Photo Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

This summer’s RFAs and UFAs: Who stays and who goes?

The biggest challenge for Edmonton’s next general manager will be navigating through the salary cap mess Peter Chiarelli left behind. Before that, though, the new GM will need to figure out which of the Oilers’ free agents will be back with the team next year.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Alex Chiasson: 

An off-season bargain bin addition who didn’t have a contract until October, Alex Chiasson capitalized on his opportunity with the Oilers. He rode an early-season hot streak to a career-high 22 goals and, even when he wasn’t producing offence, Chiasson brought a solid, two-way veteran presence to the lineup.

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Chiasson made the league minimum last year and was a great bargain on a $650,000 cap hit. The issue now becomes whether you pay Chiasson for his strong season or seek to instead find the next Chiasson on the open market. The Oilers had a similar situation with Patrick Maroon. They ultimately decided to let Maroon go at the trade deadline and found the next Maroon, who ended up being Chiasson, in the bargain bin.

Given the fact the Oilers chose not to deal Chiasson at the deadline, you have to assume they have an interest in bringing him back. If the contract isn’t too rich, I would be happy to have him back, but you can’t be the team who pays players like Chiasson for their career year in free agency, especially when you’re already working out of cap hell.

Alex Petrovic:

One of Peter Chiarelli’s failed pre-deadline acquisitions, Alex Petrovic only ended up nine games for the Oilers after being acquired from the Florida Panthers. Chiarelli dealt Chris Wideman and a third-round pick for Petrovic in an attempt to add depth to the blueline, but Petrovic was barely a factor on the team down the stretch.

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Given Edmonton’s defensive depth in the minors and their logjam of middling defenders already at the NHL level, it’s hard to imagine Petrovic getting another contract with the team this summer.

Kevin Gravel:

Kevin Gravel was a nice under-the-radar find for Chiarelli last off-season. He was brought in as organizational depth who could fill in if the blueline got decimated by injuries, and, when he did end up playing, Gravel was a solid shutdown defender.

I would have no issue bringing him back as a No. 8 defenceman, AHL call-up type, but, as I said above with Petrovic, the organization’s defensive depth might push him out. Ahead of him on the depth chart for left-handed defencemen already are Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, Darnell Nurse, and Kris Russell. When you factor in prospects Caleb Jones and William Lagesson vying for spots on the NHL club, it’s hard to find a place for Gravel.

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Al Montoya: 

I think it’s safe to assume Al Montoya won’t be back with the organization next year. The Oilers didn’t view him as a viable back-up heading into the 2018-19 season, as they signed Mikko Koskinen to share the net with Cam Talbot, and, even if he was interested in being a third-string, AHL goalie, he would be getting in the way of Edmonton’s prospects in Bakersfield.

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Anthony Stolarz: 

This was a puzzling situation. Stolarz was acquired in a one-for-one deal for Cam Talbot prior to the deadline in what was mostly a salary cap dumping deal. Stolarz only had to play in 10 of Edmonton’s 25 games in order to remain a restricted free agent heading into the off-season.

The Oilers only managed to get Stolarz into six of those final 25 games, and, as a result, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The Oilers will likely look for a veteran to share the net with Mikko Koskinen rather than an unproven goalie like Stolarz.

Brad Malone, Patrick Russell, Mitch Callahan, and Ryan Stanton: 

Malone and Russell both saw time with the Oilers last year and are perfectly serviceable as AHL call-up depth. Callahan and Stanton were veteran presences on the Condors who were never in the conversation to make an impact with the NHL club. Malone and Russell could come back as AHL depth, but I would imagine if Callahan or Stanton remain with the organization it would be on an AHL contract.

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Restricted Free Agents

Jesse Puljujarvi: 

It’s been an incredibly disappointing start to Jesse Puljujarvi’s NHL career. Through three seasons, he has just 37 points in 139 games. Puljujarvi’s 2018-19 season was ended early as the young Finn underwent surgery to repair an injured hip, but it is expected he’ll be ready for the beginning of the 2019-20 season.

