Looking at the Oilers from last season, the most obvious weakness was the team’s penalty-kill, which ranked 27th in the NHL at 77.5%. An increase even to the range of average (16th ranked Vancouver had an 81.4% success rate) would have saved the Oilers 13 goals against last year.
Believe it or not, all of this is a good thing – because fourth-line penalty-killing specialists are cheap and plentiful on the free agent market.
The Oilers have a little under 1.2-million in cap space, according to CapGeek.com. That figure assumes a starting lineup including Gilbert Brule, J-F Jacques, and Liam Reddox. Assuming that we believe Liam Reddox is a first-rate minor league player but not yet a regular NHL’er (which I do) let’s assume his spot is open, and his 515K cap hit is gone. We add that, and all of a sudden there’s 1.7-million to play with.
Let’s make a further assumption: that the team would like a little bit of salary cap breathing room for the trade deadline. If we leave 700K or so, that projects into (roughly) room for a 3-million dollar player at the trade deadline.
That gives the Edmonton Oilers one million dollars to play with. Assuming that they don’t have to ransom the world, they could spend that money on someone who could kill penalties. The following is a quick look at decent UFA penalty-killers who earned less than that figure last season (and excluding Dominic Moore, who will certainly cost more).
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 1,000,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 59GP – 8G – 7A – 15PTS, -14
- Key Number: 93 hits in 59 games played
Matt Pettinger was a go-to guy in the defensive zone for an awful team, along with linemates Jeff Halpern and Adam Hall. Unsurprisingly, all three ended up in the red +/- wise. Pettinger’s nothing special, really; after a pair of effective offensive seasons shortly after the lockout, he’s been a 4th-line player for Washington, Vancouver and Tampa Bay. He averaged 1:07 per game on the penalty-kill last season. He adds size (6’1”, 205lbs) and a physical edge.
How I Feel: He’s better than Reddox, and really that’s all that matters.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 1,000,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 51GP – 1G – 4A – 5PTS, -7
- Key number: Averaged 2:32 per game on the PK last season
Energetic forward Dan Hinote doesn’t add much in terms of size, adds nothing offensively (in eight seasons, his career high in points is 15) and didn’t even start out at the wrong end of the ice all that much last season.
How I Feel: The Sun headline the day after he scored his one goal in 2009-10 would be the “Hinote” of his season.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 875,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 62GP – 5G – 11A – 16PTS, +7
- Key number: 9 points, +5 in 18 games after being traded to the Islanders
McAmmond saw a huge increase in his time on ice when he went to New York; jumping from 9:40 to more than 15 minutes a game – including more than 2 minutes a game on the PK. His underlying numbers all look decent, and he started in the wrong zone plenty. Still has blazing speed and questionable self-preservation. Plays either wing or centre, although he’s only a middling faceoff man.
How I Feel: I’ve always liked the guy, and he can help the team.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 775,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 55GP – 2G – 9A – 11PTS, -6
- Key number: 58.2% on faceoffs
Goc, who played a fourth-line role last season with the Sharks, would bring both size (6’1”, 200lbs) and speed to the Oilers lineup. He got killed a little bit by the percentages last year, but even with that the odds are that he isn’t going to put up a bunch of points. He turns 26 this week, and has been an NHL regular for four seasons. Goc isn’t averse to a physical game (83 hits in just 55 games last year) and kills penalties (averaged 1:28 on the PK last season). He was also one of the few Sharks to get more starts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone (with that good of a team, there’s not a lot of defensive zone starts to go around).
How I Feel: Goc would be a perfect fit for the Oilers.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 750,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 78GP – 7G – 16A – 23PTS, -2
- Key Number: 5’9”, 176lbs
The soon to be 34-year old has spent his entire career in the Southeast division. In 2007-08, he scored a career-high 45 points (after scoring 36 in 2006-07) but saw that total nearly cut in half this year. He was Marty Reasoner’s regular partner on the penalty-kill (averaged 3:17 per game). He generally plays wing but can also handle centre, and he went 52.1% on draws last season (213 total faceoffs taken).
