It’s going to be a busy summer, and we’re in the deep breath before the dive phase of it. Before things go too crazy, I thought it might be fun to use a What Would You Do Wednesday to look at old Oilers entering the NHL free agent market this summer, to see if any of them might be a fit with their old team.
I counted 15 free agents coming off NHL deals who had previously spent time with the organization. This week’s question: Would any of them be good fits for a second tour with the team?
LD Marc-Andre Bergeron (2002-07). Bergeron made a surprise return to North America last season after three years in Switzerland. He played 22 games in the AHL and scored 13 points, earning a two-way contract with Columbus midway through his return. He is a chaos defenceman: small, aggressive, surprisingly physical and extremely effective in the offensive zone. He turns 37 in October, and probably can’t expect more than a training camp tryout at this point.
RD Taylor Fedun (2013-14). He nearly made the Oilers right out of college in the fall of 2011, but suffered a brutal injury that wiped out his entire season. He was organizational depth from 2012 to 2014, scoring twice in a memorable four-game cameo in 2013-14. The cerebral defender lacks either high-end speed or formidable size/strength, but had seven points in 27 games for Buffalo last year. Realistically, he’d be looking at a two-way deal.
C/RW Sam Gagner (2007-14). The longtime Oilers pivot hit 50 points last year for the first time ever on a very good Columbus team, playing the role of third/fourth-line centre/winger and power play specialist. The Blue Jackets had a crazy deep roster with three-to-four scoring lines for most of the season, and it worked out great for Gagner. He’s not big or fast, but he’s a right shot, clever with the puck and has evolved into a plug-and-play offensive option. He’d be looking for a raise on last year’s $650,000 cap hit.
LW Luke Gazdic (2013-16). One of the league’s last enforcers, Gazdic got into 11 games with New Jersey last year, recording no points and 12 penalty minutes. He had just one goal in 37 AHL games. His major-league career is predicated on hitting and fighting, and there aren’t many of that kind left. He might be able to get another two-way deal, though.
RD Tom Gilbert (2006-12). Gilbert’s play fell off a cliff two years ago and at this point he’s just trying to prove he’s still an NHL player. He did have 13 points in 25 AHL games with Hershey after a midseason trade and is only 34, so perhaps he isn’t done just yet. He has average size, above average ability with the puck and is pretty good at getting into shooting lanes. He has practically no physical dimension. My guess is that he gets a training camp tryout somewhere, or maybe a two-way deal.
C Boyd Gordon (2013-15). Gordon played just 19 games last season, thanks to injuries and time in the press box. He was waived and sent to the minors at midseason, after which he suffered a knee injury that put him on the shelf long-term. The defensive specialist has just five points over the last two seasons combined. Maybe the 33-year-old gets a training camp tryout somewhere?
RW Ales Hemsky (2002-14). For a long time, Hemsky was the Oilers most important player. Now he’s a fairly generic middle-six forward, providing secondary offence while still being capable of going head-to-head with tough opponents. Hip surgery after an injury at the World Cup wiped out most of his season, but he came back late in the year (earlier than his 5-6 month timeline suggested) and played well. This is typical of a gritty player whose grit was often unappreciated in some corners of Edmonton. He really should be able to get a one-way deal, though at fewer years and dollars than his previous three-year, $4.0 million AAV contract.
LD Brad Hunt (2013-15). The man can blister the puck. He’s not big or fast or all that good defensively, but he’s always a threat to score at a point-per-game level in the AHL and he had six points in 12 NHL games split between St. Louis and Nashville this season. He’s also one of those players who can be counted on to add a little cheer to a team, which is the sort of thing that can help keep a ‘tweener employed. He’ll get another two-way deal.
LW Lauri Korpikoski (2015-16). Korpikoski had 20 points for Dallas this year, the fourth season in a row he’s recorded between 20 and 25. He’s fast, and plays a greasy game; he basically needs to trade some Ks for a mullet and he’d be Ryan Jones. Unfortunately he went pointless in nine contests after being a trade deadline acquisition of Columbus, and fell out of their lineup pre-playoffs. My guess is that he lands a cheap one-year deal somewhere, perhaps after a training camp tryout.
G Anders Nilsson (2015-16). Nilsson had the best season of his career handling the backup role for the underpowered Buffalo Sabres. His 0.923 save percentage should guarantee that the 6’5” Swede gets another job as an NHL understudy next season.
LD Adam Pardy (2015-16). Pardy played nine games during an Oilers cameo the season before last, and honestly handled himself better than I expected. He fell out of the league last season, getting just four games with Nashville and spending the rest of the year in the minors. At the age of 33, the 6’4”, 227-pound defensive specialist is going to be hard-pressed to land more than a two-way deal.
RW Teddy Purcell (2014-16). Purcell joined the Kings last season, and had the misfortune of getting off to a slow start at the same time the team did. Banished to the minors, he put in a good performance there, scoring at a point-per-game clip. The pride of Newfoundland has good size and a big brain, as well as a pretty good idea of what to do with the puck, but he’s neither fast nor physical. My guess would be that the takes an NHL tryout somewhere in the hopes of landing a cheap one-way deal.
LD Nick Schultz (2011-14). When the Oilers sent Schultz out of town at the 2014 trade deadline for a fifth-round pick, I kind of thought the was done. Not so much, as it turns out. Schultz fell into regular healthy scratch territory last season, but played 161 games for Philadelphia in the two years preceding it. It sounds like he’s mulling over retirement and after more than 1,000 NHL games doesn’t have much interest in playing in the minors.
RW Zack Stortini (2007-11). Incredibly, Stortini is coming off yet another contract with an NHL component, a two-way deal a half-decade after he last played in the majors. A former junior captain, he also captained Ottawa’s farm team prior to being dealt to San Jose’s last season. After a 25-point AHL season in 2014-15, he fell to just four last year, though his primary role remains as an enforcer. 227 of his 228 career major-league games came with the Oilers. He really should be on AHL-only deals at this point.
C/LW Chris Vande Velde (2010-13). VandeVelde didn’t make much of a mark in Edmonton, playing less than 30 games over parts of three seasons, but he’s carved out a career for himself in Philadelphia as the most traditional of fourth-line forwards. He generates modest offence (14-15 points for three straight seasons), but hits and kills penalties. He’s coming off the first one-way deal of his career and may have to settle for a two-way pact this time around.
When I look at that list, I don’t see a whole lot that’s really compelling. The exception, to me, is Hemsky, whose speed and ability to play multiple roles would be most welcome on a shallow right wing depth chart in Edmonton. At the right price point and on a short-term deal, he would add an element the team could use.
Gagner fits the bill as a centre/wing player who could play either position and offer the coaching staff some flexibility if it wanted to play Leon Draisaitl on the wing. The problem there is that his power play specialist role is basically in Mark Letestu’s hands right now, though he’d be a lot more suited to a soft minutes third-line role than he was his previous job in Edmonton.
Purcell might be interesting on a training camp tryout, a la Kris Versteeg last season, but ideally whatever forward is brought in would bring speed. Beyond that there are a few players (Fedun, Gilbert, Hunt, Pardy) who could fill an AHL role; the Oilers have an awfully green blue line in Bakersfield next year and will need to add someone steady who could play NHL minutes if required. It’s the job Mark Fraser had this season, though he ended up not getting the call.
In other words, for me that list of 15 comes down to Hemsky, and a couple of guys I could be talked into in a tryout or two-way situation. What do you think? Are there any players on that list you could see helping the Oilers in the here and now?