30 IN 30 - EDMONTON OILERS (8th place)
For those of you that don't know Edmonton, there's no such thing as an offseason for hockey. The Oilers are front page news year-round. You give Oiler fans the spare time and they'll concoct a trade for anyone on this roster. Well, not McDavid... and probably not Draisaitl... but definitely the rest of this lot. Thankfully Peter Chiarelli has the ability to tune out the gossip and build a team his way. Even if this involves a few less-than-ideal contracts or positional asset downgrades, there are only so many ways he can get this wrong with a generational talent in the lineup. McJesus has saved this franchise from the depths of the Western Conference and brought them back into the light. This kid's impact on his linemates is actually absurd. Wingers Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisatl saw 12% and 15.2% jumps in their 5v5 goal differential respectively. The unfortunate downside of such a jump is the subsequent drop in output when playing on the team's second unit. Putting together a group of cheap complementary scorers will be this team's mission ahead of the McDavid and Draisaitl extensions. Can the Oilers use expansion as a way to clear cap space or is that best saved for after the draft?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Lucic (*NMC)
- Sekara (*NMC)
- Talbot (*NMC)
The Oilers are set up quite nicely for the expansion process. A 7-3-1 protection list structure allows Edmonton to keep each and every one of their key roster players, thanks to the expansion rule exemption for first and second year professionals. So you can go ahead and exclude McDavid, Caggiula, Slepyshev, Benning, and Nurse off your protection lists.
Up front, a surprising turnaround in play from Zack Kassian and Mark Letestu has allowed both forwards to carve out an important role in this team's forward group, while the impact of Patrick Maroon on the scoresheet has made the big power forward indispensable to the Oilers. On defence, Edmonton avoids debate, with the bottom half of their group either exempt from the process, or not under contract.
So what does this leave for the Golden Knights come draft night? Not a lot. Here is the list of players available:
- Benoit Pouliot - $4.000M (2019)
- Iiro Pakarinen -$750K (2018)
- Zachary Pochiro - $633K (RFA)
- Jujhar Khaira - $875K (RFA)
- Henrik Samuelsson - $894K (RFA)
- Mark Fayne - $3.625M (2018)
- David Musil - $600K (RFA)
- Dillon Simpson - $837K (RFA)
- Griffin Reinhart - $863K (RFA)
- Laurent Brossoit - $750K (2018)
OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
With so few NHL calibre players to choose from, the Golden Knights have three real options to consider with their Edmonton selection:
(1) Squeeze A draft pick and/or Caleb Jones out of Chiarelli in exchange for taking Pouliot
If you had the privilege of watching Benoit Pouliot play last season you likely wouldn't want him on your team at a $4.00M cap hit. He was well and truly a passenger along for the ride as opposed to an impact player. Coach Todd McLellan rightfully shuffled him throughout the lineup last season in order to get anything out of him. Unfortunately the only forward with whom he logged more than 100 minutes, and had a positive Corsi impact on, was Drake Cagguila. Every other linemate saw a drop in their possession numbers playing alongside him and a resounding majority saw a 7-10% drop in their goal differential. Pretty lousy stats for a guy playing in a top-9 role.
With two seasons of surprisingly productive play under his belt in an Oilers uniform before completely falling on his face this year, there may still hope for Pouliot's game to recover. However, with his drop in statistical output coming at a time when the team has finally experienced gains, a Big Sean level bounce back begins to look a lot less likely.
Statistical outlook aside, a Vegas selection could be made with the intention of burying him deep in their lineup - Mike Babcock-style - in exchange for additional compensation from the Oilers. Is this two year cap hit a justifiable cost for a B-grade level prospect like Caleb Jones? Probably not. Unless a first round pick is on offer, the compensation for taking a bad contract like this just isn't enough. GM George McPhee will be flush with offers from more desperate, cap-strapped teams. The assets Peter Chiarelli is willing to make available probably won't be enough to prioritize this selection.
