EDMONTON — Ken Holland’s trade deadline, as it turns out, happened last fall.
We hope you enjoyed it, because the trade deadline that’s coming on Monday won’t be near as sexy. Wait, sexy isn’t the right word when you’re talking about players like Slater Koekkoek or Devin Shore.
How about… active?
With Edmonton capped out and deep into Long Term Injury Reserve (thanks to Oscar Klefboms’s season-long injury absence), we asked the Oilers GM to characterize how he will greet this coming deadline, compared to the many deadlines he has worked in his career.
“It feels different,” he said. “I’m not sure why it feels different.”
He thinks for a second.
“Given where we are with the cap situation — being in LTI — the fact we signed extra defencemen and extra forwards before the season, because we knew we had a taxi squad, we’re not looking for depth,” he said. “We’re carrying 29 players.”
Here is what Holland did in this strange, taxi-squad season, that has rendered his trade deadline nearly moot:
With extra roster spots available for the season, Holland opted to load up during the free agent window back in October-November. We’re not talking about signing Tyson Barrie or Mike Smith.
We’re referencing Tyler Ennis and Dominik Kahun. Slater Koekkoek and Devin Shore.
We’re talking about re-signing Kris Russell and William Lagesson, the very definition of the kind of depth defencemen one acquires to buttress his blue-line for a playoff run. (And that includes Koekkoek, who is now expected to be ready for playoffs, and possibly before.)
Holland extended the contracts of depth forwards Josh Archibald and Joakim Nygard back in February and March. Gaetan Hass in April, and Patrick Russell in August. Instead of saving roster and cap space to add depth at the trading deadline, Holland’s strategy was to add that depth before the season began by signing players that do not cost an asset in return.
There are plusses to that course of action, and there are minuses:
• Plus: His team has had superior depth for all 56 games, not just from Apr. 12 on. As such, the Edmonton Oilers stand 12th in the NHL's overall standings and are a playoff lock in the North.
• Minus: Now that we’ve played 39 games, Edmonton’s two greatest needed are obvious: A third-line centre and a top-six left winger. Holland can likely afford neither, as those players’ value likely exceed what he has left to spend.
• Plus: With all the issues surrounding COVID-19 and the Canadian border, this is the most cumbersome deadline in NHL history for a Canadian GM trying to add to his roster. If ever there was a deadline for Holland to be inactive, this is that deadline.
• Minus: His team has been even-up or better with Winnipeg this season, not as good as Toronto, and for some reason has struggled against the Montreal Canadiens — the three other playoff teams in the North. If those team all improve at the deadline and Edmonton doesn’t, it’s going to be hard to make Round 2.
The way for Holland to acquire the $3-million player he requires is fairly simple: get someone to take on a Zack Kassian or Mikko Koskinen, then sweeten the deal with a first- or second- round pick, or a prospect like Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Ryan McLeod or Dylan Holloway.
As a fan, would you endorse that this season?
Our opinion is, Edmonton has made strides. It’s a good team, but not a Cup contender.
Is it time to start trading prospects to win right now? I don’t think so and neither does Holland — but never say never.
“We’re maxed out, because of being in LTI and having all these players on the roster. So, it doesn’t feel like we’re going to be overly active,” he mused. “But I’ve been in the game long enough. Something comes up on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, and you decide it’s something you want to move on.”
Our interpretation is, he would consider moving a prospect or high pick for a player with term. Not for a rental.
Make no mistake: Summertime is where you make trades that sculpt your roster with long-term acquisitions. The trade deadline — where you’re only dealing with half the teams, if that — is a time when you acquire short-term rentals.
Holland has been clearing players through waivers in recent days, just in case a deal presents itself. Ennis, Neal and Nygard have all cleared within the past month and are on the taxi squad. So are Bouchard and Russell.
But remember, the CBA stipulates that a team must have the appropriate cap space to re-activate those players. So, if Holland were to bring in a $3-million player, he would in effect be limiting head coach Dave Tippett to a 21-man roster for the rest of the season. No call-ups — that means you, Bouchard — unless you were to waive a good player who was certain to be picked up.
Then there is the final reason why a team is traditionally active at the deadline, and another reason for Holland to sit put.
Playoff gates. In Canada, there aren’t any.
“Sometimes you might make a move thinking, ‘It might make us a little bit better, a little bit deeper, win an extra round and bring in three or four more home playoff dates. Bring in some revenues for the team,’” Holland said. “Certainly that won’t be part of anyone’s thinking north of the border.
“I’m not sure about south of the border, how many fans they’ll be able to have in May.”
Up here there won’t be any. Another reason why building last fall was the smart bet in 2020-21.