We are now just days away from what must feel like a bit of déjà vu for both Ken Holland and fans of the Edmonton Oilers. While the situations are not exactly the same, the departures of Adam Larsson and Duncan Keith directly impact how the organization ultimately deals with fellow blueliner Tyson Barrie. For me, they got it wrong the first time around and it’s imperative that history doesn’t repeat itself.
When word broke of Larsson’s decision to ink a four-year deal and become an inaugural member of the Seattle Kraken, it put Holland in uncomfortable position. His response was immediate, in re-signing Barrie and agreeing to a four-year deal with Cody Ceci on the very same day. It was a curious decision at the time and felt as if it was a panic move of sorts.
Though targeting Ceci was always part of the plan, making Barrie a priority the moment Larsson left was the perplexing piece of the equation. With due respect to the player, his skill-set wasn’t exactly the fit the Oilers were trying to fill. In fact, with youngster Evan Bouchard already on the roster, the argument could be made it was an exercise in redundancy.
Holland would never admit it but Larsson’s departure left him rattled. The thought of having to fill two spots on his blueline from outside the organization, instead of the one he had in mind, was a game he wanted no part of playing. It wasn’t an ideal fit and created an imbalance on the backend throughout the Oilers 2021-22 campaign.
Fast forward to the present day and we are standing at a similar crossroads of sorts. With Keith’s decision to retire all but confirmed, Holland has another tough call to make and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it. However, to this point, what we are hearing from “connected” media, is Edmonton is leaning towards having Barrie come back for another season.
Prior to the Zach Kassian salary dump to the Arizona Coyotes and the aforementioned Keith situation, Barrie’s departure to help create more cap space was part of the master plan. In a perfect world, the Oilers would get all three and for some reason, it appears as though Holland is starting to get cold feet on pulling trigger to complete the trifecta.
With Bouchard set to take another step in his development, that what have to include an increased role on the power play, the need for Barrie becomes less and less. His ability to help on the man advantage is his greatest strength. When you take that away, you are left with a guy who doesn’t defend well, isn’t the best of skaters and is at best, a marginal puck mover.
Not sure about any of you but that is not what you pay a player $4.5 million to do. As a mainstay on a team’s power play, it’s a different story and that’s why Barrie has value on the trade market. And yet, the hesitancy to make the move from the Oilers end is still there. Would re-signing Brett Kulak make the decision easier? Probably but in actuality, one has nothing to do with the other.
Whatever direction Kulak decides to go, Holland should be looking to move Barrie while the opportunity exists in the market place. As we all know, making such a move in-season can be tricky because of the cap and teams having already gone in another direction. Options will be limited, whereas in the off-season, most teams are open to trying different things and change is easier to take on.
Again, with Keith set to exit stage left, the Oilers should be taking the approach of adding to a blueline of Darnell Nurse, Bouchard, Ceci and Philip Broberg. If Kulak can be one of those adds, great but if that doesn’t pan out, the goal does not change. In order for this backend to improve, the overall mix has to change and keeping Barrie around for the sake of it only complicates things.
Whether he wants to do it or not is of little consequence but Holland has no choice but to shift his mind-set. While he got some stuff right last summer, there is still plenty of work to be done and if he can’t fix the rest this time around (with a second consecutive off-season of cap space at his disposal), the Edmonton Oilers could be headed down a path no one in these parts want to see them go down.