UFA WISHLIST: BIDDING FOR GRIT

It goes without saying new GM Craig MacTavish has his work cut out this off-season in terms of changing up the roster if the Edmonton Oilers are going to be markedly better next season. That much we do know.

How he’ll go about it, the means to that end, we don’t yet know, but it’s safe to assume MacTavish will not only have to make some trades, bold and otherwise, in the kinds of scenarios Jason Gregor put forward today, he’ll have to do an infinitely better job in the free agent market than Steve Tambellini did if he’s going to add a useful veteran presence and more grit.

For me – speaking strictly about forwards in this installment – three names stand out, be it because of their age, price point or the ability to fill a need up front for the Oilers. It’s Captain Obvious stuff, of course, because there’s no doubt the vast majority of NHL general managers will also have these names circled when these players hit the UFA market.

Even allowing for that, I can’t think of one reason why MacTavish shouldn’t be pitching like crazy to land one of these guys – all of whom would bring a competitive edginess, experience and, perhaps most important, the ability to play in the top nine — when UFA season opens.

BRYAN BICKELL

At six-foot-four, 233 pounds and just 27 years old, Bickell will have a line-up of teams looking to hand over a stack of money if he doesn’t re-sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The beauty of putting a call into Bickell and his agent is that, in relative terms, it won’t take a huge stack of dough to get him, and that’s why the hulking right winger might be the first name on my list from this trio.

Bickell, who scored 9-14-23 with the Blackhawks this season and had a career-best 17-20-37 in 2010-11, has to be one of the better bargains in the NHL with a salary of just $600,000 this season. Yes, he’ll command a big raise, but he won’t break the bank.

Bickell’s been good enough since finding his way to the Windy City from the OHL to average 12:39 in ice time per game through six seasons on a loaded Chicago team. On Edmonton’s roster as it stands now, he’d be a top-nine lock. Simply put, Bickell looks like an effective role player on the ascent, rather than a well-worn grinder winding down his career.

DAVID CLARKSON

I like Clarkson a lot, and for reasons that don’t jump out you just by looking at his numbers. At six-foot-one and 200 pounds, the 29-year-old New Jersey right winger isn’t an imposing physical specimen. All he does is compete – on virtually every shift.

If you believe the Oilers have to get tougher to play against and need to up their nasty quotient several notches – who doesn’t? – and that they must do so with players who can actually play top-nine minutes, Clarkson is your guy.

Like Bickell, Clarkson isn’t likely ever to be an offensive dynamo. He’s certainly not without skill, having scored 15-9-24 this season and 30-16-46 in 2011-12, but his value if you actually watch him play is that "compete level" that seems lacking in Edmonton’s line-up.

Clarkson, coming off a deal that pays him $3 million this season, will command a reasonable chunk of change as a UFA. He averaged 17:36 in ice time this season and more than 16 minutes a night two seasons ago. He can play, he can score some and he’s tough as nails.

NATHAN HORTON

I’ve liked Horton since the Florida Panthers drafted him third overall in 2003 and nothing has changed, although I do have some concerns about his health (he played just 46 games in 2011-12) and his price tag as a UFA – he’s coming off a contract paying him $5.5 million.

Allowing for those caveats, the six-foot-two, 229-pound Boston right winger has played more minutes on average per game, 17:22, than either Bickell or Clarkson through nine seasons with the Panthers and Bruins.

Horton, still only 27, has scored 20-or-more goals in six of his previous eight seasons and tallied 13-9-22 in 43 games this season. His high-water mark in terms of points was 20-37-57 in 2009-10. Horton’s got more pedigree and skill than Bickell and Clarkson but he’s just as nasty.

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    • Quicksilver ballet

      Think PK’s act might be starting to be wearing thin in Montreal. His teammates didn’t look at all impressed with his schtick when times got tough in this Senator series. Could be an opportunity there if the Habs don’t want to have to deal with the distractions with a quick tempered player like PK. He’s on a bargain contract and could easily be moved again if it didn’t work out with a new team.

