FREE AGENCY BEGINS

Two years ago the Oilers signed four players, Ben Eager, Cam Barker, Darcy Hordichuk and Eric Belanger and they acquired Andy Sutton on the first day of free agency. Sutton played well before being injured, Eager produced regular offensive numbers while the other three contributed very little.

When they were signed, many felt Eager and Belanger would fill a needed void, Eager as an aggressive winger and Belanger as a veteran centre who could win draws and chip in offensively, but neither ended up filling those roles.

Eager was 9th in goals for the Oilers in 2011/2012 and he produced more offence than Belanger. For a 4th line player he wasn’t that bad, but last year he struggled mightily and finished the season in the AHL.

Most free agents don’t live up to their contracts, but none of those guys, excluding Barker, were grossly overpaid in 2011.

I’m curious to see who Craig MacTavish signs this month, and if those players will have more success in Edmonton than their free agent predecessors.

OILERS NEEDS

The Oilers could upgrade at almost every position.

They don’t need more young forwards, they need some proven NHL forwards.

They could use a veteran centre who can win faceoffs and play tough minutes.

They need one or two skilled wingers with size.

They a few bottom-six forwards who can kill penalties, and know how competitive you need to play in order to win.

They need a physical D-man who skates well and can move the puck under pressure.

They need a goalie who will push Devan Dubnyk.

Clearly, MacTavish won’t be able to fill every void via free agency. If he is lucky he will be able to grab a goalie, a veteran bottom-six forward and a centreman.

He will have to try and fill the other needs via trades, and we know that isn’t as easy as it sounds.

FREE AGENTS

Which players will the Oilers pursue, and who are realistic options?

Of course the Oilers could use David Clarkson, Nathan Horton or Jarome Iginla, but Iginla wants to go to a Cup contender and Horton will sign in a non-hockey market. He prefers a quieter life. Clarkson will get close to $6 million on the open market, and that might be too rich for the Oilers.

So who does that leave?

Forwards:

Valtteri Filpulla: 29. He’s an excellent two-way player, and he’s learned what it takes to be competitive every night from Datsyuk and Zetterberg. He struggled offensively last year, but he would be a solid LW. The only issue would be price. Most UFAs get overpaid, but you want to avoid the guys who get grossly overpaid. I wouldn’t pay more than $5 mill for Filpulla.

Ryan Clowe: 30. He’d be a bit of a risk. His footspeed and health are the major concerns. He is a good combination of size and skill that the Oilers desperately lack, and if I could sign him for a shorter term, I’d consider it.

Clark MacArthur: 28. He’s scored 20 goals twice and had 62 points in 2011. He could be complimentary player on your 1st line, but would be a regular on your 2nd or 3rd line. Everyone who watches him on a regular basis say he is underrated. He would be a veteran on this team, and Keith Acton would have a good read on his personality. 

Boyd Gordon: 29. He is a checking centre, and if the Oilers move Horcoff, which they most likely will, Gordon could replace him.

Maxim Lapierre: 28. He’s a pest, and decent in draws. He took the 2nd most faceoffs in Vancouver last year and won 50.6%. He would be an upgrade on Belanger, mainly because he competes much harder.

Craig Adams: 36. If the Oilers were looking for a one-year stop gap to give Anton Lander another year in the AHL then Adams would be a good fit.

Michael Ryder: 33. Only on a short term deal, but he can score, and despite what everyone thinks the Oilers need more consistent offence. Ryder had 16 goals last year, same as Eberle and Hall. If you could sign him for two years, I’d look at it.

D-MEN:

This year’s crop of blueliners is full of wildcards. Players who are coming off a bad season (s), but who still tease you with their potential. Guys like Keith Ballard, Tom Gilbert, Mike Komisarek and Jeff Schultz. The only one of those four that I’d consider is Ballard, but it would have to be a short-term deal. He’d need to prove he could play. He never fit in Vancouver, but he’s only 30 years old and some team will take a chance on him.

If this year’s class was five years ago it would be full of D-men the Oilers need; players who can make plays under pressure. However, most of those guys are in the twilight of their careers.

Adrian Aucoin (40), Roman Hamrlik (39), Marek Zidlicky (36), Wade Redden (36), Tom Poti (36), Joe Corvo (36), Tomas Kaberle (35) and Toni Lydman (35). It is possible the Oilers sign an aging veteran to a one-year deal, but I suspect they will look for guys a bit younger who could help them for at least a few seasons.

The Oilers want a veteran who will speak up and who knows what it takes to win. Andrew Ference fits both categories. He isn’t a top-four D-man, but he might be a great guy to play along side Oscar Klefbom.

GOALIES:

I’ve said for weeks Anton Khudobin would be a good fit. He won’t re-sign in Boston because he knows he has no chance of starting behind Tuuka Rask. He’s 27, and he could challenge and support Devan Dubnyk. Khudobin won’t cost very much, but there is a bit of a risk since he’s only played 21 NHL games. The Oilers might want a more established goalie.

Some other veteran options are Ray Emery (I’m guessing he might return to Philly), Jason LaBarbera, Dan Ellis or Mathieu Garon. LaBarbera will be at the top of their list.

Or maybe the Oilers could take a chance on Ilya Bryzgalov. He’d be a fan favourite strictly for his quotes, but eventually his play would need to match his off-ice one liners.

PARTING SHOTS

  • This year’s free agent class isn’t great, but that won’t stop teams from grossly overpaying some players. Don’t be fooled into thinking a reduced salary cap will change that, because most teams believe it will jump right back up to $70 million in 2014/2015.
     
  • The Wild will buy out Tom Gilbert. I know many of the advanced stats guys loved him, but I don’t see any reason the Oilers bring him back. They didn’t trade him because he couldn’t skate or move the puck, they moved him because they felt he wasn’t competitive enough. I doubt their evaluation of him has changed.
     
  • Theo Peckham joins me on the show today at 2:25 to discuss his time with the Oilers and his future. 
     
  • My condolences to the Lorieau family. Paul was a very polite and generous man, not to mention an incredible anthem singer. He will be missed.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Something terribly wrong must have happened between Peckham and management. Just seems really weird that they not only were disappointed about one thing or another, they buried him to the point that he had no value whatsoever for a trade. The optics of it are that the team spent a lot of time and energy developing him and then they are just tossing him aside.

    I wish him well and hopefully he gets his career back on track because a couple of years ago, he seemed on the verge of being an NHL regular.

  • Reg Dunlop

    It’s shopping time and the oil are paying with pesos while the desirable sun-belt markets and contending teams are throwing around gold. I hope we don’t spread our legs for any of these high profilers, there has to be some undervalued, happy-to-come-here, hungry types available. MacT, this is your mission should you choose to accept it.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    What happened with Peckham? One minute a few Edmonton media are saying we will qualify him, the n Tim Pannacio is hinting that if a deal does go down for Coburn look at Peckham being apart of it. Then I read this morning he isn’t qualified.

    Seems to me it would’ve been worth the QO, even if it meant him ended up in OKC.