As the Edmonton Oilers try to shuffle amid cap constraints who is not covering the bet?: 9 Things

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The days are past when I would look at a tough Edmonton Oilers matchup on Hockey Night in Canada and go “hoo-boy, that’s a tall order.”
The Oilers are good enough to beat anybody now. But inconsistency game-to-game and in-game this season has been plaguing them. There has been a critical gap between capability and dependability.

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The coin, however, flipped on Saturday in a fun 4-3 O/T win over Vegas.

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That and more in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. After Edmonton lost to Los Angeles earlier in the week, I watched the Canucks beat the Kings. In Vancouver, LA looked like they “wanted” to win. When they played the Oilers, it looked like they “had” to win. It is fair to say Edmonton did not match LA’s desperation or intensity.

8. But that changed on Saturday. The Edmonton Oilers were the better team early against an excellent road team in Las Vegas. They scored first for a change, and then really dug in and stayed with the Golden Knights in a highly entertaining back-and-forth affair and behind the good goaltending by Stuart Skinner as the Oilers were out-chanced overall. Big win.

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7. Tyler Benson has begun a conditioning stint in Bakersfield. Benson had likely earned a depth NHL job in camp prior to his injury. So, you sure hope he gets another chance. Benson’s agitating style would be welcome, and he can make plays. The biggest question remains his skating. But he also looked a half-step quicker in the Fall. Earned an assist for the Condors Saturday.

6. If you have not yet enjoyed the Edmonton Journal’s story Jim Matheson has written about Klim Kostinyou can find it here. Kostin has brought more than I had anticipated so far. I had heard he played with an edge. I did not expect he would play with such a physical chip on his shoulder. Tools he has. But it is the physical dimension that is welcome in this lineup. 4 more hits Saturday.

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5. I had heard that Evander Kane has sensation back in the tips of his fingers, on the wrist cut by a skate a few games back. I am a doctor. But if accurate that in itself would have been great news. Kane just as easily could have been gone for the season. But on HNIC Saturday while Kane’s hand was in a cast, he appeared to be moving his fingers freely. He said his thumb remained numb, but that doctors are optimistic he will make a full recovery. Relief, for the player, his family, his teammates, and for those of us who enjoy watching him play.

4. I like so many things about Jay Woodcroft. It is why I am somewhat conflicted when it comes to his handling of Dylan Holloway. For the Oilers to lose two of their Top-6 wingers to injury and still not give young Holloway, a guy with legit offensive pedigree, a consistent shot in that role confuses me. Holloway did not even see the ice in the final 24 minutes Saturday. It is as if Woodcroft is sending a not-so-subtle message to his GM Woodcroft often says how important it is for the coaching staff to use their eyes. Agreed. But if you rarely put a player in a position where he can succeed then what do you really expect to see?

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3. I miss Brian Lawton on Bob Stauffer’s radio show. Lawton brought a high-level NHL GM’s thinking that I really admired. But Stauffer always works at improving his show. So, when Lawton bowed out Bob instead slotted in Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff. Between Frank and Elliott Friedman’s weekly appearances, 2 bona-fide hockey insiders now deliver intelligent commentary to the show on both the Oilers and hockey in general. It is truly impactful content. Speaking of Bob, what a terrific call of the overtime goal Saturday over on the radio by Jack Michaels with Stauffer in support. Those two can surely rise to the moment.

2. One of the players that both Friedman and Saravalli have talked about since before Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto went down with injuries is the Blackhawks Sam Lafferty. Lafferty will make $1.15m this year and next. He is a 27-year-old, 6’1 200LB right-shot Center, 50% on draws so far this season. He is physical, can skate, and can PK. He brings an overall dimension that does not currently exist in the Oilers Bottom-6. It would have to be money-in, money-out to make it work cap-wise. But it is something worth watching Ken Holland continues to assess the roster and muse over which buttons to push to take this team over the top.

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1.Jesse Puljujarvi is 1-2-3 in 18 games so far this season. Add together all his 2022 Regular Season NHL games (so, since January 1sst 2022) he is 54-5-11-16. There are of course things to like about Jesse. Puljujarvi was a top pick for a reason. He skates well. He is defensively sound. And to his credit, Puljujarvi has added a more noticeable physical element along with his 6’4 frame. That was in evidence again Saturday. But the cold, hard facts of the situation are this: At pro-rated box cars of 82-8-17-25 what we are describing is a 3rd line winger. And at $3m, an expensive 3rd liner at that. With the cap problematic and Kane eventually returning from LTIR it severely limits the options.

Which brings us to Phil Kessel. The Oilers had demonstrated significant interest in the veteran winger during the off-season. And I believe the interest was mutual. In the end, the thing that stood in the way was a lack of cap space on Edmonton’s part. The Oilers tried but failed to make the room as they were unsatisfied with what the market offered in return Puljujarvi. And walking away did not seem like the best asset management either. Instead, the club settled on the fact that perhaps a bird in the hand was worth more than…

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But at $1.5m, 35-year-old Kessel has delivered double the offense of Puljujarvi at half the price. And Kessel was the more noticeable of the two men on Saturday night when it came to time with the puck. Kessel is an easy target for some critics. Well, all he has done is produce over 1,223 NHL regular season games. But to be clear…for the purposes of this column he is just one example of another way the cap space could have been spent before you qualified Jesse.

Was the 24-year-old Puljujarvi the better long-term bet? Perhaps. And maybe he still can be. But the Oilers are in “win now” mode and the short-term bet is not paying off. He is underperforming his contract.

The problem now is: Even if a GM decides he needs to fold on a player, with the market for that asset gone cold he is left holding the hand dealt to him.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, on Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and now on Mastodon at KurtLeavins@mstdn.social

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