Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wanted to end his career in Edmonton. The Oilers provided him with that contract.
Duncan Keith has requested a trade with Edmonton. He wanted to play here and he will, at least for the next two seasons.
And Mike Smith, who signed a two-year, $ 4.4 million contract with Edmonton, said this when he signed:
“My goal was to come back to Edmonton. To end my career in Edmonton, ”said Smith. “There would be no better way out than to bring a Stanley Cup to Edmonton and end my career. I never really explored other options.
“We’re very close to being an elite franchise and have the right players to make it happen. “
Elliotte Friedman reported last week on the growing sense among NHL players to avoid everything that comes from playing in a Canadian city: the clubbing on social media, the daily recognition wherever you go with your family, kids and spouses pressure that just doesn’t exist in most of the 25 US NHL centers.
The stigma is very real on a macro basis across Canada, and becomes more acute when you refer to Edmonton as the northern outpost among Canadian clubs.
You can refute the reality and defend your city / country in the face of what has become a growing trend as social media has taken such a hold on people’s lives. Or, if you’re Ken Holland and trying to create a winner in a city that ranks among the most popular destinations on player ‘no trade’ lists every year, you can adapt.
You can tell yourself, if not Nugent-Hopkins, then where am I going to find a replacement similar to an AAV of just over $ 5 million? Well, it looks like Holland found one in Hyman. But if he had sent Nugent-Hopkins into free agency, would there be another?
You can take Duncan Keith’s game apart and convince yourself that there are better things in the UFA market. But players of his pedigree who want to be an Oiler – who only have two years left on his contract – aren’t falling out of the woods in today’s NHL.
Now these players have to be able to play. You can’t improve yourself by signing players who can’t play. Duh.
Nugent-Hopkins, there is no doubt, can still produce as a Top 6 left winger, substituting in the center, killing penalties and working the power play.
There is a bigger argument on Keith. But we dispute that his numbers as a first pair defenseman in Chicago playing with various inexperienced partners, in front of average to mediocre goaltenders, will improve greatly on a better team with a better partner in front of better goalies in Edmonton.
(Chicago was the seventh-worst team-per-game goal in the NHL last season at 3.29. Edmonton was 12th-best at 2.75.)
Then there’s Smith, 39, who probably signs the last contract of his career with Edmonton, a two-year contract worth $ 2.2 million per person.
Can he still play?
Well, among goaltenders who started half of their team’s games last season (28 starts), Smith’s .923 save percentage ranked fifth in the NHL. This placed him ahead of Jacob Markstrom and Connor Hellebuyck, among others.
His 2.31 goals-against average was sixth, better than a host of goalies you’d love to have with a $ 2.2 million AAV.
How many of those goalies would sign in Edmonton as a free agent? Well, with Smith as a safety net, Holland can now find an answer to that question when free agency begins on Wednesday.
Now he only needs one. Not two.
And of course, there are intangibles – another area that general managers, coaches (and hockey editors) value a lot more than your average Twitter expert.
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 the first opportunity. Smith brings an attitude that was stamped out during 20 years of mediocre hockey in Edmonton. Stubbornness; an expectation to win that slowly built up under this ultra-young leadership group.
When your captain Connor McDavid is 24, his lieutenant Leon Draisaitl only 25 and Darnell Nurse 26, a 39-year-old man who has played in teams with people like Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, Martin St. Louis and Mark Recchi , Shane Doan and Mark Giordano, is valuable.
Value that this locker room needs to move the inside team from a good regular season team to a good playoff team.
“With defeat comes growth and maturity. A realization that these opportunities don’t come every year, ”Smith began, when asked to describe the next steps after that Round 1 sweep by Winnipeg. “We’re trying to build something here in Edmonton… there’s enthusiasm around the team. You don’t just go out there and win – there’s a way we’ve done it this year that everyone thought we had improved on. Obviously that didn’t continue into the playoffs, but there were a lot of valuable lessons learned in that series against Winnipeg.
“The team understands the mistakes we made that cost us the series we need to clean up. I’m sure everyone will come back and try to improve on this.
Now Holland needs a better goalie to put together his tandem. Bringing Mikko Koskinen back isn’t a disaster – the Oilers are recording an all-out percentage (0.910) ranked seventh with this duo between the pipes last season.
But if Smith is your second best guy – not your best guy – you’re a much better team.
Now to find another good trend who wants to play in Edmonton…
As we know, there is no guarantee.