Oilers Should Reunite with Recently Bought Out Yamamoto

The Hockey Writers

One day after the Edmonton Oilers executed a trade with the Detroit Red Wings to send Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin over in exchange for future considerations, Detroit bought Yamamoto out of the final year of his contract. That contract had one year remaining at a $3.1 million annual average value, and he would have become a restricted free agent (RFA) after it finished (from “Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman decides what to do with Kailer Yamamoto: Buy him out,” Detroit Free Press, June 30, 2023).

Darren Dreger first reported the buyout and noted that the Red Wings seriously considered keeping him but couldn’t make the moves to make it work. Detroit was fairly set on wingers, to begin with, so the trade acquisition was a bit odd at the time of completion. With Yamamoto now hitting the open market on July 1 as an unrestricted free agent (UFA), the Oilers have a chance to bring him back at a much cheaper cost to see if things could have worked next season with less pressure, expectation, and a smaller role without criticism about the contract.

Tough Year for Yamamoto

Yamamoto wasn’t suited for the top six in Edmonton, that much is clear with how this season played out, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a positive impact in the bottom six for the right price. Two of the four seasons the small winger has been with the Oilers have been impressive, but two have also been a bit disappointing, to say the least. 2022-23 put the stamp on it for Ken Holland and the Oilers, as they just couldn’t afford to have a $3.1 million player score just 10 goals and 25 points, even if it was in just 58 games.

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The Oilers likely knew that they weren’t going to get the player who scored 11 goals and 26 points in 27 games in 2019-20, but they were expecting a top-six winger at a fair price if the production remained fairly high. While playing beside some of the league’s best players and on the highest-scoring team in the NHL in 2022-23, his production wasn’t there. The lack of finishing and scoring beside players who would set him up for sure goals only backed the position that some felt he wasn’t a top-six winger. As the season went on, he played in the role that I can see him in at half the cost or less for the Oilers next season.

Why Oilers Should Bring Yamamoto Back

As of right now, Holland still has some free-agent additions or signings to complete to fill out the roster for the Oilers. Yamamoto should not be brought back to play in the top-six at all, but Derek Ryan is the only right-shot, right winger signed for the bottom-six and expected to be on the team in 2023-24, but could also be used at centre. Things appear to be close with Mattias Janmark to return, but he is a left-shot that can technically play both wings. Dylan Holloway shoots left and will play centre or the left wing, while Warren Foegele has the third-line left-wing spot on lock.

Kailer Yamamoto Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kostin is gone, so Raphael Lavoie potentially gets a shot in the bottom six. He fits the bill of a right-shot winger and is also big, making up for some of the size the team lost and will likely lose in Kostin and Nick Bjugstad. But with Lavoie will come inexperience in the NHL. There is, of course, the option of other free agent wingers who will demand a similar price to Yamamoto, but he is someone they know, and would have still liked to keep if they could afford just slotting him in the bottom-six (from “* Sigh*: Detroit looks for bigger role for Kostin, as Holland mourns loss of two useful forwards,” Edmonton Journal, June 29, 2023).

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Yamamoto is tenacious and a great puck-retriever. That might be something that is overlooked, but for his size, he plays a physical game and always throws his body around. The ceiling for the 24-year-old is still fairly high, and even in the bottom six, he could score 15-20 goals and 40-45 points. The effort of small players is generally very noticeable as they’ve had to fight just a bit harder throughout their career to get to the same level and get the same opportunities.

Related: Yamamoto, Kostin Trades Pave Way for Next 3 Oilers’ Signings

The Oilers will have some competitors also trying to sign Yamamoto if that’s an option in Holland’s mind. I don’t see an issue with the familiarity factor and how liked he is in the Oilers’ locker room. With a lot less pressure and a drive to prove himself, it could really pay off for the Oilers, even if it is just for one more season. Maybe load his contract with some performance-based incentives as well and deal with that at a later date. It could be a nice little series of events if the Oilers can bring their former first-round pick back and if the price fits, bring Yamamoto home.

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