Decisions have already been made on many of the Edmonton players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. Ryan Smyth retired (to deserved fanfare), Ryan Jones declared that he wouldn’t be back, Denis Grebeshkov and Anton Belov headed for the KHL.
But that still leaves five UFA’s unaccounted for. What happens to them?
- The Backstory: Eager was a first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2002; a big strong player who was blessed with tremendous speed and might have evolved into a power forward (though the offence wasn’t really there, even in the OHL). Instead, he carved out a career as a pretty good “energy” player, a tough fourth-liner capable of playing a regular shift. He was brought in by Steve Tambellini to add some grit, was waived in his second season and spent almost the entirety of the third in the minors.
- The Future: I’m inclined to think that we’ve seen the last of Eager in the NHL. At his best he was a good fourth-line player, and the combination of age and injury have eroded him down to something less than that. If he does make a comeback, it likely won’t be in Edmonton.
- The Backstory: An undrafted college free agent, Fedun was on the cusp of making the Oilers in the fall of 2012…and then this happened. He missed a full season, worked his way up to the top of the AHL ranks, and was Oklahoma City’s best defenceman (with due respect to Brad Hunt) this season. He’s a highly intelligent defender with puck-moving ability but he’s a little undersized and he doesn’t skate like the wind (though he’s worked hard since suffering that injury).
- The Future: The Oilers don’t really have faith that Fedun is a major-league defenceman. He’s great in the No. 1 slot in Oklahoma City and Edmonton would doubtless love to have him in a mentorship/steadying role and as a call-up option when injuries hit, but Fedun might be better off chasing bigger dollars in Europe. If he’s willing to take a two-way deal, he should be back, but it seems doubtful that Edmonton is open to a one-way offer.
- The Backstory: Fraser is a one-dimensional player: a tough, physical defenceman who is a fringe NHL player (or worse) in pretty much every other area. He came up through the Devils system and had his best moments in New Jersey; since then he’s bounced between the minors and majors with teams like Edmonton and Toronto.
- The Future: The Oilers could plausibly bring Fraser back as their No. 7 defenceman. They shouldn’t do that, because they have AHL options who are better players (including Fedun), but the search for toughness continues and he does have a past with Dallas Eakins.
- The Backstory: It’s easy to question the role of professional enforcers, but man-oh-man do they have commitment. MacIntyre fought his way through the WHL, CEHL, UHL (he was briefly a defence partner with current OKC coach Todd Nelson, whose own career was winding down), QSPHL, ECHL:, WHA2 and then finally to the AHL and the NHL. The 33-year-old has played most of his 91 major league games with Edmonton, and spent most of this year in Oklahoma City after being acquired off waivers from Pittsburgh.
- The Future: It didn’t get a lot of attention in Edmonton, but MacIntyre was given the captaincy in Oklahoma for that team’s season finale, which is also almost certainly his final game in the Oilers organization. It’s not inconceivable he retires in the offseason.
- The Backstory: The late-blooming Pinizzotto emerged as an exceptional AHL player starting in 2009-10, providing solid defensive play, a physical presence and all of a sudden scoring, too. After two good years with Hershey, he looked set to make his NHL debut with Vancouver in 2011-12 when he suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season before it even began. He got into 12 games with the Canucks in 2012-13, but was struggling in Florida’s AHL organization when the Oilers came calling. Pinizzotto played very well in OKC and earned a late season call-up where he showed strongly in Edmonton.
- The Future: Realistically, the 30-year-old Pinizzotto is at the “minor-league journeyman” stage of his career, where NHL opportunities are rare, and his best play might be to seek more money in Europe. If he’s still interested in pursuing an NHL job, Edmonton’s probably his best bet – his skillset (toughness, PK, enough offence for a fourth-line role) is a good fit for a team with a weak forward depth chart. He’d certainly be a better fit at RW on a Hendricks-Gordon defensive zone fourth line than a guy like Luke Gazdic would.
TL;DR – What Happens?
Of the forwards, it seems pretty safe to say that Ben Eager and Steve MacIntyre will not be back in the Oilers’ organization next season. Steve Pinizzotto, if he stays in North America, is a good bet for a two-way contract – it’s a good situation for him and a good fit for the team.
The two defencemen are probably coin tosses at this point. In a perfect world, Taylor Fedun re-signs with Edmonton on a two-way deal, but he can make pretty good money over in Europe and his NHL window may well have passed. It’s also possible he goes out in search of a second opinion in North America. Mark Fraser might also plausibly be back, on either a one- or two-way deal; he shouldn’t really be in the plans but the Oilers don’t have a thumper on the back end and whatever else Fraser is he adds toughness.