Though there was skepticism early on due to some prior off-ice issues, you would struggle to find anyone who would suggest the Evander Kane signing was anything but excellent for the Edmonton Oilers.
The 30-year-old, who joined the team back in January, found an instant connection with Connor McDavid and scored 22 goals in 43 regular season games. He added an even more impressive 13 in just 15 playoff outings.
His goal-scoring ability on the wing mixed with his physical presence gave the Oilers an element they had been lacking for quite some time. To no surprise, Ken Holland is hoping to keep him around.
The Oilers general manager has said several times since his team’s elimination that his hope is to re-sign Kane, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. The issue, however, is that Holland doesn’t have a ton of cap space to work with, meaning bringing back the goal-scoring forward will be very hard, if not impossible.
As of right now, the Oilers have just over $7 million in projected cap space heading into this offseason, and that accounts for just the 15 skaters they have under contract. They will likely need to sign a few cheap options to fill in some depth roles, and have also expressed interest in bringing back Brett Kulak, who made a shade under $2 million on his previous deal.
The biggest area that needs improvement, of course, is goaltending. A Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen duo proved to be this team's Achilles' heel this season. The good news is that Koskinen’s $4.5 million deal is now off the books, and while a final decision has yet to be made, Smith seemed to hint at retirement during his end-of-season media availability.
If Smith does indeed retire, it would all but guarantee 23-year-old Stuart Skinner a roster spot next season. Holland would then need to find a goalie to pair with Skinner, whether it be through free agency or a trade. Many have suggested Ville Husso of the St. Louis Blues, who is expected to command a contract of around $4 million per year, or perhaps Jack Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who could get as much as $5 million annually on the open market. If this is the way Holland chooses to go, it would take up a large chunk of his already limited cap space.
As far as Kane goes, he is a player who could command at least $7 million annually. Yes, there are some questions about his behaviour away from the rink, which could dissuade other teams, but natural goal scorers like him don’t become available very often. The fact of the matter is that in a combined 99 games over the past two seasons, he put up 44 goals and 88 points. Production like that rarely becomes available in free agency, and there will be teams who decide to take the gamble.
On top of goaltending issues, the Oilers will also need to add at least one more blueliner to the mix for the 2022-23 season. As of now, they have just Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith, Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg under contract. As mentioned, they are looking to re-sign Kulak, but may still have interest in one more depth option given the uncertainty of the 20-year-old Broberg, who has just 23 career games under his belt.
Signings at the forward position will also be necessary, as they have just eight from their 2021-22 roster under contract. Three restricted free agents in Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi can all likely be signed for cheap, and there have even been rumours Puljujarvi may be traded. Even still, this will take up more of the Oilers' cap space, and another couple forwards will still need to be added. Perhaps a young prospect like Dylan Holloway is able to step up and earn a roster spot next season on his inexpensive entry-level deal, but that remains to be seen, and certainly isn’t something management should be banking on.
One other very important tidbit in all of this is that a decision has yet to be made on Kane’s arbitration case with the San Jose Sharks. For those who may not remember, the Sharks chose to terminate Kane’s contract in early January due to him breaking COVID-19 protocols. Immediately after that decision, however, the NHLPA filed a grievance over that termination, and a ruling has yet to be made.
According to NHL insider Frank Seravalli, if it is ruled the Sharks wrongfully terminated Kane’s contract, he would be back in their organization under his former agreement, which still has three more seasons remaining with a $7 million cap hit. By no means is that guaranteed to happen, but it would make a return to Edmonton less likely than it already is.
Grievance hearing aside, Holland would need to have some major tricks up his sleeve to free up room for Kane. Though some have suggested he may be willing to take a discount as a thank you to the Oilers for giving him a shot to play in 2021-22, the fact of the matter is this could very well be his last chance to cash in on a big deal if his former one stays terminated. It is unfortunate given how well it worked out, but it looks as though the relationship between these two will have been short-lived.
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