The NHL lockout finally came to an end thanks to a marathon bargaining session that started Saturday and stretched into the early hours of Sunday morning. So what happens next for the Edmonton Oilers?
1. Buyout decisions. The new collective agreement will allow the Oilers to buyout up to two contracts, and I think they should use at least one. The first, on loyal soldier Shawn Horcoff, is a sad necessity: I’ve always appreciated the player but given the uncertainty of the salary cap for the next few years his $5.5 million cap hit is a luxury the club can’t afford. There are a number of possibilities for the second – on the NHL roster, guys like Eric Belanger, Ben Eager and Corey Potter are all potential victims. I also wonder about the possibility of clearing a spot on the 50-man list with a buyout – a guy like Cameron Abney (recently passed on the depth chart by Central Hockey League enforcer Erick Lizon) might be a candidate.
2. Trade talks. If NHL teams – as has been suggested and makes a certain amount of sense, given the lack of hockey – have been cooking up deals over the early part of this winter we should see a flurry of trades here in the early going. Bob Stauffer has previously talked about a “wow” deal for the Oilers, but that was contingent on a December start to the season. We’ll know right away if they have anything in the works.
3. Free agents. The Oilers have to decide quickly if they want to bring any unrestricted free agents on board. Up front they look fairly set but a depth defenceman like Chris Campoli, Colin White, Randy Jones or Mike Mottau might be a sound investment. The names available aren’t great, but that’s what’s left.
4. Training camp. Reporter Steve Zipay tweets this morning that most clubs (barring CBA snags) plan to start training camps on either Wednesday or Thursday. This means a bunch of guys playing elsewhere need to get to Edmonton – from NHL’ers overseas to Nail Yakupov to the AHL cluster. Aside from obvious AHL guys (NHL’ers and Justin Schultz) I imagine we’ll see at least one of Colten Teubert/Taylor Fedun as well as a guy like Arcobello or Lander or VandeVelde.
5. Hockey. Undoubtedly, some fans will tune out but my sense is that most will come rushing back. For Oilers fans, the enticements are many. Justin Schultz narrowly missed the all-time AHL goal-scoring record (I’m assuming he doesn’t appear in today’s game) for a defenceman in just 34 games; he’ll be in an Oilers uniform and playing big minutes. Nail Yakupov’s KHL season this year stacks up well against guys like Alexander Ovechkin at the same age – he too will be in Edmonton. Familiar players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have an advantage out of the gates thanks to brilliant starts in the AHL. There’s a lot to look forward to.