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JONES: No waiting until next year for NHL after Stanley Cup Final

Ken Holland, right, Keith Gretzky, middle, and Bob Green, of the Edmonton Oilers attend the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver.
Ken Holland, right, Keith Gretzky, middle, and Bob Green, of the Edmonton Oilers attend the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver.

You’ve heard of the expression ‘Wait ‘til next year’?

Well, this year, there’s no waiting.

As soon as the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning decide to end this unique Stanley Cup playoff season, next year is now. Then maybe there will be waiting.

There’s no real buffer between the time NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Cup and the NHL Draft Oct. 6-7, free agency Oct. 9 and, the league announced Thursday, teams will be allowed to open facilities Sept. 15 for voluntary training with a maximum of 12 players on the ice and twice-weekly testing. The seven teams that missed the playoffs entirely haven’t been on the ice since the pause in mid-March.

No matter the extent hockey fans have allowed themselves to get immersed in the multitude of compelling aspects of these coronavirus pandemic playoffs in July, August and September, the 29 NHL teams no longer playing are waiting behind the curtain to capture your complete attention again.

Perhaps this is a bit more complicated in Edmonton as the Hub City of the behind-closed-doors no-fans-in-the-stands happenings in Rogers Place. But, while they’re mostly avoiding their own building, general manager Ken Holland and staff are now absolutely ready to go.

“We had some pretty complete meetings on Zoom about 10 days ago. Now it’s up to me to work the phones,” said Holland, who actually resides in a condo a few floors above the ones currently being occupied by the Stars and Lightning in the J.W. Marriott.

“I would say to you that it’s going to get very active in very, very short order here,” the Oilers general manager said in a one-on-one interview with your correspondent as he anticipated the walk from his condo in the J.W. Marriott to his office in Rogers Place no longer requiring a detour around the bubble, since the Oilers’ departure from the playoffs four games into the play-in qualifying series.

“I’ve been on the phone almost constantly with other general managers in the past several days. I think there going to be a lot of movement next week. Right now, everybody is working the phones and trying to find fits. If philosophically there look to be some possible fits between your team and somebody else’s team, you start to dive a little bit deeper.

“I would anticipate most of the trades happen next week leading up to the draft.”

When I asked the Oilers GM just how active he thought he could be with his salary cap complications, there was a bit of a pause.

“Not very,” he finally said.

“We’re probably like at least half the teams in the league, and maybe more.”

So what’s his shopping list?

“We have to get another goalie,” Holland volunteered for openers. “There’s going to be a lot of movement on the goalie front.”

Holland has had the opportunity to watch several of them up close and personal in Rogers Place during the past nine weeks.

“I have talked to Mike Smith’s agent and we have not ruled out bringing Mike back, but we want to explore the market place and see what all the options are.

“We have some money to sign a couple more forwards,” he added. “We have some good depth on defence with Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard. We have to make some decisions on defence.

“So, how active can we be? I think we can be a little bit active,” was how he chose to bottom line it. “With a flat salary cap this year and probably a flat salary cap next year, it’s going to be dollar in and dollar out.”

There’s also the draft, where the Oilers select 14th and there’s some debate about whether Holland might use it on Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov, whom TSN full-time scout and analyst Craig Button ranks to be the best goaltending prospect in the draft since Montreal selected Carey Price the fifth pick overall in 2005.

Holland doesn’t have a long history using high draft choices to pick a goalie.

He drafted Chris Osgood with a third-round pick and Jimmy Howard with a second. The only time he picked a goaltender in the first round, it was Tom McCollum. Holland made McCollum the 30th pick in 2008 and he played the grand total of three games, all with Detroit.

Holland said there’s a bit of background in order there.

“I watched Askarov in the U-18 last year. He was outstanding. Then I watched him at the world junior. He didn’t have a very good world junior.

“He’s definitely a very talented young goaltender and he’s definitely going to go in the first round somewhere. Let me give you the pros and cons of picking a goaltender that high: The pros are that the goalies are really important players. If you can get yourself a franchise goalie, they’re hard to find. If you can get a good young goalie, you’re set for a long, long time.

“The cons are that in most cases, you probably have to wait longer. If the goalie doesn’t fit right off the bat, you have to wait for them to develop.

“He could go in the top 20. He might go in the top 10.”

E-mail: tjones@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @byterryjones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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