Peter Chiarelli’s first season at the helm of the Edmonton
Oilers has had mixed results, but one of his real strengths has been his ability
to add what we might call “functional toughness” on the cheap. There is a
premium on size and grit in the NHL, and on Tuesday Chiarelli’s old team underlined
that point with an outrageous
contract extension for physical depth defenceman Kevan Miller.
Chiarelli clearly values size, but so far he’s managed to
add that element smartly, thanks to some judicious bargain-bin shopping.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) June 27, 2015
Eric Gryba. The
acquisition cost for Gryba was virtually nil. Travis Ewanyk is a checking
centre who scored eight points in the AHL the year he was traded; this season
he managed nine for Ottawa’s farm team. I’ve always regarded his inclusion in
the deal as a way to keep the 50-man list at the same number of names. Meanwhile,
a fourth-round pick is an easy price to pay for a full season from a functional
NHL player, and doubtless would have been easy to recoup at the trade deadline
had Gryba been healthy and the Oilers interested in moving him.
Contract-wise, this was an easy fit, too. Gryba had one year
left on a two-season
contract with a cap hit of $1.25 million and an actually salary of $1.3
million. The Oilers managed to acquire a competent third-pair defenceman who
added size and a physical dimension without overpaying either in money or in
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 28, 2015
Zack Kassian. Again,
the acquisition cost for Kassian was close to zero. Ben Scrivens was playing on
a hefty NHL contract in the minors and was in the final season of his deal; he
had no future with the Oilers and given the money being paid had negative value
for the team. Edmonton retained money, so the contracts
were a wash.
When it came time to extend Kassian, colleague Jason Gregor reported
that the dollar figure was a modest $1.5 million, lower than his qualifying
offer. Once again, Chiarelli managed to add a big, physical player without
giving up significant assets or overpaying in dollars.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 29, 2016
Patrick Maroon. Once
again, we see a modest return for this NHL player. This is basically identical
to the Gryba deal, with the added caveat that Edmonton managed to do it
in-season, when actual players tend to have higher value. The once-promising
Martin Gernat had seen his play collapse in the AHL and had fallen down the
depth chart; like Ewanyk he had no real value except as a way of balancing the
50-man list. A fourth-round draft pick remains a totally palatable price for a
The kicker on this deal is money. Maroon was in the first
season of a relatively rich
three-year extension with the Ducks. Chiarelli convinced Anaheim to retain
salary, thereby reducing Maroon’s Edmonton cap hit to a very reasonable $1.5
All of these players are big and physical, and that’s
clearly an element that the Oilers under Chiarelli value. However, all of them
are legitimate NHL’ers in their own right, players with more than one dimension
to offer and an ability to play a regular shift in the best league on Earth. Maroon
and Kassian should both start next year in bottom-six roles, but either could
be elevated in the event of injury or when the coach wants to give a line a
different profile; both have the ability to put the puck in the net. In his
first season in Edmonton, Gryba showed an ability to handle heavy minutes on
the penalty kill in addition to his even-strength duties.
I like UFA Eric Gryba but if he’s looking for four years at $10 million like Kevan Miller I don’t think he’s getting it out of the Oilers.
— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) May 24, 2016
I suspect Jim Matheson is right when he states his belief
that the Oilers won’t be in the market for Gryba if he’s looking for a
Miller-type deal. So far, Chiarelli has shown that he values physical depth
players, but he’s also shown good judgment in not overpaying for them. Free
agency likely offers Gryba a path to big money, but it would make sense if
going down that path requires leaving Edmonton.