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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Pending RFAs

This coming season is a make-or-break year for lots of people within the Oilers organization. We know that Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli are already on the hot seat, and will likely need a playoff berth to save their jobs.

There is also a group of players who are not only playing for contracts beyond this season, but for their NHL lives.

The team currently has five players scheduled to hit restricted free agency next summer and all five are in very unique situations.

TY RATTIE

Ty Rattie recalled from the AHL Bakersfield Condors

I’m starting with Rattie because he has the most on the line this year. The other four players I’m going to list will likely still get NHL contracts for 2019-20 even if they don’t have career years this season. That’s not the case for Rattie.

He’s never played more than 14 games in an NHL season and frankly, he’s never deserved to play more than that. His chances of simply becoming an everyday NHL player were looking slim until he got a look on Connor McDavid’s wing at the end of the 2018-19 season.

His brief run was very successful and led to him being pencilled in on a line with the best player in the world.

While he is the favourite to be the Oilers top line right winger this season, it’s far from a lock. Rattie will have to come into camp and prove he is capable of playing top-six minutes on a consistent basis.

Simply put: he needs to show the Oilers that he can score goals and get the puck to Connor McDavid.

Even if he does everything right, it still might not be enough. There’s a chance Kailer Yamamoto comes into camp and steals the spot next to  McDavid just like he did last year. There’s also a chance that Leon Draisaitl finds his way back onto the top line because we know McLellan loves sticking the two of them together.

Rattie has never been a reliable bottom six player, nevermind a legitimate NHL goal scorer and I think it’s fair to say that if he doesn’t stick in the Oilers top six, then he likely doesn’t have a spot on the team. If he spends the year in the AHL, I couldn’t see another NHL team giving Rattie a shot.

A good year could get him a multi-year deal around the $2.5 million mark with the Oilers. A bad year could lead to the end of his NHL career.

JESSE PULJUJARVI

2018-19 will be Puljujarvi’s third season in North America, and some would say it’s the most important season of his career. The word “bust” has already been whispered, but that’s insane especially when you consider the fact he’s still only 20-years-old.

But, knowing what I do about this organization, if Puljujarvi doesn’t hit his stride this season, it very well could be his last in Edmonton.

If we’re sitting here next June and Puljujarvi is coming off another year where he scores less than 15 goals, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is dealt as a pending RFA. If things click and he ends up scoring 15-20 goals and hits the 40 point mark, I could also see the Oilers happily giving him a new contract.

After looking at the comparables, if Puljujarvi has a solid year, I could see him getting a two or three year deal with a cap hit between $2.5 and $3 million.

JUJHAR KHAIRA

Feb 15, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Colin Miller (6) fights Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) during the third period of play at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Khiara is coming to the end of his second pro contract, which only paid him $650,000 and there’s no doubt he will get a raise, it’s just a matter of how much.

Earlier this summer, in my “High/Low” series, I laid out the best and worst case scenario for Jujhar Khaira. If he finds his way into the teams top six, it could lead to a career year and likely a raise that puts him in the $2 million range.

Even if Khaira stays on the team’s fourth line and continues to bring a physical edge to the team’s lineup, I can’t imagine the Oilers letting him walk as an RFA. In fact, it would likely still lead to a solid raise when you consider how Peter Chiarelli likes to pay his bottom six players.

There isn’t as much on the line for Khaira as there is for the first two players I mentioned. As long as he stays in the lineup this year, he’ll get a contract next summer.

TOBIAS RIEDER

Despite the fact that the Oilers signed him as an unrestricted free agent, they still hold his RFA rights next summer.

I think Rieder will get an honest look next to Leon Draisaitl when training camp opens up and if he has success there, he will have no problem getting a multi-year deal that pays him more than the $2 million he’ll get this year.

If he spends the year in the bottom-six and doesn’t live up to his $2 million price tag, which I think is highly unlikely, then the Oilers probably wouldn’t qualify him and he would become a UFA once again.

If that were to happen, considering given his track record, Rieder should have no problem getting another NHL contract, no matter how this season goes.

