Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers and their RFAs

Last week I took a look at decisions the Oilers have coming with their pending unrestricted free agents, and now I want to look at their upcoming RFA forwards, where things get really interesting.

The team has four pending restricted free agents and when you consider that none of them are true top-six forwards, it’s highly unlikely that we see all four of them back in Edmonton next September.

Here are my cases, both for and against, each Oilers RFA forward being back with the team next year.


FOR – I started with Strome because I think he’s a lock to be back in the lineup next year. He’s solid 3rd line centre who plays a responsible game and I believe he’s capable of producing more offence. I also think he’s more than capable of contributing on the powerplay.

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I like what Strome has done, and at just 24-years-old it’s fair to say his best years are ahead of him. It would only cost $3 million to qualify him, and I think the Oilers should do that or try to go long-term with their third-line centre.

AGAINST – Everyone knows the Oilers don’t have a lot of cap flexibility and with McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Khaira already under contract, is it smart to pay another young centre around $3 million? Or should they go after a more cost-effective veteran in free agency?

As an RFA, Strome’s rights are controlled and he might even have some trade value. If the team moves him for an asset, they could sign someone like Riley Nash or Derek Ryan and even be saving some money.


FOR – It’s clear that Todd McLellan trusts Caggiula, and that’s rubbed a portion of the fanbase the wrong way. The numbers suggest he’s simply a replacement level player who’s constantly playing over his head.

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I see a young player who has some offensive upside and brings some energy to the teams bottom six. The Oilers need cost-effective pieces to round out their roster and I think Caggiula fits the bill.

AGAINST – There’s a chance that McLellan’s overuse of Caggiula has given him a false value and that might make him a little too rich for the Oilers blood.

I can’t see that happening, but if it does, the Oilers need to be careful when paying bottom-six players and that could be a reason why we won’t see Caggiula back in Edmonton.


FOR – The numbers are in Slepyshev’s corner. When he’s on the ice, the team generates more chances for than they do against, and a decent amount of those chances are “high-danger” ones.

The problem with Slepyshev has been consistency, and at just 23-years-old, with barely 100 NHL, it’s fair to suggest that he can still find that next level to his game. If he finds that level, then he could be a good offensive top-nine winger.

AGAINST – The bottom-six of this team is pretty crammed and it’s clear that Slepyshev is pretty low on Todd McLellan’s totem pole, so maybe the Oilers should just cut their losses and not waste cap space or a roster spot on a player who the coach likely won’t use.

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FOR – Pakarinen has been a solid 13th forward for the Oilers this year. He can kill penalties and makes smart plays at each end of the ice.

He should come in at under $1 million and we’ve seen him clear waivers in the past, so they could even send him down if a better option emerges. They’re familiar with him, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s back.

AGAINST – Pakarinen brings essentially no offence to the table and honestly is a dime-a-dozen type of player. The Oilers could look at Pakarinen as a player who has hit his ceiling as nothing more than a 13th forward, and that could look into bringing in a player with more upside.


The Ryan Strome decision is independent of the decision that will be made on the other three. I think, barring a trade, we’ll see Strome back in an Oilers jersey and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a two or three year deal with a cap hit around $2.5 million.

For the other three wingers, the organization already has Zack Kassian, Pontus Aberg, and Jujhar Khaira locked up for next year, plus they could bring back UFA Ty Rattie, so there aren’t a lot of spots open in their bottom six. I don’t see a scenario where all three of Slepyshev, Caggiula, and Pakarinen return

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There is a difference in terms of what I want to happen and what I think will happen.

I would like to see both Slepyshev and Caggiula brought back if they aren’t traded because I like their offensive upside and wouldn’t want to see young, cheap player let walk for nothing. I would let Pakarinen walk because I think he has hit his ceiling and I would rather they use a contract on a player with more upside.

With that being said, I think the organization has lost their confidence and patience in Anton Slepyshev and he’ll be allowed to walk free. I think they like Drake Caggiula and he’ll be back in Edmonton next year, and I would say it’s 50/50 on Pakarinen returning. If he does, it might be on a deal that’s signed later in the summer, after they’ve looked at other options.

  • ed from edmonton

    I don’t think this group is interesting at all. The one silver lining of this year is that none of these guys can expect anthying more than the minimum qualifying offer, take it or leave it.

    • Big Nuggets

      agreed. I’m not excited by the potential of any of these guys, with the slight exception of Strome. He has grown on me and now that he has a more defined role he could develop into a quality 3rd line center.

