For Oilers to succeed, free-agent signings must start meeting expectations

Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett discussed why he feels his team has taken steps in the right direction, but they're not quite there yet.

EDMONTON — Ken Holland set off into the free-agent waters last October on a goalie hunt. But when Jacob Markstrom signed in Calgary, the Edmonton Oilers general manager had to shift gears.

He wanted better goaltending. Who in the Edmonton market argued with that?

But Holland quickly pivoted to Plan B, a strategy that included a third-line centre and someone to bring winger Jesse Puljujarvi along. It scratched the itch left behind by Oscar Klefbom’s absence: a power-play quarterback who can get pucks into the hands of their most dangerous forwards quickly and efficiently.

And, if possible, how about a left winger for Leon Draisaitl?

In bringing in unrestricted free agents Kyle Turris, Tyson Barrie and Dominik Kahun, we thought, “OK, those are some decent additions to a lineup that finished last season right near the top of the Pacific.”

Well, we’re eight games in and those three pick-ups in particular have helped Edmonton to a 3-5 record. Barrie is off the top powerplay he was brought in to run, Kahun has spent the season next to one of hockey’s top distributors and hasn’t scored a goal yet, and Turris is minus-8 in his new role as a defensive centreman.

Kyle Turris

Most disturbing is this player, who came to Edmonton on a two-year deal at $1.65 million per, which he is paid on the top of the $2 million in buy-out dollars that Nashville will be paying Turris for this season and six more.

He is that player who, moons ago, was a No. 3 overall draft pick, but never met the offensive expectations that accompanied his draft position. So, years later, asking a highly talented centreman to master the No. 3 role behind Connor McDavid and Draisaitl shouldn’t be too much to ask, right?

Well, so far it has been for Turris, who is getting crushed five-on-five — the exact area that all of Holland’s moves were meant to improve. Turris is getting caved in with a 37 per cent Corsi, the Oilers shot share when he’s on the ice is below 40 per cent when Turris is on the ice, the scoring chances favour the opposition 65-35 when Turris is playing, and he’s below .500 in the faceoff circle at even strength (48.75 per cent).

Only $1.65 million for a 3C with Turris’ pedigree? It seemed like a sly signing.

“The reality is there wouldn’t have been a plethora of better offers for Kyle Turris,” former NHL GM Brian Lawton told 630 CHED in Edmonton Wednesday.

On a team seeking to improve its five-on-five numbers, Turris was seen as a solution. Right now he’s a problem — something that will have to change if Edmonton’s Bottom 6 is going to be of any support to the Top 6.

Tyson Barrie

The theory that a “puck-moving” defenceman doesn’t have to defend as well because the puck won’t be in his zone as much has too many holes in it for me. Every player gets caught in their own zone at different points in a game. Every player needs to be able to survive a defensive shift, and every defenceman needs to be able to defend.

The sliding scale is, the more points you get on offence, the less worried we are about your defensive play. Well, through eight games Barrie’s offensive work has not been more valuable than his defensive work has been harmful.

We knew that Barrie is an average defender at best in his own end. What we didn’t know was that he would be spending so much time there.

“I’d like to get back to the player I was when I left Colorado,” Barrie told me in an interview earlier this month.

That dynamic, fast, intense player has not been seen in Edmonton. Rather, Barrie appears slow, lacks the offensive composure that is supposed to define his game, and he is not in any way elusive.

Defensively, his five-on-five numbers are like Turris’: a 45 per cent Corsi, a 44 per cent shots share, and he’s been on the ice for one even strength goal and five against. Barrie has lost his job running the powerplay already, and we would openly question whether his offensive work can EVER win the day over his defensive play if he’s not racking up points with the man advantage.

Slow. Stiff. Ineffective.

Barrie hasn’t come close to making anyone forget about Klefbom.

Dominik Kahun

Kahun was supposed to have some childhood chemistry with Draisaitl, from all those years together in Germany, giving the Oilers another Top 6 winger to go with their two superior centres. He has never scored more than 13 goals in the NHL, but in Edmonton — next to Draisaitl — Kahun’s career was perfectly placed to take that next step.

Well, if that next step is anywhere near the blue paint, he’s going to need an awfully long stick. The perimeter-residing Kahun has spent eight games out on the edge, and has in no way made Draisaitl a better player. On his right side, Kailer Yamamoto furnishes Draisaitl with pucks with a battle level seldom seen, while Kahun swoops and circles, trying to reap the rewards without ever getting his hands dirty.

Kahun has one assist in eight games playing next to the reigning Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner. Like Turris and Barrie, he seemed like a viable UFA pickup.

Now, like those players, it’s time to play like one.

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