PONTUS ABERG

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Pontus Aberg (46) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

I could see Aberg hitting the waiver wire before the season opener, but I could also see him being a regular in the lineup and possibly getting some looks next to Leon Draisaitl, who was his centre during his two productive stretches last season.

There are plenty of ways this season could go from Aberg, and that means his future after the 2018-19 season is up in the air.

A productive year likely means a qualifying offer from the Oilers and a one or two year deal. If he spends a year in the AHL, then it’s tough to imagine another NHL team taking a chance on Aberg next summer.

Which Oilers RFA do you think has the most on the line? Let me know!

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  • McRaj

    Every Article I read that mentions Rattie seems to have a negative tone to it. Looks like people don’t actually want him to succeed and/or are just expecting him to fail. Is Rattie the 2018-2019 scapegoat? Or is still Lucic? Or someone else?

    • OriginalPouzar

      I think people are being realistic given his history as a pro – he’s 25 an not established as an NHL player. He went on an offensive heater with McDavid last year, however, at the same time, the underlying metrics don’t match the production and there is reason to think it may not be a match made in heaven. I would love if Rattie could truly be a 1RW and not just zoomed by McDavid but we’ll have to see.

        • Beer_League_Ringer

          Great point about Maroon. He really didn’t get a fair shake in ANA. Late blooming NHL’ers like Pat exist for many reasons and this is one. Rattie has produced excellent offensive #s at every level except the NHL. I believe his limited playing time with the Blues was because he wasn’t a “Hitchcock player”. He has the opportunity of a lifetime – to play with McD, or Drai. I’m sure he knows what’s on the line. We saw what he can do last year, albeit in a very small sample size.

    • daryl

      Rattie was a high draft pick in the second round so he has potential but if he is not a top two winger it will e hard to keep him but there are a lot of top 6 wingers that just score like Neal so it could happen for him.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      Draisaitl because he’s getting paid, Lucic if he doesn’t rebound as much as people want, Caggiula because he was our highest scoring winger last year and got a slight raise, or Benning because he also got a slight raise and people don’t like him for some reason.

  • Spydyr

    I understand you have to put articles up but man will I be happy when camp opens and there is something new to write/talk about not just next summers RFA’s.

  • OriginalPouzar

    1) I’m not sure I agree with Rattie being all that successful as 1RW last year – yes, they scored goals and Rattie is able to contribute to the offence with good offensive IQ. With that said, he is very poor outside of the offensive zone and the trio lots the possession battle which is more predictive than the goal share. Its not often that McDavid loses the possession battle. Unless Rattie is able to improve his 2-way game, I would posit the goals against will start to add up. I don’t see Rattie long for the top line – not with both Kailer and Jesse knocking.

    2) Jesse isn’t just “still 20”, he’ll be 20 when the regular season ends. He was 19 the last time he played an NHL game and eligible for the most recent World Juniors – that’s how young he is. I do look for him to take a nice step forward in his draft plus 3 year which is quite common for higher talent players drafted out of the European leagues.

    3) I will be disappointed if Aberg isn’t given a real shot in camp and hits the waiver wire. In particular, he should get a real shot in the top 6 as he has nice speed and skill and has shown the ability to produce at the NHL level. Consistency has been his problem and he’ll need to find it in order to stick in the top 6 but he did produce at a 1.99 P/60 as an Oiler (at 5 on 5) which is very good production – yes, most of that production was during a 3 game heater but the kid has offensive talent, which the team lacks on the wing. At $675K, with the potential to produce, I believe this player needs a shot – this could be a big value contract and I’m remiss to waive it given the cap crunch.

    • daryl

      Todd is the reason JP has not been more productive. Last year when we were out of it and with a total failure of a PP he still didn’t put him on the PP. Every time he made a mistake Todd benched him. After watching last season with Todd using his veterans instead of giving the youngsters a chance I really wonder if he is the coach we need. I for one unless the can change his spots will not be sad to see him go.

      • Crakupov

        I didn’t see that at all. Puljujarvi had opportunity after opportunity thrown at him and he didn’t do much with them. He was on every line from 1st to 4th and failed to produce. From being one of the few in the draft that was supposedly “NHL Ready” and a future superstar the only thing Jesse has done is underwhelm. This is not on the management, the coach its entirely on the player.

