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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Restricted Free Agents
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.
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.
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.
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 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.