Puljujarvi’s agent commented a few months back that a divorce between the Oilers and his client might be best for both sides, but it would be insane for the Oilers to deal the former fourth-overall pick at such a low point of value.

There aren’t many comparables for Puljujarvi when it comes to his next contract. I mean, it isn’t common you have a forward drafted high in the draft burn through his entry-level deal before hitting the age of 21 without becoming, at the very least, a consistent NHL player. The best example I can think of is Brett Connolly, the 2010 sixth-overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning who got a one-year, $850,500 deal after struggling to find his footing at the NHL level.

I can’t see Puljujarvi commanding any more than $1.5 million on a one-year deal this summer.

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Jujhar Khaira: 

Jujhar Khaira had a bit of a disappointing season in terms of offensive production, but he’s found a role on the team as a checking forward who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. Khaira scored 11 goals in 2017-18 but regressed down to scoring just three in 60 games last year.

On the bright side for the Oilers, the dip in production will help the team get Khaira signed to a cheaper contract than if they had to sign him after his 11-goal season. He’s coming off of a two-year deal worth $675,000 annually, and I don’t see him making much more than $1 million annually on his next contract.

Ty Rattie:

This time last year, we were talking about Ty Rattie being a breakout candidate due to his late-season success alongside Connor McDavid. It didn’t translate into the 2018-19 season. Rattie appeared in a career-high 50 games but managed just four goals and 11 points.

I wouldn’t be shocked if the Oilers qualified him because he provides cheap depth, but he doesn’t bring enough offence to play in the top-six and he doesn’t play well enough defensively to play in the bottom-six. Still, depth is depth, and if the Oilers can slide him through waivers, they have yet another decent call-up player waiting in the minors.

Tobias Rieder: 

Bob Nicholson made it clear that Tobias Rieder won’t be back with the team next season. You’d think the new general manager would be able to make that decision, but, well, welcome to the Oilers.

Shane Starrett:

Shane Starrett kind of came out of nowhere to become possibly Edmonton’s top goalie prospect last season. He posted an impressive .918 save percentage in 42 games with the Condors after spending most of the previous season in the ECHL.

There’s no doubt that Starrett will get a qualifying offer from the Oilers and that he’ll be Bakersfield’s starting goalie next year where he’ll share the net with either Dylan Wells or Stuart Skinner.

Joseph Gambardella, Tyler Vesel, Colin Larkin, Robin Norell: 

Of the remaining RFAs in Edmonton’s system, the only one who showed anything to warrant another contract is Joseph Gambardella.

Gambardella had a strong season for the Condors, posting 29 goals and 48 points in 50 games. His play was good enough to earn him a call up to the Oilers for 15 games, where he recorded three assists and managed a +2 rating. Gambardella provided some speed and jam to the Oilers’ lineup during his stint and probably showed enough to get another contract.

      • Spydyr

        Chiasson will be asking for to much money and term. JP should spend a year in Finland ,let him mature,develop and gain confidence.Khaira had a off year but I would still qualify him with no overpay. Starrett you have to keep. Gambardella and Malone on two-way deals but its not the end of the World if they leave.

        • OnDaWagon

          Geez Spydyr, you don’t want JP on the ‘Benny Hill Show’ this year?….But….but.. he was one of the main actors, no?

          And this writer thinks $1.5 M, for one year? Are you Peter C’s relative? League minimum, and he won’t even be worth that.

          • Randaman

            You want a clean slate to move forward with with no drama? Let JP go somewhere else and move on from another wasted pick of a European player. The Oilers Europe scouting department blows!

    • Die Hard Oiler Fan

      Agree that there is not too much to get excited about in this group of names. On the bright side, the talent level in Bakersfield should only get better next year, with additions including some, if not all of Bouchard, McLeod, Maksimov, Samarukov and Safin. Also, we are getting to the point where some prospects in Bakersfield are getting to the point where they may be able to make the move to the NHL in a bootom 6 fwd role or 3rd pairing defense role (Marody, Benson, Jones, Bear, Lagesson). Unfortunately it is going to take the new GM a couple of years to shed some big contracts and move in cheaper talent (a.k.a. undoing Chia’s numerous blunders).