      Paajarvi and Hemsky for PK. Feel that’s a decent offer for a 2.875 million per yr Subban, even if he has a few warts. (watch Dicey go off on me now)

      • StHenriOilBomb

        We don’t get Subban without giving up one of the kids…

        Subban straight up for Ebs? Maybe a deal worth making, but I still don’t see Montreal going for it.

        Norris candidates are few and far between. They don’t get traded for peanuts.

        Habs don’t want Gagner – they have enough small centres. Paajarvi, 7th overall, and J.Shultz might do it, but that would probably end up an overpay.

        He’s their best player, on a ridiculously good contract, and the fans adore him. It’s more likely they move Price.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          Have to believe they value Price much moreso that Subban. Virtually every team in this league would love to get their hands on Cary Price. Subban, not so much.

          Not much of a Subban fan anyways, Oilers would have to renovate the dressing room again just to accommodate his ego. So far, Subban doesn’t appear to help lift the play of his teammates around him. How often have we seen him take himself out of the play, looking for that trophy hit. Have to think Dion Phanuef was just doing his Subban impersonation on Wednesday in OT.

          • “Subban doesn’t appear to help lift the play of his teammates?”

            This is absurd. He has the best RelCorsi on his team for a defenceman and almost all of his teammates put up better counting and possession numbers with him than without him.

            If that isn’t convincing enough, watch more than the highlights. He’s a fantastic defenceman on a ridiculous bargain contract for which I would trade another fantastic player, Eberle, straight up – except the Habs never make that trade.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Everyone has a right to be wrong RMGS.

            Me thinks Subban is selfish and a little over rated. I’ll hang with Ebs thanks. Absurd analogy, don’t try and change my mind.

          • Did you not see the freak out session that Subban had against Pacioretty ON the bench during a game?

            I can only imagine what he was like in the dressing room.

            Thanks, I’ll pass on Subban too.

            Would rather have Yandel.

          • Well maybe Pecioretty needed a kick on the the side of the head…. he had ” ZERO`points in the 5 games.! This is a first line player. At least
            PK, had 4 points in the playoffs.

            As much as I like Eberle, I would trade him for
            Suban straight up. Having said that, I highly doubt MTL. would ever put Suban on the market.

  • 15w40

    I don’t know if the whole “Siberia of North America” perception still exists but I can’t see Nathan Horton’s Playboy model wife packing up her entourage and moving to Edmonton.

    I’m not bashing the city at all, but when he is a UFA I’m sure he will have offers from other clubs more in line with his wife’s “taste”.

    I maybe completely off base here because I don’t know anything about his wife at all. Maybe she likes smaller cities and wants to settle down on a farm for all I know.

    Just sayin that unfortunately its not just insert suitable UFA into roster spot because it seems to make good hockey sense.

  • vetinari

    I like the idea of adding one of these guys, but as a right winger doesn’t that mean you play 3rd line after ebs and yak on the oilers. Might be a tough pitch for a GM

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Why do you guys even bother responding to the trolls like DSF (FSD or whatever the hell he wants to be called) and Jasmine… If we ignore, they’ll just fade away into Internet oblivion… One hopes anyway

    Horton would be a great pickup, yes he’s had some issues but he’s a big beast and having a decent playoff so far, maybe he’s almost back to 100%..

    All these scenarios are majorly hypothetical so before anyone gets all “why would team A do that??” I say dare to dream

    Gagner, Rajala and Marincin for OEL and a mid level prospect or draft pick, any will do

    Sign Tyler Bozak to replace Gags as second line center

    Trade for Zack Smith out of Ottawa and stick him on the wing.. He’s a guy who can play a little and can fight

    Sign Boyd Gordon.. Good 4th line C who can win draws

    Trade Hemsky to Washinhton for John Erskine and a prospect… Now this is gonna get some reaction.. Erskine is tough as nails and hits alot and would be a solid 5/6/7 guy and we get Hemmer out of the west, if he does well after the trade at least we don’t have to see it all of the time

    Sign Andrew Ference, solid guy who would be coming home to play..

