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The St. Louis Blues are the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Edmonton Oilers finished 25th last season. Edmonton has closed the gap a bit this season, but they aren’t on the same level of the Blues and last night illustrated the areas Oilers GM Ken Holland needs to improve.

It was unrealistic to expect Holland would fix all the holes on the roster left by outgoing GM Peter Chiarelli. You can’t have major downgrades in your offensive skill through four trades and expect to snap your fingers and fix it.

I disagree with the notion a third line centre is the biggest need for the Oilers. The lack of a skilled winger is the biggest hole. A quality third line centre would help, but not as much a top-six winger. The Oilers need another consistent 5×5 offensive threat.

It will be difficult for Holland to acquire a top-end, proven top-six forward. Teams (not managed by Chiarelli) won’t just trade them away with term remaining on their contracts. You might get one as a rental, or sign one as a free agent, but rarely do elite ones make it to free agency. Taylor Hall could be the second in recent memory following John Tavares. And as good as Tavares is, that was still an overpay. I suspect Hall comes in lower than that, because he wants to be on a winning team, and in order to win you need to spread around your cap space a bit.

Holland will need to use his experience and savviness to make a few good trades, but also to acquire or sign some affordable, complementary players.

Jean Gabriel Pageau is the most recent shiny free agent toy that everyone is talking about. He is a good player. No doubt he will help your team, but he likely will get an overpriced raise in free agency as teams are always desperate to improve on July 1st and 2nd. Let’s take a quick look at his production.

You will notice his 5×5 production. His career best was 28 points in 2017. He is on pace for 33 this year. A solid bump, but mainly it is his goal totals that have increased. He’s already matched his career best of 10. And not surprisingly his SH% is quite a bit higher. Over the past four seasons, his SH% average was 7.39. This year he is at 17.24 at 5×5. He could remain hot this season, but it would be a big surprise to remain there when his new contract kicks in.

I’d look for a winger who could complement your top six much more than I would a third line centre. If I find a few decent wingers then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can play 3C.

WHO TO LOOK FOR…

Feb 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) scores past Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart (79) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Kassian is a prime example of a player who grabbed the opportunity when it was presented. He was placed on the top line in January, and he’s been very good ever since.

He is playing exceptionally well at 5×5. Kassian had shown glimpses prior that he could play with skilled players when he had a brief stint with Henrik and Daniel Sedin many years ago. He was the 13th pick in the NHL draft, so he hasn’t come out of nowhere, but he’s been better than many expected. What he’s done best is not change his style. He uses his speed, gets in on the forecheck and he goes to the net regularly.

His production at 5×5 this season has been remarkable. These stats are among forwards with at least 400 minutes at 5×5.

He is seventh in goals in 12.
Twelfth in points with 22.
Tenth in G/60 at 1.39
Nineteenth in P/60 at 2.53.

He is a pending UFA, and playing with Connor McDavid will help him get a raise, but it will also limit how much he gets. I’d guess his camp will look at the $3.5m Micheal Ferland received this summer. Ferland had three seasons of 15, 21 and 17 goals before signing with the Canucks. Kassian had seven, 15 and is on pace for 27.

Kassian really likes Edmonton. He turned his life around here and that matters to him. He has also proven to management he can be the complementary winger they need to play with McDavid. Not to mention his boisterous personality is needed in the dressing room. Ken Holland and Dave Tippett have spoke often about the importance of players who add life to the dressing room. No stat or analytics will show that aspect, but it’s valuable. Anyone saying otherwise is being dishonest. It doesn’t trump skill, of course, but if you have skill, being a leader or adding spark to the dressing room is a bonus asset. Having players who can’t play, who are good in the room, is not what I’m talking about. Kassian can play, and he adds “juice,” to quote Tippett.

Holland needs to find some players who could come here and contribute.

Here are a few UFAs I’d look at via trade, but also at re-signing. Players who can produce at 5×5 and have shown an ability to play with skilled forwards.

Tyler Toffoli: Right shot

His 16 points at 5×5 are tied for 50th in the NHL and his seven goals rank tied for 58th. He is 31st in P/60 at 2.31. This year he has played 275 minutes with Jeff Carter, 159 with Michael Amadio, 143 with Blake Lizotte and 53 with Nikolai Prokhorkin. He is producing despite not playing with high-end players, which is an added bonus. He is in the final year of a contract with a $4.6 million AAV. II suspect he will be taking a pay cut, and the opportunity to play with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl could be very enticing to him if he hopes to have a great year or two and then sign another solid contract.

Josh Leivo: Right shot

He turns 27 in May. He is a big body with the smarts and skills to play with skilled players. He has seven goals like Toffoli and he is 63rd overall in P/60 at 2.31. He signed a one-year deal with the Canucks this past summer for $1.5 million. If they are out of the playoff race would Jim Benning be willing to move him? If so, he is someone I’d go after. He has played 443 minutes at 5×5 this year and played the most with Tanner Pearson (182), Bo Horvat (178), Brandon Sutter (114), Jake Virtanen (91) and Adam Gaudette (86).

He has a good shot and would be able to finish off a few of the nice passes he’d receive from McDavid, Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Andreas Athanasiou: Left shot

He is one of the fastest players in the NHL. He is having a rough season with the Red Wings, and could be a classic case how a change of scenery gets him back on track.

Holland knows him very well, as he drafted him and they were together in the Detroit organization for seven seasons. He scored 30 goals last year, but that is much higher than the 16, 18 and whatever he finishes with this season. He is an RFA this summer, with arbitration rights, so acquiring him means at minimum you would retain his rights.

Chris Kreider: Left shot

He has scored 19, 19, 15 and 14 goals at 5×5 in four of his last five NHL seasons. If the Oilers are going to run McDavid and Draisaitl on their own lines down the stretch or in the future, they need a scoring left winger. Joakim Nygard doesn’t look like he will be a top-six forward in the near future.

The Rangers are five points out of a playoff spot today, and they look to be in a re-tooling phase. Kreider’s salary this year is $4million, while his AAV is $4.625 million. He’ll be able to command a salary around $4.5million I’d guess, and that is likely too high for the Oilers, unless Holland sheds some salary via trade this summer. It’s also worth noting that Chris Kreider has a limited no-trade clause on his contract which could limit the Oilers’ ability to acquire him.

Which players do you think would help?

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thanks to Trent and Cory for their respective bids on the Blackhawk Golf Club membership and the Mondo Mechanical Air Purification system.

DAY 14: Package #1: SuperBowl Party at Vivo Windemere:

  •  A SuperBowl party for 20 people.  Includes appetizers, pizza, beer/beverages in the Vivo Windemere private room on Sunday, February 2nd.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 between 2-6 p.m. today and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260.

Package #2: Strudwick and The Penguins.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 between 2-6 p.m. today and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260. Proceeds will help The Christmas Bureau and the Alzheimers Society.

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