Oilers still have busy summer ahead after Week 1 of free agency


After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Edmonton Oilers executed a remarkable flurry of transactions designed to improve the team now and in the future.

Longtime observers of the organization have compared this summer to the very best of Glen Sather when he ran the Oilers. There is no higher compliment available to a front office.

The free-agent additions, the draft and (this week) a trade for impact prospect Matthew Savoie collectively represent a breathtaking postscript to the long playoff run and a clear indication of the team’s impatience to finish the run to Stanley.

If Oilers fans were disheartened by the loss in Game 7, Oilers management has replaced the headlines with a series of notable moves.

What’s left is a team with an even more talented roster than the one fans saw push close to a championship. It also poses questions about how the rest of the summer will roll out.

Here are the outstanding issues.


Edmonton is currently over the cap, and Evander Kane’s injury status is an obvious way (LTIR) for the team to reach compliance before opening night.

CEO Jeff Jackson brought up hip issues, advice from doctors and a consultation with Kane and his agent (Dan Milstein) during the year-end media avail.

It’s possible the organization is leaning toward having Kane go on LTIR based on current (non-public) information and estimated recovery time. It’s also possible the player would prefer another route, and that could mean Kane remaining an active player on the roster on opening night.

It’s an unlikely scenario but if Kane requires surgery or a long-term recovery from his injury, LTIR, at least during the early portion of the season, would seem to be the play.

If Kane doesn’t go on LTIR, Edmonton is still in cap hell and another trade (beyond Ryan McLeod to the Buffalo Sabres, just completed) would be required before opening night.

PuckPedia has the team marginally over the cap with Kane on the roster, but RFAs Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg must be signed and that will extend the overage to about $3 million.

That means putting Kane on LTIR or another trade. A less attractive option would be running with 20 players, eschewing a full 23-player roster.

Adding Broberg and Holloway for under $2.2 million, then sending down Derek Ryan, Troy Stecher and Josh Brown would leave Edmonton cap-compliant (barely) with a 20-player roster.

Two goalies, six defencemen and 12 forwards would seem unsustainable, but the math works.

The Kane situation looms large. It would be interesting to know the conversations between team, player and agent at this time.

Ryan McLeod’s missing utility

McLeod exiting the system creates some issues, despite the ample return.

His ability to transport the puck out of the defensive zone and gain entry in the offensive zone was a positive for his line. His speed worked on both offence and defence. From 2022 through 2024, his five-on-five offence (1.57 points per 60) was sufficient and his goal share was sublime (52 percent).

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Oilers trade Ryan McLeod to Sabres

The most impressive number for McLeod over those three seasons comes in five-on-five time away from captain Connor McDavid. His goal share without the captain was 51 percent, one of the best totals for an Edmonton forward.

Fans should be thrilled with the return for McLeod, but the club will need to replace his versatility.

Not having him in the lineup means Adam Henrique is the de facto No. 3 centre, despite his good performances when playing left wing with McDavid.

The centre depth chart behind McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is older now, with Henrique (34), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (31) and Derek Ryan (37) all past their hockey prime.

The obvious next man up on the roster is Holloway, who is less proven and not quite the two-way talent McLeod has become.

The Oilers might add a right-handed centre to the group, similar to the move for Sam Carrick at the deadline.

Darnell Nurse’s defensive partner

One of the issues that previous management (and coaches) have wrestled with for years is an adequate defensive partner for Darnell Nurse.

Over the last three years, a look at his most common partners shows mixed results.

PLAYER MINS GOAL PCT X-GOAL PCT

2576

51 pct

52 pct

747

46 pct

59 pct

414

49 pct

53 pct

254

39 pct

50 pct

109

50 pct

50 pct

All numbers five-on-five

The numbers show Nurse is better suited to playing with a puck-moving partner.

The numbers with Evan Bouchard are good, so the coaching staff may be wise to run Nurse-Bouchard next year. One of the ideas thrown out last summer was a Mattias Ekholm-Broberg tandem that didn’t come to fruition due to Ekholm’s pre-camp injury.

Those two pairings as the top-four defence may be a distant bell, but math makes a case for it.

Many fans believe the numbers above surrounding Nurse with Cody Ceci were dependent on McDavid’s line being present. Over the past three seasons, Nurse-Ceci without the captain owns a 52 percent goal share and a 50.4 percent expected goal share at five-on-five, via Natural Stat Trick.

Nurse-Ceci may not be over, but fans are over it.

Broberg showed he could play the RH side in limited minutes. A Nurse-Broberg pairing, used sparingly in the regular season, had some success (4-2 goals five-on-five in 67 minutes) in the playoffs, albeit with some troublesome underlying numbers.

Fans expect a trade or other move over the summer and it would behoove the organization to cast about for more options.

Beyond signing Stecher, an astute move, there aren’t many appropriate RH possibilities available. RH defencemen are NHL unicorns.

Bottom line

It has been a ridiculous summer for the Oilers organization.

A slam dunk run through free agency, smart draft moves and an all-world trade for an undersized forward with a big future may represent the greatest offseason in Oilers history.

Sather’s best summer was arguably 1995, the highlight being a trade of two first-round selections for impact goaltender Curtis Joseph and the rights to right wing Mike Grier.

The 1982 summer deal that brought Ken Linseman over from the Hartford Whalers (for defenceman Risto Siltanen) would also be a strong contender. It was a direct contributor to the 1984 Stanley Cup victory.

Years from now, fans may refer to the summer Jackson didn’t want to be general manager as the most memorable ever.

It isn’t over.

(Photo of Darnell Nurse and Derek Ryan: Bob Frid / USA Today)



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