(2) Hurt your new division rival as much as you can and take theIR only viable backup goalie in Brossoit
The rules outlining the expansion draft have created absolute chaos within the league's goalie market. With tenders like Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer, and Marc-Andre Fleury in the conversation as potential starters for the Golden Knights next season, it would be a complete and utter shock to see the Rangers, Capitals and Penguins all allow their keepers to be nabbed without receiving a return. At least one, if not two of these teams will be looking to deal before the draft, meaning Vegas could be on the prowl for a young developing backup. After a brief but promising effort stepping in for Cam Talbot on his few nights off, Laurent Brossoit appears capable of holding down a backup role in this league. Not only is he still young (24), he's under contract! Something you can't say about many tenders currently available in his age group. Although media 'experts' have tied the Golden Knights to Joonas Korpisalo as the man to fill this role instead, he's coming off a bit of a down year for himself at both the AHL and NHL level. As an outsider looking at the stats, this could be our "if he's really that good, how come he doesn't play good" moment. His goals against average and save percentage, both overall and in 5v5 play took a step back last year, which is surprising for a team that defensively took a big step forward. As a means of comparision, Sergei Bobrovsky put up an absolutely insane 2.06 GAA and .931 Sv% behind this group, so a drop in Korpisalo's numbers could be enough of a concern to differentiate the two backups. However, with waiver eligibility intact, our comparison remains a rather moot point.
In our opinion, Brossoit provides the higher backup tender selection value out of the two, as the Oilers have so few expansion alternatives available, unlike the group of Jack Johnson, William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, and Matt Calvert up for grabs in Columbus. Toss in the additional pain this would cause a division rival who has struggled to find a viable backup for years, and the argument for a Brossoit selection gets a little stronger. Unfortunately, with so many chips left to fall, selecting such an inexperienced commodity as your backup goalie doesn't make sense for a team that may instead wield a one-two punch of Raanta and Grubauer in net. The inability to move him up and down between big club and farm team as your third-string goalie without waiver eligibility (something Korpisalo has) ultimately pushes us away from his selection.
(3) Take a low cap hit skater with 4th line or 3rd pair development ceiling
Frankly, none of the skaters outlined above are that intriguing. Except for Pakarinen, the rest of this lot carry the very unappealing RFA label. For those that don't know the expansion draft rules, the Golden Knights will only be allowed to select a maximum of 10 players presently not under contract for 2017-18. This obviously includes restricted free agents. Therefore, selecting one of the Oilers' very underwhelming RFA options would burn one of these precious RFA/UFA picks available to Vegas. To give you sense of RFA selections we've made thus far, the list includes: Mark Pysyk (FLA), Xavier Oullett (DET), Ryan Dzingel (OTT), Sven Andrighetto (COL), Zemgus Girgensons (BUF), Phillip Di Giuseppe (CAR), Malcolm Subban (BOS). With three of these picks left in the chamber and a minimum of two RFA picks all but locked in with teams like CLB, MTL, and WSH, is it smart to burn one on a defender whose ceiling is on the team's bottom pair like Griffin Reinhart and Dillon Simpson, or a forward that will top out as a bottom-six checker like Jujhar Khaira? Not really. Unless Chiarelli extends one of these skaters before the expansion draft, Pakarinen is the top choice within this group purely due to contractual status.
THE VEGAS SELECTION WILL BE....
If we could hypothetically negotiate a trade, we'd consider taking Pouliot in a package deal that includes a first round pick. Unfortunately we live in the real world, so a pragmatic approach must be taken. Uneventful as it may be for rabid Oiler fans thinking that the Golden Knights will select the 'best player available' in Jujhar Khaira or Griffin Reinhart, neither player makes sense as a selection in our 30 team expansion preview without a contract in place for next season. Their general inability to crack a lineup that craves their physical presence is a concern for a Vegas team that will be loaded with checking line and defensive depth. Add in the limited long-term potential of either player in comparison to other RFAs available in the draft, and the value placed upon selecting them begins to wane. Although they may pan out as better overall contributors than Pakarinen, the expansion rules aren't changing. George McPhee should select a cheap skater under contract with his Oilers selection, and move on; higher quality goaltenders and RFAs remain elsewhere. Notwithstanding a sudden change in our RFA selection totals (as outlined above), that leaves us with Iiro Pakarinen as our Vegas selection.
Blah blah blah it's a boring pick we know. But Oilers fans should be happy with this result, no? The Golden Knights won't be fielding an opening day lineup of 30 players, so they won't need to fetch 30 high impact players with their expansion picks. It would obviously be nice to, but that's just not a feasible result. If Edmonton fans are indeed still looking for a blockbuster to keep them entertained, it may logically come after the expansion draft and not before it. Trading a high cap player such as Jordan Eberle, after his ghostly 2 assists in 13 playoff games, could be a little easier with the Golden Knights in play as a trade partner. Vegas will likely load up on defence in the draft, with few scoring line forwards available for selection. This would provide the Oilers an alternative avenue to acquire one of the Islanders' (Hamonic/De Haan) or Panthers' (Demers/Petrovic/Pysyk) defencemen they desire, from a trade partner that places higher value on a 50-60 point player like Eberle.
Next up: Montreal Canadiens