We previously covered how Mike Smith told the media that he was undecided on playing next season, and we also don’t have full confirmation on whether defenseman Duncan Keith will return next season. What we do now know, though, is that the Edmonton Oilers front office would prefer to have both players’ decisions on their respective futures confirmed by July 1st. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the Oilers “have asked Mike Smith and Duncan Keith to let them know by around July 1st if they do plan on returning next year.”
It’s understandable that the Oilers would want confirmation on the two players’ futures before the offseason market begins in earnest. With Smith, if the team has uncertainty over whether he will be available next season, the Oilers’ entire goaltending situation becomes uncertain, and the team’s ability to pursue other starting goaltenders could be compromised. Additionally, as teams potentially scramble to make trades similar to the recent Ben Bishop deal in order to get out of LTIR, a potential Smith retirement via LTIR could complicate the Oilers’ search for additional cap room. With Keith, the team would prefer certainty about his overall future due to the immense cap implications of whatever decision he chooses to make. Per Puckpedia, if Keith retires this summer, not only is Keith’s full $5.5MM cap hit taken off their books but the Oilers are also actually given a $3.4MM cap recapture credit to facilitate even more moves. That sort of major cap space clearance could be exactly what the Oilers need to re-sign Evander Kane, for example. So the potential ramifications of his choice are huge.
Any way you look at it, without certainty on the futures of those two players, the Oilers would be entering a crucial offseason with one hand tied behind their back. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and other core pieces locked up and in the primes of their careers, using this offseason to build off of the momentum of this year’s playoff run is essential if the Oilers want to go even further next year. So while being pushed for a decision on a particular time frame might not be ideal for Smith and Keith as they weigh important, life-altering decisions, the Oilers will need certainty on those two players’ futures in order to conduct their offseason at maximum efficiency.