    Sign Khudobin to backup and push Dubnyk

    So here are the lines

    Hall Nuge Eberle
    Horton Bozak Yak
    Paajarvi Horcoff Hartikainen
    Smyth Gordon Smith

    OEL Schultz
    Smid Petry
    Ference Erskine
    Potter

    Dubnyk
    Khudobin

    Too bad fantasy isn’t reality

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Good effort, still looks butter soft throughtout though don’t you think theoil?

      …if we’re hoping Horton is going to lay the smacketh down for the Oilers, that could be a recipe for disaster with his prior history.

      A for effort though.

  • 15w40

    I also am on board with trying Teddy Peckman as a banger on the 4th line.

    Sign a one year deal for a low # and see what you get. As long as the coach and he can coexist.

    If Ralph is just going to let him rot in the press box there is no point

  • Tikkanese

    I would LOVE to have all three! Clarkson and Horton are both top 6 not top 9. They won’t sign anywhere that they are not guaranteed top 6. They are both Right Wingers. I don’t believe either of them can play LW. That means Ebs and/or Yak would have to move to LW(or one be traded… highly highly doubt it).

    The Oilers’ top 6 needs skilled beef on LW and/or Center. Zibanajed is a rare power center with some skill. Don’t think he’s quite 2nd line center ready yet but would love it if the Oil got him!

  • Ducey

    I agree that instead of competing for these guys against every other team out there, why are we not going out and trying to find the next Bickle and sign him for .6 mill a year? This is where your pro scouting should be coming in.

    As for Tambillini in free agency, well I kind of think he was also a little unlucky as well as unproductive. Everyone though Belangier and Eagre were going to be great pick ups. They weren’t. His Jones off of waivers I think is still a great grab. And I for one liked Petrell. A guy no one thought to go get. For all our talk about needing to get harder to play against, Petrell hit everything, and was a big reason our pk was successful.

    Having said all that, he also did things like sign Cam Barker, and I’m glad he’s gone.

    My worry is that all three of the guys turn out just like Eagre. For whatever reason, they don’t come as billed.

    Besides, I think we need to be shooting for size in our top six, not just our top nine. So that means either a larger nastier second line centre (Couturiier), or a big nasty second line winger or both.

  • vetinari

    Montreal won’t part with Subban and even if they did, they would want a defenceman with huge potential as part of the return because it would leave them with a hole on their blue line.

    I’m not suggesting this trade, but I’m sure Montreal would insist on one of J. Schultz or maybe Klefbom plus someone like Eberle to even consider a trade.

    Not going to happen and nor should it. MacT would do better to target cap teams like Vancouver to see if they would part with some of their veterans for some cap friendly AHL farm players.

    • Word to the Bird

      Thats what I suggested elswhere…. go after
      salary dump teams… Canucks.. Elder,Bieksa, and
      Hamuis, not sure if they would be available, but this is the level of player you want to chase.

  • I honestly see zero chance any of these players mentioned here will sign in Edmonton.

    I honestly think the Oilers need to find these types of players through trade; this is why you have a pro scouting department.

    Does anyone believe that Horton’s playboy wife willingly wants to live in Edmonton?

    Or that Clarkson want’s to uplift his family from NYC to come live in Edmonton over say NYR or resigning with the Devils?

    These are high profile players playing in elite hockey cities.

    Not to mention the cost to bring these players to the city would be nothing short of a massive overpayment.

    Instead look at obtaining players through trade and trading for players like these;

    Brandon Dubinsky who can play C or LW, both high needs, he’s 27 years old and has 3 years remaining on his current deal.

    Matt Martin – A RW with size and can actually play the game, is signed for a decent rate, who enjoys the physical play.

    Steve Ott – This is the type of players the Oilers had with Tikkanen, at a very reasonable rate.

    Troy Brouwer – can move up and down the line up, has great size and good two way game.

    All young, all at reasonable rates, every player here comes with an edge and competes hard.. Also rumored to be on the block at one point or another during the season.

