Edmonton Oilers fans everywhere were hoping Ken Holland would be a busy man to start the annual song and dance we refer to as Free Agent Frenzy and he didn’t disappoint. Though much of his handy work revolved around keeping in house pieces, the veteran General Manager improved his roster but still has work to do prior to packing it in and heading to the cottage for some rest and relaxation.
After multiple off-seasons of being unable to address the glaring need for an upgrade in goal, Holland managed to put it to bed quickly this around…at least in the shot-term. The decision to step-up and sign Jack Campbell to a 5-yr/$25 million deal is by no means a slam dunk move. The thing is, in today’s NHL, this is the going rate for a goaltender and the Oilers have picked their horse to ride.
Just like last year’s signing of Zach Hyman, the decision to bring in the Toronto Maple Leafs former no. 1 was arguably the league’s worst kept secret. After taking the better part of eight years to earn regular duty at this level, Campbell has shown himself well over past four seasons. Be it with the Los Angeles Kings or Maple Leafs, he produced and teams took notice.
Toronto’s continued early round playoff struggles combined with a rough finish during the back-half of his 2021-22 campaign, led Kyle Dubas to look elsewhere in hopes of finally finding a goalie who could push his club over the top. Despite being in a similar spot, Edmonton had no issues jumping in with both feet on the American goaltender and it ultimately landed them the guy they wanted.
Again, in a league where you could count the amount of top flight goalies on one hand, there wasn’t a perfect solution for Oilers or Maple Leafs. One organization was willing to go all in on the eleventh overall pick in 2010 Entry Draft and one was not. There is certainly risk in going the direction Holland did but that was going to be the case no matter which route he took and hopefully he chose wisely.
As far as defenceman Brett Kulak goes, you got the sense it was more a matter of when and not if the Edmonton native would sign on the dotted line with his hometown team. Part of the fan base was worried when he decided to “go to market” but it’s hard to blame a guy for wanting to check-in and see what his worth might be via unrestricted free agency.
Clearly, nothing he was presented jumped out at him, as Kulak not only circled back to the Oilers but Holland managed to get him on a team-friendly extension for 4-years/$11 million. A tidy bit of business to be sure, for a guy who did nothing but impress since being acquired at the trade deadline. The 28-year old played up and down Jay Woodcroft’s lineup and never looked out of place.
Be it on the third pairing, in which his presence led to Tyson Barrie playing his most consistent hockey of the season or further up the lineup while covering for injury and/or poor play from others. No matter the role or ask, Kulak was able to adjust and rarely if ever appeared overmatched or out of place. Bringing him back was a no-brainer and luckily enough, both parties wanted the same thing.
In the lead up to today, Campbell and Kulak were the ones likeliest to become or remain Oilers. That was not supposed to be the case with Evander Kane, as getting max term and dollar was priority one. Going to market would’ve been the logical next step but that never happned. To his credit, Holland gave the player the ok to see what was out there 24 hours prior to the start of this exercise and it paid off.
Despite what he and his agent were hoping to find, there was no big ticket contract for Kane to consider. In all likelihood, the offers were in the same neighbourhood as the four-year deal he ultimately signed with the Oilers. Whether you like or dislike the player for his off-ice issues, from a hockey standpoint, $5.125 million for a guy with 40-50 goal potential is something that can’t be ignored.
As we all know, the soon-to-be 31-year old did nothing but score goals and make life miserable for opposing teams across the league since signing with Edmonton in late January. Again, from a hockey fit, his transition into the Oilers top-six was nearly seamless and the chemistry he formed with Connor McDavid was undeniable. In other words, Holland went 3-for-3 on his so-called immediate to-do-list.
However, unless you genuinely believe Campbell can be the sole difference between reaching a Stanley Cup Final and getting swept in the Conference Final against the eventual champions, there is more to be done. As currently built, this blueline isn’t nearly good enough, though moving Barrie in a deal and filling his spot with a different kind of defenceman could help correct that problem in a hurry.
The same applies to the team’s bottom six forwards, where there is uncertainty surrounding the potential returns of Jesse Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele. Edmonton does have some nice pieces in place with Ryan McLeod and Dylan Holloway but the need for more is apparent. With Connor Brown headed to Washington, the Oilers may find their options beginning to dry up.
It doesn’t have to happen today or even tomorrow but Ken Holland has to his best to address the holes on this roster while he can. There are all sorts of players to be had and the Edmonton Oilers not only have the cap space to go out find a solution but may also have the necessary assets to make an actual hockey trade happen and even free up more cap space…should the need arise.