WWYDW: Free Agent Decisions

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The Edmonton Oilers are, to nobody’s great surprise, playing in games at this point which are likely to be all-but-meaningless in the long term. There’s a chance for the coaches to try some things, for players to make one last case for major-league employment, and for a face-saving run which would improve the record, but the playoffs are not attainable and these last 10 games represent the end of the line for the 2015-16 season in Edmonton.

With that in mind, our focus turns toward the summer, and to the decisions the Oilers will need to make. In this week’s edition of WWYDW, we look at players on expiring contracts, and ask our readers which ones they would retain and which ones they would walk on July 1.

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All salary information courtesy of NHLNumbers.com.

Unrestricted Free Agents

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  • LD Nikita Nikitin (current cap hit: $4.5 million). Big (6’4”, 217 pounds) Nikitin can make a pass and kill penalties, but mobility has been a major issue and he’s spent most of the year in the minors because he gets eaten alive in transition.
  • RD Eric Gryba (current cap hit: $1.25 million). A big (6’4”, 228 pounds), physical stay-at-home defenceman, Gryba was effective in a third-pair role for Edmonton this season before injury. He turns 28 next month and is a veteran of 218 NHL games.
  • LD Adam Pardy (current cap hit: $1.0 million). The 6’4”, 227-pound Pardy turns 32 later this month and is an established No. 6/7 option at the NHL level. I wrote about him in more depth yesterday.
  • LW Rob Klinkhammer (current cap hit: $725,000). A 6’3”, 214-pound winger, Klinkhammer has 11 goals in 19 AHL games this season. He struggled badly in the NHL over 14 games after missing a big chunk of the year to injury. He turns 30 in August.
  • RW Andrew Miller (current cap hit: $630,000). Realistically, the writing is on the wall for the small, speedy Miller; he’s been loaned to Carolina’s AHL team. He’s a good scorer in the minors.
  • LD Brad Hunt (current cap hit: $600,000). An undersized offensive specialist, Hunt has 137 points over 173 games with Edmonton’s AHL teams over the last three seasons. He has had three points in 21 NHL games and has generally been a liability at even-strength in the majors.
  • LW Ryan Hamilton (current cap hit: $600,000). A 6’2”, 219-poind winger who turns 31 next month, Hamilton saw his scoring drop-off in the AHL this year. Footspeed probably killed his chances at an NHL career; if he stays in North America I would guess it’s on a minor-league rather than two-way deal.
  • RW Adam Cracknell (current cap hit: $575,000). A 6’2”, 210-pound energy winger, Cracknell has put up 10 points over 50 games this season between Edmonton and Vancouver. He turns 31 over the summer and has a pretty decent record as a scorer in the AHL. His 50 NHL games this year is a career-high.

Restricted Free Agents

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  • RW Zack Kassian (current cap hit: $1.75 million). This would be a no-brainer if the qualifying offer for Kassian wasn’t his current salary of $2.0 million. Even so, he’s 6’3”, 217 pounds, just turned 25 and has a decent history as an even-strength scorer in the majors.
  • RW Iiro Pakarinen (current cap hit: $925,000). A 6’1”, 215-pound winger, Pakarinen has nine points in 55 games this year and adds a physical element and ability on the penalty kill. He turns 25 in August. I wrote about him back at the end of January. Coming off his entry-level deal, his qualifying offer for next year will actually be less than $900,000.
  • LD Jordan Oesterle (current cap hit: $925,000). Undersized but fast, Oesterle is waiver exempt for another season and is eligible for a two-way qualifying offer. He turns 24 this summer.
  • G Niklas Lundstrom (current cap hit: $848,000). The goalie prospect who came back in the Anders Nilsson trade, Lundstrom is 23 years old and a fringe AHL goalie at this point.
  • LD David Musil (current cap hit: $833,000). The 6’4”, 203-pound rearguard was a second round pick in 2011. His waiver exemption expires next season, though he’ll be only 23 next month and seems to be on the cusp of NHL duty. He’s big, physical and smart but footspeed has been the issue all down the line.
  • LW Luke Gazdic (current cap hit: $800,000). The big enforcer can skate, fight and has improved as a player, but will likely only be back if Edmonton feels the need for a designated fighter, something which hasn’t been the case for most of this season.
  • RW Tyler Pitlick (current cap hit: $761,000). Pitlick has caught a lot of breaks over his pro career, but all of the injury kind. He’s played 31 AHL games this season, recording a very respectable 20 points, and plays a physical two-way game. He’s played more than 50 games in a season just once as a pro, in his rookie year (2011-12).
  • RD Adam Clendening (current cap hit: $760,000). I’m curious as to the reaction here. Clendening isn’t big or particularly fast, but he’s a smart right-shooting defender with some untapped offensive potential.
  • LW Kale Kessy (current cap hit: $718,000). Kessy turned 23 in December, and has yet to get an NHL recall. He has 12 points in 48 games in the AHL, though he’s also attractive because of his size (6’3”, 212 pounds) and physical dimension. It’s important to remember that it isn’t his fault that Steve Tambellini traded Tobias Rieder for him.

The List

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This week, we’d like to ask our readers to split these free agents into three groups: Yes, No, and It Depends. This is my list:

  • Yes (re-sign): Kassian, Pakarinen, Oesterle, Musil
  • No (walk): Nikitin, Miller, Hunt, Hamilton, Cracknell, Lundstrom, Gazdic, Pitlick, Clendening, Kessy
  • It depends (on contract details): Gryba, Pardy

Feel free to copy and paste my list and edit accordingly if you like bullet point formatting. With Gryba, the issue for me is money; I like him quite a bit as a No. 6/7 defenceman for this roster and a partner to Brandon Davidson or Darnell Nurse but wouldn’t want to overpay to keep him. With Pardy, partially it’s going to depend on the left/right defence balance in the summer and partly it’s going to depend on contract terms; to me he’s interesting on a one-year deal south of $1.0 million but not otherwise.

