Edmonton Oilers make two brilliant moves to fortify their defense

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /

The Edmonton Oilers have made two big moves to solidify their defense

Boxing Day this year started with the signing of Slater Koekkoek.  Koekkoek would be best described as a draft bust from years ago, having been drafted 10th overall in the 2012 NHL draft.  He put up 53 points in 62 games in his last year of junior, then 26 points in 76 games in his rookie AHL season with the Syracuse Crunch.  But, that offence has yet to translate to the NHL after 149 NHL games, in which he’s only put up 7-22-29 those games with 86 PIMs.  His career-low in +/- is -4, so the good news is he’s a decent player in his own end.

This is a great depth signing, though, as Ken Holland continues to surprise and impress me with his ability to pull rabbits out of his hat. Even at the age of 26, Koekkoek has yet to play enough NHL games to know what type of player he truly is.

Playing with Chicago last season, he played the most he’s ever played in 1 season – 42 games – and put up 10 points in those 42 games, his current career-high.  In a covid-shortened 56 game schedule that equates to only .24 PPG which works out to 13 points in 56 games.

I don’t believe he’ll play that many games with the Oilers next year, but he’s a solid depth addition to a deep corps that might not have the sexiest of names but gets the job done.  Just because he wasn’t worth the #10 pick in the 2012 draft doesn’t mean he can’t find a role to play in the NHL.

Koekkoek is slated to play the 7th d-man position, which keeps the seat warm for William Lagesson 2 seasons from now when his contract is slated to revert to a 1-way contract from a 2-way contract.  Koekkoek still has potential but he’s enough of a veteran he could move up and down the lineup as needed.  A solid addition for a time when injuries occur, which they usually do.  If nothing else, he won’t drown in defensive mistakes in his own end.  If he does play regularly we could see him break out offensively.  He’s only signed for 1 season at $850K, so the price is right.

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Oilers re-sign Ethan Bear

We all knew this would get done eventually, but it’s nice to see it become official.  Holland re-signed Bear for 2 years and $4 million, $2 million per season.  That’s exactly what I thought he’d be paid, but I thought it would be for 3 years, not 2.  Hey, I’ll take it.  Still a pretty good contract.

Bear was one of the highlights of last season, as he unexpectedly made the team out of training camp to fill a badly needed vacuum on the right side.

He went on to seamlessly partner up with Darnell Nurse, putting up 5-16-21 in 71 games last season and at one point playing on the top pairing.  Oh, and he improved his +/- to -4 from -11 the previous season despite the increased pressure and minutes.  That’s a fantastic season for a full-time rookie d-man who has the hardest position in the NHL to master.  I look forward to seeing what he does as a follow-up this upcoming season.

An interesting fact with this signing – all the Oilers d-men with the exception of Oscar Klefbom are now signed for either 1 or 2 seasons.  This is a wise move on the part of Holland as I’m sure he can see a likely influx of talent coming to the D corps in the years ahead and he needs the flexibility to make blockbuster trades as needed.

Has he learned from the mistakes he made in the early cap era from his time as a GM with the Red Wings?  Right now, it looks like yes he has.

Alex Chiasson, Juhjar Khaira, or Josh Archibald headed for taxi squad? 

As I’ve indicated in past blogs, the Oilers have too many forwards in their bottom 6 right now.  At least 1 will have to go to make the Oilers cap compliant, and I have yet to see any of them moved right now.

However, now that we know more about how the teams in the Canadian division will handle their farm team callups – most of whom have their farm teams located in the US – it’s fair to ask who will be on the “taxi squad” for next season.

This is a handful of guys who won’t play regularly but who are ready to go in case of injuries.  Holland likes his teams to have depth, but will he trade one of these 3 guys or will he simply put the odd man out on the taxi squad?  This is how the Canadian teams will severely curb player movement between a border closed to all non-essential traffic.

The Oilers have already publicly said they won’t be moving their farm team north of the border due to the expense of moving and housing multiple people – not to mention the layoffs of all the off-ice employees in Bakersfield – which means that it’s most likely the guys staying behind to play in Bakersfield will play there for the duration of the season.  I heard rumours of Red Deer or Saskatoon being considered at one point, but the very concept was kiboshed weeks ago.

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As the Oilers will still have cap issues to begin the season at the time of this writing, I tend to think a trade is still likely.  Of course, the rules around the taxi squad haven’t been released – will the rules be the same as sending a guy down to the farm, where all except $900K of his cap hit still counts against the cap?

The Oilers are now almost $2.2 million over the cap, so they have to do something or they forfeit cap space for next season, maybe even lose draft picks too, and they’ll be forfeiting $300K in cap space for this season and next, to begin with.  It’ll be interesting to see.