Oilers add depth with free agency deals but work still needed

Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke about the moves he made as free agency kicked off, and why he’s excited to have Mike Smith join the team.

EDMONTON — It is term that really kills on July 1.

The money handed to players is a distinct second, in our opinion, because bad deals are all about getting them off your books as soon as possible. So, you can assess Ken Holland’s first July 1 at the helm of the Edmonton Oilers in two ways:

One, in signing Mike Smith ($2 million plus bonuses), Markus Granlund ($1.3 million), Tomas Jurco ($750,000) and Swiss centre Gaetan Haas to one-year deals, and Jujhar Khaira ($1.2 million AAV) and Alex Chiasson ($2.15 AAV) to two-year contracts, Holland spent his money wisely and did not hand out excess term. It’s a pleasant change from the Peter Chiarelli era, where the Oilers handsomely overpaid more often than not.

Or two, you could say that Holland’s day was overtly underwhelming. He renewed Khaira and Chiasson, and failed to sign any players whose pedigree would cause one to spend much money, or want to lock up long-term.

“What I was hoping to accomplish over the summer time – and there is still two months to go,” began Holland, “was to get another goaltender … add on the back end (of his forward ranks). We wanted to create more competition. We need more players who can get double-digit goals. Markus Granlund’s resume says he should be able to score double-digit goals. We signed (Joakim) Nygard. We signed Jurco. We signed Haas. We signed Jujhar Khaira. We’ve started that. I don’t think we’re done.”

Granlund is a versatile centre-left winger who kills penalties and helps your team speed and defensive posture. Smith is a 37-year-old goalie whose year last season was two parts: one, awful, followed by a strong second half and heroic playoff performance.

“Uuh, there are a few things that happened,” Smith said of his season with the Calgary Flames. “The start of the season, I don’t want to really get into that. There were some mental things that, I didn’t really have the start I was looking for, got behind the eight-ball numbers wise… I decided after the break that I was going to give everything I had in the second half, and just compete the way I can.

“I got the confidence going, my mojo back, and I still feel like I can be a big part of team success.”

So, with the tandem of Smith and Mikko Koskinen, Holland has competition in goal. In buying out Andrej Sekera’s contract, he has competition among four players — Caleb Jones, Joel Persson, Ethan Bear and William Lagesson — for two spots on the Oilers blue line next year.

His forward lines, however, still need some work.

“Hey,” he said, looking at his watch, “it’s only July 1.”

“As we sit here today we need a third line centre. Haas can play centre. Khaira can play centre. Granlund can play centre.” But Holland promised that he is still scouring the market for a more legit candidate.

As a trade chip, he’s got Jesse Puljujarvi, who has some value in the league still, and can be part of a deal that brings in the players Holland seeks.

“In the short term we’re going to try to compete for the playoffs in 2020,” he said. “Long-term, it’s about building. But short term we need more competition and more pace on the bottom of the roster.

“I’ve been a general manager for 22 years. I know when it’s time to pay, and when it’s not time to pay,” Holland said of July 1 having passed with relative quiet on his part. “Ultimately I’m trying to build this team to be an elite team in the Western Conference.”

Smith was asked why he’d swap sides in the Battle of Alberta.

“Connor McDavid,” he chuckled. “You know, Edmonton is a good team. They were competitive every time we played against them last year. They probably underachieved last year … and I think Tipp (head coach Dave Tippett) will be a real good solution to getting this team back on track.

“They might not be the moist skilled throughout their lineup, but they have game changers who in the blink of an eye can change the game. And the depth of the team is a lot better than people give them credit for.”

Slowly, that depth is getting better.

Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.

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