While a lot of talk right now is centred around what the 2020/21 season will look like and when it will happen, I wanted to focus a little bit of time on something that will be taking place after the next season: the Expansion Draft for the Seattle Kraken.
The Oilers walked away from the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft largely unharmed. They lost Griffin Reinhart who was nothing more than a depth defenseman at that point and the only other notable player they could have lost was Jujhar Khaira. Some teams got hurt really bad by the previous expansion draft, the Oilers were not one of those clubs.
It doesn’t look like they’ll be so lucky next offseason when the NHL’s 32nd franchise will comb their way through the rosters of the 31 current teams and pluck one player from each organization.
Last time around, George McPhee and the Golden Knights did a marvellous job of cornering organizations into making bad moves. I don’t think Seattle will be able to do that. I feel like teams will be much more cautious to make trades with the Kraken after watching the way Vegas quickly built themselves into a Stanley Cup contender.
Back to the Oilers, they’re going to be in a very interesting spot once it’s time to finalize who they’re going to protect.
Remember, there are two ways that teams can go about protecting players. They can choose between keeping seven forwards, three defencemen, and a goalie or they can opt to keep eight skaters and a goalie. The key advantage to the second option being that a team could keep a fourth defenseman protected.
For the Oilers, it’s clear that they’ll want to protect four key forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kailer Yamamoto.
I know some have floated out the idea of not signing Nugent-Hopkins to an extension until after the expansion draft so that they can protect another player, but I don’t see that happening. If they can get Nugent-Hopkins signed to a long-term extension at a reasonable cap-hit before next season, they should do it.
On the blueline, as of right now, you could see the Oilers wanting to protect Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Ethan Bear, and Caleb Jones.
It would make sense that the Oilers opt to keep the eight skaters I just listed. Mikko Koskinen will likely be the goalie that they opt to keep. That would leave Jesse Puljujarvi unprotected and I think it’s fair to assume that Seattle would love to take Puljujarvi. He’s young and would presumably get a chance to play in an offensive role with the Kraken.
Now, there’s always a chance that Ken Holland could throw a draft pick at the Seattle Kracken in exchange for them to take James Neal off their hands instead of Puljujarvi. If all it took was a third-round pick, then I would do that. If it was a second-round pick, I might have to think about it a little bit more, but there’s no way I would pay more than a 2nd round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to have Neal taken over Puljujarvi, even though the cap relief would be enticing.
The plan for Oilers GM Ken Holland seems pretty simple right now, but next season could really complicate things.
I’m not saying this is likely, but what if Jesse Puljujarvi starts playing like a former fourth overall pick? If Puljujarvi scores 20 goals next season, the Oilers will be less inclined to lose him for nothing in the expansion draft. That could really change their plans.
I don’t see a scenario where the team is suddenly okay with losing Caleb Jones for nothing, especially when you consider the fact that he’s signed for one more season with a cap hit under $1 million. If Puljujarvi breaks out, then it could actually make sense for the Oilers to trade one of their left-shot defensemen.
If Oscar Klefbom is healthy and ready to go by 2021/22, the left-side of the depth chart will be very crowded with Darnell Nurse, Caleb Jones, Phillip Broberg, William Lagesson, and Kris Russell all also in the organization.
The Oilers have a surplus of left-shot defensemen. If they believe it’s just a matter of time until Broberg is a quality top-four defenseman and Caleb Jones takes another step forward, you can see why it would make sense to trade one of Klefbom or Nurse.
Klefboms’ health is a huge question mark here. If they don’t think he’ll ever get back to 100%, then moving on from him might not be a bad move. If they believe that they’ll get Klefbom back into the lineup for 2021/22 and he’ll be the same player he was before, then I don’t think it would be smart to trade him and his $4.167 million cap hit.
By the time the expansion draft rolls around, Nurse will be just a year away from unrestricted free agency and could be in for a big-time payday. It’s a tough situation because if he plays well next season, he’ll be looking for more money but that means it could be more difficult for the Oilers to sign him. It also means they could get more for him in a trade.
I’m not a huge fan of trading Nurse, but he could be worth a lot on the trade market and would likely fetch the Oilers a really good top-six winger to put next to Connor McDavid.
If they wanted to keep both Klefbom and Nurse through the expansion draft, but don’t want to lose Puljujarvi, then they could also look at moving Caleb Jones. Generally, I’m not a fan of it, but again, if they think Broberg will be ready for regular NHL by 21/22, then you can see the logic behind looking into moving him.
His cap hit makes him very valuable to the Oilers but it also would give him value on the trade market. If they looked around, I’m sure they would find a team willing to give up a good, young winger for him.
Again, this is all based on the hypothetical scenario that Puljujarvi proves to be too valuable to let go for free. But if the Oilers traded a left-shot defenseman for a quality forward, they set themselves up really well for the expansion draft.
They would then go the 7-3-1 route and protect McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto, and Puljujarvi as well as the forward they acquired in the trade and one other forward (it could be Josh Archibald or Tyler Benson). On the blueline, they would protect the same three of Bear, Klefbom, Nurse, or Jones (depending on who they trade). Doing this might also make it more appealing for Seattle to just straight up take one of Zack Kassian or James Neal since there wouldn’t be a lot of other good options on the Oilers exposed list.
The left-side of the Oilers blueline is going to be very crowded a year from now and they’ll likely have to make a move eventually regardless, so it would make total sense for them to make a trade next offseason when it could also help them keep more forwards in the expansion draft.