rebuild the bottom-six: A third line center is a need here, and the bottom-six won’t be completely rebuilt until that hole is filled. That said, Holland has added to the overall speed and skill of the bottom-six this summer. The signings of Markus Granlund and Josh Archibald give the club more speed, skill and PK ability. Both players are capable of playing third line minutes, and both come on cheap one-year deals.
Tomas Jurco, Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas will all provide competition as well. I’d wager that both Nygard and Haas are in Edmonton on opening night, with Haas centering the fourth line and Nygard on the left wing.
Holland made some really nice bets in the bottom-six, a unit that looks quicker and poised to deliver more offense in 2019-20.
6.) Create space on defense: The club elected to buyout Andrej Sekera in a move I simply cannot agree with. The smart move would have been to ship out veteran Kris Russell, an overpaid third pairing defender who struggles to move the puck.
I understand the need for cap space, but there were other options. Sekera was solid down the stretch and a good leader for this club. I think he’ll be missed more than people realize.
7.) Solve the Jesse Puljujarvi problem: Stay tuned, I don’t think this will last into training camp.