  • OriginalPouzar

    With respect to Gravel, I’m geneally all about creating cover for the young prospects so they aren’t rushed, however, each of Lagesson, Bear and Jones lose their waiver exemptions after this year so the organization needs to see them play. Only one should break camp with the team (likely) but all three will get NHL time – teams use 10 plus d-men a year.

  • OriginalPouzar

    It would be nice to bring Stanton back as he’s a great veteran presence and mentor for the kids, however, Brandon Manning is taking that spot (unless they can move him – maybe with $1M retained).

      • OriginalPouzar

        I don’t disagree – my point is that he is under contract and is likely going to be assigned to Bakersfield (while still being on the Oilers cap partially) – just not sure, with the influx, if there is room from Stanton – even with Manning continuing to essentially just keep collecting his pay and not playing.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Lets not forget about Logan Day. He’s on an AHL deal right now and, while he’ll never see an NHL game (sorry but his play away from the puck, as much as its improved this year, is still miles away from being near an NHL level), he’s likely earned an actual NHL 2-way deal.

      • OriginalPouzar

        There are tons of players that will never see an NHL game on the 50 man list – each and every year. He’s earned an NHL contract, be it in Edmonton or somewhere else. I’m happy to sign him and have him continue to play a role on the AHL team – there are many others doing the same. The success of the AHL team is important.

    • Oilman99

      I sense the OP love for Malone surfacing again. These guys have carried the Condors in the playoffs so far, grinding it out. Their play as Bakersfield progresses may dictate a different outcome.

      • OriginalPouzar

        Absolutely – Brad Malone is a huge part of the Condors – he’s an all-star level player at the AHL level and guys like him are intergral to the team. On the other hand, I believe he’s going to be on the wrong-side of 30 and they will likely have guys like Joe G. and P. Russell continue to play those roles and likely find another solid veteran that’s a bit younger to fill Malone’s shoes.

  • OilCan2

    There will be no big UFA signing this season. There will be no splashy big trade this season. There will be lots of bottom six positions filled from within the organization. There will be a lot of young talent going pro into the Condors and the ECHL. Cam gave us a good look at everyone with an expiring contract but most will do just that, expire.

  • Copper

    UFA’s – P. Russell, Gravel and maybe Stolarz.
    RFA’s – Pulujarvi, Kharia, Starrett, Gambardella and maybe Rattie

    Pickings are slim but, All of the above can be signed for less than $1M. Chiasson would most likely want much more after a good year

  • GK1980

    I sign Chiasson, gravel and Malone. Keep Khaira, Puljujarvi and Rieder. Just kidding, kick reider to the curve.

    On a side note I physically packed all of oilers jerseys and underwear in a box. It won’t be opened until they retain a playoff position. I’m just sick of this clubs lack of success.

  • toprightcorner

    Chaisson – the most I offer him is $1.7 over 2 years or $1.5 over 3 years. He may take it for security and not moving his family every year.

    Petrovic – gone

    Gravel – Should be resigned at the same cheap contract. Yes, the Oilers have an overabundance of dmen, but you cannot have a developing prospect spend half the season in the press box. Gravel can sit for 30 straight games and then come in and give a solid performance. Oilers will have to trade some dmen to stop the log jam or make a decision on a couple of players that they will spend the entire year in the AHL. HAving a 21 year old rookie sitting in the press box is just stupid.

    Montoya/Stolartz – gone

    Malone – keep for veteran leadership
    Callahan – keep
    Russell – gone
    Stanton – gone

    JP – Unless they get a solid return for him, he will be resigned at about $1.7 mill.

    Khaira – I could see the new GM trading him to make room for more skill in the bottom 6. Khaira should only be considered a 4th liner so maybe a trade to make room for a PK specialist. IF they sign him, no more than $750 k

    Rattie – gone. he got screwed as soon as Hitch was hired. Rattie played fine until his injury and then Hitch never put him back in the lineup. Hitch didn’t like him in St Louis either. I think Rattie could have been a decent addition to the middle 6 if given a chance with offensive players instead of 5 min a night on the 4th line.

