DENVER — Ken Holland was never going to solve his true issue at this trade deadline. He needs a goalie to win a Stanley Cup, and that simply was not going to happen at this trade deadline.
So instead, the Oilers general manager set out to shore up a roster that could win more than just one round.
That’s where the $5 million general manager finds himself these days: Somewhere between "my team isn’t enough of a contender to start sprinkling first-round picks around the NHL on deadline day" and "I’ve got no cap room to do anything anyhow" and "I’ve been here three seasons now — so if we’re not good enough yet, when will we be?"
OK, it’s the fans asking that last question.
Anyhoo, Holland went out on Monday and did what he promised, grabbing a left defenceman from the Montreal Canadiens in Brett Kulak (for William Lagesson, plus second- and seventh-round picks) to shore up his third pairing. Then he landed a veteran fourth-line centre in Derick Brassard from Philadelphia, a 34-year-old who most agree has enough left in his cupboards as long as he is deployed the right way.
First on the local boy Kulak, who called his dad, Gill, at the homestead outside of Stony Plain, where he grew up idolizing the Oilers before the Flames drafted him in the fourth round.
“My dad was in the cab of either the tractor, or the grain truck,” chuckled Kulak, 28. “We had a good little chat, and I think this is kind of surreal for him. You know, in his older age he is getting a little emotional. His his eyes like to get a little watery more often. ...
“Yeah, he was happy. I think he's excited for what's to come.”
Kulak may not be the six-foot-four ruffian Oilers fans wanted, but he is certainly an upgrade on the left side — and a guy we think you’ll come to like.
“He played 13 playoff games last year, and there have been stretches this year where he has been on the first pair with (Jeff) Petry and had matchups against the other team’s first line,” Holland said. “He gives us versatility. He’s mobile, he’s got good size (6-foot-1, 197 pounds), and we want to get the puck moving forward.”
If not as rugged as some would have preferred, Kulak skates better than that prototypical, big stay-at-home guy. He’s smart, summers in Alberta and grew up “idolizing, talking about, and wanting to watch (the Oilers) all the time. To be a part of that team? My family is pretty happy,” he said, smiling.
Kulak steps in on the left side ahead of Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek (who has taken personal leave from hockey), and is a pending UFA who you may well sign and make part of your core. He’s the kind of defenceman who both complements and will be complemented by a more offensive partner such as Tyson Barrie or Evan Bouchard, a pair of right-side D-men who thrive when playing with a partner willing to stay at home.
“I always take pride in being a good partner,” said Kulak. “So whatever he likes to do, I try to accommodate my partner’s strengths, try to be a good partner for him, and be very supportive out there on the ice.”
Like it or not, Holland went into this deadline promising to upgrade the left side of his third pairing and he did just that with the Kulak acquisition.
As for Brassard, the scouting report from Jason Bukala’s Pro Hockey group states that Brassard’s compete level has still been very good this season, but he has lost interest at times “off the puck.” We’ll give him the benefit of saying, he’s been in Philly all season — where everyone is losing interest. It’s unlikely he’ll be bored on a team making a playoff charge and playing in important games right through the first round of the playoffs.
“Brassard can play left wing, or he can play center,” Holland said. “He’s had a good playoff resume and gives us more depth as we push to try to qualify for a playoff spot.”
Brassard has missed exactly half of the Flyers 62 games mostly with hip issues, but has been healthy since March 1 and centred the Flyers top line of late, with all their injuries. He’s a better than 50 per cent faceoff man over the past four seasons, and fits the bill as that fourth-line centre who is smart enough to play well defensively, but has the skills to capitalize on the odd chance for that depth goal that can swing a playoff game.
“When I was playing for the Rangers, I came really close to winning the Cup. I think for two or three years now … I’ve been chasing the Stanley Cup,” said Brassard, who joins his 10th NHL organization. “I see the opportunity in Edmonton, having two of the two of the best players in the world on our team. I think we’re a complete team.”
In Edmonton, behind Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (likely back Thursday), Brassard’s role will be to keep his end clean, win faceoffs and be that guy who goes out on the wing late in games so you have two centremen on the ice for a faceoff, just in case.
The Oilers just became deeper, and if you’ll recall, when they bowed out of the playoffs last spring we did not point to goaltending as much as we did lament their lack of depth.
“When both (Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen) are healthy, I’m comfortable with the goaltending,” Holland said on Monday. “For me, I’m comfortable that when we got the tandem together, that they give us good goaltending.”
Well, Kenny, that makes one of you ...