What Comes Next For Ken Holland, Oilers?

K Holland

To say the Edmonton Oilers were quiet on July 1st would be accurate. To say the Edmonton Oilers have underwhelmed to this point in the off-season would also be accurate. As we sit here on the afternoon on July 2nd, it would be hard to argue that the Oilers are a better hockey club than the one that ended the season in April.

So far, the club has bought one of its four best defenders out in Andrej Sekera, re-signed Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson, and added UFA’s Mike Smith, Tomas Jurco and Markus Granlund. It’s been quiet around Edmonton so far, which has been both surprising and disappointing.

Ken Holland made his vision quite clear when he was hired nearly two months ago. He wants to build the Edmonton Oilers into a powerhouse team, one that can compete for the Stanley Cup year after year. In addition to that, Holland wants this club to compete for and ultimately make the playoffs in 2019-20. That is going to be awfully hard to do without more additions.

The Oilers are a quicker team today than they were in April, but it is hard to see how they are better. Markus Granlund should be an upgrade on Tobias Rieder, but it appears Mike Smith is a wash on Cam Talbot. The Oilers are hoping that Smith, at 37-years-old, can rebound. That’s an awfully big risk.

The defense, with Kris Russell still slated for a top-four job and Andrej Sekera gone, is worse. Caleb Jones is likely to start the season in Edmonton and I believe he is going to be good, but there will be bumps in his development. The defense is younger and I believe worse off today. The best way to off-set the loss of Sekera? Pray for health with both Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson.

The positives from a quiet off-season to this point? The Oilers haven’t made any outrageous commitments to free agents and haven’t bled talent like they did consistently under Peter Chiarelli. They’ve kept their prospect pool strong and the powder dry when it comes to future draft picks.

The biggest positive? The veteran General Manager isn’t done tinkering with his roster and knows there are adjustments to be made before October 2nd.

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That’s good, because as you’ll see in a moment Holland still has a lot left on his to-do list.

Holland’s Updated Shopping List:

1.) A top-six scoring winger: Holland did his best Willy Mo Pena impression on July 1 when it came to top-six forwards. He was in on Wayne Simmonds, Gustav Nyquist, Brett Connolly and, to a degree, Corey Perry. He stuck out on every single one of them. Now, only Ryan Dzingel remains as a top-six forward on the free agent market. The Oilers haven’t been overly connected to the former Senator and Blue Jacket.

It’s certainly looking like this hole will not be filled this summer, a major failure on Holland’s part. Without a top-six winger, for the second straight summer, it’s hard to imagine this team getting better.

Yes, I understand Holland wasn’t given ample cap space, but it is still disappointing to see Edmonton’s biggest hole yet to be filled.

2.) Rid yourself of Milan Lucic: Sources indicate that part of Lucic’s bonus was paid yesterday. The rest of it will be paid at some point in the next three weeks. It is at that point where a Lucic trade becomes more likely. I still firmly believe that Lucic will be a Canuck, and I expect Loui Eriksson to head to Edmonton in the swap. This should be solved, one way or another, by August 1st.

3.) Third line center: Holland once again struck out here, as his top target signed with Detroit. Holland badly wanted Valtteri Filppula to be his third-line center, but the Finn elected to return to the Red Wings and Steve Yzerman. The Oilers signed Markus Granlund and Gaetan Haas, but neither is expected to fill this hole.

Brian Boyle could sign as early as today, but it doesn’t sound like he wants anything to do with Edmonton. He’s an eastern boy who doesn’t have much interest in coming west at this point in his career.

Derick Brassard very well could be Edmonton’s best bet here. The veteran is a solid buy-low candidate that could accept a one-year deal to try and rehab his value. I do expect a center signed in the coming days.

4.) Find a 30-35 game goalie: Holland rolled the dice on veteran Mike Smith to fill this hole. The biggest positive? It’s a one-year deal, so if Smith can’t rebound the Oil can walk away in a year.

5.) Rebuild the bottom-six: Holland has admitted he isn’t done here, but he likely only has two spots to fill, at the most. Sam Gagner, Jujhar Khaira, Granlund and Alex Chiasson are all under contract and are likely to play in the bottom-six. That leaves Edmonton in need of another winger and a third-line center.

Perhaps Tomas Jurco, now healthy and coming off a dynamic Calder Cup Playoff, could fill one of those holes?

6.) Create space on defense: Sekera is gone, which opens a roster spot for someone like Caleb Jones. I do think the Oilers are trying to shop Kris Russell, but at this point it is uncertain what kind of market will develop for him. Ideally, I’m led to believe the Oilers want to shed one more defender off the roster, perhaps to open a spot for Swede Joel Persson.

Final Thoughts:

As of this writing, here is how I’ve drawn up the Oilers lineup for opening night against Vancouver.

Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Milan Lucic – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard – XXX – Sam Gagner
Markus Granlund – Jujhar Khaira – XXX

That top-six, even with McDavid and Draisaitl, is not even close to playoff level. Kassian, Lucic and Chiasson are all bottom-six forwards at this stage that are being asked to produce over their established level. That’s not a smart bet for Holland.

There has been a lot of talk about Draisaitl returning to the right wing, a position he played in 2016-17. That would indicate that the Oilers are looking at a left winger in free agency. Both sources and reports are indicating that is in fact the case.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector first reported that the Oilers are interested in Patrick Maroon, who scored 27 goals in 2016-17 riding shotgun with McDavid and Draisaitl. He had an update on the situation late Monday.

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I’m taking Holland at his word that he isn’t content with his roster currently and that he isn’t done making moves. I understand the summer is more than just July 1st and that there are some solid players sitting on the market still.

Holland will need to make good on his word and add at least two NHL forwards to this group. As things stand right now, the Oilers are working with a bottom-five offense that will be counting on career years from the top players yet again. That’s not a recipe for success.

If Edmonton can land Maroon, the focus will immediately turn to a 3C, which could be acquired via trade or free agency. Edmonton isn’t quite done yet, but it remains to be seen if they can accomplish enough to make a difference in 2019-20.

What am I betting on being the opening night roster?

Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Loui Eriksson – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Sam Gagner
Joakim Nygard – Derick Brassard – Alex Chiasson
Markus Granlund – Jujhar Khaira – Zack Kassian

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