With the Edmonton Oilers setting their roster for opening night in Vancouver versus the Canucks, we take a look at several things which stand out.
Monday was a key day for the Edmonton Oilers and the rest of the NHL, as it represented the deadline for submitting opening night rosters. For the Oilers specifically, they begin their regular season on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
As you’d expect, there was a lot to process from the confirmation of the Oilers’ opening roster for the 2023-24 campaign. Here is a look at six things in particular, which are worthy of note:
1) A necessary inclusion
Markus Niemeläinen stands out as a member of the 21-man roster, but not for a good reason. The Oilers had no choice to include him, due to his currently being injured.
The defenceman cannot be sent down while he is hurt. As an added ‘bonus’, his full cap hit counts against the salary cap, due to him being on a one-way contract.
2) Dodging a bullet
The fallout from Niemeläinen being included, is that he’s taking up a valuable roster spot which could have been put to better use. More specifically, by someone such as Raphael Lavoie or Lane Pederson.
As a knock-on effect, this meant the Oilers had to go through the risk of putting Lavoie and Pederson on waivers. Fortunately for the Oilers, they cleared waivers on Monday along with Ben Gleason, and are reporting to Bakersfield.
3) Financially limited
Understandably, this leads to the question of why the Oilers are only carrying 21 players rather than 23? Pure and simple, it comes down to a lack of salary cap space.
As per Puck Pedia, the Oilers have a projected cap space of just $395,000. Further, with no roster moves they can fit a $1.8 million annual cap hit at the trade deadline.
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4) Potentially short-handed
As Sportsnet‘s Elliotte Friedman said on Monday, there’s a possibility the Oilers will have to go short-handed on Wednesday night with just 17 skaters. This is due to several players carrying knocks, notably on the blue line with Mattias Ekholm (hip) and Brett Kulak (shoulder).
Ekholm’s injury has lingered more than expected, meaning he didn’t play in any preseason games, while Kulak has been out for just over a week. There is some hope for Wednesday at least, with both players taking part in Monday’s practice.
5) Who pairs with whom?
Due to the injuries referenced above, there is some uncertainty over what the blue line pairings will be. For example, when Ekholm returns, will he be put with Phillip Broberg, or with Evan Bouchard, who was his partner last season after he arrived from Nashville?
Assuming it’s the former, this would conceivably mean Bouchard pairs up with Darnell Nurse. There is also the possibility once Kulak also returns, that he will be put with Cody Ceci.
6) Number one in goal
There’s a lot of intrigue about who will be the main goaltender in 2023-24? Will it be the more expensive Jack Campbell, or last year’s rookie phenom Stuart Skinner?
Campbell has impressed during preseason, but the talk is that both players will get one start in the first two games versus the Canucks. In truth, as long as Campbell is indeed back and Skinner carries on where he left off last (regular) season, the Oilers are in an excellent position between the pipes.
More generally, if cohesion is key to a team, then the Oilers have it. In this respect, consider that Connor Brown is the only player on the opening night roster, who wasn’t in Edmonton last season.