As always on WWYD, though, we turn the decision-making process over to our readers. Who would you keep and who would you walk?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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  • Tikkanese

    Nothing wrong with keeping Gazdic on a cheap 2-way contract. At the very least he creates competition in camp and is a call up option if the need arises. Multiple articles on here have shown he isn’t a liability hockey wise either.

  • BlazingSaitls

    The only untouchable’s for me are…

    McDavid – No explanation necessary

    Talbot – True #1 Goalies are hard to find and
    Talbot has met or exceeded expectations

    The absolute MUST GO NOW!’s are…

    Lowe – He’s Lowe

    MacT – He’s MacT

    Howson – He’s Howson

    Nikitin – He’s Nikki

  • RJ

    I think the only for sure keepers are Pakarinen and Oesterle. They have played well in McLellan’s system.

    For sure to let go: Nikitin, Hamilton, Pitlick, Hunt, Gadzic, Miller, Kessy.

    It depends: Gryba, Kassian, Pardy, Clendening, Cracknell, Musil, Lundstrom

    What is PC going to do with the Defence? If they add a Vatanen, then that will be a goodbye to Clendening but you’d probably want an old-fashioned bruiser like Gryba. If they added a Hamonic, then you probably don’t need a Gryba as much but Clendenning could be a decent depth defender with the possibility of offence which a Hamonic/Fayne don’t have.

    I like having defencemen develop in the AHL for extended periods, but I don’t know if Musil is a future NHL defenceman or a career AHLer. If he only projects as a 7/8 defender Id still probably hold onto him for one more year, but the fact he’s never got a call-up is probably a sign that he’s not in the longterm plans.

    People like Kassian’s size. They like it when he plays with fire in his belly. Despite that fact he’s terribly inconsistent. The Kassian we are seeing now is the same Kassian that Buffalo and Vancouver saw, that both teams gave up on. The difference is expectations. If you want him to be a third-fourth line winger maybe you keep him.

  • YakCity1039

    Yes (re-sign): Kassian, Pakarinen, Oesterle, Musil, Gryba, Clendening

    No (walk): Nikitin, Miller, Hunt, Hamilton, Cracknell, Lundstrom, Gazdic, Pitlick, Kessy, Pardy

  • Borbs

    •Yes (re-sign): Kassian, Pakarinen, Oesterle, Musil
    •No (walk): Nikitin, Miller, Hunt, Hamilton, Cracknell, Lundstrom, Gazdic, Pitlick, Clendening, Kessy
    •It depends (on contract details): Gryba, Pardy

    I’d say you’re bang-on Jonathan.
    I’d keep both Pardy and Gryba to rotate as the 6/7, maybe with Oesterle on a third pair? Remember, there’s an expansion draft coming, no matter how much the NHL downplays it. Keeping both Pardy and Gryba means, if, and that’s a big IF, one gets taken, you have one left. I love their size and the fact that they use it accordingly. That’s worth every penny paid when your team is this small. Their deals should be palatable too, leaving room for a bigger contract on the backend to add in the offseason. Fingers crossed Chia can make that happen!!

  • Darth Oiler

    Yes (re-sign): Kassian, Pakarinen, Oesterle, Musil
    No (walk): Nikitin, Miller, Hunt, Hamilton, Cracknell, Lundstrom, Gazdic, Clendening, Kessy
    It depends (on contract details): Gryba, Pardy Pitlick

  • cityofchampions

    YES: Kassian (one year prove-it contract), Pakarinen, Oesterle, Gryba (useful 3rd pairing physical RHD). They all have proven NHL ability, to varying degrees.

    NO: Niki-Niki, Miller, Hunt, Hamilton, Lundstrom, Gazdic, Cracknell, Pardy (liked him as an emergency fill-in, but no room for him as LHD). None of these players (with the possible exception of Pardy) will play significant minutes in the NHL going forward.

    MAYBE: Musil, Kessy, Clendening, Pitlick – AHL players who still have some hope of developing into useful NHL fringe players, though time is running out (you need to develop cheap fringe players on the farm in a cap system – useful free agents generally cost too much).

  • Hockycrazed

    Yes: Adam Pardy, Zack Kassian, Liro Pakarinen, Jordan Oesterle, David Musil and Kale Kessy.

    No: Nikita Nikitin, Rob Klinkhammer, Andrew Miller, Brad Hunt, Ryan Hamilton and Luke Gazdic.

    It Depends: Eric Gryba, Adam Cracknell, Niklas Lustrom, Tyler Pitlick and Adam Clendening.

  • someguy

    Yes – Gryba, Kassian, Pakarinen, Oesterle, Gazdic

    No – Nikitin, Pardy, Klinkhammer, Miller, Hamilton, Cracknell, Lundstrom, Pitlick, Clendening

    Depends – Hunt, Musil, Kessy

    Notes:

    – Maybe it’s just me, but I like Gazdic as a player. He saw the writing on the wall for enforcers so he tweaked his game and now is at least average in other respects, something most enforcers couldn’t do. IMO he is the perfect 13th forward.

    – If Kessy demands more than an AHL only contract, he walks. Period. Same with Hunt.

    – Not a fan of Clendenning. Had 1 good game, but this team is built for speed. If he doesn’t have it, no point in him being here. Don’t care about his potential.

    – Pardy is a guy playing hard minutes and at 32 his career is likely done or almost done. We’ve had enough over the hill guys in Oiler silks over the years, we don’t need another one, even if he is cheap.