EDMONTON – There is a trend at work here, one that gets mixed reviews from fans, but it seems like a necessary business course for Edmonton Oilers management.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wanted to finish his career in Edmonton. The greasers provided him with that contract.
Duncan Keith applied to Edmonton for a trade. He wanted to play here and he will, at least for the next two seasons.
And Mike Smith, who signed a two-year deal with Edmonton worth a total of $ 4.4 million, had this to say when signing:
“My goal was to go back to Edmonton. To end my career in Edmonton, ”Smith said. “There would be no better way out than to bring a Stanley Cup back to Edmonton and finish my career. I never really explored other options.
“We are very close to being an elite franchise and we have the right players to make that happen.”
Elliotte Friedman reported last week on the growing sense among NHL players to avoid everything that comes with playing in a Canadian city: the hits on social media, the daily recognition wherever you go with your family, the pressure on children and spouses who just don’t. they exist in most of the 25 US NHL centers.
The stigma is very real at the macro level across Canada, and is heightened when Edmonton is spoken of as the northern outpost among Canadian clubs.
You can refute reality and defend your city / country in the face of what has become a growing trend as social media has taken over people’s lives. Or, if you’re Ken Holland and you’re trying to build a winner in a city that annually ranks among the most popular destinations on the “untraded” player lists, you can adapt.
You may tell yourself, if not Nugent-Hopkins, where am I going to find a similar replacement with an AAV of just over $ 5 million? Well, it looks like Holland has found one in Hyman. But if he had sent Nugent-Hopkins to free agency, would there be another?
You can separate the Duncan Keith game and convince yourself that there is something better on the UFA market. But players of his pedigree who want to be greasers, who only have two years left on their contracts, are not falling from the trees in the current NHL.
Now those players must be able to play. You cannot improve by signing players who cannot play. Fool.
Nugent-Hopkins, no contest, can still produce as a Top 6 left winger, substituting in center, killing penalties and working the power play.
There is a bigger argument about Keith. But we question that his numbers as a first-pair defense in Chicago playing with several inexperienced teammates, versus a poor goalkeeping average, will greatly improve on a better team with a better partner versus a better goalkeeper in Edmonton.
(Chicago was the seventh worst goals against a team per game in the NHL last season at 3.29. Edmonton was the 12th best at 2.75).
Then there’s Smith, 39, who is likely to sign the last contract of his career with Edmonton, a two-year deal worth $ 2.2 million per.
Can you still play?
Well, among goalkeepers who started half of his team’s games last season (28 starts), Smith’s .923 save percentage ranked fifth in the NHL. That put him ahead of Jacob Markstrom and Connor Hellebuyck, among others.
His 2.31 goals against average ranked sixth, better than a host of netminders who would be delighted to have an AAV of $ 2.2 million.
How many of those goalkeepers would sign in Edmonton as a free agent? Well, with Smith as their safety net, now the Netherlands can find an answer to that question when free agency begins on Wednesday.
Now you only need one. Not two.
And of course, there are intangibles, another area that general managers, coaches (and hockey writers) value far more than the average Twitter pundit.
Smith is a leader on a team that lost assistant captain Adam Larsson last week, another reminder that even players who seem happy in Edmonton can jump at their first opportunity. Smith brings an attitude that has been eradicated in 20 years of mediocre hockey in Edmonton. An obstinacy; an expectation of winning that little by little has been built under this super young leadership group.
When his captain Connor McDavid is 24, his lieutenant Leon Draisaitl only 25, and Darnell Nurse 26, a 39-year-old player who has played on teams with the likes of Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, Martin St. Louis and Mark Recchi, Shane Doan and Mark Giordano, you have value.
Courage this locker room requires if the team inside is going to go from being a good regular season team to a good playoff team.
“With defeat comes growth and maturity. An understanding that these opportunities don’t come along every year,” Smith began when asked to describe the next steps after Winnipeg’s Round 1 sweep. “We are trying to build something here in Edmonton… there is enthusiasm in the team. You don’t just go out and win, there’s a way we did it this year that everyone thought we improved. He obviously didn’t carry over to the playoffs, but there were many valuable lessons learned in that series against Winnipeg.
“The team understands the mistakes we made that cost us the series we have to clean up. I’m sure everyone will come back to improve that.”
Now, the Netherlands need a better goalkeeper to make their tandem. Getting Mikko Koskinen back isn’t a disaster: Oilers’ team save percentage on all strengths (.910) ranked seventh with that duo between the tubes last season.
But if Smith is your second best man, not your best man, you are a much better team.
Now, to find another good ‘I tend to want to play in Edmonton …
As we know, there are no guarantees.