How I Feel: Perrin’s a decent player but lacks size or a physical edge; he might be a better fit elsewhere.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 750,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 42GP – 4G – 3A – 7PTS, +4
- Key Number: 6’4”, 209lbs
Novotny’s scoring touch never came along the way Buffalo thought it would when they invested a first round pick in him at the 2001 draft. Aside from offense, he’s a fine player for the most part (although his work ethic has been criticized before) and he brings a physical game (74 hits in just 42 games), the ability to win draws (52.9%) and of course some size. He spent some time on Ken Hitchcock’s PK unit as well (avg. 1:06 per game).
How I Feel: Might not be a bad fit.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 675,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 67GP – 11G – 16A – 27PTS, -3
- Key Number: 85 blocked shots in 67 games
I’ve talked about Hilbert before (mostly here) and despite his size I think he’d be a great addition to the club. He played 2:41 per game short-handed last season, and that blocked shots number is huge for a forward. He’s also one of the most offensively proficient fourth-liners out there, and he’s been solid for the Islanders since the lockout. Of interest: the last three seasons, the Islanders have been -122; Hilbert’s been +9.
How I Feel: This is a quality player, and one of the best bargains remaining on the market.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 615,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 81GP – 6G – 4A – 10PTS, -5
- Key Number: Averaged 2:59 TOI per game shorthanded
The 6’3” , 210 lb Betts has been mentioned repeatedly in connection with the Oilers, mostly by Jim Matheson. Apparently, the Oilers interest in the penalty-killer is lukewarm at most, and I can understand that. He does bring size and some physical play (93 hits last season) but is only a vanilla option on faceoffs (49.3% last year) and is only a middling skater by NHL standards. He has very limited offensive ability and isn’t as good a shutdown player 5-on-5 as some other options on the market.
How I Feel: Betts could be a good pickup, although he’s not the best available option.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 575,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 23GP – 6G – 5A – 11PTS, +3
- Key Number: Averaged 2:07 TOI per game shorthanded
Boyd Devereaux is not the offensive player his numbers make him seem; in 45 AHL games before being recalled he had only 16 points, and he’s never topped the 27 points he recorded as an Oiler in 1999-00. He’s still a phenomenal skater and has reinvented himself as a utility forward since being picked 6th overall by the Oilers in 1996. Injuries have largely ruined his career. He got some luck bounces-wise last year, and at this point isn’t much more than a tweener.
How I Feel: As much as I have a soft spot for the guy, I’d rather have Liam Reddox on my team.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 500,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 64GP – 5G – 8A – 13PTS, -4
- Key Number: 52.7% on faceoffs
Plihal brings decent size (6’1”, 210lbs) to the lineup and like the rest of the players on this list saw some time killing penalties last season (averaged 1:05 per game shorthanded). That said, he’s got no offensive upside and he’s suffered a number of injuries since turning pro. His underlying numbers are decent but not extraordinary.
How I Feel: Plihal’s an above-average fourth-liner, but not at the top of this group.
- 2008-09 Cap Hit: 475,000
- 2008-09 Stats Line: 70GP – 5G – 7A -12PTS, +2
- Key Number: Averaged 1:48 per game shorthanded
Bayda’s not a big player, but that doesn’t prevent him from being an effective forechecker. He started with a territorial advantage, but didn’t do much with it last year and despite decent numbers in the AHL he doesn’t really bring offense to the NHL level. He does the little things (hits, blocks shots) but remains a fringe NHL’er.
How I Feel: Probably not worth signing.
The Final Tally
Here’s the order I’d pursue this group in if I were Steve Tambellini:
Priorities: Marcel Goc, Andy Hilbert
Possibilities: Jiri Novotny, Dean McAmmond, Blair Betts, Matt Pettinger, Tomas Plihal
Pass: Eric Perrin, Ryan Bayda, Boyd Devereaux, Dan Hinote
Goc and Hilbert rise to the top of this list because both represent players not just capable of filling in on the fourth line, but also of playing a more significant role if the need arises.