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.
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.
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.
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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