Oilers Notebook: Resolving Roster Chaos and Managing Philip Broberg’s Seat
Having to play the second game in a row with 17 skaters is problematic for the Oilers and it can’t go on much longer.
On Sunday, they extended a three-goal lead and a two-goal lead in two-thirds for the second game in a row to again walk away by just a point. This time they fell 6-5 in overtime to defending champions Avalanche.
As bad as things look, the reduced lineup isn’t the end of the world. Things will be fixed sooner or later, with the current situation being just a minor inconvenience in the long run.
There’s no getting around it: General Manager Ken Holland’s inability or unwillingness to trade to clear cap space has created short-term chaos.
Contracts worth more than $1 million had to be cut from the roster to activate winger Kailer Yamamoto from long-term injured reserve, which happened on Friday. That meant trading a player (a forward, logically) or forgoing someone and demoting them (if they were released), making more than $1.125 million – most from the contract of a player who was in the minors can be buried.
Holland didn’t do either, opting instead to send Dylan Holloway and Vincent Desharnais to AHL Bakersfield on waivers. As a result, the Oilers were down to 20 players, including goalies Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner.
There would be no scope for diseases and injuries that did not require LTIR. The Oilers could even play a game before going shorthanded.
A nasty flu virus is going through the team all week. Desharnais, for example, was already ill and decided not to play Wednesday’s home game against Detroit. Leon Draisaitl was also struck.
Things have only gotten worse since Yamamoto was activated. Klim Kostin missed Friday’s game due to illness. Skinner was too ill to sit on the bench as Campbell’s backup that night, although he seemed healthy enough to fill in if need be. The unofficial third stringer and emergency backup Matt Berlin was ready.
The Oilers took advantage of a provision in the union contract that allows capped teams to seek reinforcements who make $850,000 or less from the underage. Devin Shore, who was demoted Wednesday, was recalled and played his first game since Dec. 31 for the Oilers on Sunday.
🔁 #Oiler Roster move 🔁
Forward Devin Shore was recalled from the @condors.#LetsGoOilers pic.twitter.com/wrEOllBjBk
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 19, 2023
But an upper-body injury kept top-six winger Evander Kane out of the lineup against the Avalanche, once again leaving the Oilers undermanned. The Oilers call Kane’s injury day after day — seemingly good news — it’s a distinction they’ve used frequently this season, and players like Yamamoto, Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele have been sidelined for weeks. So we’ll see.
Assuming Kane is back in the lineup anytime soon, there’s not too much to worry about.
I’ve found throughout the season that the way the Oilers have managed the team this season is a semi-glass look. Management tried to make the team as competitive as possible over the summer and refused to let valuable strikers like Foegele and Jesse Puljujarvi go.
Not only is that sensible thinking, but a full cavalry of forwards has also helped the Oilers weather the number of long-term injuries they’ve dealt with leading up.
At the same time, there’s a difference between rolling with a 21- or 22-man roster and carrying just 20 people. The Oilers are feeling it now.
But with the trading deadline less than two weeks away, there is a clear deadline for this situation to be resolved. There are only five games left.
Since the Christmas break, the Oilers have put themselves in a position where Holland doesn’t have to panic to dump a body. A weak Pacific Division and Western Conference helped here as well. The Oilers are about to make the playoffs and are spot on for the division lead.
Make no mistake, but this situation needs to be clarified. Holland needs to improve the team – and for that he needs to clear money.
The Oilers can’t go on with this roster inflexibility. Additionally, without a veteran coming off the roster through a trade or demotion, or someone going on LTIR, Holloway cannot be recalled since his $925,000 cap hit is too large for the aforementioned CBA determination. That’s a problem.
Holland played their cards close to the west. That’s OK.
But he has to play it soon. If he does, that hand must surely help the Oilers on a daily basis.
Broberg is causing good problems for the Oilers
The more I watch Philip Broberg’s continued improvement, the more I wonder what the best course of action is for defence.
Let’s get a few obvious points out of the way.
Broberg was believed to be off-limits in a trade all season long. There’s no reason to think things have changed now, especially after seeing him play alongside Brett Kulak in back-to-back penalties ahead of Evan Bouchard or Tyson Barrie at right flank on Sunday.
The Oilers certainly have no intention of sending him back to Bakersfield anytime soon.
However, Broberg or not Broberg, it’s hard to imagine how this defensive corps could be good enough to be the backbone of a Stanley Cup-winning team. Strange things have happened, but you know what I mean.
And so the Oilers desperately need another top-four blueliner. If Holland isn’t ready to retaliate or can’t get another team to part ways with you, he might as well snag a rental car or find someone who makes under $1 million for added depth.
Holland isn’t interested in parting ways with Broberg, the first draft pick he made at the helm of the Oilers. That makes sense. He should avoid trading with Broberg at all costs. Holland should just hang up when asked about Broberg and not offered a true top-four tenure defender.
The Oilers should only part ways with Broberg if they acquire players like Erik Karlsson (a long shot) or Jakob Chychrun (an even longer shot). Other possibilities include those in other teams who appear to be converting or could enter the point in the coming days, such as Colton Parayko and Mattias Ekholm.
Otherwise forget it. And that brings us to the other options.
Regardless of the price tag, the good thing about Blue Jackets’ Vladislav Gavrikov – perhaps Edmonton’s top target all season – is that the forthcoming UFA would neither cost Broberg nor block the rookie’s path for years to come. The Oilers could dress seven defenders, with Gavrikov wearing blue and orange – and Broberg can play on either side.
It’s less certain that Gavrikov is good enough to make a discernible difference for the Oilers, at least compared to the four stalwarts mentioned earlier. It appears that a buyer caution label should be affixed. The Oilers would have to be careful not to get Dmitry Kulikov 2.0.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, the Oilers need a warm body or two when they get injured. Desharnais and Markus Niemelainen are the only players with NHL experience this season with the Minors.
There is one more wrinkle at Broberg to note. Aside from the fact that he’s been playing for weeks, how are the Oilers improving their defense without someone new taking his spot in the top six?
Darnell Nurse is grounded and not going anywhere.
Cody Ceci is struggling after being arguably the Oilers’ best defenseman last season and has two years left on his contract. Kulak has three more seasons ahead of him. It would be difficult to get another team to take over one of them.
The organization has recognized Barrie’s efforts this season. You don’t want to move him – unless getting the money to work to acquire a more profiled rear guard is a must.
Only Broberg and Bouchard remain.
The Oilers moving Bouchard, 23, now would be highly unlikely. But Bouchard has been fickle this season and is an upcoming restricted free agent. From what I’ve heard, the Bouchard deal has at least given the Oilers pause — especially if it means keeping the younger and soon-to-be-cheaper Broberg instead.
Few would-be cup contenders field a third pair of players in their early 20s, even those as highly regarded as Broberg and Bouchard.
Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft has repeatedly called press coverage of Rangers’ third goal “soft” after Friday’s game. The two Blueliners on the ice: The Twin B’s.
Here, too, the management does not force either of the two youngsters out of the door.
But given the importance of strengthening the blue line, limited trading markets for the other defenders and their much-reported complicated salary cap scenario, the Oilers could be forced to treat one of them.
(Top Photo by Philip Broberg: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
https://theathletic.com/4229459/2023/02/19/oilers-notebook-philip-broberg/ Oilers Notebook: Resolving Roster Chaos and Managing Philip Broberg’s Seat