Almost as badly as a third line centre, the Oilers need scoring wingers. Oh sure, you’ve got a well oiled machine with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the top line with Connor McDavid. You’ve also got Kailer Yamamoto on the second line with Leon Draisaitl, which worked out well last season.
Well, you could put James Neal on the second line, or you could keep trying more with Zack Kassian up top. The club has flirted with Alex Chiasson and Josh Archibald next to McDavid, but these options aren’t permanent options. Ken Holland swung out and tried to acquire some help for the left side at the 2019-20 trade deadline when he acquired Andreas Athanasiou from Detroit. The cost? Two second round picks.
The idea? Athanasiou would step into the top six and contribute, specifically on the top line. The Ryan Nugent-Hopkins / Leon Draisaitl / Kailer Yamamoto line was hot, and McDavid could use a permanent fixture on his left side if Nugent-Hopkins was trucking along with Leon and Yamamoto. Athanasiou certainly didn’t blow the doors off (he’s 1-1-2 in nine regular season games with the Oilers) but I’m also a little apprehensive about writing him off after less than a dozen games.
Now, Athanasiou finds himself a restricted free agent (and the Oilers are on a tight budget). Ken Holland’s got some magic to make.
Athanasiou is exactly one season removed from a 54 point year with the Red Wings, a season that saw him hit the 30 goal plateau. You will recall the Red Wings, who aren’t terribly good right now and weren’t too awfully good last season either. Athanasiou spent most of his time in 2018-19 with a 35 year old Thomas Vanek and Anthony Mantha, which ought to give you a good feeling that he might be able to come near those totals again. He shot 13.9% in 2018-19 which might be a touch high, but nearly 14% on 216 shots will get you 30 goals. If he could put away just 10% of 200 shots, a 20 goal year would be quite welcome. And, in a completely unscientific survey, he’s fast. Kinda goes well when you’re alongside Connor McDavid.
The book is out on Athanasiou from his time in Detroit, and that he’s not a great defender. He turns the puck over more often than he takes it away. Certainly, these are concerns, but concerns tend to go out of the window a little faster when you’re busy scoring 25 or 30 goals.
So where’s the offer? Will there be an offer? Surely, Holland isn’t going to let an acquisition cost of two second round picks walk out the door, right?
For starters, that Oilers will retain Athanasiou’s rights if they make a qualifying offer. That offer is 3MM for the 2020-21 season. No big deal, yeah? It’s more of a big deal than usual because of the Oilers’ cramped cap situation (they’ve got just a little more than ten million to fill out their roster). Athanasiou could sign that deal for one year, he would still be a restricted free agent the following season. He could opt for arbitration, which very well could award a bigger deal than 3MM for one year. The Oilers could walk away from the deal (they would receive nothing if this happens), and Athanasiou would be an unrestricted free agent to sign with any club. The Oilers could also elect for arbitration if they thought Athanasiou would be awarded less than 3MM. I don’t recommend that if I’m the Oilers.
Bruce McCurdy provided me with some helpful information about arbitration. If arbitrators are using the same rules as they have been pre-Covid, the Oilers could be bound by an award even if it’s as high as 4.5MM. This means that Athanasiou could potentially receive a one year deal at a 50% raise, and the Oilers would be on the hook.
I think the least likely scenario would be for the Oilers to offer (and for Athanasiou to accept) a multi-year deal in any capacity. Even if the Oilers wanted to do this, their limited cap space would keep them from being able to do this in any sort of capacity unless a couple of contracts were moved out. Don’t forget about Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, a third line centre and a goaltender, too. Just a few things.
We’ve established that some contracts will be difficult to move: Alex Chiasson’s 2.15MM x 1, Zack Kassian’s 3.2MM x 4, Kris Russell’s 4MM x1. That’s over 9.25MM in cap space, which is probably enough to lock down Athanasiou and at least one or two other players this season. The purse strings are tight, and I’m not sure AA is high enough on the priority scale this offseason to see another season in Edmonton.
WILL HE WALK?
Ken Holland’s best case scenario might be to see if he can recoup something for Athanasiou via the trade route, but even getting one second round pick in return could prove to be more difficult than previously imagined. There are a handful of teams that could use some scoring on the wings (just like the Oilers!), but Holland is running out of time if he’s going to make it count. I’d love to get to see a full season of Athanasiou in Edmonton, but I’m afraid the dollars and cents of it aren’t going to let it happen.
Trading two second round picks for Andreas Athanasiou for nine regular season games and a play-in series only to let him walk would be an especially bitter pill to swallow. Unless the Oilers free up some cap space (and they free it up soon), letting Athanasiou walk could be closer to reality than we’d all like.
Will Andreas Athanasiou be a member of the Oilers for their first regular season game of 2020-21?
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