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The salary cap crunch and shoestring budget Ken Holland faced going into the opening of free agency Monday wasn’t his fault, but as the guy charged with cleaning up the mess left by Peter Chiarelli as the POHO and GM of the Edmonton Oilers, it certainly was and is his problem.

Even having freed up some cap space with the buy-out of Andrej Sekera as the overpay season opened, Holland simply didn’t have the money to make any kind of splash Monday, and he didn’t, as has been duly documented. Signing bottom-six forwards along with goaltender Mike Smith and re-signing Alex Chiasson to a two-year deal isn’t reason to stand up and applaud. Some pundits gave Holland a failing grade for Monday’s work.

I’d suggest those grading Holland that way don’t have a firm grasp of the cards he’s been dealt – that, or they want a fast fix no matter what and they don’t care. There’s no sizzle attached to rummaging through the bargain bin looking for a deal that makes sense and fits the budget, so if you’re not excited about Holland’s work so far, fair enough. If you want a Corvette but your budget dictates a mini-van will have to do, nobody high-fives.

If you want to point out there are roster holes left to fill, you’re absolutely right. And if you don’t want people preaching patience after all these years of ineptitude, I completely understood – that falls under the not his fault but his problem part of the gig. You won’t hear, “Don’t complain, just trust Ken without asking any questions” from this corner. That’s too much to ask of a fan base that’s been sold a bill of goods more than once.

MORE TO COME

That said, what you’ve seen since the free agent season opened is the reality of the limitations Holland has to operate within, at least for the time being. While Holland hasn’t burned through what little cap money he has, he reiterated today he’s not done. Unlike Chiarelli, who traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in a salary dump and then didn’t use the cash to improve the team, I don’t see Holland bungling the Sekera buy-out.

“We’ve still got a couple more months before we get to training camp,” Holland said today in an interview with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer. “(We’re) going to continue to work the phones here to see what we can do to try to add to the group a little bit. We don’t have a ton of cap space, but we’ve got a little bit of cap space. Certainly, I’ll explore the trade market as we go forward.”

Obviously, there has to be more. I like the re-signing of Chiasson, but I’m not expecting another 22 goals from him. Still, given the money thrown around Monday, he’s a fit at $2.15 million a season for the next two years. If he can score 12-15 goals, spot in on the top three lines and work the power play, it’s a solid signing. Not the PTO bargain he was last season, but solid.

I’m not sold Smith is going to be an upgrade over Cam Talbot, so a reasonable bonus-laden one-year term or not, goaltending remains a question for me. If one or two of Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Gaetan Haas or Joakim Nygard find a home in the bottom six, that will help. Can Jujhar Khaira get back on the track he was on coming off a disappointing season? Even if the answer to both of those questions is yes, there has to be more. That has to happen, but it doesn’t have to happen today.

THE WAY I SEE IT

Until Holland can get more money off the books, what we’ve got right now is a salary cap version of what Glen Sather had to endure late in his tenure under Peter Pocklington and, later, the EIG – big needs and a small bankroll. That, for now, means making the best bets possible on a shoestring budget. Unlike the bad old days when there was simply no more money to be had, Holland can navigate his way out of the position he’s in now, given a little time between now and when training camp opens.

So, you’re saying the Oilers need more time, eh, Brownlee? Yes, even if I can’t help but think of Dallas Eakins saying, “Craig’s on it.” That’s a hard sell around here, and justifiably so. If there’s a shortcut, another way to get the Oilers to where they want to be given the situation Holland is in right now, I’m sure he’d like to hear it. Me too.

Previously by Robin Brownlee


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