  • TKB2677

    I think most of us agree that the line up isn’t good enough. Either guys had crap years or were flat out aren’t good enough players. The special teams were terrible this year. Part of that goes on the coaches but also the players. The PK to me is the most baffling one. It is #1 on the road and has been liked that for a big chunk of the season but beyond bad at home. How is that possible? It can’t all be system so it fails on the players. So the question I would have with the RFA’s listed is how are you making much of a change to your roster if you bring almost the whole team back. Of the guys listed, I would bring back Strome. Other than that I would use the other players to try and bring in different guys. None of the guys listed can play in the top 6 and none of them kill penalties overly well so why keep them. that can pu bring them all back, how do you change your line up? I think the lines next year are probably:
    Nuge – McDavid – Player
    Lucic – Leon – Puljujarvi
    Player – Strome – Player
    Player – Kharia – Aberg

    I could see them letting Pakarinen walk. I think he is worth nothing trade wise. I could see them using a Caggulia plus something to bring in a legit 3rd liner than can produce 15 goals and kill some penalties. I am thinking a Pageu from Ottawa type guy. I could see them swapping Slep for another teams underperforming prospect. I am thinking in the range of a Ho-Sang type guy. I could also see them move Kassian. At 1.95 mill he is a very expensive 4th liner and I am not so sure anymore he is more than that. Plus I question his PK abilities.

    Another option could see Khaira move up to the 3rd line left wing spot. It’s his first full season and I think he has more to give. Then you go out and get a cheap, vet 4th line center that can kill some penalties and win some faceoffs.

  • Consultant

    Strome four years at 2.5.
    Slepy and Cags for as cheap as possible.
    Pak won’t be back – the new GM will want to have some finger prints on the 18-19 team.

  • Arfguy

    If they can bring back Strome for $2 million/season for the next 3 to 4 years, I say they go for it. I really do think he has more upside than what’s been seen so far, but at the same time…I do not want the Oilers to over-commit and pay for too much money and term.

    If Caggiula, Slepyshev and Pakarinen can be brought back for league minimum, I’d say go for it. Slepyshev has speed and some creativity, but man…that missed open net kind of sealed his fate, in my eyes.

    Caggiula? I get the feeling that he’ll go to another team and do much better. He plays with a lot of heart, but he’s had too many looks on this team and did not convert as much.

    Pakarinen, I like…but once again at league minimum.

  • crabman

    I would like Strome back at $2.5M × 2-3 years.

    I don’t see Slepyshev back. There have been reports about him bolting back to Russia next year. When was the last time reports like these have been made that it didn’t happen.

    I would bring back Caggiula at his qualifying rate, $1.1ish M. He is good enough to play in the bottom 6 and potentially give us a cheap 12-15 goals. And if a better option presents itself he probably passes through waivers as every team has bubble guys of their own.

    Pakarinen is a guy I definitely take back. He will be cheap around $800K and again can clear waivers if need be. In the meantime he is one of the better pk players on the Oilers and although he doesn’t score much at all he also doesn’t get scored on. I’m of the belief that it’s fine to be a 4th liner/12-13 forward that doesn’t contribute offensively as long as they don’t give up anything and can play a big role on the pk. That’s why I was a Lander supporter.

    Chiarelli signed a number of 1 year deals for the farm last year that won’t be back. If 1 or more of Caggiula, Pakarinen, Rattie, Aberg, or Puljujarvi need to spend some time on the farm next year because better options became available that’s fine. Almost all of any of these player’s salary can be buried without cap penalty and they would be better call up options than we currently have.

  • RJ

    Strome for under 3 is a decent play.

    As it relates to Slepyshev, I would decide that once they figure out who the coach is going to be. If it’s McLellan, then let him go. He won’t be utilized in a way that benefits the Oilers.

    P/60 has Caggiula as a fourth liner/13th F level. He should be paid accordingly, but if McLellan is still here next season, Caggiula should be traded to avoid watching McLellan give his favourite too much TOI and sink the team again.

    Pakarinen is an August decision. If there is a better player available via free agency (cap hit, PKer, centreman, etc) then sign that player instead of Pakarinen.

