EDMONTON — For years in this town, free agent day had been about over-paying and over-terming unrestricted free agents so they would come here. Because a player had to give his family a reason to “settle” on Edmonton.
Now, there’s a real reason. Players come here because they can win a Stanley Cup in Edmonton.
“I’m just fired up,” said goalie Jack Campbell. “I mean, watching the team in the playoffs, the group they have, and seeing Evander (Kane) and Brett (Kulak) signing today… I just can't wait to be a part of this group and work hard for their goal of winning a Stanley Cup.”
General manager Ken Holland had a day Wednesday, landing Connor McDavid‘s left winger in Kane, grabbing a No. 1 goaltender in Campbell, and nailing down their second pairing with the left-shot local lad Kulak, who was excellent here after being acquired at the trade deadline last season.
The old GM has his fastball back, and was throwing strikes on Wednesday.
“Well, it’s not as fast as it once was. So I’m nibbling more around the edges,” Holland joked. “As you get older you’ve got to work the curveball in a little more…”
When Holland arrived in Edmonton he was just trying to survive, signing guys like Gaetan Haas and Tomas Jurco to one-year deals. But as he’s built a functional roster, and opened up some cap space, he’s added real NHL players like Zach Hyman, Cody Ceci, Duncan Keith, Derek Ryan, and the trio signed on Wednesday.
In the meantime, his team has made the playoffs for all three of his seasons, and advanced to Round 3 this spring.
Today, with a 40-goal player like Kane signed to a tidy AAV of $5.1 million, the Stanley Cup window is officially open in Edmonton.
“That's the goal. Absolutely,” said Holland. “I believe that we're in the Stanley Cup window. Certainly I'm making decisions to try to give us the best opportunity to pursue to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
And for how long?
“Hopefully it’s the length of my contract here,” said Kane, who signed for four years.
The Oilers also added goalie Calvin Pickard as a No. 3 in the organization, an itch that had to be scratched. Here’s a spin through the Big 3 signings on Wednesday, as the Oilers arrive as a powerhouse out West.
Kane scored 22 goals in 43 games last season, which prorates to 42 in an 80-game season. Then he scored 13 more in 15 playoff games.
Guys who score 40 get paid in the eight to nine million range, usually for six or seven years. Kane comes in at four years, $5.125 million per — not even $400,000 more than Ilya Mikheyev or Ben Chiarot received as UFAs.
Obviously, Kane’s reputation costs him money here, but during his half-season in Edmonton he was — by all reports — the model teammate. “At the end of the year when I went through the exit interviews with all the players,” Holland said, “to a man, everybody in that locker room wanted him back and made that very clear to me.”
Does Kane revert to old habits now that he has a four-year deal in his pocket? Heck, I warned back in February that signing him for half a season wasn’t the mistake. Signing him to a multi-year deal on July 13 was the mistake to be avoided, we wrote then.
I would be happy to be wrong.
If — and we repeat, there is an “if” here — the Oilers are getting the matured, focused, grown-up Evander Kane that we've seen signs of, this is a player that helps you win a Stanley Cup. How many guys in the NHL can score 40 goals, skate and trade pucks with McDavid, and is tough enough to protect your team’s greatest asset — not from the fourth line — but as a linemate?
Kane is a unicorn, and could be hockey’s best contract at an AAV of $5.125. Or it could go the way it went in San Jose, Buffalo and Winnipeg.
Let’s watch and see.
Here’s a late-developing goalie who came through the ringer that is being a No. 1 netminder in Toronto. He is mature, experienced, and ready to handle the pressures that are inherent with this role on a team that is ready to win.
“It’s giving me chills just thinking about it,” said this self-professed 'cat Dad.' “Being in the lineup with these guys and seeing just how hard they work and how close they were last year, my focus is definitely at an all-time high. I just can't wait to get to Edmonton and work to win the Stanley Cup.”
He’ll need to take another step in his career to win rounds in Edmonton, something he’s never done before. But with just 142 games played at age 30, he’s a late bloomer. He can still improve behind the right team — that is the hope for Campbell here in Edmonton.
Kulak flies under the radar, but when the season is done, or the playoff series concludes, you’re saying, “Man, that Kulak is a better player than I thought he was.”
Kulak comes in at a very affordable AAV of $2.75 million — especially considering the $16 million, four-year deal for third-pairing defenceman Erik Gudbranson that Columbus signed — and will slot into the spot vacated by Duncan Keith. Kulak will buy time for rookie Philip Broberg to percolate on the third pairing, with the belief that by the end of Kulak’s deal they will have switched places.
Kulak skates better than you think, and is the kind of teammate that will help the transition from a bunch of younger guys hoping to do well, to a team full of veterans who expect to do well. A nice signing for a quality player and person here.
Edmonton’s blue-line needs one more guy, a tough customer. But that will come.
Losing Keith and Kulak in the same off-season would have been a disaster, one that Holland averted.