As Oilers and Kassian part ways, Ken Holland ready to adopt win now mentality

Edmonton Oilers General Manager Ken Holland to discuss why the team decided to trade forward Zack Kassian to the Arizona Coyotes, stating how much the veteran meant to the team but ultimately made the deal for cap relief.

Remember when the draft used to be about acquiring young players so your team could be good one day? 

Well, finally, the Edmonton Oilers ARE good. And now, the draft is about so much more than slapping a ball cap on another fresh-faced young prospect. 

On the day the Zack Kassian era ground to a close in Edmonton, a fresh new rugged winger walked through that same revolving door, as the Oilers welcomed big Reid Schaefer. 

Out went the six-foot-three, 211-pound, veteran right winger to Arizona — most importantly, with his $6.4 million dollars owing in tow — and after dropping down three slots in the draft, in came the six-foot-three, 213-pound left-winger Schaefer, a local kid who couldn’t wait to hear the Oilers call his name. 

“Born and raised in Spruce Grove,” the red-headed Schaefer said. “When I heard my name, it was a dream come true.” 

The Oilers also had to cough up a third-rounder in 2024 and a 2025 second-rounder to Arizona, the cost of dumping a fourth-line player who was eating up $3.2 million for the next two seasons. 

For some context, when the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt Patrick Marleau and the final year of his $6.25 million contract to Carolina, they surrendered the 13th overall pick in the draft, while swapping a seventh for a sixth-round pick. 

On Friday, the Leafs traded goalie Petr Mrazek and his $7.6 million owing, to Chicago. They gave Chicago their 25th pick overall, and took the 38th pick back. The difference? Chicago needs a goalie — they had none signed for the coming season. 

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In the Kassian deal, Edmonton dropped just three spots, got the player they were ready to choose at 29th, and will part with two draft picks that are not in Round 1. Those picks are the price of trying to win now. 

“I love Zack. He does a lot of the heavy lifting for us,” said GM Ken Holland. “But the pandemic hits and the cap’s getting tighter —  we had to … relieve some cap space, and give us an opportunity to do something over the next couple of days.” 

Holland signed Kassian to a four-year, $12.8 million deal just prior to the pandemic. Then the cap froze, the Oilers got increasingly better, and Kassian became an overpaid fourth-line player. There is a player on most rosters who signed that summer that is overpaid today, in fairness. 

“In life, you make the decisions based on the information you have at the time,” Holland said. “And when the information changes you’ve got to roll with the punches. Next summer, if the cap keeps going up $1 million a year, it’ll be someone else (trading a bad contract). I didn’t want to buy out Zack, so here we are.” 

Schaefer is a big, depth winger in the Tanner Pearson mould. Good size, nice shot and can skate. 

Who knows how a player like this one develops, or where he’ll play in the lineup one day? 

Schaefer describes himself as “a big, two-way power forward with that offensive upside. I can play up and down the lineup, play the off wing. I think I’m pretty versatile.” 

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He grew up with an Oilers sweater in his dresser, and always had a favourite player he’d watch from the family him in Spruce Grove, a bedroom community which lies just west of Edmonton. 

“There was Shawn Horcoff growing up,” he said of his favourite Oilers. “But nowadays, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are outta this world.” 

His Seattle Thunderbirds lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League final, which meant he was in town during the Oilers playoff run, watching the Oilers game at a downtown Joey’s restaurant. 

“The coaches wouldn’t let us go to the watch parties. Probably a good decision,” chuckled Schaefer. 

With due respect to Schaefer, the most important item of business on Holland’s plate this month is the acquisition of a starting goaltender, and clearing up the vital cap space required. 

Kassian’s $3.2 million helps a ton, and the more time that passes the more it sounds like defenceman Duncan Keith may indeed opt to retire. That would clear another $5.5 million. 

It is also becoming clear that Mike Smith is willing to collect the final year of his contract on the Long Term Injury list. And with Stuart Skinner cemented as the Oilers No. 2 this coming season, that leaves Edmonton and Toronto in the market for Darcy Kuemper or Jack Campbell. 

We suspect Toronto will target Kuemper ahead of Campbell, but the Oilers were hot after 32-year-old Kuemper when Arizona put him on the trading block last summer. The Oilers lost out to the Colorado Avalanche then, but you have to wonder if he’ll take another run at the Stanley Cup winner? 

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