    Stay the heck away from UFA’s.

  • Despite our attitude that a high calibre free agent would never want to play here (cough Justin Schultz cough), it would also be horribly poor management to not even try to acquire one of these players at a reasonable price. As the article identifies, these three guys fill the need everyone posting here has been screaming for. So to just say, well his playboy wife won’t want to come here. Screw her. Management has to at least give it a shot.

    • 15w40

      Fully agree – management still needs to do their due diligence but with situations like this you are as much trying on the family as you are trying on the player.

      But to just say “screw her” is not practical. If the missus is not on board, you will end up with Pronger 2.0.

      Justin Schultz came to Edmonton because of his situation. All he had to consider was how HE fit into the hockey team and how HIS life would look in Edmonton.

      There is no going home to a grumpy domestic situation after every road trip and dealing with life outside of hockey. For Justin Schultz it’s all about him, how is his hockey progressing, where he and the boys are going out tonight etc, etc.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I am a fan of Horcoff the player,but he looks like the guy who has been at the same job for way to long,i think he and the oilers would benefit from a mutual parting of ways.TIme for a culture change in the room,over to the young guys,and new players coming in.Habby,Whitney,Horcoff,and Hemsky gone would go a long way to change this losing energy in the room.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      No no no no no, don’t be cherry picking stats to support your argument now. The guy can play, but he certainly has some warts in his game. He’s far from untouchable. Give Justin a couple more yrs and he’ll surpass what Subban has done to date. Keep Eberle. Subban is like a hooker, the cheaper they are, the less likely they are you can afford them.

      PK is a 2.875 per season player for a reason, Eberle is a 6.00 per season player for similar reasons as well. Ebs straight up for Subban, just say no to drugs there dude. Humbling statistics I researched extensively in your honour, sorry to go cherry picking as well. Guess the hockey world already forgot about 5 time Stanley Cup Champion/Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr before. The title of the article alone removes all credibility.

      Can I trade you my brand new $50.00 bill for your pocket worn $100.00 bill?

  • Word to the Bird

    My wish list consists of Yandle, Streit, Clarkson, Couturier, and Gautier at the draft. Two are UFA’s one might be had by switching first round picks and maybe packaging up a prospect, and one might be got through a hockey trade.

    Hall, Nuge, Ebs

    Clarkson, Couturier, Yak

    Paajarvi, Horcoff, Hartikinen

    Brown, Lander, Petrell (though this whole line could easily change)

    Striet, Smid

    Yandle, Petry,

    Fistric, Schultz

    Potter

    • Tikkanese

      Clarkson is a RW not a LW.

      Petrell is one of the MacT non-factors that won’t be back.

      Lander needs another year in the AHL.

      Fistric wants to much $ and won’t be back.

  • OK, the Subban thing is just getting the discussion going………how about we go after the stronger, faster, less egotistical, version of Subban.

    I’m talking Seth Jones………swaps picks and give up a prospect should get this deal done??

    I’m campaining for the Oilers to move up not down in this draft.

  • gbm

    Good article. Personally I like all of these guys and the common traits (desire, compete level, size) amongst all three are more of what MacT has talked about acquiring.

    The downside is that by the sounds of it Clarkson is most likely going to resign in NJ. I expect Bickell to do the same in the Windy city, especially if the Hawks lift Lord Stanley’s mug again in June.

    That leaves Horton. I realize this has already been mentioned but I don’t know if he’s worth the risk. If I were MacT I’d be really concerned about the concussion issues, especially from the initial injury he incurred from the Rome hit in the ’11 finals. Notwithstanding his age and size (which are both favourable from a signing standpoint), his history puts him at higher risk for traumatic brain re-injury. If MacT goes after him he’s playin’ the ponies IMO.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Robin, could you put forth your next 3 options (possible trade options instead of UFA’s) to make a part 2 to promote these dreamy ideas. You know how we love to go on about things that don’t matter.

    Miss seeing your efforts here every 3 days Brownlee. Can we blame Herbal Magic for 30% fewer Robin Brownlee contributions here?