Is….is this thing on? It’s been almost a month since I last wrote in this space, which seems like an eternity for me. Just another side effect of the wild lives we live in 2020. Amidst the uncertainty, however, something certain appears on the horizon. The start of yet another NHL season.
On Sunday, the NHL Board of Governors approved a 56-game season, which will begin on January 13th. The Oilers will start camp on January 3rd, and sources indicate they will start the season against the Vancouver Canucks on either the 13th or the 14th of January. Expectation is that the full season schedule will be announced sometime on Wednesday.
With another season fast approaching, there is a lot to unpack and catch up on. Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke earlier this week, and gave an indication of where the team’s roster stands.
Klefbom Done For Season:
Oscar Klefbom never looked right in the play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks this summer. Now, he won’t get the chance to suit up at any point during the 2020-21 season. Holland confirmed that Klefbom will miss the entire season due to his ailing shoulder, and that he is targeting the 2021-22 season for a return.
The news is disappointing, but not surprising. Word about a potentially lengthy absence leaked out in September, and the club signed Tyson Barrie in part to replace Klefbom on the powerplay for this season.
According to the club, Klefbom is still exploring his options. Surgery was the rumored outcome nearly three months ago, but no decisions have been made.
“He’s exploring his options and shooting for trying to be at camp in September,” Holland said on 630 CHED’s ‘Oilers Now’ on Monday.
The lone silver lining to losing Klefbom? The LTIR relief. With Klefbom gone for the season, the Oilers could gain $4,167,000 in cap space. If the Oilers are under the cap when rosters are due, they’ll get the entire $4,167,000 in extra space. If they are over by any dollar amount, that will be their new upper-limit for the season.
If Holland works this right, he could use the extra cap space to his advantage in a year like no other.
Filling The Hole With a UFA?:
There is no one player that will replace Klefbom on the free agent market right now. That doesn’t mean the Oilers should stand pat defensively. As it stands, Darnell Nurse, Caleb Jones and Kris Russell are slated to be the three left-shot defensemen in the lineup. William Lagesson, also a lefty, is likely to make the roster as the seventh defenseman.
Those four options aren’t making Holland complacent, however. Sources indicate the Oilers are looking to make a free agent addition on defense, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman dropped two interesting names on Monday.
During a radio hit with Sportsnet 960 in Calgary, Friedman mentioned free agent defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Ben Hutton as players the club is looking at in advance of training camp.
In fact, Freidman went as far as to say “I wouldn’t be surprised if they add one of those two.”
Koekkoek played for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, scoring ten points (1 g, 9 a) in 42 regular season games and posting a 52.4% Corsi For on a bad Chicago defense. He was thorn in Edmonton’s side in August as well, and scored three points (1 g, 2 a) in nine playoff games.
Hutton, meanwhile, averaged 18:16 per game for Todd McLellan and the Los Angeles Kings. Over the course of 65 games, Hutton scored 16 points (4 g, 12 a) and provided the young Kings with a steady presence on the backend. He posted a 55.5% Corsi For, a sparkling +3.6 relative to his teammates.
Both players represent strong depth options that are likely to come cheap. If an addition is to be made, it most likely comes in the next 48 hours so said player can arrive in Edmonton and quarantine for training camp.
No Deal For Nuge?:
“His agent Rick Valette and I had many conversations during the two weeks around free agency in October. But the marketplace has changed so much that basically our conversations have ended, and I would hope at some point once we get up and running we can pick back up and see if we can find a solution to keep Nuge in an Oilers uniform. Certainly that’s my goal, but the deal’s got to work for Ryan and for the Oilers.”
Those were the words of Ken Holland on Monday, and now it appears a new contract for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is not close. It remains a priority for team and player, but Nugent-Hopkins could become an unrestricted free agent on July 28th and could cash in on a center-needy team that also needs someone to help boost their powerplay. Oddly enough, RNH may be more valuable to a different team.
He’s still insanely valuable to the Oilers, however, and the priority must be to re-sign him. It’s possible the club waits until after the Expansion Draft, potentially keeping an extra spot to protect another forward from Seattle next July.
Regardless, Oilers fans are going to be on high alert here until pen meets paper. I truly believe the priority is to get this done, and that Nugent-Hopkins will indeed sign an extension at some point with Edmonton.
This N’ That:
*The Oilers will play both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks ten times this season. In addition, they’ll have nine games against the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. All 56 regular season games will take place in the all-Canadian North Division.
The playoffs will be structured so that the Division winner will play the 4th seed, while the 2nd and 3rd place teams face off. The second round will feature each series winner, with the winner of that advancing to the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
Expect bad blood all over the NHL this season.
*As of right now, the Oilers are not expecting any opt outs for the 2020-21 season. Forward Gaetan Haas, however, will be delayed to training camp. He was in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19. Holland indicated a few players have similiar situations, but only Haas was named and is expected to miss camp time.
*No new contract for Ethan Bear, but Holland did admit it is a priority on Monday. Bear, according to the club, is not yet in town. Due to the uncertainty of the salary cap, Bear is likely to only receive a one or two-year deal. It’s vital the Oilers get him to camp on time. He’ll undoubtedly be the club’s top right-shot defenseman this season, with Barrie and Adam Larsson also in picture.
*Just like in July, expect to see a number of scrimmages at camp. There will be no exhibition games, just like in 2012-13, so head coach Dave Tippett is likely to have scrimmages to simulate some kind of game action. That means a full 36 skaters at camp, and likely four goalies.