Follow me @SMaloughney
There are three big bad contracts lurking on the Edmonton Oilers roster right now. Mikko Koskinen has another year left on his deal with a 4.5 million dollar cap hit and James Neal has two more years remaining at 5.75 million. The third that we are going to discuss today is Zack Kassian who has three years remaining on his deal with a 3.2 million dollar cap hit a season.
Kassian earned that contract after putting up 15 goals and 34 points in 59 games during the 19/20 season. Kassian found a spot next to McDavid and Draisaitl and complimented the duo, using his physical play combined with decent hands and speed to get into the right spots and score some goals. At the time I cautioned a contract extension, stating Kassian was playing well but his main body of work was that of a bottom six forward and he shouldn't get a big raise for playing with McDavid and the player that ended up winning the Hart Trophy that season in Leon Draisaitl. Unfortunately Holland missed that blog of mine and he signed Kassian to a four year deal worth 3.2 million a season. Here we are a year later and the contract already looks bad. Kassian scored 2 goals in 27 games, lost his spot in the top six almost immediately and lost out a consistent bottom six role to Chiasson and Archibald, the latter of whom provided both more physicality and scoring.
With three years left on his deal, it seems like the Oilers would either need to take on a bad contract in return or eat part of his existing salary in order to make a deal happen. Thankfully there are still a large number of OHM's (Old Hockey Men) employed throughout the NHL with some of these seemingly actively wanting to acquire Kassian. Today we are going to look at three potential suitors for Zack Kassian and why they may want to pursue him. We aren't going to be looking at trade proposals because even if these teams would have interest in Kassian, they wouldn't be giving up more than a low pick; think fourth round or lower.
THE NEW YORK RANGERS
James Dolan surprised the hockey world after he fired team president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton. In interviews, Dolan stated he felt the rebuild was taking too long and after watching the team get pushed around by the Islanders that the team needed to get tougher to play against. I wouldn't agree with taking that direction but it looks like Dolan wants to "Chiarellify" the Rangers. Chris Drury is now the GM but logic dictates that since Dolan was the one to elevate him, Drury shares in his philosophy.
Drury and Dolan could look at Zack Kassian and see a 10-15 goal scorer who can impose his will on the ice and view last season as an aberration as opposed to the norm. If Holland is talking to the Rangers I would emphasize that his injuries played a big part in his struggles this year while assuring Drury and Co. that he is fully healthy and a useful player to add.
THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Next up on our OHM Tour is Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. Despite finishing first in their division, the Penguins never truly looked competitive against the Islanders in their 4-2 series loss. President of Hockey Ops Brian Burke is Mr. Truculence and Ron Hextall played on a Flyers team that was still trying to replicate the success of The Broad Street Bullies. Both men highly value hard hitting, no nonsense, physical play and not could not only look at Kassian as being an option in a bottom six role but a player who could play next to Crosby or Malkin just as he did with Connor McDavid.
THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
There is a group of Leafs fans who seem to believe that Kyle Dubas is this brilliant GM who makes all of his decisions based on analytics and while I do think Dubas is a good general manager, his body of work last summer shows that he isn't just an analytics guy. Adding Thornton and Simmonds were not analytics moves. These were moves from the perspective that leadership and grit were a priority. With another first round exit, will Dubas double down on this approach? President Brendan Shanahan spoke that this team has "a lack of a killer instinct;" the organization clearly believes something is missing from this group.
The main reason why I believe the Leafs could be a target is the fact that Toronto is almost certainly going to lose Zack Hyman in free agency. Reports suggest Hyman turned down a 5 million a year offer from the Leafs and believes he can get 6 on the open market. While he is a right shot, Hyman played on the left side with Matthews and Marner, notching 15 goals in 33 points in 43 games. Hyman was the player on that line to battle for the puck along the boards, get it back for Marner or Matthews and be the net front presence. Hyman led all forwards in Toronto with 69 hits on the season.
If Toronto cannot extend Hyman, logic suggests they are going to want to acquire a player to replicate his skillset. Again, this is all based on the belief that an outside organization believes Kassian can replicate the numbers he posted with Connor McDavid. Despite playing 16 fewer games than Hyman this season, Kassian had 73 recorded hits compared to the 69 posted by Hyman. Kassian has not shown to have the same natural scoring gifts that Hyman does but Toronto may accept less scoring if it means they gain more of that "killer instinct. Toronto is going to want to add some more depth pieces to their core and Kassian at 3.2 million plus another 3 million dollar forward could be more valuable than only Hyman at 6 million.
A Kassian trade for Edmonton is not about gaining a useful player in return or a higher value draft pick. It is about shedding the 3.2 million dollars of cap space that is not being put to good use on this roster. For the Oilers, Kassian is not an option that is going to help the team on a consistent basis. For Ken Holland, it is his job to find the teams that believe Kassian could be a fit and sell the player.
Thanks for reading.