With that big dent in the base of the Stanley Cup still fresh courtesy of Nicolas Aube-Kubel of the Colorado Avalanche, who’ll hold their Cup parade in Denver Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers, like every other NHL team, are already preparing for next season. No time to waste.
The league is returning to its normal calendar for 2022-23 after having a couple of seasons disrupted by COVID, so things will get rolling fast in catch-up mode. Canada Day (July 1), traditionally the start of free agency, marks the opening of the first buyout window. Saturday is the deadline for club-elected arbitration. The first round of what we used to call the June entry draft – the Oilers will pick 29th — is July 7. Free agency begins July 13.
It’s right back to business for GM Ken Holland, who did himself and the team a big favor by getting coach Jay Woodcroft inked to a new three-year dealas the Oilers look to build on their best season since they lost to Carolina in Game 7 of the 2006 edition of the Stanley Cup. What happens with Evander Kane and his arbitration case? What about RFA’s Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi? They have until July 17 to file for arbitration. What say you, Mike Smith? It’s going to get busy.
“I think we understand that there’s a whole lot of work that’s going to be required in order for us to have the season we want to have next year,” said Woodcroft, who still has to name his coaching staff for next season. “We looked at this season and some people would call it a successful year, but for us, we’re driven to take the next step, ask ourselves hard questions, and be open to seeking answers to try and push us forward.”
What that “push forward” looks like, exactly, we don’t know. Kane is the big wildcard because the Oilers won’t know for certain if re-signing him is even an option until his arb case with the San Jose Sharks is ruled on. Kane, who tallied 22-17-39 in 43 regular season games and added 13-4-17 in 15 post-season games, checks a lot of boxes up front behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the leaders in playoff scoring without reaching the final.
The goaltending situation remains a big question mark until we know what Smith is going to do. I’d be OK with Woodcroft going with Stuart Skinner and Smith as a tandem – that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to at least check out what looks like a ripe group of UFA stoppers – but is Skinner ready? Truth is, we don’t know.
What the Oilers don’t need after their first trip to the Western Conference final since 2006, is a big step back next season. Fans got a taste of post-season in 2016-17 under Todd McLellan when the Oilers reached the second round, but early exits or missing the playoffs altogether had been the storyline since then until this spring. Fans deserve an encore. Even with the Oilers getting swept by Colorado, the last six weeks was good for this town.
These snippets from Woodcroft about what’s next: “I also think you use the time in the summertime to carefully reflect and try to find some answers in the work that you put in to seriously go over the things that went right and also think about the growing moments that occurred during the season. That’s how you get better from your experience — by reflecting and being truthful with what you were seeing. That’s what your focus is as a coaching staff in the summertime.
“When you get into September, that’s the implementation stage for those ideas. As a staff, we’re going to do our work this summer. It’s not like we’re taking the time off. We’re going to honestly evaluate all aspects of our game and find areas where we can be better and accentuate. We’re going to build off some of the things that we laid down during those four and a half months.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
I look forward to seeing what Holland and Woodcroft come up with this off-season after piecing together the 26-9-3 turnaround we saw after Dave Tippett was let go. The thing is, with July just around the corner, there’s plenty to get done and not as much time as usual to do it.
With this season’s timeline and the Oilers going three rounds deep for the first time in 16 seasons, there won’t be many dog days over the course of this summer around here. That beats the heck out of being on the outside looking in when April rolls around.
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