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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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