Although we’re still a few weeks away from the draft and what might be a wild summer of trading and free agency, NHL teams are beginning to tip their hands. What’s coming? A LOT of movement–buyouts, trades to save cap dollars, Euro contracts for NHLers no longer wanted–and for fans maybe a summer of activity the likes of which we’ve never seen before. In dear old Edmonton, the ‘waiting for the paint to dry’ approach of the previous administration appears to be a distant bell. There’s a new sheriff in town–and he’s impatient.
The Oilers under owner Katz have spent to the cap in the past, overpaying (in dollars and term) men like Nikolai Khabibulin–which continued a trend that began in the shadow of the Pronger trade to the left coast and continued until the rebuild was put in place (finally) in the cold wintry days of 2010 January.
If we take the Oilers shopping list (top 4D, 2-way center, LW with size and skill, backup goalie) there are some interesting options: I’ll list Mark Streit, Boyd Gordon, Viktor Stalberg and Anton Khudobin, but your mileage may vary.
In the past, Edmonton had to overpay to the extreme in order to attract free agents, and there are still a couple of those contracts Craig MacTavish is going to have to deal with this summer (Eric Belanger, Ben Eager). However, with Ryan Whitney, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Andy Sutton and the last of the Souray buyout dollars all in the rear view, there is an opportunity for the Oilers to quickly turn this thing around–especially in areas badly in need like center, defense and the 3 and 4 lines.
I was encouraged by MacT’s words the other day in terms of free agency (approach free agency cautiously, players are often in decline stage when UFA is reached) and thought it might be a good idea to look at the "younger end" of this year’s free agents.
UNDER 30, READY TO ROCK
- C-R Nathan Horton, Boston: $4M this season, 27-year old is a very nice option for the Oilers. He’ll have all kinds of options this summer, including a return to the Bruins if they can make the money work. I would rank this player as an ideal, but possibly unrealistic option. If MacT lands him, that should be considered a massive win.
- R David Clarkson, New Jersey: $2.67M this season for the 29-year old. Although it is unlikely Edmonton would be his first option, I think he is pretty close to a ‘perfect fit’ for this team and perhaps worthy of an overpay. Should MacT get him, it should be considered in the same category as a Nathan Horton acquisition.
- C-L Valtteri Filppula, Detroit: $3M this season, 29 years old and a famous Finn. He’d be an ideal solution for the Oilers, but Red Wings players are usually loyal to the team and this guy has enjoyed a lot of success in Motown.
- L Viktor Stalberg, Chicago: $875,000 this season, he’ll get a raise for sure and Chicago is unlikely to re-sign (their system is producing players at a rapid clip). Rumor has Edmonton and Montreal very interested, you can see why the Oilers would be interested in this 27-year old with size and skill.
- L Bryan Bickell, Chicago: $542,000 this season, 27 years old and listed below Stalberg only because he’s more likely to be signed by the Blackhawks before reaching free agency. A very nice option should he shake loose.
- L Clarke MacArthur, Toronto: $3,250,000 this season, 29-years old and with some grit. Not the ideal option–the pricetag may be a little dear–but he’s certainly skill enough to chip in 20 goals on what should be a strong 2line.
- C Boyd Gordon, Phoenix: $1.325M this season for the 29-year old, another ‘perfect fit’ option for an Oiler team that badly needs help at center. The Phoenix situation is somewhat in flux, there may be an opportunity to jump in and pick up this fine veteran.
- G Anton Khudobin, Boston: $875,000 this season, effective backup and 27 years old. Bruins have a nice option in the AHL and may pass on signing him. He is young enough, and good enough to be an option for the Oilers.
- L Guillaume Latandresse, Ottawa: $2M this season, 29-year old has lost much of his recent career to injuries but perhaps he’s turning a corner. Certainly brings size, and has scored well in the NHL when healthy.
- L Patrick Bordeleau, Colorado: $525,000 this season, 27-year old is 6.06, 220 and looks and plays like an extra in Slap Shot! I don’t know if MacT will devote 2 roster spots to this type of player (Mike Brown is the current fighter, but not a heavyweight) but if that’s a priority this fellow fits the bill.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Craig MacTavish’s point about free agents is certainly true–often NHL teams overpay for players in their 30’s and end up waiting for the contract to expire so they can better use the sunk cost of a wayward contract. However, there are players–several players–who have shown well in the NHL and are some distance from their 30th birthdays.
When the opportunity to speak to these new free agents arrives, the Edmonton Oilers have a great story to tell these free agents. Objectives–playoffs, playoff wins, series victories, deep trips into the spring–are likely to happen with this Oiler team during the back half of the 2010’s.
Telling that story to Viktor Stalberg, to Anton Khudobin, to Boyd Gordon, may be enough in one or more cases to win the day.