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Options Around the Expansion Draft

The Oilers can’t afford to take a conservative approach when making decisions around the expansion draft.

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NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rare occurrence when all 30 NHL GM’s have to play a game with specific rules and goals and challenges which will impact their rosters. The entry draft is the only other event that comes to mind where everyone has to participate, but even in that situation, some teams are more invested than others. The rest of the events, including day-to-day roster management, free agency and trade deadline, only impact specific teams and is optional for managers to participate in. That’s what makes the expansion draft so interesting. Every GM has to participate and will approach it differently depending on where they’re at in terms of building a winner.

Reading Tyler Dellow’s latest piece over at The Athletic, I was surprised to see how good the Oilers have it compared to most of the other NHL teams. I knew that the Oilers had some flexibility in terms of which forwards they wanted to protect and figured they were in a better spot than others in terms of improving their roster. What I didn’t realize was how aggressive the Oilers could be and the advantages they have over some of the other teams who were struggling to finalize a protected list.

As it stands today, the Oilers have five forwards that they’re very likely to protect: Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Draisaitl, Lucic and Maroon. It’s possible that the Oilers trade away one of Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins to address their needs on defence. Both players struggled this past season, and there’s been a lot of gossip around them for a while now. Maroon is another forward that would have value in the trade market, considering his contract and productivity. He’s also in the last year of his deal and will be looking for a heavy, long-term contract to take him into retirement, something the Oilers may want to avoid considering his age and likely decline. For now though, these are the five forwards who will certainly be protected by the Oilers.

As for defence, they conveniently only have three defencemen worth protecting, as Davidson was traded away at the trade deadline. And they only have one true NHL-caliber goaltender in Talbot, so there’s no controversy there. These really aren’t difficult decisions for the Oilers, and there’s little to no impact to their key players.

Now how the Oilers approach the expansion draft depends on how aggressive they want to be. Let’s start with the easy routes.

Conservative approach: protect seven forwards, three defencemen and Talbot. Protect the five forwards above and two of the following forwards: Letestu, Kassian, Khaira, Pouliot. In this scenario, the Oilers could lose an expensive contract, a bottom-six player (Kassian/Letestu) or a prospect (Khaira, Reinhart, Brossoit). These are all replaceable pieces, and likely won’t alter the Oilers long term goals.

Player Age Contract in 2017/18 Role
B. Pouliot 30 $4.0M (UFA in 2019/20) Top 6
M. Letestu 32 $1.8M (UFA in 2018/19) Bottom 6, PP
Z. Kassian 26 RFA Bottom 6
J. Khaira 22 RFA Prospect
G. Reinhart 23 RFA Prospect
L. Brossoit 24 $750K (RFA in 2018/19) Prospect

Defensive approach: protect seven forwards, three defencemen and Talbot, and somehow convince Vegas to take a specific player. This would require the Oilers to give Vegas additional assets so that they don’t lose a replaceable depth player or prospect.

Considering the current needs of the team, especially on defence, and the flexibility they have, these first two approaches are not ideal. The Oilers are fortunate to be in the situation they’re in, and should be trying to leverage the draft to acquire assets to improve their defence and forward depth from a position of strength.

This requires one of the following aggressive approaches.

Aggressive approach - Option 1: Identify and acquire a fourth defenceman before the submitting their protected list, and move out one of Eberle, RNH or Maroon either as part of the deal to acquire the defenceman or as part of a second deal to make room. The Oilers would have to go the 4-4-1 route, and would lose one of Pouliot, Kassian, Letestu, Khaira, Reinhart or Brossoit.

Aggressive approach - Option 2: Following the expansion draft, package together draft picks and prospects to acquire one of the defencemen that Vegas selected. The Oilers will have already lost one player, and may need to lose more to fill glaring needs on their blueline. Vegas may have an eye to the future, and could be looking to grow their team through the draft rather than veteran players who may not want to be part of an expansion club.

Aggressive approach - Option 3: Prior to teams finalizing their protected lists, identify a team that has too many players, and needs to replace a forward who requires protection with a player that does not require protection. The Oilers could offer someone like Anton Slepyshev plus picks, or another exempt player depending on the player coming back, to make this happen. The Oilers would then go the 7-3-1 route and could improve their forward depth, which was a weak spot last season.

The Oilers really are in a position to take an aggressive approach and should be using the expansion draft as a way to address their most pressing needs. Considering how much flexibility they have, and the advantages they have over other teams, it would not be ideal to play this expansion game conservatively. And it would not make any sense to give up additional assets to ensure the Golden Knights don’t take one of the replaceable, depth players.