A team that intends to contend for the Stanley Cup in 2023-24, the Edmonton Oilers are a club that many believed had a legitimate shot at winning it all this year. It didn’t work out that way and general manager Ken Holland will have his hands full trying to take the limited salary cap space he has and work to make his already deep team that much stronger.
But, according to one well-respected NHL insider, the Oilers might have an easier time at it than some teams. They’ll definitely have an easier time of it than they used to, when Edmonton wasn’t seen as a prime destination for players around the league, particularly free agents.
Brian Lawton spoke with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now and said he believes the Oilers are among the very top teams in the NHL that free agents will be looking at. So too, if players are asked to waive their no-trade clauses to join Edmonton, it’s a lot more likely they do so today than ever before.
Lawton specifically talked about a few things that make the Oilers ground zero for players in the NHL.
** h/t to David Staples for many of the following quotes from the interview.
Increased Revenues in Edmonton Don’t Get Talked About
Lawton mentioned how the organization’s revenues are through the roof. Saying it’s not often discussed in mainstream NHL circles and it’s the kind of information that doesn’t get published often, he said, “I certainly am privy to where organizations sit. It is a completely different picture for the Edmonton Oilers today than it was back in ’05-06.”
It was back then that the team struggled to get players to want to come to Edmonton. Today, the franchise is viewed as one of the most successful and Lawton noted that “You can’t believe the positive feedback I get on Edmonton…” The building is top-notch, the fans are loyal and dedicated, and the city is super supportive of the team. Merchandise sells like crazy, jerseys fly off the shelf, team auctions and used equipment days bring in boatloads of money and the charity work the team does never ends.
The Incredible and Elite-Level Talent
Lawton noted, “They’re ready to explode. People want to play with Connor. They want to play with Leon. They want to play with so many other guys on this team. It’s a huge selling point.” He talked about some of the other benefits that come with playing in a smaller market or with teams that have tax incentives or no tax at all, but said, “…players don’t care.”
In fact, Lawton went on to suggest that some players want to stay away from other athletes who go to a team only because of the tax incentives. There’s a reputation that comes with choosing to play where you get the best breaks, not necessarily because you want to win. Lawton said, “There’s a group of players out there that are the players you want in your organization. They’re not a group of players that are mercenary. You don’t want those guys.”
Noting you want guys who think only about winning, the Oilers are at that stage. Both McDavid and Draisaitl said at the end of the season when the Oilers were ousted by the Vegas Golden Knights that everyone in the locker room views the year as a Stanley Cup in or a disappointment. “You want the guys that want to win, and that’s what Edmonton is selling now, and quite frankly that’s why the future is very bright for this team.”
Arguably The Best Amenities in the NHL
The new arena and the way the organization ensures the team and its players have what it needs is also something players have noticed. Lawton notes, “The Oilers organization is top drawer, right down to the palatial dressing room for visiting teams.” He noted how smart it was for the franchise to ensure they built a hotel right beside the arena so that visiting players can see everything that is happening. Players have talked about Edmonton’s incredible facilities and light in the building, “these are all the little things I hear from players,” he noted.
Good Contracts for Top Players
Lawton noted that players not on the Oilers’ roster have looked at the way the team is structured and have taken notice. He explains that most of the Oilers’ contracts are excellent, citing the deals the team signed with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as not prohibitive of the team signing other players or competing for years to come.
He said, “There’s just a lot of value on this roster… And heaven help the rest of the league when the cap jumps up. Edmonton is going to be a dominant club… Assuming they can sign Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, they will be a dominant club for the next 10 years.” He adds, “If you really look at what’s gone on there, Ken Holland has done an incredible job. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s done… He’s back on top of his game.”
Lawton is right. The Oilers have their core locked in for a few more seasons and outside of Evan Bouchard, there are no real issues in getting anyone important signed. Some might argue that Darnell Nurse is overpaid, or that Jack Campbell was given too much and for too long, but the reality is, both of those contracts are on par with comparables on other teams and neither is a massive albatross for the Oilers when you consider the value each player has the potential to bring.
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