        • The coach that benched him for any little error? If the same applied to veterans , IE Lucic, he would not have dressed the last half of the season due to a litany of mistakes, but he gets a free pass? No PP time when the season was already lost? When we are apprenticing, we all learn from our mistakes, pretty much impossible to learn when the carpet gets yanked out from under you supposedly as a learning tool. How about applying that equally to all players? Eberle would have been benched in the playoffs, and probably should have been. Applying different rules of accountabilty to different players will eventually cost Todd his job, as it should. He is not the right coach for a young squad. If there was accountability through the organization, Lowe , Mac-T and Howson would have been sent packing years ago and after last season the GM and Coaching staff would be out the door as well.Nice that Todd can keep his future brother inlaw employed in Bakersfield , while the organization as per usual dressed it up as a purge. Didnt take Todd long to figure out how to join the FOK club. Remember how Howson was fired, but he actually wasnt, Buchhberger supposedly fired, but not really. Until a proper purge is done including the current management and coaching staff, nothing will change in nepotism land. I am sure Keegan Lowe loves it as well.One way money on a two way contract. Thanks Dad.This kind of tomfoolery is noticed by every team and every player in the league. No point in coming here unless you are related to someone in the 80’s gang to make sure you have steady employment, even if you suck.

          • jesse says yep

            This is where it would be useful to be able to peek behind the curtain. TMac has a good reputation among players and isn’t known for random player decisions. My guess is if JP is getting benched or not getting the PP time that people are clamoring for, then it is most likely something JP is or isn’t doing during games or practices.

          • Beer_League_Ringer

            Why so bitter, Betty?

            Last season wasn’t fun for anyone. However, your armchair coaching/GM’ing is ridiculous. Where was your critique of the coaches/organization when the Oilers made it to the 2nd round in 16-17? Oh right, bench Eberle… Problem solved.

            There IS a double standard in the NHL for veterans vs. young players (like EVERY job EVER) and you slamming it perfectly exhibits your lack of hockey knowledge. You have no idea what goes on in the organization, the dressing room, or the bench. So what then? Fire Todd and PC have even LESS organizational stability than ever? Give it a rest. Try being a fan.

        • HOCKEY83

          He certainly hasn’t been given the same opportunity as Mathews, Laine, Tkachuk or Dubois from the top six and there’s still a handful of players below that from that draft that get more ice time than he does. They need to play him more and with some talent.

    • Reg Dunlop

      So, just to be clear. Rattie at 25 has 19 career points in 49 games while Aberg at 24 has 18 career points in 68 games YET you think Aberg deserves a real shot in camp because he has shown the ability to produce at the NHL level while Rattie should pound sand. Try thinking before you post.

      • OriginalPouzar

        Who said anything about Rattie pounding sand? I professed that Rattie has deficiencies and the underlying metrics show that, unless he improves his overall game, he will become a drag on the line.

        You got an issue with me, perhaps be an adult and say what your issue is. I look forward to your response.

        • Reg Dunlop

          You said Aberg has shown the ability to produce at the NHL level. Produce what? Has he shown this ability to anyone other than you? I don’t really await your response because I don’t think you know much about hockey and you come across as a pretentious windbag. Is that adult enough for you?

  • Serious Gord

    The key takeaway from this list is that unless one or more of them has a great season letting any of them go is of little consequence so some cap relief will is on its way.

  • btrain

    All unique situations and hopefully we can get at least a couple to take steps forward. Only issue I take is if Rattie “frankly” deserved his time in the NHL or not? I think this is a tad subjective for a player most of us just came to know last season. What went wrong with the Blues and Canes, I have no idea. All I know is this is a one dimensional niche player; he is either top 6 or he is not in your NHL line up. If an organization has him earmarked as a depth guy, he is going to be hard-pressed to get much of a developmental leash at all at the NHL level.

