Expansion Plan: Projecting the Edmonton Oilers’ protection list for the 2021 expansion draft

Edmonton's rebuild seems to never end, but some young talent in the system could replace some of the more expensive veterans by the time the expansion draft rolls around in 2021.
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Welcome to the Expansion Plan, our summer series projecting the protected lists for the 30 NHL franchises who will participate in the June 2021 Expansion Draft.

Over the next two seasons, every team – save the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be exempt – will be planning for the arrival of the NHL’s 32nd franchise and Seattle GM Ron Francis will begin to consider the options for his inaugural roster. As such, over the course of the next 30 days, we will profile one team, in alphabetical order, and forecast their potential list of protections and exposures, as well as address each team’s expansion strategy, no-brainers, tough decisions and what lessons they learned from the 2017 expansion process.

This exercise requires some important ground rules. The 2021 Expansion Draft will follow the same rules as the 2017 Expansion Draft, but some assumptions are necessary. These are the guidelines followed:

  • No pre-draft trades
  • All no-movement clauses are honored
  • Players who will become restricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 remain with current teams
  • Players who will become unrestricted free agents in 2020 or 2021 either remain with current teams or are left off lists entirely (eg. Nicklas Backstrom protected by the Washington Capitals, Tyson Barrie not protected by Toronto Maple Leafs or any other team.)

• • • 

Can you imagine having two 100-point superstars and yet not come close to making the playoffs? That's the Edmonton Oilers for you. Yes, everyone is tired about hearing how the team had four first-overall picks in six years and have won one playoff series since 2006, but you have to think that it's eventually going to get better... right?

A slew of bad contracts and the inability to attract top talent has plagued this team for well over a decade. Mikko Koskinen's $4.5 million AAV until 2021-22 was a baffling decision that led to former GM Peter Chiarelli getting fired just days later. Of course, there was Milan Lucic and his $5.2-million cap hit that Chiarelli couldn't figure out what to do with during his tenure that handicapped the team's salary efforts and there's no wonder why the Oilers haven't grown out of their slump. But the GM Ken Holland-era is here, and with 13 players set for the free-agent market after next season, the roster could look significantly different than it does today. What does the team have to play with at this point?

PROTECTED (7F, 3D, 1G)
Forwards:

  • Connor McDavid
  • Leon Draisaitl
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
  • Kailer Yamamoto
  • Tyler Benson
  • Cooper Marody
  • Jesse Puljujarvi

Defensemen:

  • Oscar Klefbom
  • Darnell Nurse
  • Caleb Jones

Goaltender:

  • Shane Starrett

NOTABLE EXPOSURES: Adam Larsson, James Neal, Mikko Koskinen

STRATEGY: Save for a handful of the obvious names, the Oilers need as much of a refresh as possible. It's hard to lose a trade the minute it happens, but that's exactly what happened when the team acquired Adam Larsson for future Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall in 2016. Larsson still has value as a top-four defenseman, however, but as a UFA in 2021 and the subject of trade rumors over the past year, the Oilers could feel comfortable moving on from him thanks to the young defensive talent in the organization. Edmonton should be focusing on its youth – the guys they aren't immediately rushing to the NHL – and Caleb Jones could take his spot in the lineup after showing tremendous progress over the last year.

Not having to waste spots to keep prospects Ryan McLeod, Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard is nice, but there is still a lot of work to do. Up front, the team will look to keep as many young players together during what feels like a never-ending rebuild, but a situation that is bound to bear fruit at some point. Kailer Yamamoto has had a so-so pro career to date but shouldn't be left behind at this point. Tyler Benson isn't far from his transition to the NHL after a superb AHL campaign, Same goes for Cooper Marody, a real threat to make Edmonton's opening night lineup in October. In Jesse Puljujarvi's case, rumors surrounding his future in Edmonton have swirled for months, but if he's still around in 2021, he's worth keeping around, even if it's just to swap him at a later date.

But to keep those four, it's with the understanding that James Neal goes unprotected. After his season in Calgary, that's all fine and dandy, but he's a proven 20-goal scorer and if he links up with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, he might find his way back to what made him such a commodity over the past few seasons. If Neal does rise up and gets picked up, that's $5.75-million a year off the books until the end of 2023 – sign Holland up. Of course, like with the rest of the lineup, it's all just a bunch of "what ifs" at this point.

THE NO BRAINER: McDavid's NMC won't kick in until 2022-23, the same year Draisaitl gets a modified NTC/NMC. So, yes, they're the absolute no brainers that the Oilers need to keep. But Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a forward the Oilers can't let get away. He'll be a UFA in 2021 which means the Oilers wouldn't need to protect him, but Holland should do everything in their power to make sure he sticks around once his seven-year deal is up.

THE TOUGH DECISION: The Oilers have a plethora of young prospects, but none that appear to be ready to make the jump to the big team anytime soon. So who is the best option to protect? Stuart Skinner is one of the best goalie prospects the Oilers have had in some time, and at 20 and set for a role with the Bakersfield Condors, he's young enough where the Oilers can be patient with him. Shane Starrett, one of the AHL's best goaltenders last season, is set to run the crease in Bakersfield this season again but he's 25 and expendable. Plus, let's be realistic: Seattle isn't taking one of Edmonton's goalies, so does it really matter? Just protect your young asset and focus on building elsewhere.

LESSON LEARNED: Don't straddle your team with terrible contracts. Yes, Holland made some questionable signings in Detroit, but the mess Chiarelli created – hello, Lucic – took its toll on the team's progress. The Oilers are unlikely to bring Kris Russell back after his $4 million AAV expires in 2021 and if Larsson isn't brought back and Neal is moved somehow, that's just over $13 million in cap relief. That's huge for when the team has to worry about Marody, Yamamoto, Benson, Jones and Ethan Bear in 2021 and Broberg, Bouchard, McLeod and Dmitri Samorukov the following year.

Up Next: Florida Panthers

Previous: Anaheim Ducks | Arizona Coyotes | Boston Bruins | Buffalo Sabres | Calgary Flames | Carolina Hurricanes | Chicago Blackhawks | Colorado Avalanche | Columbus Blue Jackets | Dallas Stars | Detroit Red Wings |

(All salary cap information via CapFriendly)

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