Peter Chiarelli made some headway this summer, but the Edmonton Oilers’ roster remains flawed in many ways. The goaltending is uncertain, the defence is loaded to the gills with third-pairing types and even the forward corps has some discernible weaknesses.
In short, the general manager isn’t close to finished yet, because realistically there are a finite number of things he can do in a single summer. Chiarelli does have a history of making in-season moves though, and I’d expect that a lot of the names on the opening night roster for 2015-16 are long gone by the time game 82 rolls around.
- Teddy Purcell. A competent middle-six forward entering the final year of his contract ($4.5 million/year). It’s not impossible the Oilers re-sign him at a lower rate after a good season, but it’s more likely that the team moves him at the deadline given the relative ease of finding comparable players in the offseason.
- Nikita Nikitin. If he was making $1.5 million/season he wouldn’t be a problem. I’d guess he’s tradeable at the deadline for a late pick; there’s always an NHL team looking for a depth defenceman at the deadline and dollars matter less there. Last year of his deal.
- Justin Schultz. A change in management means that the Oilers’ loyalty to Schultz (which has been sorely tested) may not survive another tough campaign. He’s young enough to have some value in trade.
- Andrew Ference. Ference may not be tradeable, even at the deadline. He needs a good year.
- Nail Yakupov. He could play 500 more games for the Oilers or be gone before 50 pass. He’s a total wild card with crazy potential and just a two-year contract.
- Ben Scrivens. He might be able to save his Oilers career with a great season, but even if he plays lights-out he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
- Matt Hendricks. Remember when Craig MacTavish said last year that he could have moved Purcell or Andrew Ference at the trade deadline? Veterans tend to have some value, and given Hendricks’ age and salary it’s plausible that the team moves on if it gets an opportunity.
- Eric Gryba. He’s one year away from being unrestricted, and he’s in an entry-level position. Not only will he have value at the deadline but it’s entirely possible that he’ll be replaceable internally by one of the Oilers’ second-tier prospects (Brandon Davidson, David Musil, etc.).
- Anders Nilsson. No idea if he’ll have value, and at this point it’s not even possible to be sure of which league he’ll be playing in.
- Anton Lander. He has to find a niche or he risks being squeezed out by top prospect Leon Draisaitl and established NHL’er Mark Letestu.
- Luke Gazdic, Tyler Pitlick, Rob Klinkhammer. All replaceable, all on one-year deals.
Chiarelli won’t necessarily confine himself to the obvious candidates, either. The big names (players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Leon Draisaitl) are more likely to be offseason moves than in-season deals, but the important thing to remember here is that the new regime is going to have a different game plan than the old one did and some of the pieces seen as key building blocks or supports under MacTavish will be seen as expendable under Chiarelli.
That list of expendables may include some of the veterans signed long-term. Chiarelli had Benoit Pouliot on the Bruins in 2011-12, but only kept him a single year; he may not be interested in letting him play out the term of his deal. Mark Fayne is a useful NHL defenceman signed long-term but similarly may not fit into Chiarelli’s vision for the defence corps.
It’s going to be a fascinating year, for many reasons. We can reasonably guess at the backbone of the team: Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at centre (personally, I’d include Taylor Hall at left wing on that list and rather expect Chiarelli to come to the same conclusion), and the quartet of Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Griffin Reinhart on defence. Now the question is which players will be retained to play with that group.