  • crabman

    @Tyler Yaremchuk,
    I like Strome back as 3C for the contract you suggest. I think that is good value for both the position and his production. I don’t however think he has much more to give. Outside of his 2nd season what we have seen this year is right around what his career average has been. I know he is only 24 and there is potential for growth but in a 3rd line role his 5×5 minutes will be limited a bit. His quality of linemates won’t improve dramatically and if the Oilers get another top 6 winger that player very well may end up on the 1pp as well.
    If Strome finds some good chemistry with a regular linemate and finds himself getting some pp time he might be able to get himself up to 40 pts, which would be fantastic as a 3C, more than likely he will continue close to his career averages and score in the 12-15 goal, 15 -20 assist range. Take out that 2nd season and he averages .42pts/g pro rated to 35pts.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    The lineup is nearly good enough or talented enough.
    Nuge, Leon, and Mick David. Lucic and Kassian will be gifted spots.
    Fill in the rest of the blanks.

  • At least we don’t have to worry about offersheets with this group. Quick question, is Draisaitl worth 4 First round picks?
    Props = Yes
    Trash = No

    B/C I finally read the RFA rules and I could have offered Draisaitl $6.6 x 8 and matched an offersheet up to $8 mil OR receive 4 First Round Picks in compensation if we lost him to a better offer.

  • oilerjed

    Strome is a keeper and they should be able to keep him with little to no raise. Center depth is worth the cap hit and assuming you can just go out and sign who you want is not overly reliable.
    I would like to see another season of Slepyshev. His possession numbers are solid and I don’t think they should give up on that shot quite yet. He can be signed cheap and slot in on the 3rw spot.

    Caggiula and Pakirinen are replaceable with cheap veteran wingers who can bring more to the Penalty kill part of the game that is sorely in need of some experience. Maybe Cagiulla is able to play as the 13th forward but his need to pass through waivers is detrimental to keeping him though.
    The defense RFAs should be easier to figure out. Darnell is a keeper and Benning as the 7th dman?

  • jaksqwat

    This sure paints a grim picture in general of the state of the team. All listed here are sub par players. Oilers have maybe have enough for 1 good line and a good 2nd D pair and a backup goalie at best. This season shows a good baseline as to where this team is really at, including lack of depth in the system. None of these 4 are consistent, or should be permanent placements, but that’s the case for most of the team. If any of them do come back, I think it is a strong indicator the team is done for the next 3-5. Sad and unfortunate for something that had so much promise. I believe McDavid’s skill will be lost here unless something miraculous happens.

    • crabman

      this article about 4 RFAs paints a grim picture.
      McDavid, Draisaitl, Nuge, Klefbom, Larsson, Strome, Khaira, Puljujarvi, Nurse, Benning, are all 25 and under. Just because only 2 of them are RFAs this year doesn’t mean the future is grim.
      Only 1 of those 4 would be guaranteed to be a top 9 player. No one is expected to be a top 6.

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    I like Strome at 3rd line center hope he stays as for the other three they all should have been in the AHL honeing their skills. Team depth is an issue and that is on Chiarelli he better figure it out that and goaltending because Talbot is not the answer.

  • GK1980

    Strome and Cags. I think Strome has some upside and I think cags can be that energy guy on the bottom 6 that can potentially hem the opposition in their own zone for long periods of time. Cags also has some skill.

  • TKB2677

    I am shocked at how much love Slep gets in here. I was a fan of his at the start of this season but I have watched him do absolutely nothing. I think the coaches have been lousy this season, the special teams speak for themselves. I haven’t agreed with some of the player decisions McLellan has made either but when it comes to Slep, what does he do?
    He has a 100 NHL games and has 10 goals, 23 pts. Those numbers suck and scream 4th liner/depth guy. He’s a big guy that can skate but he doesn’t touch anyone or use his big body to his advantage. He’s not hard to play against, he is not a beast in the corners or the front of the net. He doesn’t kill penalties nor do I think he should. He’s supposedly has a good shot that he doesn’t use. His passing isn’t great and he has crap hands. He missed a wide open net last game. On most nights, he literally is invisible. So what exactly does he bring to the team other than being right handed and WHY would anyone sign him for a raise? He makes 925k and I saw someone suggest the Oilers should sign him for 2 yrs at 1.25 mill. What has he done to deserve a 300K raise? Khaira makes 675K and he is twice the player. IF they want to sign him, he shouldn’t be making more than Khaira because Slep isn’t a full time NHLer.

    • camdog

      Nobody looked good with Letestu this season and from Christmas on nobody looked good with Lucic. I really don’t know what we have with Slepy one way or the other. He started the season injured and looked like the coach didn’t like him or want to use him for the rest of the season. He’d get bumped up here or there but the second he did something wrong he was demoted. He’s worth a qualifying offer. One thing is clear if they come back to camp with same coaching staff he has to be moved.