    Anyway, I believe if you are pegged more as a competent call up/or temporary place holder, any NHL time is earned/deserved. Perhaps the lack of RW depth on this Oilers team and a chance to play with McDavid, is exactly the opportunity Rattie needs to make an NHL career. However, as has been true his whole career, the deck is stacked against him, rightly or wrongly, compared to his higher draft pedigree peers/ proven vets. For example, he will need 3-5 solid games to equal 1 solid outing from Puljujarvi, Yammamoto, or Lucic. Whereas 1 poor outing may be enough for him to lose his spot in the lineup entirely and perhaps his chances at an NHL career. This is a reality/pressure the other guys do not face in the same way. So I prefer to look at Rattie’s NHL games played as deserved/earned given his circumstances. Lets hope he earns a bunch more!

  • TruthHurts98

    I’m willing to bet Yamamoto earns a spot in the top six this year. Khaira will continue to improve, he fights, hits and did more than Looch and Kassian in all facets of the game last year. So no sane GM can let him go. He’s one of my favourite Oilers and I think he’ll take another step forward this year.

    • Agreed. He’s like someone took a power forward from the 90’s and added some of the speed and skill of today’s game. Love JJ. I see him as the heir apparent to Zack Kassian: clutch goals, surprising speed for his size, and willing to mix it up. Never gonna be a 30-goal guy, but I can see him being a regular player in this league for years to come.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      JJ has a very high ceiling IMO. Who doesn’t love this kid? Draft well and develop… JJ is the posterboy for this approach. I can’t wait to see how good this kid will be.

  • Oiler Al

    Unless “Blender Ben” changes his ways… the team will continued to spin its wheels.Put some lines together and let them build some chemistry…juggling act must stop!

  • Abagofpucks

    I can’t see Rattie making it there’s just to much against him and he’s never been much more than an Ahler.
    Aberg show’s flashes of a player we need, but i just dont think he fits in to Todds plans, he’s to busy rolling out the red carpet for the Drake.

    • daryl

      This is why Todd will have to go! Aberg never got a second chance someone needs to sit him down and let him know that if he doesn’t get it here he will play him self out of the NHL Todd obviously didn’t do it.

    • Redbird62

      The Oilers for 2019-2020 are already committed to $60.4 Million in players salaries, plus 1.6 Million in buyout costs. Add to this any salary for Nurse, presumably a bridge contract for 2 season in the $3-3.5 million range. In addition to the RFA’s listed above, there are 4 players projected to be on the roster this season who become UFA’s (Talbot, Koskinen, Jerabek and Gravel) totalling about $8.3 million in salary. If Talbot is going to cost more to keep at the end of next season ($4.2 this season) that will be a good outcome, because it will mean he played much closer to his 2016-17 form. If Talbot has returned to form, you pay him with some of Koskinen’s money and get a cheaper back up. At least one of Russell or Sekera will need to be moved out next summer, to give the Oilers any kind of cap room to work with.

  • jesse says yep

    IMO no matter what happens with JP this season there is NO way that they trade him away. Worst case scenario they have a 3rw under reasonable contracts for the next 5-6 years (assuming that JP’s agent doesnt lose his mind during negotiations). A player Jesse’s size can sometime take a few years extra to figure it out. He is a keeper unless he prices himself off the team without being able to perform up to expectations.

    The top 2 RW battle will be fun to watch this training camp. Rattie/Yamo/Reider and Auberg all scrapping it out for a spot. For me, Rattie and Yamo fighting for 1rw and Reider and Auberg for 2rw. JP could be the wild card in this mix though, one of these years he is bound to break through, isn’t he?

  • Ben918

    I think you are right that Rattie has the most on the line. I think Reider should enter the season with something to prove and he will sink or swim. If it is the latter, we could see him playing with McDavid or Draisaitl and adding career high points. It will be interesting to see if he can rise to the challenge.

    The RFA that is most interesting to me is Puljarvii though. He has talent and the ability to become 60-70 pt player a few years down the road. Problem is that he doesn’t appear to show up to most games. Often coasting and out of position. For much of last season it looked more like he didn’t care to improve his game rather than he wasn’t able to. We have seen his talent, just not often enough. I got mocked for saying that the Oilers should have taken Tkachuk but I think they are a great comparison. Both have talent and potential. The difference is in the level of compete. Tkachuk shows up to win each night and Puljarvii just shows up.