    Reider/Vessel/Larkin/Norell – all gone making room for the new batch of forwards like Maximov and McLeod

    Gambradella – IF the Oilers can sign him to a 2-way deal, they do it right away. If he wants a 1 year deal, they will wait and see if there is a better alternative. I like him, but the new GM may want a PK specialist for the 4th line.

    Players that are considered 4th liners or even bottom 6 on the Oilers will all be in possible jeopardy as that is where changes need to be made and that is where a new GM can make the most changes because of the minimal effects on the cap moving those players.

    I expect he will look for players with more speed, more compete on the forecheck and better on the PK.

    I prefer to have the 4th line all PK specialists to limit PK time for top 6 players and McDavid and Draisaitl can double shift with a speedier and more skilled 3rd line.

    • OilTastic

      i can agree with some of this. if Chaisson is willing to sign for cheap, then he’ll likely do what Rieder was supposed to do when we signed him and score around 10 goals. Rieder, Petrovic, Rattie, Stolarz out the door with all of them !! and Jujar and JP can be traded for all i care, maybe you can get a low 1st rounder for Jesse’s perceived upside?

  • elliotsmom

    Most of us at home armchair GMs see our current roster and farm team through a similar lens, oftentimes overvaluing/undervaluing these players. It is going to be so interesting over the next few months to watch how the new GM is going to value these guys. I’m sure we will be in for a few nice surprises, and be pissed off about some decisions. Hopefully, he will be able to shed some outrageous contracts, and hire the right coach.

  • Heschultzhescores

    A player has a bad year and they are turfed. Oilers management has a bad decade and a half and keep their jobs…even get promoted. Pretty obvious problem here that holds the team’s success back.

  • OilTastic

    sorry but i can’t agree with those who keep saying re-sign Rattie ! we’ve seen him for what he is….effective against lesser competition in the pre-season and effective in the slower and less talented AHL, but not effective at all in the NHL. let’s part ways with him shall we?

  • macinmillwoods

    Million dollar raise for Chiasson on a 1 year deal. No to the other UFA’s. Half million dollar raise for Khaira also 1 year deal. Quarter million dollar raise for JP on a 1 year deal. Qualify Rattie, Gambardella and Starrett. Bye to the rest of the UFA’s.

  • “but it would be insane for the Oilers to deal the former fourth-overall pick at such a low point of value”

    Wasn’t Keith and Boston close to doing a Puljujarvi for Donato deal but it fell through when Keith tried to sneak in Lucic’s boat sized contract? Donato has 16pts in 22 games for Minnesota ever since being traded. Just imagine how useful of an asset we’d have if Keith accepted that deal straight up. His value isn’t as high as it could be but I do think there is a market for him, underwhelming young, top prospects are always popular. I like Jess but I wouldn’t be mad to see him go, I just don’t think the Oilers have the environment for him to succeed here.

  • TKB2677

    I have seen people say the Oilers should sign Gravel. Why? The NHL is moving towards dmen who can skate, move the puck and produce points. He does none of that. He’s a big, defensive dman. He’s another lefty. The Oilers have lots of defensive lefties. I have nothing against him. I thought he did actually pretty well. I wouldn’t get upset if he was brought back but if they do, to me it would be another what was the point of that move.

    The only UFA I would sign is Chiasson. You can’t overpay him, he’s probably not duplicating this past season but you can’t let 22 goals and almost 40 pts just leave your team. Of the AHL vets, pick the guy that can maybe play. I would keep Russell. If you want to keep Malone who’s lighting it up, sure but the rest are career AHLers.

    Of the RFA’s. JP, Khaira, Starret and Gambardella I would keep, they rest just need to disappear. That includes Rattie. He’s a tweener. There are lots of tweeners out there. They tried him, he wasn’t horrible but he didn’t really do much. Try someone else, maybe you get lucky.