The Edmonton Oilers have 10 players bound for unrestricted free agency this summer. In this week’s edition of WWYDW, we ask our readers which of those players should be brought back, and which should be allowed to depart.
Decisions have already been made on two of those players. Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson is bound for Europe after a disappointing year with the Oilers. Defenceman Andrew Ference played just six games in 2015-16 and none last season in the final two years of his last NHL deal; he is now retired.
That leaves eight other players:
- C David Desharnais. Desharnais was signed to centre Edmonton’s third line, but ultimately found himself relegated to fourth unit duty in the postseason. He did win 54% of his faceoffs in the regular season, but contributed just four points over 18 games.
- LD Mark Fraser. Fraser, who turns 31 in September, was signed as a depth option and spent all season in Bakersfield (AHL), putting up six points in 65 minor-league games.
- RW Justin Fontaine. A veteran of just under 200 NHL games, Fontaine was a trade deadline acquisition by the Oilers who ended up spending the rest of the year in the minors. He’s undersized, turns 30 in November and scored only 41 points over 65 AHL contests.
- RD Eric Gryba. Gryba played 40 games for the Oilers last season, down slightly from the 53 he appeared in over the course of 2015-16. He also saw his ice-time fall by nearly two minutes per game. He’s big, physical and a right shot but limited ability with the puck has led to him falling into a No. 6/7 role on the depth chart.
- LW Matt Hendricks. Another veteran who saw his games played and average ice-time fall, Hendricks will turn 36 next month. He’s a defensive specialist who plays aggressive, physical hockey, but he has slowed over parts of four seasons in Edmonton.
- LD Jordan Oesterle. Oesterle was a college free agent signing by the Oilers in the summer of 2014, and has appeared in 25 NHL games total since joining the organization. He had a career offensive year in the AHL and brings speed and puck skills, but he lacks ideal size and strength for the position. He turns 25 this summer.
- RW Tyler Pitlick. Pitlick had a breakthrough season in 2016-17, dramatically turning the page on years of unremarkable play at the AHL and NHL levels with eight goals over 31 games. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old couldn’t end one of the ugliest runs of injury I’ve ever seen a player suffer through, playing fewer than 50 games for the fifth consecutive season.
- RD Kris Russell. I’ve saved the most controversial for last. Russell is undeniably an NHL defenceman and a fearless competitor, but the Oilers will need to carefully weigh where the 30-year-old fits on their depth chart over the long-term before re-signing him. Coming off a high-profile season, he’s going to be highly motivated to secure the first rich, long-term deal of his professional career.
Making the Call
WWYDW is supposed to focus on the reader rather than the writer, so I’ll be brief on my views. Fontaine and Fraser are obviously replaceable. Desharnais slipped out of a top-nine role, and Hendricks slipped outside the top-12; given their age that makes letting them go simple. Pitlick had a crazy shooting percentage year and can’t stay healthy.
The NHL defencemen are a little harder to make a call on. Russell has value, but more as a stopgap than a long-term piece; I think his needs and Edmonton’s interests are at cross purposes. Gryba and Oesterle are both nice options to have competing for an end-of-roster spot; on a two-way deal both are easy signings but on one-way deals things get a little more complicated. Age favours Oesterle, handedness Gryba; I’d prefer Oesterle.
My list of eight ends up being narrowed down to just one or two when all is said and done. What does yours look like?