Looking at what the Oilers currently have on their roster, I see the need for three additions this summer: a top-six winger, a solid offensive defenseman, and a depth centre.
The offensive d-man would likely have to be acquired via trade (unless it’s Mike Green), while the depth centre can likely be a low-end free agent signing, but what about the top-six winger? That could be interesting.
The reason I think they need to find a winger is simple, Todd McLellan is a coach who likes to establish pairs. Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are a legitimate top line duo, but the team really doesn’t have a proven option to run with Leon Draisaitl.
Dustin Nielson covered that topic earlier in the week, and in my opinion, there isn’t a bonafide in hour option to put next to #29. Sure, they could use Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, or one of the other names Dustin laid out, but I think they need to add another proven option to their top six.
The team also doesn’t have a lot of assets to make a trade and if they do use assets to swing a deal for a defenseman this summer, the only way they could probably get a top-six winger is to take a dip into the free agent pool.
The idea of signing a higher end free agent scares a lot of Oilers’ fans, and it should. Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera, and Kris Russell are the last three big free agents the organization signed, and now those are three of their worst contracts.
Even if their past is ugly, the team shouldn’t ignore the chance to sign a free agent winger if the right opportunity arises.
Here are some UFA winger options:
David Perron: Coming off a 66 point season with Vegas, but not sure if he would be open to another stint in Edmonton.
Thomas Vanek: Had a decent run with Columbus, is a proven scorer and will be a cheaper option.
James van Riemsdyk: With Kane signed, he might be the most sought after FA option, will likely be too rich for the Oilers blood.
Paul Stastny: Could take faceoffs and help Draisaitl, has playoff experience. Might stick in Winnipeg though.
James Neal: Six straight 20 goal seasons. Unsure of cost, but I think he would be a perfect fit.
Patrick Maroon: No doubt he would be interested in coming back. He can score, but I wouldn’t mind the Oilers opting for someone with more speed.
Rick Nash: Is a proven scorer, has great touch around the net, but his foot speed worries me as well. Unsure of how much he’ll ask for.
Michael Grabner: Very speedy, think he would be a great addition and shouldn’t cost too much.
The price range of the above options really ranges. I think Thomas Vanek would be on the lower end of the above list at around $2.5 million a season, while the high-end would James Van Riemsdyk who should easily top $6 million a season. The rest likely fall in between those numbers.
Right now, the Oilers have approximately $11 million in cap space (assuming Montoya is dealt or sent down to Bakersfield) with 15 players under contract, so if Peter Chiarelli decides to grab a UFA winger, how much money could he spend? That depends on a few factors:
- Darnell Nurse: If the Oilers decide to bridge Darnell Nurse, he might cost between $2.5 and $3 million on a short-term deal. If they go long-term, it could cost anywhere from $4.0 to $5.0 million. That extra cash will make a big difference.
- Moving out money: I covered this earlier in the week, but if the Oilers can find a way to dump a big contract, they can likely bring one right back in.
- Cap moving up: Like I said, the Oilers have about $11 million in space right now. The cap will be going up, it’s just a matter of how much. I’ve heard anywhere from $3 to $7 million, which is obviously a huge difference.
- Other moves: How much do Strome/Benning get? Do they move Kassian? Do they land a big name d-man? All of those will affect their strategy in free agency.
My rough estimate is the Oilers could realistically sign all of their RFA’s and again, depending on how much the cap increases, have anywhere from $2.5-6.5 million to sign a free agent winger. They’ll need to have some money available to sign some depth as well.
Out of the eight names I listed above, I believe that James Van Riemsdyk and Paul Stastny will be out of their price range. That leaves six possible targets that I believe the Oilers could fit into their complex cap situation.
Let’s say the Oilers go ahead and add a $4-5.5 million winger on a 3-4 year deal this July. Here are the pros and cons I have thought of:
- The team has a chance to add a top-six winger without giving up any picks, prospects, or roster players. They could also save the few assets they do have for a potential trade for a defenseman.
- The window for this team to win is now and they need a winger in my opinion. Bringing in someone to contribute immediately is important and there are free agent options that could no doubt come in and score 20-25 goals.
- They already have some bad signings that have handcuffed them, they can’t afford another one.
- Most free agents will be looking for more than a two-year deal, and if the Oilers give that, it could hinder their ability to sign Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto once their ELC’s are done.
This will be a polarizing topic. Some will say that the team should air on the side of caution and maybe sign a player like Thomas Vanek, while others will see the appeal to players like James Neal or David Perron and be okay with the team handing out another big dollar free agent deal.
No matter what Peter Chiarelli decides, there will be a risk involved. Either he signs an impact winger and risks handcuffing the team down the road, or he makes a smaller bet and leaves the chance that the Oilers get another less than impressive year from their current group of wingers.
Either choice could lead to Chiarelli either saving his job, or driving the final nail into his own coffin.