The Oilers needed to upgrade their roster. So far they’ve added Mikko Koskinen, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, and Kevin Gravel. There may be a couple more depth additions, but otherwise this is largely the roster for next season.
This is the first offseason Peter Chiarelli hasn’t added a giant free-agent contract. He added Andrej Sekera for $5.5 million per year for six years in 2015. Milan Lucic’s buyout-proof contract arrived in 2016. Russell’s four-year overpayment joined the payroll after Edmonton’s return to the playoffs in 2017.
Kyle Brodziak and Tobias Rieder are solid depth players signed to good contracts, especially when other third or fourth liners were getting crazy money and term. Brodziak can be easily buried, so two years isn’t a concern. Rieder is young enough that he could be a support player going forward. He’ll be 26 and a restricted free agent after next season.
These are smart bets, but also forced ones due to Chiarelli’s cap mismanagement. The Oilers have roughly $7 million in cap space, although sending Al Montoya to the minors adds another million. Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome will take up most of that. Strome had a $3 million qualifying offer and Nurse should be in that range on a bridge deal. Chiarelli didn’t have to room to do anything else.
Chiarelli is banking on his roster performing more like it did in 2016-17 than 2017-18, which comes with significant question marks.
Will Sekera return to form at age 32 after a serious injury?
Can Kris Russell or Matt Benning round out the top four on the right side?
Can Nurse succeed in a top-four role all season?
Can Lucic finally wake up from his five-on-five slumber in Edmonton?
How much will Edmonton’s shallow right wing hurt?
It’s hard to say this roster is that much different from last season. Brodziak and Rieder essentially replace Mark Letestu and Patrick Maroon, who were sent away at the trade deadline. Gravel might be a left-handed Gryba who skates better. Koskinen is an unknown, and a pricey one at $2.5 million considering what proven NHL options got in free agency.
There’s still a team here. McDavid will do his thing with just about anyone flanking him. Draisaitl should be able to fill the second-line center role, even with shoddy wingers. Strome and Brodziak will face lesser opposition with coaches focusing on shutting down McDavid and Draisaitl first. Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, and Sekera have all been top-four defencemen when healthy. Nurse in a top-four role isn’t an unrealistic expectation. Benning, Russell, and Gravel can fill out the 4-6 spots. Cam Talbot had good-to-great numbers in every season before 2017-18.
Chiarelli is betting his roster doesn’t need much more than a few player bouncing back for a return to the playoffs. There’s just not much cover if things don’t go as planned.
He might be right, but he won’t be here if he’s wrong