Earlier this week, Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic had an update on the Edmonton Oilers’ approach to the upcoming expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken, who will join the Pacific Division this fall, will have the same rules for their expansion draft that Vegas had in the summer of 2017.
That means each team can protect either eight skaters and one goaltender, or seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. Logic dictated that the Oilers, who don’t have seven forwards under contract worth protecting, would go the eight skater route.
“The Oilers were thought to be leaning toward protecting eight skaters and a goalie a few weeks ago. They will almost certainly go the 7-3-1 route now.”
In this format, the club considers the following players “locks” for protection: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear.
That means, in a 7-3-1 setup, the club can protect three more forwards, one more defenseman and a goalie. Nugent-Bowman believes that defenseman, pending an extension, will be veteran Adam Larsson. Currently a pending UFA, Larsson is expected to re-sign in the coming weeks, likely on a three-or-four-year deal.
He also reports that the club is considering protecting forwards Tyler Benson, Zack Kassian and Jujhar Khaira with two of their three remaining protection slots. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the club hopes, will take up the other spot after signing a new contract. He, too, is a pending UFA.
Edmonton Should Go 4-4-1
Unless the Oilers are planning to trade for a forward or two between now and July 17th, when the protection lists are due, they should reevaluate their stance here. The club is simply leaving too much value on the board for Seattle by going 7-3-1.
The four forwards considered locks are easy picks for protection. McDavid, Draisaitl, Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are all young top-six forwards that the club considers key pieces. Other than that? There isn’t another forward both under contract and eligible to be selected who should be protected.
Kassian, with three years left on his contract and an AAV of $3,200,000, is an unlikely pick for the Kraken. If he is selected? It frees up a big chunk of cap space for the team in an important off-season.
Josh Archibald is a solid player, but is also unlikely to be selected by the Kraken. He’s a year from unrestricted free agency and more of a depth piece than anything.
Khaira, a pending RFA, doesn’t have a contract and Benson only has a handful of NHL games on his resume. Benson, by the way, also needs a new contract as an RFA.
Meanwhile, in this format, the Oilers would be exposing three defensemen that would greatly appeal to the Kraken. Oscar Klefbom’s health is a wildcard, and may be enough to keep the Kraken from selecting him. However, if healthy, Klefbom is a proven top-four defenseman who was Edmonton’s top blueliner in 2019-20.
Caleb Jones, meanwhile, is a young, mobile defensemen who has had good stretches in a top-four role early in his career. Even after a down stretch as a sophomore, there is value here.
William Lagesson, a homegrown shutdown defenseman, has also developed into a solid depth piece on the backend.
All three would be exposed in the 7-3-1 format.
What 4-4-1 Looks Like For Edmonton
If the Oilers were to go the 4-4-1 route, their protection list would be pretty obvious.
Forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi
Defensemen: Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson
Goaltender: Mike Smith
The assumption here is that both Larsson and Smith are re-signed. Negotiations with Larsson were going well late in the regular season, while Holland has publicly stated that he wants to sign Smith to a third contract in Edmonton.
If Larsson and Smith are not re-signed by this point, Lagesson and AHL starting goaltender Stuart Skinner are the likely options for protection. Veteran goalie Alex Stalock could also be in consideration.
Unless the Oilers re-sign Nugent-Hopkins prior to July 17th, it’s tough to see the rationale in using the 7-3-1 protection format. The Oilers don’t have seven forwards worth protecting, but have potentially five defensemen that warrant consideration.
Edmonton’s emphasis on depth forwards, in this case Khaira, Kassian and Archibald, is mystifying. The club’s bottom-six forward group was one of the worst in the NHL in 2020-21, and improving it is a big part of this off-season for GM Ken Holland. Protecting multiple pieces from that group makes little, if any, sense.
Now, as mentioned, if Nugent-Hopkins is re-signed then the Oilers have five forwards that need protection. At that point, they’ll have no choice but to go 7-3-1 or make a trade. Barring an extension for RNH, or a trade for a forward, going 7-3-1 is a confusing at best decision.
Don’t overthink it, Edmonton. 4-4-1 is the way to go barring a trade or extension for Nugent-Hopkins.